Interview with an Author: Blair Howard


Blair Howard

I was born and raised in a small town in England on the edge of the Cotswolds. Until the middle of 2015, I wrote sweeping historical epics, and I am the author of five historical novels. In July of 2015 I decided to try my hand at writing mystery novels, whodunits, and so we have Harry Starke, a hard-boiled American detective, “the original tough guy, with finely tuned senses and good instincts, as well as a rougher James Bond type of attitude.” Harry Starke, the first in the series, was released in mid-September 2015. The second book, Two for the Money, was released October 19 the same year. Book 3 in the series, Hill House, was released in mid-December 2015. These were followed in 2016 by Checkmate, GONE, Family Matters, Retribution, then Calypso, Calaway Jones, Emoji, Hoodwinked and Apocalypse. Harry Starke is fast becoming a household name, both here and in the U.K.

Blair is also Kentucky Colonel, an honor bestowed upon him in 2008 by the then-Governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, Steven L. Beshear. He is the author of more than 19 novels, 23 non-fiction books, and more than 4,500 magazine, newspaper, and web articles. For 7 years, he ran the Golf Travel channel for the New York Times company and continued to do so for three more years after NYT sold the company in 2013 – 10 years in all. His work has appeared in many national and international publications, including Delta’s Sky Magazine, PHOTOgraphic magazine, The Mail on Sunday, The Walking Magazine, Petersen’s Hunting Magazine, The Boston Herald, The Detroit Free-Press, The Anchorage Times and many more.

You began as a journalist. How did you become interested in writing fiction?

I’ve always wanted to write fiction but never could find enough time. I made several starts – short stories, one of which became my 6th Harry Starke Novel, Family Matters – but it wasn’t until 2015 that began writing fiction in earnest. Harry Starke Book 1 was completed in September that year.

You are known for your Harry Starke novels about a private investigator. How did you become interested in writing this genre?

My interest in crime fictions goes all the way back to my teens when I began reading the likes of Mickey Spillane, Earle Stanley Gardener, Raymond Chandler, Agatha Christie. When I began writing fiction, I took standard route and wrote about what I knew: The American Civil War, but I always wanted to write crime novels. There’s something very compelling about dark PI novels of the 40s and 50s: stories like The Maltese Falcon; The Big Sleep; I, The Jury. I wanted write stories like those. I think the first Harry Starke book reflects that, but he evolved into something quite different.

Each of your Harry Starke novels has a very different style. For example, most are traditional PI books. Book three, Hill House, and book nine, Without Remorse, are cold cases. Book six, Family Matters, is a paranormal mystery. Book seven, Retribution<>, deals with a group out to kill Starke after killing his brother. And book 13, Apocalypse, is a thriller about chasing down a nuclear bomb. Why do you use such varied styles in the same series?

That’s not intentional. It’s just the way Harry, and my own writing style, has evolved. It’s a coming of age thing, I think. The one exception is Book 13, Apocalypse. It’s the result of a half dozen or so comments that, “Harry Starke is no Jack Reacher.” That started my juices flowing. “If you want Jack Reacher, I can do that,” and I did, and quite successfully too judging by the reviews: 115 at 4.8-star average on Amazon alone; even more on Goodreads.

Your 11th Harry Starke novel, Emoji, is about chasing down a killer who abducts his victim first. How does the Internet image of emoji fit into this?

It doesn’t. It’s just the killer’s signature and way of taunting Harry and Kate Gazzara. Seemed like a good idea at the time, and different.

You have published 13 Harry Starke novels, not to mention plenty of other books, in a span of three years. How do you write so many books so fast, especially ones with such high reviews on Amazon?

It’s easy enough once I have the idea in my head. I don’t outline. Each book/story begins with an idea: a sentence or a paragraph or a TV reality show that generates the kernel of an idea. From that, I begin to write and the story takes on a life of its own. The research – I do a lot – takes almost as much time as does the actual writing, especially the forensics and medical. Typically, I write 2,500 to 3,000 words a day. Thus I can write a full-length novel in four or five weeks.

You have a spin-off of your Harry Starke novels, featuring Lt. Kate Gazzara. What led to your creating this spin-off?

I wanted write a pure Police Procedural novel. Spinning off Kate seemed to be a good way to do it. The readers liked Jasmine so I wrote Saffron, and now I’m working Number three, Sapphire. The exotic names are part of the brand.

The Mule Soldiers: A Novel of the Civil War is but one of five historical novels set in the Civil War. This book is about a Union general who leads a bunch of men on mules and is described as wildly hilarious at times. How true to reality are your Civil War books, and what draws you to this war?

Three of my Civil War stories – The Mule Soldiers, Chickamauga, and Three Days in Hell, are historically accurate almost to the minute. The research I did was beyond belief, which is why I stopped writing them. Comanche is historically accurate, although it’s pure fiction, as is The Chase.

What kind of research do you have to do for your historical books and how do you perform it?

A: I have always, for as long as I can remember, been an amateur Civil War historian, so that’s what I meant earlier when I said I wrote what I knew. Even so, the research I had to do very in-depth and I used a variety of sources, including first-hand reports/letters home, non-fiction books by other authors/experts, The Official Record, and of course the Internet. I also visited the actual battlefields many times – in the case of Chickamauga more than 50 times. Chickamauga was my first novel. I began writing it in 1988 and finished it in 2014, so it was more than 25 years in the writing.

I’m always interested in how authors select the names for their characters. How do you name all the characters who appear in your books?

That’s a great question, and you probably won’t believe the answer: They come to me as I write, almost instantaneously. I can see each character in my imagination and the name just. . . comes to me. Thus it always suits the character perfectly, at least for me. The name Harry Starke I actually used in Three Days in Hell; he was a Confederate sergeant who met his demise on Horseshoe Ridge. I didn’t realize that until one of my friends pointed it out. My PI, I knew, could never be anyone else but Harry Starke. Only with foreign names do I have to use lists, which is not often – Apocalypse is one example. I had to use authentic Iranian names and military ranks. Calaway Jones? It was a natural for that character.

What authors influenced your own writing career?

I suppose the one that influenced me the most was Mickey Spillane. I love Mike Hammer, have done almost since I was first able to read. Next? I think, perhaps, Robert B. Parker. Dashiell Hammett, Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler and James Lee Burke all had some influence. Beyond Book 2, Two for the Money, however, I think I came into my own. I love all of my characters. I know them all intimately. Harry Starke? There’s a lot of wishful thinking, on my part, in Harry. When I sit down to begin writing a new story, I’m excited because I know I’m off on a new adventure and, in the moment, I actually become Harry and live the story. Kate Gazzara (smile)? I kid my friends that when writing those stories I wear a dress and heels. Not true, of course, but it always gets a laugh.

If your readers would like to check out the first three books in the series, they can get all three for little more than the cost of a cup of coffee, here on Amazon.

Link to my website:

Amazon author page


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