David M. Hamlin talks with Book Glow about the inspiration behind his novel, Winter in Chicago.
BG: Can you describe Winter In Chicago in one phrase?
DMH: Sure: Drugs, death and rock and roll on the AM dial in Chicago.
BG: Winter In Chicago takes place in 1975. Why?
DMH: It’s a moment when two dramatic cultural shifts converged. The 1970s feminist surge, when women fought to break glass ceilings everywhere, took place as the great reign of pop rock music on the AM radio dial was about to end. I loved energetic, musically diverse AM radio and I’ve known and admired dozens of women who were determined to win recognition as equals. 1975 enabled me to celebrate both.
BG: The heroine is one of those women, but men just think she’s “pushy, aggressive.”
DMH: Emily prefers “assertive.” She’s the only woman in the newsroom on Chicago’s number one AM pop station and her job is challenging even without the sexism that swirls around her. She has to be tough, but she’s determined, so she usually gives as good as she gets in a predominately man’s world. She isn’t intimidated and she doesn’t give up. When she’s working on a story, she is relentless.
BG: Stories like her friend’s death?
DMH: Exactly. When Emily gets to the scene of her pal Beni’s death, she knows something is wrong. She refuses to believe the police conclusion, suicide, so she begins investigating. She runs into obstacles and barriers, she gets misled and stalled, but she keeps at it. She does her job every day and then she keeps digging on her own time—she simply refuses to quit.
BG: She’s on a quest for justice?
DMH: Justice is part of it, but Emily is also dedicated to her profession, her craft. I’m still not sure whether she is more satisfied with the measure of justice she generates or the fact that she delivers very skillful reporting on the story she uncovers. I’ll let readers decide.
BG: There are a lot of characters in your book.
DMH: <laughs> When I was pitching it, I told editors it features the newsroom staff, air talent and management of WEL, two or three drug dealers, a couple of cab drivers, two radio programming gurus, a powerful Federal prosecutor and his politically savvy chief of staff, Chicago’s most eligible bon vivant rich bachelor and his sly attorney, a bereaved mother, a harried public defender, a bit part actress and the Rules Committee, composed entirely of women who’ve broken glass ceilings. I freely admit I had a lot of fun bringing them all to the page.
BG: What’s the best part of publishing your first novel?
DMH: Well, I love books, they’ve always been part of my life. My late dad and brother were each writers, editors and publishers, so maybe it’s in the DNA. I was an enthusiastic English major who devoured all manner of fiction, but I always come back to the mystery novel. Mysteries are a perfect mirror; they give us an absolutely accurate reflection of who we are. So, having the luxury of writing fiction is pretty great and it’s an honor to be in the mystery novel library.
Plus, when I drift away at social gatherings because I’m eavesdropping or people watching, I can now honestly say I’m just doing research.