This is the first part of a two-part interview.
If two weeks ago you told me I’d be reading — and loving — a book about a blind psychic who solves crimes because she can touch someone dead and “see” the last 18 seconds of his or her life, I’d have laughed. Even when holding the book when I received it in the mail I was unsure if I was going to read it. The concept just rubbed me wrong. I decided to give it the ol’ Butki 100-page test: If I get 100 pages into a book and have no interest in what happens next with the plot or the character than I move on to the next book. There are too many good books to be read to waste time on bad ones.
But this one grabbed my attention for a variety of reasons and I devoured it like chocolate and green tea, with pleasure and speed.
It was a bit surreal to read it because I worked for more than five years at the Herald-Mail in Hagerstown, Maryland, which the author mentions a few times in the first 25 pages. One of my beats was the city of Hagerstown and another was Washington County, which he also writes about.
So I asked him about that in the first part of our two-part interview...
Now, as a state cop how much work did you do with this region you're writing about, of Western Maryland? But you live near there, correct?
George Shuman: Scott, actually I was born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, moved to Washington, D.C. when I was nineteen years old (1971), and became a Metropolitan D.C. policeman for twenty plus years, everything from narcotics detective to Lieutenant, Internal Affairs. I know that there is a great German pub in Hagerstown and an outlet mall, and I known absolutely nothing else about it except that I used to pass it with regularity between D.C. and home. Sorry.
What made you decide to write a novel?
I loved to read for as long as I can remember, never the classics, but things like Ludlum, Forsyth, Greene, Le Carre. These were my early books. I know I showed up to take a creative writing course at American University in D.C. in the early 1970s but didn’t return after the first class. I always enjoyed words, and I did a lot of the writing my fellow policemen disliked when I was on the job; in fact, I became the unofficial report-writing training officer for some time. My first memory of writing fiction was in the eighties when I made a couple of attempts at a novel about a serial killer in Appalachia. I completed that novel in 1991, about the time I was getting ready to retire, and it was well received in Manhattan. I got an agent who put a big price tag on it, but ultimately it didn’t sell (though I knew I was doing something right). My second novel didn’t impress my agent, but many years later with some rewrites it sold to a VP of Simon and Schuster under the title 18 Seconds.