Harry Hunsicker, a fourth-generation native of Dallas, is the former executive vice president of the Mystery Writers of America. His debut novel, Still River, was nominated for a Shamus Award by the Private Eye Writers of America, and his short story “Iced” was short-listed for a Thriller Award by the International Thriller Writers. Hunsicker lives in Dallas, where he works as a commercial real estate appraiser and occasionally speaks on creative writing. The Grid is his sixth novel.
2.21.2016 Harry Hunsicker: On high-tech Westerns and the burgeoning literary scene in the Big D
Photo credit: Nicholas McWhirter
If you’ve read one of the multitude of stories that have talked about the burgeoning Dallas literary scene, you’ve seen the references to new bookstores, literary journals, publishing ventures, and reading series. Most of this reportage also mentions a myriad of writers, but one name makes repeated appearances in the coverage—thriller author Harry Hunsicker.
The fourth-generation Dallas resident took time last week for our email interview, and he shared his insights on his mystery novels and the Big D writing life.
LONE STAR LITERARY LIFE: Have you always written, Harry? Do you come from a family of storytellers? When were you first attracted to writing?
HARRY HUNSICKER: I’ve always wanted to write, but I didn’t start until the early 2000s when I had a good hard look at the calendar and realized there are only so many years left. I come from a long line of creative people. My mother was a jewelry designer and painter. My grandmother was a writer and a landscape designer. One of my ancestors, a great-great-great-great uncle, was Stephen F. Foster, the songwriter who penned “Oh Susanna” and “My Old Kentucky Home.”
I read that you are a fourth-generation Dallasite. How did growing up in Dallas inform your writing?
The city and the region are in my blood, so it’s hard to not write about them. Dallas is a great place for crime fiction because at its heart, the city is an insecure place. San Antonio has the Alamo; Fort Worth serves as the gateway to the west. Austin became the capital, and Tyler sits atop the rich East Texas oil fields. Dallas’s historical touchstones are a grassy knoll, Neiman’s, and a sports team owned by a guy from Arkansas.
What authors did you grow up reading?
I read anything I could get my hands on. The Hardy Boys were a favorite. I loved the Three Investigators books, too, Jupiter Jones, et al.
At what point in your life did you say “I want to be an author”?
Probably when I was in grade school. Took a few decades to act on that, however. It also took years to unlearn all the writing stuff I learned in college.
What was the turning point in your writing career?
The publication of my first book—Still River, May 2005.
Your latest book, The Grid, has been called a high-tech Western. It’s set in Texas and is the third in the Jon Cantrell thriller series. For our readers not familiar with the series and the book, will you describe it for them?
The first book in the series is The Contractors. The novel poses a simple question: What if the private military contractors operating in the Middle East were also working domestically as law enforcement officers? What if they have guns and badges and the right to arrest, but their paychecks come from a private company? The story is about two such contractors, DEA agents, who take down the wrong shipment of drugs and end up with a witness in a big cartel trial. In order to stay alive, they must transport the witness across the state of Texas to the courthouse in Marfa. The Grid, the third book in the series, finds our hero, Jon Cantrell, working as a sheriff in a county with a large power plant someone is trying to take down.
There’s been a lot written about a blossoming Dallas literary scene. What do you think about that? Is it blossoming—or has it always been there?
It’s definitely blossoming. I think most of this renewed interest in the literary scene can be attributed to the opening of Wild Detectives in Bishop Arts. That place is fantastic. They’ve managed to create a destination for people interested in all sorts of arts. They’ll have a book signing at 7 pm followed by a band at 9. Coffee, food, wine, books, and music. What’s not to love?
How has publishing changed since your first book hit the shelves?
My first book came out eleven years ago, really not that far in the past. Since then, we’ve seen the birth of social media, the arrival of e-books, and the death of one of the largest bookstore chains in the world, Borders. Everything is different now except the demand for well-written stories.
What Texas authors do you enjoy reading?
Joe Lansdale, Jeff Abbott, Ben Rehder, Bill Crider, Rick Riordan, Doug Swanson, to name just a few.
What advice would you have for aspiring writers?
Three words: Never give up.
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Praise for Harry Hunsicker's work
“Set in Dallas and sparsely populated West Texas, Hunsicker’s first standalone packs a mean wallop.” — Publishers’ Weekly
“In his new stand-alone, the author of the Lee Henry Oswald PI mysteries (Still River; The Next Time You Die) takes as his realistic premise the proliferation of private military contractors and the privatization of law enforcement. Ex-Dallas cop Jon Cantrell, along with his partner Piper (with a penchant for orphan charities and a shoot-to-kill policy), works for a private contractor, intercepting drug shipments along the U.S.-Mexico border. But when they confiscate the wrong load, all hell breaks loose—violence, murder, revenge, and shootouts are here aplenty.” —Library Journal
“The hero of this sprawling novel works for the government, but not exactly. Jon Cantrell’s employer is a contractor hired by the Drug Enforcement Administration to confiscate a truckload of drugs in a Dallas warehouse. He’s interrupted at this task by men who also have DEA credentials but work for another contractor. And they’re crooked. They try to gun down Jon and his partner—a female mercenary named Piper—but the two are saved by their boss, who’s a scumbag, too. They inadvertently rescue the beautiful Eva, a star witness in a drug trial, who’s being hunted by yet another slimy hireling. Jon and Piper must deliver Eva for a trial across the state, so the race across the numbing Texas flatland is on, with our heroes hounded by yet another gang of mercenaries. . . . there’s plenty of action here.” —Booklist
“Hunsicker does good and useful work in sneaking a conversation about the international line into a whodunit. . . . the best part of Hunsicker’s story is its skillful blurring of the lines between good guys and bad.” —Kirkus Reviews
“If you’re looking for a new favorite author, read The Contractors...[The book] reads like a treatment for a new Quentin Tarantino film, full of quirky—and dangerous—characters, twists and turns, and enough action to fill another two or three books.” —Book Reporter
“Part of the fun of Hunsicker’s thrillers is trying to figure out how the characters will get out of the invariable jam. Hunsicker doesn’t disappoint with The Contractors.” —Austin American-Statesman