Haas: I knew I wanted to shift gears with Columbus and have him in the role of protector rather than killer. He needed a new purpose in life and I tried to come up with a realistic way to do it, where he could utilize his professional hitman skills but use them defensively (and reluctantly). I just launched from there and then the character kind of takes over and I try to follow him where he leads me.
TRBS: Being from Michigan, I was thrilled to learn that when we meet back up with Columbus, he’s hiding out on Mackinac Island. Having been there half a dozen times myself, you nailed the visual details and the Island’s ambiance, which begs the questions. . . why did you pick Mackinac, and how much research did you do before writing The Way I Die?
Haas: Running Chicago Fire takes up most of my time, so to write books, I get up early in the morning and write by hand. No phone ringing, no kids up, no internet, and just quiet time for myself. I usually get up at 4:30 am and work until 6:30 am when I get the kids up for school. I try to write a thousand words a day about fifteen days a month. I go into the office for CF around 9:00 and work until about 6:00 pm unless we have a big episode. A day on CF can be writing an outline, supervising the writer’s room, watching a cut of the show, or visiting the set when I’m in Chicago. I love writing so I enjoy the mornings!
TRBS: Columbus is a sort of an anti-hero, and a character you’ve developed so well over the course of five novels. Who was your inspiration when creating him, and who are some other literary characters you personally enjoy?
Haas: It doesn’t really fit the genre, but I’ve always been a huge Stephen King fan. He’s the best storyteller of the last forty years, and I’m an avid reader and collector of his books. I try to write novels like a storyteller sitting around a campfire, and he certainly inspired that in me. I also love 70s crime movies like Point Break and Get Carter and I’m sure those influenced Columbus. Literary-wise, I put Donald Westlake at the top of my list. The best author doing it today, in my opinion, is Don Winslow.
TRBS: Lastly, what’s next for you. . . any projects in the works that you can talk about?
An explosive thriller from the acclaimed co-creator of “Chicago Fire” featuring his dynamic and compelling anti-hero, Columbus.
The way I die is two taps to the head, stuffed in the trunk of a rental sedan, my body set on fire. The way I die is both arms broken, both legs broken, tossed off a cigarette boat in the middle of Lake Michigan, bricks in my pockets to weigh down the corpse. The way I die is acid in a bathtub, pushed out of an airplane, strung up and gutted in an old textile warehouse in Boston. My name is Copeland. My name is Columbus. The way I die is a shotgun in my mouth, my finger on the trigger.
It is the middle of February on Mackinac Island, a tiny community off the northern Michigan coast. But Columbus isn’t here to enjoy the picturesque surroundings. Reeling after the death of his wife and relinquishing his son, he lives in isolation―in self-imposed punishment and exile. Forgotten and alone. Nameless to his neighbors. But even if he runs and hides, Columbus is never alone for long.
Ten years after Columbus―one of the most original anti-heroes in contemporary fiction―first exploded onto the scene in The Silver Bear, Derek Haas delivers another riveting thriller that promises heart-pounding action and shocking twists until the very last page.
A big thank you to Derek Haas for taking time out of his extremely busy schedule to take part in this Q&A!
Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.