by Julie Yamamoto, Program Manager, The Greater IBM Connection
Greater IBMer Steve Hamilton is a long-time IBMer, having reached his 29th year with the company this past June. Steve works as an IBM Information Developer in Poughkeepsie, NY supporting both z/VM and DFSMS, and, like so many Greater IBMers, he has quite an interesting story to tell. He is a New York Times bestselling author and two time Edgar award winner! He’s one of only two authors in history (along with Ross Thomas) to win two major Edgar awards (Best First Novel, Best Novel), and he’s also either won or been nominated for every other major crime fiction award in America and the UK. His books have been translated into fifteen languages. To read more about Steve’s creative writing pursuit, check out the full IBM Creatives story here–> http://ibmcreatives.wordpress.com/2012/08/13/new-york-times-bestselling-author/
When do you do at IBM today? What’s a typical day for you?
I’m an Information Developer, supporting both z/VM and DFSMS. My office is in Poughkeepsie, NY — although like a lot of people I do a fair amount of work remotely. So I’ll actually drive down to the office two, sometimes three times a week.
Is there much writing involved in your work day and, if so, does it make you less inclined to write for yourself?
In what’s essentially a technical writing job, I’ll do a little bit of writing here and there, but I spend so much more of my time writing notes to people. I feel like a professional e-mailer most days. Either way, it doesn’t really affect the writing I do away from work. In fact, I’ve found that being busy during the day (not too busy, but just enough), actually helps me keep it rolling when I get home.
What are some other IBM jobs you’ve held over your career here?
I’ve been in Information Development since I started in 1983 — although I’ve supported a lot of different products, both hardware and software.
What’s the strangest job you’ve ever had? (IBM or not)
Putting people on paddle-boats and showing them how to steer. That wasn’t at IBM.
What made you decide to work as an IBMer and as a novelist simultaneously?
Well, I always knew that I wanted to get back to my own writing. That’s a promise I made when I graduated from college and went out and got a sensible “real” job at IBM. It took a little while to keep that promise to myself, because there’s certainly nobody else who’s going to make you do it. But now that I have, it’s surprising how well I can manage both at the same time. A big part of that is how great the people I work with at IBM have been — and I try to pay that back by being an ambassador for the company when I go out and do events around the country.
How do you make time to do that, with a full-time career and a family?
My wife is great about it, my two kids are great about it. We just make it work. If you’re doing something you really want to be doing, it’s a lot easier to find a way.
When are you most productive in the course of a 24 hour day?
Easy question! After everyone else goes to bed!
Do you make yourself write something regularly? Or do you write only when inspired, or some combination of approaches?
If you’re a professional writer, you write every day, whether you feel like it or not. If it’s going well, you might get a lot more done. But you have to do something every day if you’re going to get there. I have a Lego brick by my workstation to remind me of that. You make at least one brick every day. That’s all you have to do. A few months later, you’ll have a house built.
What sorts of time-management / self-management tricks can you share? Or is it more of a mindset?
I think it’s more of a mindset and not so much a matter of finding any tricks. It really goes back to that Lego brick and the commitment to doing something every day. That’s the only way to make it happen.
Do you do anything in the way of training other writers, workshops, classes, etc?
You know, for me it was just a matter of joining a writing group and having that support to get me started — and that little external deadline that I’d have, every Thursday night in that library basement, knowing that they’d be waiting for me and expecting a new short story or novel chapter or whatever else. Anything that gets you moving and keeps you moving is good. It might be different for anyone else, but the basic idea is the same. Get started and keep at it.
Who/ what do you read in general, and what are you reading right now?
I’ve always loved reading crime fiction, and there happen to be some great writers in the field right now. You’ve probably heard of some of them (Michael Connelly, Lee Child, Harlan Coben…), but one of the best writers in any field is a guy named David Woodrell. His stuff is just amazing. As far as what I’m reading right now? It’s a crazy book called Kraken by China Mieville.
Do you read with an eye toward pleasure only, or do you seek out books you believe have the potential to improve your own writing?
I read the stuff I love reading, and I don’t even think about improving my own writing. That sounds way too conscientious to me.
How has the rise of social media changed the way you interact with your readers?
It’s a huge part of the game right now. The publishing industry is really suffering, but the one thing you’ve got going for you now is direct contact with a lot of readers at once. I’ve got a website (www.authorstevehamilton.com), I send out periodic newsletters, and of course I’m on Facebook (www.facebook.com/authorstevehamilton) every day.
Give us a piece of advice you’d share with an aspiring writer (or any other kind of artist), something you wish you’d known earlier.
If you ever made a promise to yourself like I did, then it’s not too late to start. You can do that today. As soon as you get home from work. I started writing A Cold Day in Paradise on January 6th, 1997. It was an ordinary winter night and I could have done a thousand other things, but I sat down and wrote maybe 500 words. The next night, I wrote 500 more. It’s fifteen years later and a lot of amazing things have happened, but it all goes back to that one night. It really can be that simple.