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Jack Wakes Up - Episode 2 - Free Download



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April 2009

April 6, 2009

Why I brought my Romans to America

Confession time: I’m a serial author. I keep coming back to the same people, time and time again, trying to squeeze a story out of a bunch of people who, over seven books, have grown, in my mind and those of my readers. The serialists among us face a perennial problem: where’s the novelty, where’s the spice? Every last one of us wants to avoid what I think of as Conan Doyle syndrome: getting so bored with your people you want to throw your protagonist off the Reichenbach Falls, only to have to resurrect him a few years later out of popular demand.

When an editor first looked at the original Nic Costa novel, A Season for the Dead, and said those fateful words ‘this is a series’ my mind immediately went into recovery mode. How do you keep stories set around a recurring bunch of characters fresh, for me as much as for you?

I take two tacks. Firstly, I write about an ensemble cast. While Nic Costa is the protagonist of most of the books, he’s not the only important character. The small group of Roman law enforcement officers around him, Leo Falcone, Gianni Peroni and the pathologist Teresa Lupo, are important too, which helps add variety. And I approach each and every book as a completely new project, looking to find a different style, tone and approach.

For the seventh in the series, Dante’s Numbers, I took a deep breath and did something I knew would get a few regular readers reaching for their pens. While the story starts in Rome, I put the crew on a plane for the first time. A third of the way through they fly to San Francisco, and stay there for the rest of the book. Shock! Horror! Have I sold out? Am I now writing contemporary American thriller fiction, not Italian stories that spring out of the rich well of Roman history?

Please. Give me a break. Of course I’m not.

The next couple of books go back to Rome, as do my cast. And Dante’s Numbers is, for me, bang slap in the middle of what this series is about: people struggling with the fractured modern world, and trying to deal with the way the past affects it. There are, I think, a few recurring themes in this series. One of the most important is this: history isn’t some dead, dry subject, locked in school textbooks. It’s alive, part of us, the good part sometimes, and on occasion the bad. The very bad.

Dante’s Numbers fits into that canon exactly. It’s just that it plays with the original idea somewhat, and throws the characters into a location that is, in many ways, like Rome itself: San Francisco, a set created as much by the popular imagination, as by ‘reality’. Come back over the next few days and I will try to give you some more insight into the thinking and the experiences that were behind this idea.

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April 6, 2009


Hewson is known for his stylish, literate suspense writing and his ability to portray such lush settings. But don’t let that fool you into thinking he doesn’t provide some of the most gripping and twisted mysteries out there. His plots are always tight, his sense of history is mesmerizing and you’ll never be able to predict where the story is going to take you. DANTE’S NUMBERS is Hewson’s seventh novel to feature Detective Nic Costa; number six, The Garden of Evil, won the American Library Association’s Award for Best Mystery of 2008.

Here are the facts:
The hero: Roman Detective Nic Costa—son of an infamous Italian communist, connoisseur of Caravaggio, and too young looking to be such a skilled detective.

The situation: Celebrities and paparazzi have all come together for the screening of a long-awaited new film version of Dante’s Inferno.
But minutes into the event, chaos takes over—a man lies dead, a movie star is missing and priceless relic has vanished. In short, Nic Costa has his hands full with this case—and he’s going to have to leave Italy to solve it.

A small sampling: “He recalled Rome and a strange young actor dressed as a Carabinieri horseman, running through a performance that would lead to his death…. The links to Dante were everywhere, in the deadly cycle of numbers, the written warnings. The evidence.”

What others have said: “Hewson is a daunting talent — a writer who is a master stylist, who respects the audience’s intelligence and who effortlessly keeps the thrills coming a mile a minute.” -Jeffrey Deaver

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April 7, 2009

The original idea for Dante’s Numbers

Authors are thieves and liars, and the better we do it, the happier you lot are. Some people steal real characters and stories then weave some fabrication around them. I’m a little different. I lift a piece of Italy’s rich heritage and try to turn it into a modern myth that says something about the way we live now.

Here, in chronological order, are the cultural gems I’ve purloined from Italy in the first six titles in the Nic Costa series: Caravaggio and the history of martyrdom (A Season for the Dead); Dionysian mysteries (The Villa of Mysteries); Hadrian’s beautiful temple the Pantheon The Sacred Cut); the glass making industry of Murano (The Lizard’s Bite); Mithraism (The Seventh Sacrament); Caravaggio again, in detail (The Garden of Evil).

That’s one of the many great things about Italy. There’s so much to steal. And plenty left to go round in the future too.

For years I’ve been wanting to do something about Dante Alighieri and The Divine Comedy. For years I’ve been wondering… what exactly? As usual I began thinking about this book just around the time I was finishing its predecessor, in this case The Garden of Evil. The Comedy is a very complex piece of work, but at its heart is a simple real-life love story. Dante loved a woman called Beatrice Portinari. Beatrice didn’t love him, and to make matters worse died young. In the Comedy she is his guide through the afterworld, an icon of spiritual love and paradise, one with which she’s obsessed.

Dante’s work has a cinematic quality to it. The story, particularly the Inferno section, is highly visual and has clearly influenced many horror works, on the page and the screen (and soon, I’ve just learned as a video game too). So my starting point was this…

Let’s imagine an elderly Italian director of notorious horror movies has pillaged Dante to produce a big budget, CGI spectacular, one that has upset deeply Dante’s literary fans. Let’s imagine, too, that a nasty tragedy befalls one of the cast members, the actor playing Dante, who is murdered in a way that resonates with the author’s own death.

With me so far? I liked this. It would open with a premiere in the lovely park of the Villa Borghese in Rome. The rest of the story would play out in the same city, and at the famous movie studios of Cinecitta. It would be Italian through and through. Or so I thought until a certain invitation dropped in the inbox.

More of that tomorrow when I reveal to you how the best laid plans of authors and men can go astray… But if you are in the vicinity of that wonderful store Book Passage in Corte Madera, northern California, this evening do stop by because at 7 pm we’re launching this book. And Book Passage is a part of this story too.

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April 8, 2009

A book derailed.. what real life does to authors

So, as I related yesterday, there I was about to write a book called Dante’s Numbers, set entirely in Rome around a movie based upon Dante’ Inferno. Easy peasy. Or as easy peasy as it ever gets.

Then, out of the blue, I find myself invited to ‘teach’ at a famous writing school in America, the Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference which happens once a year at the famous Corte Madera store just north of San Francisco.

Why me? Apparently the people of Marin County discovered my books early. Prescient folk, I thought, and immediately said yes, not knowing for one moment what I was letting myself in for. I left school when I was seventeen. I’ve never sat in the audience at a writing school event in my life. Me? Teach?

Oh well. I love California so I duly set off and found myself sitting on a stage with none other than Martin Cruz Smith, talking about literature. I’m still amazed I managed to say a word. Martin is one of my all-time heroes. If he’d never written Gorky Park I doubt I’d be here because in that book Martin established that it was possible to write about people who come from foreign lands and speak strange (to us) tongues, and not treat them as aliens from outer space.

I spent a wonderful four days at Book Passage, talking and, more importantly, listening to people discussing books and storytelling. Then I settled down in a little rented house in San Francisco to finish The Garden of Evil.

Here’s one of my favourite quotes from one of my favourite authors, Jorge Luis Borges…

A writer - and, I believe, generally all persons - must think that whatever happens to him or her is a resource. All things have been given to us for a purpose, and an artist must feel this more intensely. All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material, as clay, so that we may shape our art.

I love that because it so mirrors the way I feel about my work. I don’t get these books out of thin air, staring at the ceiling for inspiration. I drag them out of the stones of Rome by force, walking every inch of the cobbled streets I write about, dreaming of what might be, talking to people about what has been. Quite deliberately I allow the real world to influence my works of fiction, and on occasion take them places they would never have gone if I’d stayed at home staring at the computer.

Sitting in my little house in that quiet San Francisco neighbourhood known as Cow Hollow, I discovered a number of things. One was that the place resembled, in many ways, a Roman rione. Rome is a city made up of many different and contrasting villages, not a single homogenous metropolis. This part of San Francisco felt that way too, and I found myself wondering what my characters would make of somewhere that was both foreign and familiar at the same time.

Then, as I finally got to grips with the ending of The Garden of Evil, I found myself wandering around the streets more, into the area known as the Marina. The more I walked, the more I found myself haunted by the ghost of a memory, one much more recent than anything I encountered in Italy. A memory, it occurred to me, that meshed in with my attempt to write about Dante with an unexpected and quite shocking accuracy.

After a week in San Francisco my well-laid plans to write a book called Dante’s Numbers were in tatters. I’d been ambushed, kidnapped, hoodwinked, and by one of the most cunning artistic minds in recent cultural history. Who?

Come back Thursday, dears. I am a thriller writer, you know. You can’t expect it all at once.

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April 10, 2009

Dante… meet Scottie, you’ll like him

The first flashback came when I wandered through the Marina and found myself walking past a building that was, quite deliberately, designed to look like a Roman ruin, a sketch from Piranesi made real to be precise. It’s called the Palace of Fine Arts, and was built almost a century ago as a temporary structure, one that turned out to be so beautiful it’s been carefully preserved ever since.

By the time I visited the Palace of Fine Arts my mind was already turning to setting part of the new book in San Francisco. Something about this place made it a certainty. The more I walked round this part of the city the more I remembered something I hadn’t enjoyed for years. A movie. One shot in these locations, fifty years before. A scary, odd compelling movie, about love and obsession.

Finally the name clicked and I went out and bought the DVD of Hitchcock’s wonderful Vertigo, then every book I could find that referenced it. Vertigo is an astonishing film, a languid, dreamy nightmare in which the injured San Francisco detective Scottie, played by Jimmy Stewart, becomes entangled with a mysterious woman called Madeleine Elster, who dies and then, in his own imagination, is resurrected as he recreates her in someone he has met in the street.

The opening words of Dante’s Divine Comedy are, ‘Midway upon the journey of our life I found myself within a forest dark, for the straightforward pathway had been lost.’ This is Scottie exactly: a lonely man who spends hours following the mysterious Madeleine through a still-familiar San Francisco, gazing at her in the obsessive way that Dante eyes Beatrice Portinari in the many paintings which depict his story.

Here was the revelation: San Francisco didn’t simply resonate with the world I hope to create in this book. Once I added in Vertigo it was part of that world too, which was something of a scary discovery.

Scottie’s quest paralleled Dante’s. Modern day San Francisco, a city known throughout the world for the way it has been recreated in so many movies, paralleled Rome, a city familiar everywhere, even to those who’ve never set foot in Italy. The symmetry seemed obvious. I didn’t have my book, or even my story. But I did have my canvas, and it was the curious, slightly surreal world that Hitchcock made out of real-life San Francisco.

The wonderful thing is much of it’s still there. Pop back in Monday and I’ll reveal a few of the real-life places I purloined to bring back the ghost of Vertigo in Dante’s Numbers.

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April 13, 2009

History isn’t always that old, you know

Monday. Oh that means Houston, doesn’t it? Murder by the Book, 6.30 pm tonight. But let’s step back to San Francisco for a moment, back into history. When I’m in Italy I tend to do this in giant steps. In The Garden of Evil, for example, my research took me to little alleys where, in 1605, Caravaggio once lived in squalor, his career in tatters, his temper growing ever more violent by the day.

For its predecessor, The Seventh Sacrament, I descended into underground sewers and catacombs that were almost two thousand years old. And in San Francisco? It’s there, you know. Not as ancient, but full of the loquacious ghosts I hunt in my stories, some of them a little more talkative than usual.

Here are my favourite locations from Vertigo which I recycled in Dante’s Numbers

The Palace of Fine Arts in the Marina. As we discussed earlier, this is a recreation of an imaginary Rome, a sketch by Piranesi turned into a beautiful fake ruin in northern California. Piranesi, by the way, really did design the actual square of the Knights of Malta where The Seventh Sacrament begins. See what Nic Costa means when he says, on occasion, ‘everything connects’?

The Legion of Honor. This rather remote art gallery is used in the movie for a spooky scene where Madeleine Elster sits in front of the portrait of Carlotta Valdes, the dead woman she supposedly believes is beginning to take over her personality. Scottie watches, aghast, as she sits motionless in front of the painting. In the book my elusive female lead, the actress Maggie Flavier, uses the real paintings in the gallery as inspiration for her parts. Nic watches her as she explains this, more than a little worried.

Mission Dolores. Tucked away in the Mission District this is one of the original Spanish Catholic missions set up in the 18th century when California was being colonised. The first church is still there, set in a beautiful cemetery with the graves of many early San Francisco residents. In the movie Hitchcock has Madeleine stand in front of Carlotta’s headstone while Scottie watches her with the avid, greedy gaze of a sexual voyeur. The cemetery is hardly changed. In the book I use this as a key location for one of the clues that draws Teresa Lupo towards her belief — rejected initially by her colleagues — that Vertigo is as much a part of the mystery as Dante.

The waterfront from the Marina to the bridge. This is one of my favourite parts of the city, quiet, with wonderful views of the bridge. Full of history too. How many people know that Crissy Field, now a nature reserve, was once an early aerodrome? Hitchcock’s primary use in the area was for the important scene where Scottie saves Madeleine from her apparent suicide attempt. Since I have Costa and co living nearby in Cow Hollow, and the premiere of the movie at the Palace of Fine Arts, I use it a lot more.

The ‘Brocklebank Apartments’. Home to Madeleine in the movie, and Maggie Flavier in the book, you will find these at 1000 Mason Street, barely changed from fifty years ago.
There’s a wonderful roundup of the locations on this fan site here. I hope you enjoyed this little virtual tour of San Francisco — though it’s nothing like the real thing.

I will be back in California tomorrow — at the Mystery Bookstore in LA tomorrow night, Tuesday, at 7pm, and noon at Vroman’s in in Pasadena on Wednesday. On Thursday I will be nearing the end of my tour in Portland (with only Seattle on Friday left) but will lodge some closing thoughts here then.

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April 16, 2009

Worlds within worlds

I hope these musings on the origins of Dante’s Numbers have provided a little enlightenment and amusement over the past week — and thanks to the people at Bantam for letting me ramble on about the strange process of bringing a tiny idea into the reality of a book.

Dante’s Numbers was a fascinating and challenging project for me on many levels. It tested my ability to take my characters out of their normal location yet keep them whole and accurately portrayed. It was also important for me to keep their Italian point of view. I want this to be a book in which San Francisco — a familiar location for many of us — is seen through eyes that view it as strange and foreign. I didn’t want to ‘westernise’ the story, as it were.

I also hoped to reflect the tone of Hitchcock a little in the narrative, through the use of slightly surreal notions — identical twins, curious characters, strangely coincidental events. Lots of books seem to be written as if they were wannabe movies. In some way I wanted this to be a movie that had somehow found itself trapped inside the pages of a book.

I hope it works for you. And if you’re a regular fan missing your shot of Rome, don’t worry. The cast are back there with a vengeance next year, and in the title that follows which has been on my laptop in first, very rough draft as I travel around the US promoting Dante’s Numbers at the moment.

Writers are a bit like movie directors. We’re completely absorbed in the project of the moment, and totally unaware that the time frame that enfolds us is nothing like the one that enfolds you. While you are walking with Nic Costa through the San Francisco of Vertigo I’m actually following him through the back alleys of the Roman ghetto, in search of a real-life tragedy from the late sixteenth century.

Hitchcock, funnily enough, never seemed to think twice about Vertigo after he made it. All those famous props — the painting of Carlotta Valdes, the fake mission tower, the dresses — disappeared soon after it was made, and he was onto his next project. It never even made much impact when it was premiered. Instead it took a while before people recognised it for the masterpiece it is.

I can’t hope to stand in Hitchcock’s shoes. But if you like Dante’s Numbers you might want to get the DVD of Vertigo out and take a look at that. Hopefully it will give you a little chill again, because in some ways this is a ghost story, one about people haunted by the past, their own and that of others. And chills is what I’m about.

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April 20, 2009

Seth Harwood’s JACK WAKES UP

Here’s a short video that explains my interesting and unusual ride from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop to my book’s publication:

Hi, I’m a debut author with Three Rivers Press - a division of Random House. My novel JACK WAKES UP packs all the punch of a Mike Tyson uppercut, but you don’t have to hear that from me. Just take Michael Connelly’s word for it — “Jack Wakes Up rocks! It’s a fast, smooth ride on a highway not found on any map.”
or Megan Abbott, Edgar Award-winning author of Queenpin — “Combining the lean prose and propulsive momentum of classic pulp with a brash style and action-movie bravado that feels utterly 21st century, Seth Harwood’s exhilarating Jack Wakes Up reads like a long-lost Mickey Spillane tale as directed by Robert Rodriguez.”

Direct link to video on YouTube to watch there.
Find more about me and JACK WAKES UP here:
I’ll be back soon with more free content, including the first three chapters of my novel as a PDF.

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April 22, 2009

Jack Wakes Up - Episode 1 - Free Download

So you can tell already from my last post and the included video that I’m more for showing you some real content than talking it up. If you followed the video, you’re probably wondering where your free audio chapter is.
Well wonder no longer: here, uncut is the first episode of JACK WAKES UP, the audiobook:

Direct link to file.
Sign up to get direct updates of this book on iTunes.
Subscribe for free in other ways.
Just like an old-time pulp serial or a radio show, I’ll be back next week with episode 2! You’ll also be seeing the free PDF of JACK WAKES UP’s first three chapters here very soon.
And remember, on May 5th — Cinco de Harwood — JACK WAKES UP hits stores!
And remember: you can find more free downloads, and plenty of other material at

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April 24, 2009


Seth Harwood graduated from the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 2002 and did the straight-up literary thing for a while, but then decided to let the stuff he really loved—Tarantino movies, The Sopranos, video games, and Hong-Kong Cinema—influence his writing. JACK WAKES UP, his first crime novel, was born. In July of 2006, Seth started releasing the novel on his website,, for free download as a serialized audio podcast. Today, his work has amassed a devoted following of over 10,000 listeners. And on May 5, the paper-and-ink version of JACK WAKES UP finally hits the shelves.

Here are the facts:
The hero: Jack Palms, B-movie star turned drug addict turned has-been.

The situation: When Jack agrees to show some out-of-town high rollers a good time, he finds himself caught in the middle of a Bay Area drug war. Soon he’s got too many gunmen after him to count—including a South American drug cartel, a mountain-sized Samoan enforcer, and a mobbed-up strip club owner with an army of thugs. But the thing that scares him the most? He’s starting to enjoy himself.

Opening line: “Jack Palms walks into a diner just south of Japantown, the one where he’s supposed to meet Ralph. As he passes the Wait To Be Seated sign, he wonders if these things didn’t come standard issue with Please at the start not too long ago, back when the world was more friendly and kind.”

What others have said: Jack Wakes Up rocks! It’s a fast, smooth ride on a highway not found on any map.”— Michael Connelly, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Brass Verdict

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April 28, 2009

Jack Wakes Up - Episode 2 - Free Download

Hello Blood-on-the-Pagers,
It’s your boy, Seth Harwood, back again to give you more free content. That’s right, today I have for you episode 2 of Jack Wakes Up, which comes out in exactly one week, May 5th, from Three Rivers Press. Call it Cinco de Harwood, if you don’t mind! Just be sure you get to a bookstore and buy your copy.

You saw the free text of the first three chapters in the last BotP post, here, and episode 1 here, but now we go forward. Check it:

Text link to episode (right-click or ctrl-click to download

Remember, you can also
Sign up to get direct updates of this book on iTunes.
Subscribe for free in other ways.
Just like an old-time pulp serial or a radio show, I’ll be back next week with episode 3!
You can get your copy of Jack Wakes Up at or for a signed, personalized copy.

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