How far would a young man go to hide a deep, dark secret? How far would a mother go to protect her son?
Those are the stakes at the heart of "One Fatal Mistake," a new nail-biting thriller from Tom Hunt, a Washington, Iowa-born novelist, currently living in New York.
A University of Iowa graduate who is currently an award-winning advertising copywriter, Hunt's debut novel, "Killer Choice" -- a 2018 book about a man who must make morally ambiguous decisions to save his dying wife -- earned critical acclaim.
Set to be published Feb. 5 by Berkley and Penguin Random House, Hunt's "One Fatal Mistake" tells the story of 18-year-old Joshua Mayo, who takes a man's life by accident. Confessing the crime to his mom, Karen, creates a web of deceit that will change their lives forever.
"While 'Killer Choice' didn't have a specific locale, I wanted 'One Fatal Mistake' to be set in Iowa, or Cedar Rapids to be specific," he said. "It gives the novel a unique setting while grounding it in reality."
Plus it allowed Hunt to write about an area he was already familiar with. That's proved to be a blessing since he was working on a tight deadline.
"When I wrote 'Killer Choice,' I literally had no set deadline," he explained. "Between getting an agent, attracting interest from a publisher and working through an arduous editing process, my first book easily took up to three years to complete."
And what about book number two?
"Less than a year," Hunt said with a slight groan. "Publishers want thriller writers to release a new book once a year. Going from no deadline to one with little wiggle room was daunting but also creatively challenging."
I know you work in advertising and so did (the late Cedar Rapids-based mystery writer) Ed Gorman. Did having an advertising background help in the writing of a novel?
"I'm sure it did. When you're a copywriter creating an advertising campaign, every word counts. You have to capture somebody's attention right away and you need to keep it throughout. That's also a novelist because you're always pushing the narrative forward."
I know you're very methodical about outlining every story thread, right?
"Well, I do start with a synopsis which helps me to plan everything out. But most plans, things seldom go without a hitch. You discover a part where a story is dragging on a character who isn't quite working. If you know where the story's going, you can change things early on."
What advice would you give to an aspiring novelist?
"Write and never stop writing. The biggest problem many beginning authors face is procrastination. If your dream is to write, then write every day. Another piece of advice is to write what you like to read. Since I was a teenager, I loved thrillers. There was something about putting ordinary people in extraordinary situations. That always appealed to me because I identify with the characters. For instance, it is hard to identify with '007' but it's easy to identify with a man wanting to help a sick wife, or a parent protecting a child."
It's like you said: ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary situations.
"I think that's why I like what writers were able to do on (the TV series) 'Breaking Bad' so much. They took a character (Walter White) who was capable of doing bad things but he wasn't an unlikable character. He could justify the decisions he made. The decisions may not have been the best but those were the ones that he made."