Q&A with Hank Steinberg

Hank Steinberg the creator of the hit TV series Without a Trace has written an action packed novel, Out Of Range. Similar to the television show this thriller keeps people guessing until the final page. Unlike other authors famous for their visual media credentials, Steinberg created a plot that is fast-paced with likeable protagonists and nasty antagonists. He even gets this point across in a subtle way by referring to the good guys with their first names and the bad guys by their last names. The plot takes off from the very first page as a husband, Charlie Davis, searches for his missing wife, Julie, a hunt that leads him into a dangerous world of international espionage and terrorism.


Elise Cooper: Why did you venture into a new medium, becoming a novelist?


Hank Steinberg: I always wanted to write a novel. Because I had a time gap in my schedule I knew I could accomplish this task. I am hoping it might be turned into a movie. I was lucky enough in this point of my career to try something different. I have been working professionally in TV and film for almost twenty years. I thought writing a thriller would be something fun to try. Although it ended up being nerve racking, scary, time consuming, yet very satisfying.


EC: Is there a difference writing novels versus screenplays?


HS: For Without A Trace I was executive producer, show runner, and writer. It was like being the CEO of a big company. I was in charge of everything from managing the budget to hiring the staff, working with writers, coming up with a storyline, and interfacing with the studio about the marketing. It was multipronged, multifaceted, very interpersonal, and a collaborative job. On the other hand, writing a novel could not be more different. You are not working with anyone, and are alone in a room with the sole interpreter being the reader.


EC: Why did you choose the setting of the Eastern European country of Uzbekistan?


HS: I wanted a place that would be greyer in terms of the moral pallet, and would create some complexity for the protagonist. I was able to use the setting to emphasize the theme where there are these three people that must deal with the fear, guilt, and tragedy of an event that started in this country.


EC: You also seemed to take the main theme from your TV show, Without A Trace. Am I correct?


HS: Yes, the book feels like the biggest episode of Without A Trace. After working all those years on this show my brain subconsciously had the main theme. The heart of every episode is that when someone went missing they had a secret that they were keeping from someone. Inevitably it was what they kept from others that were the key to why they were taken.



EC: Is any of the idea for the story based on reality?


HS: The idea for Julie disappearing on her return from Disneyland came from when my wife took my son there and called me to ask for a route to get home. My son was crying in the back of the car and she told me she would call me back, having to pull over. After she hung up and said she would call me back in five minutes my brain started to race. I wondered how long I should wait before getting in the car to find her since I knew about where she got off the road.


EC: You had a quote about Disneyland that made me think of my husband. “The screaming children, the overweight people, the incessant jingles and jangles. It was enough to make you sick.” Is this the attitude of all fathers?


HS: We take our children on their birthdays so we get out there four or five times a year. We never go on weekends and try to go on off times.


EC: Did you write about a love triangle?


HS: It is an essential part of the book. Julie has an emotional connection with the antagonist Byko from their college days. She is yearning for something from her past. The spine of the book is about Julie and Charlie’s marriage and will they be able to reclaim their love? These three characters have a unique and tangled relationship from the very beginning. After the tragic event in Uzbekistan Charlie went into hiding; Julie yearned to be a part of something that would make a difference; and Byko succumbed to his rage and vengefulness.


EC: Do you think Julie encompasses the modern day women?


HS: Yes. Even though she was a kidnapped woman held in a fortress she never cried for help but courageously dealt with the interrogation and the circumstances. She knowingly refused to give up. She has big ambitions and wants to do more with her life than just being a housewife. A lot of women contemplate giving up their career to raise their children. There is the internal conflict of being engaged, involved, and doing something more with your life. There are these yearnings and secrets within Julie that I hope women can relate too. I wanted to explore the dynamics between two people and how the relationship changes when the circumstances shift. Julie felt disconnected to the outside world while living in Los Angeles. There are not very many more places you can go to where you feel that you are living in a bubble.


EC: What do you want the readers to get out of this novel?


HS: I hope Out Of Range was entertaining and had relatable characters. I also wanted to point out how these Eastern European countries have a lot of problems, especially the way the governments treat their people.



EC: Can you give a heads up about your next projects?


HS: I am contemplating another book. But right now I am very busy with the launch on my new show that aired last Sunday on TNT, The Last Ship. It is about the last surviving ship in the Navy after a global pandemic wipes out almost the entire world. There is a scientist on board who looks for a vaccine cure to save the world. It is a hybrid with a beginning, middle, and end to all the episodes. Some completely resolve, some resolve the main part of the story, but open up a new door. It is a serialized show but each episode has a self-contained aspect. I consider it an adventure action show.