“Allow myself to introduce… myself.”

by Jonathan Hayes

 

Hi there – I’m the Second Murderati New Arrival, Jonathan Hayes. Technically, I’m John Hayes, but so is my father, so everyone except for telemarketers and pollsters has always called me Jonathan. And lots of people also call me “Jaze”, after an old email address. I’m not picky – I’ll answer to anything.

I’m going to softball my introductory post – in the months, years, millennia to come, expect some forensic stuff, some writing stuff, some musings on the sweet mysteries of life, etc., but my first Murderati entry is just going to be a gentle “Getting to Know You” thing.

Mostly because I’m feeling a bit burnt out – it’s been a rough few weeks here at Stately Jaze Manor. My cat Bates died last month, which was surprisingly painful, and when I got back from my tour for A Hard Death, Petey, my back-up cat, welcomed me by developing a urinary blockage. I don’t propose to dwell on my cat’s urinary tract health (“my cat’s urinary tract health” – is there a more American phrase?), but suffice it to say the last fortnight started with fervent prayers for cat piss, then rapidly devolved into a blur of taxis, vets, animal emergency rooms, horribly invasive manipulations of poor Petey’s naughty bits, and salty tears as I watched the zeros line up on various cash registers (so far, we’re in for about $6,000. My friend Sue, an old medical school chum in London, tells me that’s more than the National Health Service charges for a heart transplant – a human heart transplant.)

Anyway, Petey’s back home now, and peeing, sort of, so I’m coming up for air, and writing my softball introduction.

I found Gar’s journey through the Vale of Publication really riveting – it’s great to hear an experienced writer talk about the ups and downs of life in the biz. Alafair interviewed me here before A Hard Death came out, so I don’t think there’s any need to go over my Epic Origin Story again.

In brief, I am a forensic pathologist; for the last 15 years, I’ve had a second career as a freelance food and travel writer, before switching to thrillers, starting with Precious Blood in 2007. 

Forensics still takes up the majority of my time. There are about 500 Board Certified forensic pathologists in the USA, which is too few for such a vast expanse. The upside of this situation is excellent job security (unless you’re an epic screw-up – and there are a few out there). The downside? The quality of medicolegal investigation in this country is spotty at best.

I’m likely, then, the only forensic pathologist that you know. (I’ll get into what forensic pathologists are in a later post, and, also, what separates them from coroners.) The combination of our often high-profile work and our real world rarity has made us a fairly exotic species: if you turn on a TV, you’re almost sure to land on a forensic show – CSI, NCIS, various reality shows, etc. Indeed, a couple years back, a glossy magazine pronounced forensic pathologists “the new Super Models”. So, yes, a sexy, glamorous profession that has caught the public’s eye in recent years.

The reality is that forensic pathology is tough. It’s hard work – physically exhausting, intellectually demanding, emotionally draining. And staying in general pathology is far more lucrative than specializing in forensics – after all, state and city governments are not known for their largess, even at the best of times. The thing is, at the end of the day, forensic work is really fascinating stuff; not a day goes by when I don’t learn or see something i’d never known or seen before.

I live and work in New York City. Ours is a large, busy office, and I think that we’re just about the best in the country. Of course, I don’t doubt that other offices think that they’re the best, but that just makes me nod and smile indulgently.

We have almost 30 pathologists staffing five offices (one each in Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island), which means that cases are managed expeditiously and thoroughly. Usually, the work day is 8AM to 4:30PM, but if there’s a mass fatality incident, for example, the hours instantly elongate. I’ve done autopsies at all hours of the day and night, typically after things like plane crashes. We try to avoid this, because when you’re exhausted, your judgement becomes impaired. And when you do things in the middle of the night, under pressure, without adequate support staff, the chances of a screw-up increase; the JFK autopsy, for example, was done well after normal business hours. One understands the huge pressures the pathologists were under, but that autopsy has been torn apart, time and again, and one can’t help but wonder whether things might have gone more smoothly if they’d waited to do the autopsy under normal circumstances in the full light of day.

So, yes, fairly regular days. Our facility is open seven days a week – another luxury of having a big city office – so I work quite frequently on weekends and holidays. I’ll get more into the nuts and bolts of what we do in later posts, but for now, here’s where I spend most of my days:

 

 

This is the main autopsy room in the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) in Manhattan. There are eight autopsy tables here; the perforations alongside the tables create negative pressure, hoovering up any potential pathogens that might be released during the procedure. Next to each table is a scale, for weighing organs. This photo is a still image from a kind of cool New York Times panoramic image – if you click on this photo, it’ll take you to the original, and you can gaze at your screen as the image pans vertiginously around the autopsy room.

I live in Downtown Manhattan, near Union Square, a 25 minute walk from my office, which I love – both the walk, and getting the distance from my office. My apartment is a small loft, converted from an old brick warehouse that was originally built to house carriages and stable the carriage horses. I have high ceilings and great light, and, most precious of all in Manhattan, real tranquility. 

Which is important, because I write mostly at home. I write in bed, formerly surrounded by cats, now abutted by cat. (I got the owl from an old girlfriend, a piece of Victorian taxidermy she’d inherited from her grandmother.)

 

 

Actually, mostly, I write the first draft in bed: when the deadlines become crushing, I move to my living room table. I find the cold, industrial aluminium chairs (from an insane asylum upstate) help me concentrate on writing.

 

When I absolutely, positively have to buckle down and get a draft done, I go to the Writers’ Room. It’s a cooperative space on lower Broadway, with cubicles, wifi, Lexis-Nexis access and Silence Nazis – seriously, you get fined, like, $100 if your cell phone rings. The gulag feel is perfect for finishing a book, plus it’s fun to watch liberals behave like fascists.

My final writing place is in Paris. A Francophile all my life, I finally broke down and bought a tiny (250 sq ft) attic apartment in the Marais, the city’s medieval center. I know this is going to sound insane, but, between my tight schedule and my v. French contractors and the standard disasters that accompany working on a 200 year old building, I’ve been renovating this miniscule studio for over 3 years. It’s under the eaves, with big French windows that open onto a stunning view. Most important of all, it has a diminutive elevator! A real find, since elevators are very rare in this arrondissement, where the streets are so old that they’re designed for horse-drawn carts. My dream is to write in Paris instead of the Writers’ Room, but so far, the only thing I’ve written here has been huge checques to various contractors.

Really, it is very lovely, and I hope to visit it someday.

OK, so I’ve bounced about inside this blogging software, and posted a few photos, and stuck in a few links; I think I have a rough sense of how this all works, so I’m going to stop here. 

I’m looking forward to getting to know everyone. I won’t be talking about my own cases (for obvious reasons), and I won’t really be commenting on other high profile cases (actually, I will have something to say about the Casey Anthony case, but not about the forensics).

Oh! You should friend me on Facebook – I post the best stuff, if I do say so myself. Or at the very least, follow my Tumblr, which is mind-blowingly phenomenal, if occasionally Not Safe for Work. Or don’t – but if you choose not to, just know that you’ll be constantly missing out…

OK now, let’s see if that worked… 

38 thoughts on ““Allow myself to introduce… myself.”

  1. Alafair Burke

    Welcome to the madness, Jonathon! You're one of my favorite people, both in person and online, and I know others are going to enjoy getting to know you.

  2. Zoรซ Sharp

    Hi Jonathan, and welcome!

    What a wonderful opening post and a great introduction to you, your home and your work.

    We self-built our own house in the wilds of the English Lake District, so I sympathise with the drawn-out renovation of your Paris apartment. We were working and writing, AND doing much of the construction work ourselves, and local people still asked, in somewhat sniffy tones, "Oh, haven't you finished yet?" Eventually, we discovered the best way to shut them up was to respond. "No – why, how long did it take you to build your house?"

    I think one of the things that made it LESS stressful for us was the fact that we used very few contractors. No disrespect to builders everywhere, but we always turned up when we expected us to, did the work exactly as we wanted it doing, and didn't leave any time-bombs … ;-]

    Looking forward to getting to know you!

  3. Barbie

    Hi, Jonathan. You're very… interesting! Forensic pathologist, of course, caught my eye. Seems like a kind of awesome job. And the little place in France? It's so… artistic. But I guess I'm even more intrigued by the fact that you use Tumblr. Here in Brazil it's huge with teenage, highly emotional girls, that's pretty much its target (and only!) audience, so, that surely caught my attention. I can't wait to see what you're about! ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Reine

    Love โ€œLe Flaneurโ€ video. Thanks for the link.

    So glad you are here, Jonathan, and sorry about your loss of Bates, and I hope Petey is "good to go" soon. Buffalo, my huge Maine Coon cat, is looking after my service dog, Kendall, who picked up a nasty eye infection at the groomer's a couple of days ago. Every now and then Buffalo walks over to Kendall and examines his eyes, then gives me an update.

    I will be hugely interested to read your forensic posts . . . one of my favorite areas.

  5. Shizuka

    HI Jonathan,

    Really happy to see you here because I always wish your Facebook posts were longer.
    They often leave me with a zillion questions I want to ask.

    Your apartment photos are giving me serious interior decoration envy.

    Shizuka

  6. Rae

    Welcome!

    So jealous of your place in Paris, congrats on taking the plunge…

    Years ago, I spent time as a funeral director in a fairly rural place, and developed a great respect for your profession. Can't wait to hear more stories.

  7. Louise Ure

    Welcome, Jonathan. Now let's see … you have a full-time really interesting job, you do both travel writing and thriller writing, you're renovating a space in Paris and you're already online with posts. So you accepted our Murderati invitation, why? Because you have so much empty time on your hands?

    Truly you are Superman, sir. And an interesting Superman at that.

  8. Larry Gasper

    Great to see you here, Jonathan. I'm sorry about the cat. I know I'd hate to lose one of mine. I'm looking forward to your blogs.

  9. Alexandra Sokoloff

    I'm so very sorry about your cat. I lost one of mine two months ago and I'm not sure I'll ever get over it.

    It's great to have you here. Love the autopsy table photos and the bed.

  10. Jonathan Hayes

    Thanks for the welcome, all! Great to see some old friends here, and to meet some new ones.

    I have some great news! I woke this morning to find that Petey has carpet-bombed my entire place with urine. The drought is over! I'm trying to summon up gratitude, but I confess that, sitting here surveying the patchwork of puddles and paper towels, ambivalence is the best I can muster. The vet says it's an excellent sign. The vet doesn't have to clean my loft.

    Zoe – well done on building your own place! I shall, never, never do that! I know my limits. I'm at the moment strategizing about building a house down in Naples, Florida. I'm still trying to figure out whether that means I'll have to sell the place in Paris. I have a kind of workbook of inspiring photos up on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150261604398140.374039.657823139&l=dd424f08a4

    Isn't that "Flaneur" video lovely, Reine? The Paris sights are all familiar, but he's done an excellent job of capturing them with a fresh eye. And Barbie, Alafair, my frequent movie buddy, would probably claim that I have a lot in common with emotional teen girls.

    PS Alafair, no worries about the spelling – my own father does that all the time.

  11. Jake Nantz

    Jonathan – I send you heartfelt prayers about Bates and the anguish I'm sure you went through hoping Petey would 'make it'/pee. Glad to know the flow has returned, though I don't envy you the cleanup. Our dogs are like our children, so I can only imagine how tough that was for you with each situation involving your cats.

    I actually met you briefly last year when you came down to participate in the Writer's Police Academy in Greensboro, and I really enjoyed it. The presentation you gave us was incredibly informative (I have 3 pages of notes just from that!), and the photos were even better. I normally get squemish over shows where someone is being operated on, but somehow the fact that those you showed us were 1) of people who had already passed, and 2) from working to find what had happened and possibly bring them some just (posthumously, uunfortunately) made it more interesting that anything else.

    I look forward to reading much more about your exploits here, and welcome!

  12. Allison Davis

    Jonathan, Hooray, another great and interesting writer on Muderati. You know that we aspiring writers only want to publish so we can also be on Murderati. Seriously, sorry about your cat woes — get that pee cleaned up right away as it continues to festers in your carpet (break down and buy the enzeme stuff they sell at pet store, it works), but glad everything came out all right. I have four cats, who plague the neighborhood's dogs…sorry about Bates, hard to lose that bond.

    Thanks for sharing the writing spaces and we will all likely have forensic questions as the blog goes on. (Dusty, you were right). A man who publishes photos of his messy beds. hmmmm.

  13. Murderati fan

    Well, there were three J's at the Police Academy – Jonathan, Jake and Judy. It was grand. Conflicted feelings about the potty house, quite an expensive cat you have there. But your angst after you returned from your tour explains why my autographed book (from your Alafair interview) arrived blank. As I would very much like to have your Jonathan, is there somewhere I can send it (along with appropriate return postage as I cringe over your vet bill) for your signature.

    Absolutely looking forward to more posts and pictures of you in Paris with Cara Black.
    Judy (wirzi@aol.com) (Bye – I'm rushing to facebook)

  14. Gar Haywood

    Welcome aboard, Jonathan. Nice intro.

    But God, I hope no one here is expecting ME to post photos of MY bedroom, 'cause it ain't gonna happen. Both of yours look like that main autopsy room in your photo compared to mine (or, at least, my side of it — much to the wife's chagrin).

  15. Kay

    Love your post. Can't wait to read your books. Now for the important question…..
    WHERE can I get a couple of those chairs?! Wow. That has to be the best I-want-to-imagine-the history-of furniture I've ever seen. I won't get ANYTHING else done today because I'll be thinking about those chairs. ๐Ÿ™‚

  16. Jenni

    I am so sorry to hear about your cat, but relieved to hear the dry spell is now over!

    Welcome here. I'm looking forward to reading your posts. ๐Ÿ™‚

  17. David Corbett

    Dear Jonathan:

    I'm one of those gluttons for subtext, so though I enthusiastically join the chorus of well-wishers and welcomers, I also couldn't help but do a little forensics of my own as I read your post.

    What I came away with was a very engaging sense of manly gentleness and clarity, which I found inviting. (I caught some loneliness too, if only in the grief for your dear lost cat, but that's perhaps overly personal.) There is a care to how you write, in both senses of the word — you demonstrate a real human concern and yet you also have a clear predilection for precision and order. That no doubt suits you in your day job, but it comes through nicely in your post as well.

    As you described your Paris apartment I though of Maigret — that calm attention to detail, that relentless but civilized devotion to the truth. Of course, I could be nuts, projecting some mood disorder of my own onto you today, but I thought, in the ensemble of voices that comprise this blog, you brought something very unique and welcome, a masculine voice that helps fill the void of Dusty's absence. Along with Gar's sly and insightful ironies, Steven's poetic heart and intensity, and whatever the hell it is I bring to the party, I think you add something crucial and wise to the crew, the testosterone contingent especially. Your words made me feel better, as though I was in the hands not just of a good writer, but of a good man.

    That ain't small taters, Buckwheat.

    Welcome aboard. if the boat starts sinking, row faster.

    Corbett

  18. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Good to see you here, Jonathan! Welcome to Murderati!
    I'm so sorry about your kitty woes. I'm very close to our family dog and I don't know if I could get up in the morning if something ever happened to her.
    I'm very glad to see that you write your first drafts on the bed and not on the autopsy table. Although I imagine that might inspire some interesting plot twists.
    I'm looking forward to reading your blogs and viewing life from such a fascinating, unique perspective. You're a great addition to our team!

  19. Jonathan Hayes

    Gar – I'm a complete disaster when it comes to housework. I'm sitting here baffled, trying to figure out how to approach my cat-flooded floors here- really, I'm lost without my housekeeper.

    Kay – if you're talking about the aluminium chairs, your taste is impeccable! They're fantastic chairs – rock solid, indestructible, and weigh maybe 8 lbs. Maybe even 5 – an easy one hand lift. What's more, they're American, made in America originally for the Navy by Emeco. I think I paid about $30 or $40 each maybe 15 years ago at a flea market – and secondhand is still your best bet, since Design within Reach sells them new now for $470 a pop. I'm pretty sure there are Chinese knock-offs out there, too.

    http://www.dwr.com/product/1006-navy-side-chair-brushed.do?keyword=chair&sortby=ourPicks

    The other chairs in this shot (you may have realized by now that I'm a chair fetishist) are a slipper chair by TH Robsjohn-Gibbings in the background, and a Danish chair which I adore, but for which I can never remember the designer's name. The Gibbings chair took forever to find, wasn't a bargain on eBay, shipping was a fortune, refinishing and reupholstery cost an arm and a leg, and then, when I finally set it out in my living room for the first time, the second my back was turned, my cats tore into it, unable to resist the nubby fabric. Literally, the thing was shredded within 10 minutes of my leaving the room. Which is why it usually is covered with a sheepskin.

    If you meant the Danish chair, let me know and I'll dig up the designer. It might not look particularly impressive, but it is EASILY the most comfortable chair I own. And it's a really elegant chair, I think.

  20. Jonathan Hayes

    My word! David and Stephen, what generous and elegant posts! Clearly, I'm going to have to step things up a notch if I want to live up to the high standard!

    My reaction to Bates' death did catch me by surprise. I was fond of him, but I generally thought of my cats as kind of moveable throw pillows – I didn't really think about whatever "bond" we had. But with Bates gone, and Petey now having his Troubles (possibly not unrelated to Bates dying), I realize how pets work their way into your heart. I've never lost anyone I was really close to before, and Bates, who I'd inherited from an old girlfriend, had become well and truly *mine*. He was a good cat, and I miss him.

    But of course, with any death, part of the emotional response is a reflection on one's own mortality, as in that horrid Gerard Manley Hopkins poem about the little girl crying as she watches leaves fall from a tree. Bates saw me through break-ups and successes, and 9/11 and its continuing aftershocks. I had him about 15 years, roughly a third of my life. There's a Brian Eno lyric "The passage of my life/Is measured out in shirts"; I wonder if my life will become something measured out in cats.

    Oh, God! More about cats! And emotional girls! Maybe I'm the wrong choice for this blog, after all!

  21. Eika

    Welcome, Jonathon! If nothing else, I'm sure you'll be vastly informative. (Kidding. Sounds awesome.)

    -Alaina

  22. JT Ellison

    You are such a perfect addition to our motley (and now becoming quite intellectual and refined – DRAT!) crew. We shall all pine for your lovely garrett, and I saw your latest whimsy on Facebook, the beach hues, which seems like a great side project.

    And I am so sorry about Bates. I'm a cat person (I adore dogs but am allergic) so I can commiserate with both the death and the dearth of urine. Woolite Pet Stain remover works wonders – mine has a dispeptic stomach and allergies, so I know firsthand.

    And I'm very anxious to hear more about the pathology side of your life. My own recent experience with autopsies has both scarred me and left me wanting more. Welcome to our newest renaissance man.

  23. lil Gluckstern

    Hi just a reader, but I am a cat person, and it is a surprise how much I miss my cats who are now gone. I love one that runs the household now and i am very ambivalent when she shows her catness by leaving presents around the house. All that said, I'm going to seek out your book and see how much truth there is in those shows. I think they probably have more money to spend than your department, and you probably don't run around with guns, or do you? Love your garret and welcome.

  24. PD Martin

    Welcome to Murderati, Jonathan. What a great get-to-know-you post.

    Like others, I'm jealous of your Paris pad (even though it is a studio apartment and half-renovated!). I've been to Paris a few times and just LOVE it. And I've always thought about living there part time, or maybe full time, and writing. In fact, Paris is where I first started writing again in my early twenties (inspired by the sense of history and art) and many years later it was where my husband proposed to me. We're heading back to Ireland for my sister-in-law's wedding in three weeks and the best flight deals…flew in via Paris. If I must travel via Paris, I must ๐Ÿ™‚ We've only got 4 nights there, but I can't wait! So I can well understand your desire to write in Paris.

    And glad to see in your comments that the drought has broken and that your second cat is on the mend. If it makes you feel better, even though we have free, public healthcare here in Oz, I think the vet bills run up about the same. We don't have pets, but my mum (mom!) does and I know she's paid a lot to keep her precious dogs in good health.

    Thanks again for a great first post and I look forward to more.
    Phillipa

  25. PD Martin

    Forgot to mention that NY is my other favourite city and somewhere I'd love to live one of these days. Melbourne's pretty great too ๐Ÿ™‚

  26. KDJames

    Welcome, Jonathan, to you and your cat, and your chairs! I'm sorry to hear about the loss of Bates but I totally cracked up at the thought of a back-up cat. Especially since he has been at bit, um, backed up.

    I remember you and your many eclectic interests from Alafair's interview and am looking forward to that promised milennia of posts. Do you take requests? Because pictures of food would awesome. Especially in posts where you talk about forensics. [I can't help it, I'm annoyingly and unrepentantly irreverent.]

  27. Troy Lambert

    To ALL–As Jonathan's freind I can tell you that he adores ice cream as well as cats and chairs. Congrats JOnathan on the great response to this post and I am happy to hear that petey is flowing freely again.. I am sure your housekeeper will charge an additional fee for the urine removval on top of your vet bills.

    I have read both of Jonathan's books for those of you curious and I look forward to his next one. But just as fascinating has been my getting to know the man behind the books. He is constantly interesting, entertaining, and a dear friend. I hope you all come to know and love this great author as much as many of us do. Cheers, Jonathan.

  28. Pari Noskin

    May I call you Jaze? I like everything about that moniker.

    What a wonderful introductory post — the job, the animals (my true condolences about your one cat and a hope for a speedy total recovery for the other), the details of your writing spaces with those insane chairs from the asylum, the luxurious apartment in Paris – we got it all.

    . . . and I enjoyed every word of it.

    I'm off to FB to friend you.

  29. Sandie Herron

    It's great to see you on Murderati Jonathan! It's one of those group author blogs that I try to get to often to enjoy a real variety of topics, intensity, information, education, emotions, and fun! And I don't have to copy down the recipes … altho with you on board, that may change. There is so much more about you that you haven't shared that I look forward to getting to know you in a different environment. And since we're talking about cats, may I share everyone's relief that Petey is now doing what cats do naturally – pee all over the house missing the litter box entirely. Sandie in Sarasota

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