Author Interview - John Hazen
My interview this week is with Author, John Hazen.
John's answer to question #12 impressed me. And I could visualize the scene he described in #19. If that's not in a book yet, it should be. What a great memory!
Thank you John, for giving us a little glimpse of both your writing and personal life.
About Writing/Books/Being an Author
1. Do you remember the first book you read that had an impact on you - in what way and what was the name of that book?
The first full-length book that I remember reading was when I was in fourth or fifth grade. It was a novel called Johnny Tremaine. It’s a historical novel set during the time of the American Revolution. I’ve long had a love of history—a love that finds its way into the novels I write—and I’ve often attributed that book as kindling that love.
2. When did you first realize you wanted to write?
I’ve always ‘wanted’ to write but never seemed to have the time. It wasn’t until I got my first laptop that I started to write in earnest. I devoted my commuting time, about forty-five minutes each way, to writing novels. The result is that I’m now working on my sixth suspense/thriller.
3. Who is/are your favourite author(s)?
My favorite all-time novel is To Kill a Mockingbird but, since Harper Lee only wrote the one novel (I don’t count the travesty that greedy publishers put out a few years ago as her book), I’ve found it wise to get to know some other authors. I’ve loved a number of the classics such a John Steinbeck and Sinclair Lewis. I’ve come to really like James Patterson, since he writes in the same genre as I do, and I’ve lately started reading Stephen King.
4. What is your favourite thing about writing? What is your least favourite thing writing?
My favorite thing is inventing characters, bringing people to life in my books. I especially love it when I introduce a person as a minor character, there to advance the plot, but then as the book progresses the person grows before my eyes. Soon, he or she has become a major character, integral to the book itself. Each of my books has one or more of these characters.
My least favorite thing related to writing is the promotion end of things. I am lousy at blowing my own horn; I prefer to let my work speak for itself. Unfortunately, not many books get sold if people don’t know about them. For this reason, I appreciate venues like this that you provide as an opportunity to get people to know me.
5. Where do your ideas come from?
They come from a variety of sources. Sometimes I get an idea in my head that won’t go away. The idea eventually evolves into a novel. For example, I’d ask myself a question such as: What would happen if a person were to stumble upon one of the 30 pieces of silver given to Judas for the life of Jesus (Aceldama, http://amzn.to/1sr15Uq)? or What would happen if someone were to try to remove one of the five ‘pillars of Islam’ (Fava, http://amzn.to/1sqss0b)? As I mentioned earlier, I’m a big fan of history and my ideas are often rooted in history. I’ve always had a fascination for the American Civil War and wanted to write a book about it but I didn’t want it to be a run-of-the-mill account, so I came up with the idea of doing a time travel book where a Vietnam War soldier is transported back to the Civil War (Dear Dad, http://amzn.to/1VYgo2Z). This gave me an opportunity to compare two dramatically different conflicts, both in terms of the fighting itself but also in regard to popularity and acceptance by the public. My latest book (Zyklon, https://amzn.to/2MI9pdg) is also steeped in history. It shows how historical events such as World War II and the Holocaust can have a profound impact on today. For my fifth book (Journey of an American Son, http://amzn.to/1OuVZA5), the idea—or at least the setting—practically dropped onto my lap when I was going through some boxes and found a journal my grandfather had kept on a business trip he made going from Boston, Massachusetts to Calcutta, India in 1920. As you can imagine, it was quite an arduous journey, but one that was filled with great stories.
6. I’ve often found that creative people have more than one talent, what is yours?
I’m the quintessential ‘jack of all trades, master of none.’ I’m fairly handy doing jobs around the house; but I’m by no means a craftsman. I can cook and bake; but I’m not an accomplished chef. I can play the clarinet; but I’m no musician. I play tennis; but I’m no athlete.
7. If you could jump inside of a book for one day (as an observer) what book would it be?
It would have to be any of the Harry Potter books. JK Rowling created such a fascinating world that it would be irresistible living there for a day.
8. When you create characters, are they completely made up or do they resemble or remind you of people you know?
They are a mix. Sometimes I make people up totally. Sometimes, I see attributes in them after the fact that I can ascribe to certain real people, but the similarities are unintentional. In other cases, I’ll base a character on a real person or a combination of several real people. For example, the main character in my book Journey of an American Son was a combination of my grandfather and my father-in-law while his father was a combination of my wife’s grandfather and my father.
9. Have you ever created a character “out of thin air” only to run into someone in real life that reminds you of that character either in personality or their features?
That has indeed happened but I’m never sure whether I’m observing the characteristics of the real person or whether I’m assigning characteristics to them based on the character I created.
10. How do you come up with titles for your books?
In two of my books, Dear Dad and Zyklon, the titles were evident to me from page one. Dear Dad starts with a letter the main character, John Foster, writes to his father from Vietnam. The first two words of the book therefore became the title. Zyklon comes from the infamous poison, Zyklon B, used by the Nazis at concentration camps and plays an important role in this thriller. For the other three books, the titles did not present themselves to me until I was well into the book. For example, I had three different working titles until I finally arrived at Aceldama and Fava didn’t have a title until about half-way through and I came up with an affectionate nickname for the lead character.
11. What are you working on now and can you tell us about it?
I’m now working on the third book in my Fava series. Fava and Zyklon were the first two. In this book (as yet untitled) my protagonist, New York City TV reporter Francine (Fava) Vega, is trying to determine what happened to a friend who vanished without a trace. Along the way she gets enmeshed in the worlds of racism, small town politics and apocalyptic religion zealotry.
12. Have you won any awards for your writing/books and if so what?
Best Thrillers listed my book, Fava, as one of the 18 all-time best FBI thrillers. It was quite an honor being on a list that contains the likes of James Patterson, David Baldacci, Catherine Coulter and Lee Child. Also, my book, Zyklon, was selected for a PenCraft award in 2018 as a top mystery.
A Little More Personal
13. What is one thing you haven’t done but would like to do?
I haven’t been shy about doing things I’ve wanted to do. A few years back I gave my wife a present of tandem skydiving, something she’d always wanted to do. I was going to sit it out but when we got there, I figured what the hell and signed myself up as well. I’m sure glad I did. In terms of things on my bucket list, they mostly represent places I still want to see. I’ve always wanted to go to Florence, Italy. Seeing The David in person would be the thrill of a lifetime.
14. Can you tell us about an embarrassing/funny moment?
I was in a meeting at work where this woman was describing a graph that she wanted to present at an upcoming public hearing. Her explanation went on and on and after a while I raised my hand. I told her, “I’ve always thought that a graph was like a joke; if you have to explain it, it’s no good.” It was one of those lines that I would think of after the fact, kicking myself for not thinking of it earlier. I can still feel her glaring at me while everyone else burst into laughter.
15. Have you ever experienced something weird you could not explain?
There have been several instances where I have written something off the top of my head but then, when I subsequently checked them out, I found that the events/situations that I could have sworn I made up were true events. I did not remember hearing them previously, but maybe I had.
16. Are you superstitious? Do you have any rituals for good luck?
I’m not really superstitious. I’ve always believed that a person makes his or her luck. That doesn’t mean I’m going to push my luck and start walking under ladders or cursing the gods unnecessarily.
17. What is the strangest thing you have ever eaten?
I’m not a real adventurous eater, but years ago when we were in England, I remember ordering a dish called whitebait. My wife was disgusted but I thought it delicious.
18. Do you have a favourite vacation spot? Where?
Paris. We’ve been in love with that city for over thirty years. I’d go there with a minute’s notice if I had the opportunity.
19. Can you tell us about one of your favourite childhood memories?
I had a rather idyllic childhood, growing up in a small New England town, so there are lots of great memories. We didn’t have a lot of money, but we didn’t seem to miss it at the time. My grandmother lived on the lake in the same town and, when I wasn’t playing baseball, I’d be there swimming pretty much the entire summer. The one memory that stands out would be in the winter when my mother bundled us all up and the entire family walked across the frozen lake to my grandmother’s house. She’d have hot chocolate waiting for us there. This was a family ritual for a number of years. I always looked forward to it and it’s such a great memory.
20. What makes you happy?
I love spending time with my wife of 38 years, doing anything or doing nothing. We love to travel but we’re happy just staying at home, too.
21. If you aren’t writing (or doing anything associated with writing), what are you doing?
I need to start devoting more time to my writing. When I was working, I actually had more time to write than now that I’m retired. Previously, I had that solid block of commuting time on the train that I could devote exclusively to writing. I don’t have that now. It often seems that I spend a good part of my day trying to keep this 62-year-old body in somewhat of a shape, primarily through walking and playing tennis. Also, we did the reverse of most people. For thirty plus years we lived in a condo. When we retired, we moved down to Florida and bought a house. There’s always something that needs doing here. Go figure.
22. Have you ever met anyone famous – who?
I met long-time journalist Dan Rather recently. I’ve met a number of famous sports figures over the years—Martina Navrilatova, Bill Russell, Edwin Moses, Tony Dorsett, to name a few. I shared an elevator with Gene Hackman once, but that doesn’t really count, does it? I’ve also met a few high-profile politicians over the years.
Thank you so much for having me here today, Sandra. If your readers would like to learn more about me, they should check out my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/JohnHazenAuthor/ or on Twitter at www.twitter.com/john_hazen.