When I wrote my novel Fava (http://amzn.to/1sqss0b
) in 2013, I inserted a preacher, Reverend Malcolm McKenzie, into the story. He’s an arrogant, affable, narcissistic, self-aggrandizing blowhard who gains a national audience as he spread a message of hate against Muslims. I had him preaching to a crowd of 20,000 and on TV before millions, advancing an unthinkable course of action. At the time I was writing the book, I distinctly recall being worried that perhaps the character was too over the top. Or, if he wasn’t too much, then the adulation of him and his message by the American public was not believable. Even with this country being populated by hordes of non-thinking Reality TV-watching zombies, I thought we were too advanced as a nation for such a person to actually become a cult figure. We were too civilized to buy into this message of hate and intolerance, I believed. I thought this sub-plot might go over the line and could lose my readers. However, despite these misgivings, I kept it in the book; it made for a good story.
As it turns out, I needn’t have worried. The character is not too over the top; if anything, he’s a toned down version of today’s reality. In fact, if people were to read Fava now without knowing that it was written three years ago (which believe it or not was even before the current Presidential race commenced), they would say that I took the easy way out, basing Rev. McKenzie on a certain presidential candidate and his followers.
Neither are we as civilized or advanced as I once gave our country credit for being. As with Rev. McKenzie, the candidate’s message of hate and intolerance resonates with many Americans. The difference is that McKenzie’s message promotes unspeakable carnage while the candidate has not gotten there, yet. But it would not take too much of a rhetorical or logical leap to imagine the candidate eventually espousing the reverend’s message. Every time you think this candidate has gone too far, two days later he goes even further.
Now, if I were to take a page from the candidate’s book, I would self-congratulate myself for being so spot-on prescient. However, because this is the future of our country we’re talking about, instead I feel sick to my stomach that I accurately portrayed the country we are turning into.
I had the pleasure of chatting with widely acclaimed Indie Author Christoph Fischer. Please find it below and enjoy the read!Today I would like to introduce a writer colleague of mine whose work has been on my radar for some time: John Hazen. Welcome to my blog. Please tell my readers: how did you come to writing?
I’ve wanted to write for as long as I could remember but never seemed to get around to it. I’ve always been a fairly avid reader of novels, and on a number of occasions I thought, “I could do that” but there were always myriad reasons not to. Then, when I got my first laptop some years ago, I ran out of excuses. I had a lot of downtime on the train as I commuted to and from work so I dived in and started writing. I had a couple ideas floating around in my head that I thought would work as a basis for a story so I took one and ploughed ahead. I haven’t looked back since.
There’s nothing that gives me the same exhilaration as when I’m immersed in a story, creating people and plots. I’ve missed my train station more than a few times as I’m writing. Aceldama, which recently came out on April 28th, is both my first novel and my fourth one. I know that sounds a bit strange so let me explain. I wrote Aceldama, which is about a woman’s quest to save her husband from an ancient curse she believes is robbing him of his life and soul, well over a decade ago. However, there were certain parts of it that bothered me or I felt dragged, and I put it on the shelf (or whatever the cyber version of a shelf is). I moved on, writing and publishing three other novels: Fava and Journey of an American Son, both of which were published by Black Rose Writing, a small independent publisher out of Texas, and Dear Dad, which I self-published. Last year, I decided to resurrect Aceldama, polishing it and adding a whole new subplot that increased the tension and action. It also tied some of the loose ends together.
How did you come up with your stories?
My ideas come from multiple places but the one constant that runs through my books is my love of history. Looking at your writings, Christoph, I believe we have a shared passion in that regard. My writings have touched on the Vietnam War, the U.S. Civil War, the Middle East situation, British colonialism, the French Revolution, to name a few historical periods. My latest book, Aceldama, starts in 30 A.D. and runs to the present day, with various stopovers along the way.
Sometimes ideas or questions just hit me and I think, “That would make a great premise for a book.” It takes off from there. For example, I once read about the five Pillars of Islam, which are the five basic acts that provide the foundation for a proper Muslim life. Four of these—Declaration of Faith, Prayer, Charity, and Fasting—are internal to the person, but the fifth—Making the Hajj to Mecca—got me thinking. What if a fanatic lunatic, believing he can wreak ultimate revenge for 9/11, obtains the resources to remove this pillar and, he believes, thereby topples Islam. Throw in a determined TV reporter who uncovers this plot and, with the help of an FBI agent, is determined to keep it from succeeding (with of course a whole bunch of twists and turns along the way) and you have Fava.
My book, Journey of an American Son, on the other hand, was inspired by a diary my grandfather kept on a business trip he took from Boston to Calcutta India in 1920. As you can imagine, unlike today when you hop on a plane and are on the other side of the world in a matter of hours, his trip took over a month and involved trains, steamships and other forms of antiquated transportation. Along the way he encountered lepers, geisha girls, World War I amputees, a silent screen starlet, shifty rickshaw drivers and even Mahatma Gandhi. I thought it would make for a great setting into which to weave a story.
You have created great characters. Which one is your favourite?
What kind of parent would I be if I favoured one of my creations over another? Seriously, my favourite characters tend to be the ones that I originally introduce as a minor character to help move the plot along at a specific point but then as I’m writing they grow before my very eyes. Soon they are key to the entire story. Each of my books has at least one of these. In my current book, Aceldama, Sister Catherine, an 18th Century French nun who ends up on the guillotine, was like this. She ends up being a pivotal character, two centuries after her death. Likewise, FBI Agent Will Allen (Fava), Sergeant Walter Jones (Journey of an American Son) and Doc Whittley (Dear Dad) all evolved in this same way. I’m very proud of all of them.
Who would you cast to play the characters in a movie?
In Aceldama, the lead, Anna, would have to be played by an actress who’s beautiful, determined and exudes intelligence. Perhaps Jennifer Lawrence. James Franco could play her husband, Tim. The role of Rene would have to be a Frenchman who exudes charm and sex appeal. Guillaume Canet, perhaps? Now, there is a middle-aged Roman soldier in the book. Russell Crowe has experience playing such a role so, if he finds himself in between gigs…
Are you like any of the characters (and how so)?
I’m probably most like Tim in Aceldama. He’s quiet, introspective and somewhat studious. He’s also absolutely devoted to his wife.
Were the plot and subplots completely planned from the start or did they change during the process, and if so, how?
Completely planned? Not in the least. Somewhat planned? Hardly. Make it up as you go along? That’s the ticket!
As I mentioned earlier, I have a general issue or theme that I try not to stray too far from but basically I just sit down and write with no clear path forward. On occasion, I’ve gone down a certain road and I get to a point and ask myself: “Where do I go from here?” Sometimes, it resolves itself (once with a proverbial AHA! moment at 2:00 in the morning) and other times it does not. In those cases I have to reverse tracks and plot a new direction.
Some of my author friends tell me they outline the entire book before they write it. I have a lot of admiration for someone who’s organized and clear thinking enough to do that. It just doesn’t work for me.
What is your main reason for writing?
I do try to get people to think. I like posing ‘What if?’ questions. But first and foremost I write is for myself. Even after four books I’ll still sit back in wonderment and say: ‘Hey, I did that!’ It’s a great feeling of pride and accomplishment. I hope that other people like (and buy) what I’ve written but if they don’t, c’est la vie. If other people like what I’ve done, that’s gravy. Maybe it would be more profitable to sit around wondering what others would like and then try to produce that but I wouldn’t enjoy it as much and I think my writing would suffer as a result.
What are the best and the worst aspects of writing?
The best aspect is when I’m totally immersed in what I’m writing and, when I come back to the land of sentient beings, I find a tear running down my cheek over something I just wrote. You can’t beat that. The worst is when I go back to review and edit my work and I run across a part where the only things I can say are: ‘What was I thinking?’ or ‘That crap came out of me?’
How do you balance marketing one book and writing the next?
I usually don’t. I literally suck at marketing and would rather be doing almost anything else, so moving on to writing my next book is a natural. That’s why I so appreciate participating in a forum like this where I can make my work known to a new audience in a less objectionable manner than other forms of marketing and outreach.
What do you do when you don’t write?
Well, I do have to work a day job to play the bills. I work in the environmental protection field. Other than that, I love spending time with Lynn, my wife and best friend. We love to travel and consider Paris to be a second home. We play tennis together and just have a good time whether we’re watching reruns and old movies or cooking together.
Who are your editors and how do you quality control your books?
I probably should pay for a professional editor, but I never seem to get around to it. My first reads are my toughest and most honest critics: my wife and her sister. They’ll set me straight if the story or dialogue isn’t believable. My sister-in-law, for example, has worked in journalism her entire career and she caught a few things in Fava, which has a TV journalist as the main character, that didn’t ring true. I’m always on the hunt for quality beta readers (Any volunteers out there?)
What is your advice to new writers?
My best advice is to persevere and not be overwhelmed. Take it a step at a time. Just write; get something down on paper (or these days on the screen). Even if it’s dreck, you can massage it, add to it, detract from it or just throw it out. Sometimes people are in such a hurry and want to get to the end before they even begin. You have to do it in a progression. I see writing a novel as similar to building a house. You have to build the structure and install the utilities before you can get to decorating the dining room. Writing is the same way. Build it a step at a time.
Who are your favourite authors?
My tastes are rather eclectic and I have a range of authors across the spectrum. I love John Steinbeck but I also love J.K. Rowling. I’ll read anything historian Doris Kearns Goodwin puts out. I’ll go through streaks where I’ll devour everything an author has ever written. I got into one of those streaks some years ago with Robert Ludlum and then with James Michener and then Leon Uris. I’ve recently gotten into Stephen King.
What is your favourite book?
My favourite all-time book is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. It has spoken to me over the years.
What book are you currently reading and in what format (e-book/paperback/hardcover)?
At the moment I’ve just started A House for Mr. Biswas by V. S. Naipaul on e-book. It was a choice by a member of a book club I’m in and quite frankly I had never heard of it before but, reading the reviews, I’m really looking forward to it. It’s not a book I probably would have chosen on my own but it’s fun going outside your comfort zone every once in awhile to broaden your horizons in reading something new and different.
How do you handle criticism of your work?
I’d like to say I’m above it all and take the criticism as an opportunity to learn and grow, but I’m way to shallow for that. I’ll admit that criticism can hurt; I just try not to let it overwhelm me. I’ll also take the criticism better if it’s buttressed with a firm rationale and constructive advice. The other day, I got a review of one of my books which, while I was reading it, seemed to indicate that the person liked the book and that it really made her think. But then she gave it only three stars without any explanation of why it ranked so low. I’ll concede that my writing and the subject matter I write about may not be for everybody. That’s fine. If that’s the case, tell me what you didn’t like about it. Don’t just carry on about the positives but then slam it with your rating. There, I handle that well, didn’t I?
Bio: John Hazen came to writing novels relatively late in life, but once he started he hasn’t looked back. He was born and raised in Massachusetts but has lived in the New York City/New Jersey area for the past forty years. Degrees from Rutgers, The New School and NYU buttress a lifelong passion for learning and a love of history. Inspired by Lynn, his wife of over thirty-five years, he pursued the dream of becoming an established author and is now working on his fifth book. John and Lynn love to travel, and the experiences of those travels find their way into his writing. John’s reading tastes are eclectic, ranging from histories to classic novels to an occasional piece of modern trash. His absolute “must reads” are Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potterseries and Doris Kearns Goodwin’s No Ordinary Time.
Twitter – @john_hazenFacebook – firstname.lastname@example.orgBook links:
I was recently interviewed by P.C. Zick for her "Author Wednesday" feature series. Check out the Q&A below!
Hello, John. I’m glad you stopped by today. Your latest novel sounds very exciting, but before we talk about that why don’t you tell readers a little bit about your writing life. What are your writing rituals?
Other than a need for copious amounts of coffee, I can’t say I have many writing rituals. In fact, I’m quite undisciplined as a writer, which can be both a blessing and a curse. I’m not an outliner; the story creates itself as I progress. I have a general theme, an overall concept, and an ultimate outcome, but the details work themselves out along the way. I like to believe that as a result my writing doesn’t come out formulaic or predictable.
I work a bit like you do. It’s good to know I’m not the only one who writes that way. Rachel Carson (Silent Spring) said she never chose a subject because as a writer, the subject chose her. Describe a time when a subject chose you.
In real life, my professional career has been in environmental protection, so Rachel Carson holds a special place in my heart. But more germane to the question, I believe she’s correct: the subjects have chosen me for each of the four novels I’ve written. Two of my books emerged from unanswerable questions that swirled around in my head for years. Fava (Black Rose Writing, 2014): “What would happen if a “Pillar of Islam” were to be removed?” and, Aceldama (as yet unpublished): “What if a person were to stumble upon one of Judas’s thirty pieces of silver?” The subject presented itself in a different way for my novel Journey of an American Son, (to be released by Black Rose Writing in November 2014). I found a diary my grandfather kept on a 1920 business trip he took going from Boston to Calcutta, India. At that time, travel was somewhat arduous; he traveled by train, boat, car, and even rickshaw. Along the way he encountered lepers, geishas, and silent film starlets. It struck me as a great starting point for a novel.
I’m impressed by so much of what you said in that answer! We have a lot in common, since all my novels tend to have an environmental theme, and Rachel Carson is one of my heroes. I love the idea of your grandfather’s diary. What an experience. I can’t wait to read it. Do you have a favorite character that you created?
All my characters are like my children and what type of parent would I be if I favored one over another? Seriously though, one of my favorite things is when I introduce a minor character simply to advance the plot but, as I continue writing, that character grows before my eyes. Soon he or she becomes a major figure, integral to the book itself. In Fava, Special Agent Will Allen was introduced as a roadblock for the protagonist, Francine Vega, to overcome but eventually he teams with her to help save the world. In Journey of an American Son, Walter Jones was Ben Albert’s sergeant during the First World War, but I bring him back to help Ben’s wife in her attempts to free her husband from jail in Calcutta after he is framed for murder. These characters tend to be my richest because I’m developing them for myself as well as for the reader. I also like to take famous historical figures and peel away the myths that surround them to show them as real human beings. The three characters I’ve dealt with thus far are Ulysses S. Grant, Mahatma Gandhi, and Judas Iscariot!
You pulled in the big guns. What’s your one sentence pitch for Fava?
Can a beautiful, talented New York TV reporter thwart a maniacal plot to exact the ultimate revenge for 9-11 before it plunges the world into war?
That’s a great hook. What’s the best thing said about one of your books by a reviewer?
A review of Fava by Midwest Book Reviews contained all the things an author likes to hear: “terrific premise,” “holds the reader’s entertained attention from beginning to end,” “very highly recommended,” but the part the got me the most was when they noted it was “deftly written.” High praise indeed. On a local level, I did a book signing at a bookstore, and they posted the event on Twitter. A man I’d never met retweeted it saying I was one of his favorite writers, and he was glad they were supporting me. Made my day, I must say.
That’s a great thing, for sure. How did you choose the title?
The title Fava didn’t become apparent to me until about half way through the book. In fact, the reader won’t become aware of what the title means until exactly the same time, which I think is kind of neat.
I like that. I can’t wait to figure it out. If you could invite two other authors over to your house for dinner, who would you choose?
My favorite all-time book is To Kill a Mockingbird so I’d love to meet Harper Lee, but I know how much she cherishes her privacy, and I would be reluctant to invade on that privacy. So, the two I would pick are J.K. Rowling and Doris Kearns Goodwin. I am in such awe of the Harry Potter series. It would be such a thrill just being able to converse with the person who could create such a world. I’ve loved a number of Kearns Goodwin’s books. No Ordinary Time is one of the best books I’ve ever read. Also, I’ve seen her on news programs. She’s so interesting and knowledgeable on so many subjects that I’d imagined she be a wonderful dinner companion.
Excellent choices. I’d like to know why Harper Lee never wrote another book! Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, John. I hope you’ll come back when your next book is published. And I promise to move Fava up high on my TBR list.
Have any questions for me? Send a message by clicking the "Contact Me" link at the very top of this page. For more interviews like this one or to learn more about P.C. Zick, please visit her website: http://pczick.com.
I recently had a great opportunity to sit down with Maer Wilson - writer of urban fantasy, and occasionally horror and paranormal mysteries - to talk about my most recent release, Fava. Check out the Q&A below! Maer: Thanks for joining us to tell us about your new book.
John: And thank you for having me to talk about my suspense thriller,Fava. It’s the fourth novel I’ve written but the first to be published (Black Rose Writing), I’ve self-published one, Dear Dad, while the other two are in the wings, awaiting publication.
Maer: What is a one line synopsis for your book?
John: Fava is about a New York City TV reporter who finds she must foil a lotto jackpot winner’s ultimate 9-11 revenge plot before it plunges the world into war.
Maer: This novel sounds fascinating. Is this a stand-alone or part of a series?
John: I wrote it as a stand-alone but have since decided to follow it up with a sequel.
Maer: Looking forward to it. Do you use beta readers and, if so, what qualities do you look for in a beta?
John: I do use beta readers. They have to be intelligent, critical in a constructive sort of way, well-read and have some level of connection with me and with what I’m trying to say. I’ve found the two best beta readers one could hope for: my wife, Lynn, and my sister-in-law, Nancy.
Maer: What is the funniest or oddest thing that has happened to you as an author?
John: I gave Fava to Nancy for her review and critique. She got back to me with three specific criticisms that didn’t seem to ring true relative to my main character, Francine Vega. They were all easily fixable and I made the changes. I then meant to give the amended version to Lynn for her review but I mistakenly gave her the original version. She then came back to me with the same three points, pretty much verbatim, that needed changing. After that I figured I was on the right track.
Maer: Sounds it. Which character, other than Francine, is one of your favorites to write and why?
John: My favorite characters are the ones who literally grow in front of my eyes. In each of my books I’ve introduced minor characters who were useful to advance the plot at that particular point. However, as the story matured in my mind, so did those characters. In the end, they became major characters, integral to the book. InFava, for example, FBI Special Agent Will Allen was introduced only as a temporary roadblock that the main character, Francine Vega, had to get around but he ends up teaming with Francine to foil the plot. I feel the most proud of these characters, feeling that I truly brought them to life from nothing.
Maer: I knwo that feeling. If you had to pick a color to describe Francine what would that be and why?
John: I’d say definitely red. There’s a fire there, a drive in her to keep going despite the odds and despite constant danger that she’s in.
Maer: Who are your favorite authors to read?
John: My reading tastes are pretty eclectic. One week I’ll be reading a Doris Kearns Goodwin history and then veer off into a Stephen King novel and then a John Steinbeck classic. I’ll go through spurts where I can’t get enough of one author. I plowed through everything Robert Ludlum ever wrote and then another time I read all of James Michener’s novels. Lately I’ve started reading Cara Black’s Aimee Leduc murder mysteries. They’re good and they’re set in Paris. What else could you ask for?
Maer: What else, indeed! Can you share a bit about the project you’re working on now?
John: I have several projects going on at the same time. I’m in the early stages of writing a sequel to Fava, one that will reach back to some dark secrets from World War II. Another thing I’m doing is getting one of my unpublished novels, Journey of an American Son, finalized and ready for submission to my publisher, Black Rose Writing. Lastly, I’ve been working with a friend of mine who’s in television to pitch another of my unpublished novels, Aceldama, which we’ve developed into both a screenplay and a series pilot.
Maer: Busy guy! What do you do when you’re not writing?
John: Well, since I haven’t quite gotten to the point where writing can pay the bills, I have my day job in environmental protection. In my other time I enjoy spending it with my wife whether we’re traveling, playing tennis or watching Castle reruns.
Maer: What influenced you to write in your genre? Do you write in others?
John: All my books can be considered suspense. I’ve always been a history buff and I love incorporating history into my books whether it’s the Civil War, colonial India or Israel during the time of Roman occupation. I don’t write in other genres, but it would all depend on the particular influence if it put a particular idea into my head at a particular time. For example, I stumbled on a diary my grandfather wrote during a business trip he took in 1920 when his company sent him from Boston to Calcutta, India. That diary became the setting and inspiration for Journey of an American Son. Who knows what else is out there that could point me in a different direction?
Maer: Oh that’s very cool. What music, if any, do you like to listen to while writing?
John: Like my reading tastes, I have an eclectic music collection that ranges from classical to standards to rock to reggae. However, while I’m writing I generally like peace and quiet.
Maer: John, thanks again for stopping by. Do you have anything you’d like to add?
John: I hope people enjoy reading Fava as much as enjoyed writing it. I recently took part in a local author event at the Well Read Bookstore in Hawthorne, NJ. They tweeted some pictures from the event and one person (that I’d never met) retweeted it with a quote: John Hazen is one of my favorite authors. I’m glad to see you supporting him. Well, that certainly made my day and hopefully I can gather a few more people along the way who think of me as ‘one of their favorite authors.’ So, thank you once again for having me. In parting I do have one question I now ask when I talk about Fava: What would you do if you were to win a lottery jackpot?
Maer: A question I think almost everyone has pondered at one time or another. Mine is an easy answer for me: in addition to the usual help family and friends, travel, etc., I’d set up a foundation for artists: performers, writers, visual arts. We’d nurture new artists as they begin their careers – no matter what their age – and help them along their journey.Have any questions for me? Send a message by clicking the "Contact Me" link at the very top of this page. For more interviews like this one or to learn more about Maer Wilson, please visit her website: maerwilson.com.
I’ve just started to work on my fifth novel. It’s my first sequel, which in itself is a new venture for me.
If anyone out there is keeping score (Okay, nobody out there cares one way or another but let me delude myself a little bit), they may remark that I’ve only gotten one book published (Fava, which was recently published by Black Rose Writing) and one other that I self-published (Dear Dad, Amazon, 2012). This means that I have two others, waiting in the wings to be discovered.
Now, don’t get the impression that I haven’t tried very hard to get all my books discovered. Like the vast majority of writers out there, I’ve received countless rejections from agents and publishers alike (or even worse than the rejections are the ‘if you don’t hear from us assume that your work isn’t right for us’). I do sometimes ask myself the immortal questions: Why write? and Why set yourself up for disappointment after disappointment?
The answer that I keep coming back to is that I write for me. For me.
Perhaps I’d be more successful if I thought more about a target audience and tailored my books toward that audience. But that would make writing into a job. It would rob me of the quality of writing that makes it so special, so rewarding.
I write for me. Hopefully I’m not all that different from the rest of the world and what I write, what I find special, will resonate with others and be special to them as well. But if not, c’est la vie!
I’d like to know why other writers write. Are they trying to reach the masses? Certain people? Certain segments of the population? Or do they write for themselves?