Please tell us a little about yourself.
To borrow from John and Paul, my life progression has been “I’ll Follow the Sun”, starting in Massachusetts then moving to New Jersey/New York before finally settling in Florida. Along the way, I experienced life in a small town (West Brookfield, MA), in one of the world’s largest cities (New York, NY) and in a quintessential example of suburbia (Edison, NJ). Along the way I met my love and soul mate, Lynn, to whom I’ve been married for thirty-seven years.
Educationally, I have a Bachelors degree in psychology from Rutgers University, a Masters of Arts in sociology from the New School for Social Research and a Masters of Public Administration from New York University. Then I did absolutely nothing with all those degrees as I embarked on what would be a 32-year career in environmental protection. I retired this past May and am now focused on my writing.
How and when did you become a writer?
Writing novels is something I’ve wanted to do for as long as I could remember but never seemed to get around to doing. I’ve always been a fairly avid reader of novels, and on a number of occasions I thought, “I could do that” but there was always a myriad of reasons to put off doing it. Then, when I got my first laptop many years ago, I ran out of excuses. I had a lot of downtime on the train as I commuted 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 plowed ahead. I haven’t looked back since. Thus far, I’ve only made limited income from my books, so let’s just say that writing is a passion of mine but I wouldn’t object to it becoming something I could count on as a more substantial way to support myself.
What genre do you write?
All of my books are in the suspense/thriller genre but two of the four (Dear Dad and Aceldama) have a paranormal component to them. I’ve always been a student of history and each book is heavily steeped in various historical eras.
How would you describe your writing style and writing process?
When Hank Aaron came up to bat in the 1958 World Series, Catcher Yogi Berra pointed out to him that the trademark on the bat was turned in the wrong direction, making the bat more prone to breaking. Aaron’s response was: “I ain’t up here to read, I’m here to hit.” I kind of feel like that when I’m writing. “I don’t follow a particular style, I just write.”
My favorite time to write is early in the morning before everyone else is up and everything is quiet. My mind is at its most fertile then. Once the day starts and everyone else wakes up, there are too many distractions and I have too short an attention span.
I am definitely in the ‘make it up as I go along’ type of writer. I’m in total awe of those authors who outline their entire books before they sit down to write them. I just have never been able to do that. I sit down and write and let the story take me wherever it wants to go. Then I’ll go over what I’ve written again and again and invariably new ideas arise in the edits.
My approach does lend itself to periods of blockage and times where I’ll get the story to a certain point and then have to ask: Where do I go from here? Overall, though, I like my method. It works for me.
What makes you different from other writers?
I had an English professor who once said that there hasn’t been an original thought in English literature in a thousand years. What separates the great ones is how they say it. It really is hard, therefore, for a writer to differentiate himself from the rest, and I am no different.
All that aside, I like to fool myself into thinking that the ideas contained in my books are a different twist and ask some questions that many writers aren’t asking. Examples include:
· How would a soldier cope with being in two different wars like Vietnam and The Civil War that are diametrically opposites in so many ways?
· What would happen if someone stumbled upon one of the 30 pieces of silver given to Judas for the life of Christ?
· What would happen to the Islam Religion if someone attempted to remove one of the “Pillars of Islam”?
Do you emulate other writers?
I have a selection of favorite authors and works that I aspire to emulate in the way they describe the human condition and interrelationships. An author needs to stand on the shoulders of giants but at the same time be his or her own person. That’s not always easy to do. Not everyone can create a new world the way J.K. Rowling does or evoke raw emotions like Stephen King or keep readers on the edges of theirs seats like James Patterson, but as a writer, I try.
Of the four novels you’ve written, do you have a favorite that you’d like to talk about?
I’d be like those terrible parents who admit out loud that they favor one child over another, but I’ll give it a go anyway. I’ll have to say that my sentimental favorite is Dear Dad.
Dear Dad is about a young man, John Foster who, after being plucked from the secure cocoon of small town life in 1969, has his very soul nearly destroyed by the horrors of the Vietnam War. He can revive a sense of purpose in his life only after he makes a journey to 1862 Tennessee where he joins General Grant’s troops leading up to the Battle of Shiloh, one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. John ultimately finds redemption through the unwavering love of his wife and father and by setting out to right a brutal wrong.
It showed itself in the book’s first two words. The book starts with the following letter written by the lead character, John Foster, to his father from Vietnam:
Almost got killed today. Don’t think it happened, though. Will advise when sure. Exhausted for now. Will write again soon.
The lead to each successive chapter is a letter, mostly written by John to his father. As a result, the title seemed natural.
How did you come up with the plot for Dear Dad?
I’ve always been a history buff, with special fascination for both the Civil War and World War II. I knew that at some time I’d eventually write books about one or both of those eras, but I wanted those books to be different from the rest. I had to come up with unique storylines. Some years ago I remember watching a documentary about the Vietnam War and the protests. It got me to thinking about the differences between that conflict and our more “popular” wars. I was wondering if there was a way to capture those profound differences in a book without it being a dry history. I settled on a time travel book and Dear Dad was born.
Even though I grew up in the Vietnam era and vividly remember the televised images, I really did not know a lot of details about that war. While it was somewhat personally embarrassing to come to that realization, it also set me on a path to research and learn, which is not a bad thing for any of us.
In writing Dear Dad, I was afraid that I wouldn’t satisfactorily capture both eras in a historically accurate and respectful manner. I was especially anxious about my depiction of the Vietnam era since there are so many people still alive who lived through that time. I was therefore very gratified when one of the reviews I received on the book read: “As a Vietnam Veteran, I particularly related to this story.”
Who is your favorite character in Dear Dad and why?
I think my favorite character is Doc Whittley, the army doctor in Grant’s forces that John hooks up with leading up to the Battle of Shiloh. He’s irascible and grumpy but a heart of gold and a damn good doctor. Even though John had training as a medic in Vietnam, he learns a lot about field medicine from a doctor who lived a century before he did.
In each of my books there is at least one character that I created initially as a minor personage inserted to help the plot along at that point in time. The character was supposed to just be a quick in and out but then, as the book progresses, this person literally grows before my eyes. It’s like I’d given him or her life and then he or she refuses to go away. Before long these characters become not only major characters but they are integral to the entire story. Doc is one of those characters.
We live in divisive times. Should your religion/politics influence your writing?
I don’t know if religion or politics should influence my writing, but I know it does. In fact, both religion and politics play major roles in my novels. It just has a way of coming through.
What are you working on now?
Believe it or not, I’m actually working on a book about religion and politics. A New York City TV reporter, while covering a presidential race where one party’s nominee is a charismatic fundamentalist preacher, gets information that the State of Texas may have executed an innocent man and that a serial killer may still be on the loose. As she gathers clues, the campaign and the search for the killer appear to be on a collision course. This is my first attempt at a sequel, with this book being a follow-up to my book Fava. It’s been a challenge to find a balance between giving the reader who didn’t read Fava enough information without boring those who had read it.
Anything else you'd like to share with our readers?
Just that I appreciate the opportunity to reach out to them and I hope they give my books a shot. I do have a website that tells all about my books, although I do have to do a much better job at keeping it current. I also invite people to follow me on Twitter (@john_hazen) and Facebook where I’m always talking about one or more of my books. I’m going to be taking part in the Miami Book Fair, November 17-19. Drop in if you’re around and meet me then.
Thank you very much for your time!