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.
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.
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 Potter series and Doris Kearns Goodwin’s No Ordinary Time.
Website – www.johnwhazen.com
Twitter – @john_hazen
Facebook – firstname.lastname@example.org
Journey of an American Son – http://www.blackrosewriting.com/suspensethriller/journey-of-an-american-son?rq=journey or