Today we welcome John Hazen.
Thank you for having me on today, Caroline. It’s a pleasure to get to know you and your followers.
Book ‘Em: Tell us about you and your life outside of writing.
John Hazen: Thank you for having me on today. It is a pleasure to get to know you and your followers.
For some reason, the lyrics “If you like Pina Coladas, and getting caught in the rain.” popped into my mind, but admitting that would somewhat date myself so I’d better go in an opposite direction.
I recently retired from my day job, where I worked for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection for 32 years, and have moved down to sunny Florida with my wife of 27 years, Lynn. We like to travel and lead relatively innocuous lives.
When say “outside of writing” I do find myself wondering if there is such a thing. If I’m not writing, I find myself thinking about my writing. Whether it’s something I observe or hear on TV or just something I think about, I always find myself trying to put those ideas into a story.
Book ‘Em: Which books have you written? What are they about and why did you choose to write them? Do your books have a message? Are they fiction or nonfiction?
John Hazen: I’ve published four suspense-thriller novels thus far. In order of publication date, they are:
Dear Dad (http://amzn.to/1VYgo2Z ) – Plucked from the secure cocoon of small town life in 1969, John Foster’s very soul is 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. John ultimately finds redemption through the unwavering love of his wife and father and by setting out to right a brutal wrong.
Fava (http://amzn.to/1sqss0b ) – The biggest story of Francine Vega’s career could end her life—or start World War III—after she, a rising TV news reporter in New York City, learns that the winner of a lottery jackpot is devoting his fortune to avenge his brother’s killing on 9/11 and that he is backed by a ruthless and powerful Army Colonel gone rogue, religious extremists and co-conspirators in the highest levels of government. Francine (Fava) teams with FBI Special Agent Will Allen in a desperate race across three continents to stop the plot before it’s too late.
Journey of an American Son (http://amzn.to/1OuVZA5) – Benjamin Albert is the first American-born son of immigrants, a war hero and a loving husband and father. He is also a brilliant rising star at Langdan Textiles when in 1920 they send him from Boston to Calcutta to investigate why the jute—a prime component of the burlap Langdan manufactures—is rotting away. After asking too many questions about an “accident” at the mill there, he is framed for a murder he did not commit and is thrown into prison. When his own government turns its back on him, his wife, Catherine, takes matters into her own hands and battles a ruthless and unscrupulous corporation abetted by a corrupt colonial government to free the man she loves.
Aceldama (http://amzn.to/1sr15Uq ) – A coin. A curse. A murder. The apocalypse. Modern medicine can find neither cause nor cure for an affliction that is slowly sapping life away from a young architect, Tim Harrington. As clues fall into place, Tim’s wife, Anna, begins to believe that an ancient curse is killing her husband. Anna’s quest to uncover the truth and save his life pits her against formidable foes: logic, history and even the Catholic Church. As Anna follows her instincts and her heart to find the answers in time, she risks unwittingly unleashing an awesome, terrible power from which the world will never recover.
As you can see, my books run a bit of a gamut, with two being straight stories and the other two having a paranormal component. I’ve always been a history buff, so historical threads have a tendency to run through my works. I never intentionally set out to deliver a message in my books; I think they may come off as preachy if I did. In looking back at them, I do have a strong belief in the individual and his or her ability to overcome odds in the name of doing what’s right.
One thing that I’m especially proud of in my works is that I’ve been told by a number of people that I depict strong women characters. It means a lot to me that this comes through.
Book ‘Em: Do you have a work in progress?
John Hazen: I’ve just finished a draft of my next book, entitled Zyklon. This book, a follow-up to my novel Fava, is my first attempt at a sequel. This book reintroduces a number of characters from Fava as dual stories of a presidential campaign and the hunt for a serial killer converge. The challenge of writing a sequel is that I needed to give enough backstory for those who did not read Fava but to not tell too much that would bore those who had read the original. The book has already gone through a number of positive beta reads and has been accepted for publication by my publisher, Black Rose Writing. It’s due out in early June, 2018.
Book ‘Em: What was the most difficult section/piece you ever wrote? What made it difficult?
John Hazen: Probably the most difficult section of any of my books was the part of Dear Dad that took place in Vietnam during the war. As I mentioned, I’ve always loved history and had over the years gathered a lot of background and knowledge on the Civil War, so that section of the book was a lot easier. However, even though I grew up during the Vietnam War era, I’m embarrassed to note how little I knew about that conflict. I had to do a lot of research to get somewhat up to speed but what worried me the most was that I would miss out on the feel of the war; that it wouldn’t be convincing. This was especially nerve-wracking given that so many people who experienced that era are still around. It was therefore extremely satisfying when a review appeared on Amazon from someone I don’t know that read: “As a Vietnam Veteran, I particularly related to this story.”
Book ‘Em: What sort of research do you do for your work?
John Hazen: There’s the old adage about writers: Write what you know. While there is a certain amount of wisdom in this, I would find it extremely tedious not to extend myself and learn new things that I can incorporate into my writing. I am constantly researching both on general subject matters as well as on specific topics. I must say that in my mind the age of the Internet has made writing easier as I can continuously do research even as I’m writing. My writing process is very open ended. I admire authors who can outline their entire books ahead of time, but it’s not for me. I’ll have a general idea of where I want my book to end up, but I’ll create the journey getting there as I write. This often requires that I have to stop and research to check things out for authenticity and correctness.
Book ‘Em: Which books and authors do you read for pleasure? Is there an author that inspires you?
John Hazen: I have a rather eclectic selection of both fiction and non-fiction writers. I’ll often go through periods where I’ll read as much of an author’s work I can lay my hands on and then I’ll move to a new writer. I did this with John Steinbeck, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Robert Ludlum, James Michener, Leon Uris and J.K. Rowling. My all-time favorite book that I’ll read and re-read over and over again is To Kill a Mockingbird. That book has it all and means so much to so many people. If I could write something one one-thousandth as good and as meaningful as that book, I could die a happy author.
Book ‘Em: Was there a person who encouraged you to write?
John Hazen: Writing was always something I “wanted to do but never got around to doing” until I got my own laptop and started to fill up my train commute to and from work with writing. Lynn, my wife, has always been my biggest cheerleader, but the original encouragement and the drive to keep writing have come from within.
Book ‘Em: What would you say are your strengths as an author?
John Hazen: I think I have an ability to create real, believable characters. As I mentioned above, a number of people have been impressed by my depiction of strong female characters. I also think I have decent story-telling abilities and can put together original story lines and innovative plot twists. One of my favorite reviews was by a fellow author for Fava where she wrote: “I love it when a book makes me say: Wow, I did not see that coming!”
Book ‘Em: How often do you write, and do you write using a strict routine?
John Hazen: A routine person I am not. I actually had more discipline as a writer when I was working full-time. I had my commuting time that could be devoted to writing. Now that I’m retired, I actually have to make time to write. I do it, but it’s more of a struggle.
Book ‘Em: Five years from now, where do you see yourself as a writer?
John Hazen: On a yacht in the Mediterranean? Seriously, I’m going to just keep writing because it brings me such joy and fulfillment. If other people like my writing and actually pay for the novels I write, that’s gravy. The other day I read a Facebook post where someone said they didn’t even start reading a book because in the dedication the author said they wanted to thank his significant other for putting up with his complaints about hating to write. I commented that my friend was correct to not read the book because this hatred for what the author was doing would probably come through in the writing. I love writing, and I hope that comes through.
Book ‘Em: If you could offer one piece of advice to a novice writer, what would it be?
John Hazen: My advice would be to just do it. Start pecking away even if your ideas are not yet fully formed. Often, the act of putting your random thoughts down on paper or on the screen helps your mind to focus and reorganize those thoughts into a coherent story. The thing is not to be intimidated and overwhelmed by the thought of a book. You have to view writing a book the same way as you would as building a house. You can’t be focusing on what color the drapes will be if you don’t have the structure and the plumbing and electrical in place. You have to go about writing a book in the same methodical manner. Get the overall structure built and then you can go back and fill in all the details later.
Book ‘Em: What would you consider the best compliment a reader could give your book?
John Hazen: The standards—“I’m hooked”; “Couldn’t put it down”; etc.—never hurt. However, the ones I tend to take to heart are when a reader leaves a thoughtful, insightful comment that shows he or she knew what I was trying to do get at in that particular book. It shows that I connected. I’ve already cited a couple of my favorite comments (“As a Vietnam veteran…”; “Wow, did not see that coming.”} I was especially taken by a recent comment on Fava. First, I know it was shallow of me but the first thing I noted with pleasure was that the reader gave it Five Stars. But it was the first sentence in the review that stopped me in my tracks: “This is a dangerous book.” Talk about blown away. Fava is a book that takes today’s political and social climate to a frightening possible conclusion. I wanted it to be dangerous and this reader got that. What more could an author want?
Book ‘Em: Provide an excerpt of your writing that you would like to share with our members.
John Hazen: The following is an excerpt from Journey of an American Son. It’s one of my favorites partly because it’s based on a true incident that my grandfather wrote about on a business trip he made, going from Boston, Massachusetts to Calcutta, India in 1920:
At about 4 p.m. Ben and his companions, along with numerous Chinese and Malaysians heading to Penang and some Indians going to Calcutta, made their way back to the ship. At the last minute, two ambulances skidded to a halt on the concrete pier, moist from the spray of the sea. Startled stevedores, crew and passengers jumped out of the way, eyeing the vehicles with a mixture of contempt and curiosity as the back doors of the converted Hudsons flew open. Two Malaysian guards with holstered sidearms hopped out and immediately conscripted six dockworkers to unload the ambulances. The dockworkers helped fifteen people, each of whom had filthy rags draped over what was left of his or her body, from the vehicles.
Once unloaded, the ambulances hurried off as quickly as they had arrived. The wretched creatures huddled together on the pier, awaiting instruction. Ben asked a crew member what was going on.
“Lepers. We take Pulau Jerejak, leper island,” he casually noted, as if transporting fifteen lepers was an everyday occurrence (maybe for him it was), “What? You no see leper before?”
Ben told him he had not, and he noted to himself that he could have lived a very full life without ever seeing one. Now, here he was, about to spend two days and two nights on a ship with fifteen of them.
The lepers were in various stages of the disease. Some had white sores on an arm or leg. A few required stretchers, others crutches, for transport. The worst was missing one leg, half of one hand, parts of fingers on the other and the remaining foot was bandaged. His ears were deformed, too.
They trudged up, or were carried up, the gangplank to be placed in a hold under the fore deck, fenced off by themselves and under guard. Almost unnoticed, a solitary man walked solemnly behind them. He was a tall, thin, extremely dark Indian dressed in a Western-style black suit. The crew member identified him as the doctor who would care for them until they were deposited at the leper colony on the outskirts of Penang.
Ben surveyed his traveling companions for their reactions. Concern and sympathy for the plight of these poor unfortunates could be detected on Williams’ face. Gill looked on with fascination at something new that was spicing up what had thus far been an uneventful trip. Searles viewed the scene with obvious disgust. Incredulity and anger completed the tableau on his face when the steward approached and advised him that, because he had a suite with an extra bedroom that was not in use, he would have to share his suite with the doctor who had a first class ticket.
“I will not share my accommodations with a colored,” Searles indignantly replied.
It would have been difficult for the physician, now only a few feet away, to not hear this statement. However, he gave no indication or reaction as he passed. Ben sensed the steward, who likewise was “colored”, was about to make an angry retort when Gill stepped in, hoping to defuse the tension.
“I can move in with Mr. Searles and the doctor can have my room.”
Searles glared at Gill; he did not want to room with anyone, regardless of their color. The doctor, whom they had not noticed return, spoke up.
“It is quite all right. I will sleep with my charges. If you could please have a cot and blankets brought down, I would most appreciate it. I shall be quite comfortable.”
With that he turned and left. It was clear the steward wanted to respond to Searles, but since the physician had resolved the situation, he let it drop.
A half hour after the lepers boarded, the ship was towed out of the quay by a tug. While the ship idled, a man and a little boy came off in a canoe to dive for pennies and dimes that the passengers and crew threw for them. They did wonderfully, the man staying down unheard of lengths of time before finally coming up, always with a dime between his teeth. Ben and Gill were at the ship’s railing, enjoying watching the father and son as the captain started to pilot the ship out between the high green islands. They had only been there a few minutes when they heard a soft voice behind them.
They turned around and there was the doctor.
“Thank you for your attempts to assist me.”
In response, Gill simply nodded. He had previously confided to Ben that his gesture had nothing to do with the doctor; rather, he was simply trying to shut Searles up. If allowed to continue, Searles was fully capable of embarrassing himself, all of them and Langdan Textiles.
The doctor continued.
“I was educated at Oxford. I have a thriving practice and teach medicine at the University of Singapore. I have a beautiful wife and two beautiful children. I spend a week every two months working with the lepers, giving them a little comfort. Yet in one simple sentence, your friend reduces me to one thing: colored. In the end, it turned out well. I am with people I know and care about, not with him.”
He said no more, but gazed out on the water, his sharp features silhouetted against the reddening sky. They didn’t know how to respond so Ben asked him a question most on his mind.
“Do lepers know any happiness in their lives?”
The doctor turned to them and smiled.
“They are people, just people. Their problem is that the only function society gives them is for them to die, preferably out of sight and mind. Unfortunately, there is not much happiness in this endeavor. I shall tell them that you were asking. It will please them that someone inquired about them in this manner.”
Ben looked in his face for irony, to see if the doctor was mocking him and his question. There was no irony, only sincerity. He truly felt they would appreciate the inquiry.
The doctor bid them good night, shook their hands and said goodbye. Ben and Gill went to their cabins; the doctor went to his charges.
Thank you again for having me on today.
All my books can be found at: https://www.amazon.com/John-Hazen/e/B007TUHKTS/ref=dp_byline_cont_pop_ebooks_1