Hello and welcome to John Hazen, author of Journey of an American Son, for an interview in today’s author spotlight.
From Amazon’s book description:
Benjamin Albert is a brilliant rising star at his firm, a war hero and a loving husband and father. But when his own government turns its back on him and leaves him to rot in prison 8,000 miles from home, his wife Catherine must take matters into her own hands and battle a ruthless and unscrupulous corporation abetted by a corrupt colonial government.
Timeless issues like racism, anti-Semitism, nationalism and women’s rights are exposed during Catherine’s race to save Benjamin.
Buy Dear Dad by John Hazen on Amazon.
Hi, John. Tell us about your inspiration for writing Journey of an American Son.
The inspiration for Journey of an American Son literally fell into my lap. Some time ago, my wife and I were going through some boxes and came upon a diary my grandfather had kept on a business trip he took from Boston to Calcutta India in 1920. I remember my grandmother telling me about the trip and the set of teak wood elephants he had brought back that she prominently displayed in her home for years. This, however, was a day-by-day accounting of the journey. As you can imagine, such a trip back then was rather arduous involving trains, steamers and even rickshaws as he worked his way across Canada, across the Pacific to Japan and then around the rim of Southeast Asia. The diary itself is rather dry—my grandfather was a somewhat puritanical New Englander after all—but it did have the occasional nugget to keep it interesting such as an encounter with a group of lepers and being on ship with a silent film starlet. Reading through the diary planted a seed in my brain that this would provide an ideal setting around which I could build a story.
Sounds like a wonderful premise for a novel. All of your novels are based in historic times: Fava deals with events on 9/11; Dear Dad, the 1960s and 1860s; Journey of an American Son, the 1920s. From where does your interest in history come?
To tell you the truth, I never really thought about where my love of history came from; I can’t remember not having it. I recall sitting through World and U.S. History in high school where, while some of my classmates were bored out of their skulls, I sat there taking it all in and writing copious notes. If I had to pinpoint a source, I’d have to say my parents, my father in particular. He was a nut about the presidents and their times. Both of my parents would also talk about our personal history as ancestors on both sides came to America in the 1600s. My father was especially partial to the story about his great-grandfather who was killed in the Civil War, three days after Lee surrendered at Appomattox.
Did you have to do much research when writing Journey of an American Son? What was the most interesting thing you discovered?
I had to do a fair amount of research to try and make the feel for the times accurate. The book spans a generation, starting in the ghettos of Eastern Europe, through the immigrant-clogged streets of America to the Far East and colonial India. Having the diary helped a lot, but I had to do a lot of extra reading to provide authenticity to the book. I think the most interesting things I learned that I didn’t know before pertained to colonial India and the First World War. What I knew about colonial India I’d gathered from the film Gandhi and, while I’ve always been a bit of a fanatic when it came to the Civil War and World War II, I was rather uninformed when it came to the Great War. It’s always fun for me to learn about new historical eras.
Do you ever have to travel to scope out a location for a scene? Describe one such trip and what you learned from it.
My wife and I have traveled throughout the years and I try to weave in my observations and experiences into my writing. Our favourite place on earth is Paris and you’ll find Paris scenes gleaned from our travels in both Fava and Aceldama. I’m sure Paris will find its way into my future books. I can’t say that I ever set out to a place with the idea that it would someday be a part of one of my novels. Rather, I’ll observe wherever I may be and store incidents and observations for later use in my books.
Back to Journey of an American Son. How would you classify it with respect to genre(s)? Why do you choose to write in this genre?
All of my novels, including Journey, would be categorized as suspense, more specifically historical suspense. It just seems to be the genre I’m most comfortable with. There are times I think I’d like to shift gears and try something a bit lighter, but overall I’m generally a serious person and this genre fits my personality. I also want my books to be something more than just a “good read” (which coincidentally many people have advised me they are), but I like them to have some deeper meaning. Journey, for example, even though it’s set in the 1920s tackles timeless issues that we still grapple with, such as racism, anti-Semitism, women’s rights, nationalism and immigration. For me, the genre of historical suspense provides me an opportunity to get this across.
What about the main character(s) in Journey of an American Son? What makes s/he/them so special?
Whenever I can, I like a character to have characteristics of someone I know. It tends to provide authenticity. The main character of Journey, Benjamin Albert, is an amalgamation of the personalities of my father, my father-in-law and my grandfather. His parents, Molly and Harry Albert, were created from various stories my wife has told about her grandparents. Other characters, Ben’s wife, Catherine, for example, come completely from my imagination. I also like to create people that I would want to know. Catherine is one of my favourite all-time characters, mainly because of the way she grows throughout the book. Several people have told me that they appreciate the strong women characters I present in my books. Well, I believe that Catherine is one of my strongest. It’s not that she starts off weak, but even as her world crumbles around her, she becomes a force to be reckoned with.
Tell us about Aceldama and Fava 2, your next projects. From all of your books, why choose Fava as the one with which to write a sequel?
Aceldama is actually the first novel I wrote, over a decade ago. But when I couldn’t get any takers from the publishing or agent worlds I just kept on writing. For some reason I shelved Aceldama as I self published Dear Dad and then Black Rose Writing agreed to publish Fava and then Journey. It’s time to dust off Aceldama and get it ready for publication. A summary of Aceldama is:
After returning from a romantic trip to Paris with Anna, his wife, Tim Harrington’s life slowly ebbs away. His doctors are baffled. Anna comes to believe an ancient curse may be the cause. Desperate to save her husband, against all logic, she embarks of an extraordinary journey that leads back to Paris and across the centuries to a Roman soldier, a twelfth century sailor, a French Revolution-era nun and a mysterious unseen man. Ultimately, armed only with love and conviction, Anna comes face-to-face with a power far beyond her—or anybody’s—comprehension.
I’d like to say that I completely planned that Fava would be a series but unfortunately I’m not that organized. It just happened that some of the plot and character lines were left open enough at the end of the book that a follow-up book seemed natural. Also, the lead characters—news reporter Francine Vega and FBI Special Agent Will Allen—lend themselves to ongoing adventures in the spirit of Bones and Castle.
Speaking about the book world, what have you found to be the most powerful tool when publicizing your books and building your author platform?
I have to admit that I’m absolutely terrible at publicizing and promoting myself. I have a website that is desperately in need of updating and revamping. I’m trying to get a presence in social media by building up Twitter following and have joined numerous Facebook groups. I also appreciate forums such as the one you offer here to get my name out there. However, a part of me is naively old-school and I’m still counting on the quality of my work to carry the day, but alas, I do realize that the books aren’t going to sell themselves.
Since you mentioned it, do you prefer to read (old-school) hardcopies or(newfangled) eBooks and why?
All-in-all I love the feel of a book in my hands and the physical act of turning pages. But, given that much of my reading is done during my commute to and from work and I’m going to have an iPad along with me anyway, eBooks have a certain appeal in that I’m not having carry the additional weight of a book in my bag.
Is there anything else you’d like for us to know that wasn’t covered in this interview?
Nothing really. I just want to thank you, Elise, for the opportunity to chat with you today.
My pleasure, John. I’m looking forward to reading the books.
Here’s where readers can learn more about John Hazen and his writing:
John Hazen came to writing novels relatively late in life, but once he started he hasn’t looked back. Degrees from Rutgers, The New School and New York and NYU buttress a lifelong passion for learning and a love of history. Inspired by Lynn, his wife of over thirty 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.