Friday, February 02, 2018

Interview: John Hegenberger

John Hegenberger’s first published story, “Last Contact”, appeared in the October 1977 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction Magazine and he has never looked back. His short work has appeared in Amazing Stories, Ace, and various anthologies such as Tales from the Otherverse and The Necromancer. He has also written two books about collecting: Collector’s Guide to Comics, and Collector’s Guide to Treasures from the Silver Screen.

His first published novel, Spyfall, featuring Los Angeles Private Investigator Stan Wade, appeared on bookstore shelves in October 2015 and since its appearance, John has been writing at a stunning pace. There have been four additional Stan Wade novels—set in 1950s Hollywood—a couple more featuring a P.I. named Elliot Cross—set in 1980s Columbus, Ohio—three science fiction novels, a couple short story collections, and his most recent effort, a globe-trotting thriller titled The Pandora Block (due out on February 3, 2018).

His work is tightly crafted and stylistic, exciting, and often accompanied by humor. Skyfall won the 2016 Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Award for Best Comedy. His work has been called, “humorous and interesting,” “exciting,” “[c]lassic hard-boiled PI action,” and “a sheer delight.”

John was kind enough to interrupt his busy writing schedule for an interview. The questions, as always, are in italics, but the answers are so much more important.

What’s your latest novel? 

The Pandora Block. It’s a big world-spanning multi-character techno-thriller Near science fiction, which means it takes place only a year or two from now.

Without breaking any of your personal taboos, would you give us an idea of what you’re working on now?

Sure. The book is titled Crossroads: Hollywood and Vine. It takes place in 1989 and my private eye in Los Angeles, Stan Wade, meets Elliot Cross, my private eye from Columbus, Ohio. It’s the very early days of the Internet, which is sort of like an electronic wild west and these two guys are hired gunslingers.

Are there any challenges bringing your two series characters—Stan Wade and Elliot Cross—together in a single story?

Both are PI’s and a lot alike, so... one must die!

Stan Wade’s stories are set in the Hollywood of the 1950s and more than a few real-life celebrities make appearances—Walt Disney, Humphrey Bogart and Alfred Hitchcock are only a few—and to my untrained eye both the history and celebrities portrayed seem accurate. Do you have a particular interest in Hollywood and how do you research the setting, and real-life characters for these tales?

My second book is titled [Collector’s Guide to Treasures from the Silver Screen ]. It was published in 1989, so that’s at least how long I’ve been interested in old movies. And as you know there are two dimensions to Hollywood: one, the stories in the movies that you see on the screen and two, the stories behind the scenes about the studios and the actors. Thus, right away there is a dramatic tension between the two realities. Enough so that thousands of biographies have been written to reveal the true story behind famous directors like Orson Welles or actors like Robert Mitchum. In any event that’s enough for me to imagine the world where Stan Wade can struggle to separate truth from fiction. My job is just to record all that in as dramatic way as possible. And I love my job!

What was your first published novel?

The first book was titled Starfall. It’s the first of the series of Stan Wade, LA PI novels and takes place in 1959 when NASA was just beginning. Did you know that there was actually an eighth astronaut in the Mercury 7 program, except he was murdered? It was an enormous amount of fun to write and still is a good read today.

You write both science fiction and mystery very well, and often, as in Starfall, combine the two genres. Do you think of yourself as a science fiction or mystery writer, both, or simply as a writer? 

Both categories fit, of course, but I’m more focused on conveying honest emotions and real characters regardless of genre.  Hope that’s not too stuffy.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

This happened several times in my short life: once when I was a teenager, once when I was in the military, and once more when I was in corporate America. In all three cases, life seemed dull and boring, so my way of jazzing things up was to take a shot at being a writer.

You mentioned you were in the military and worked in corporate America. Would you give us an idea about your background?

I realized some time ago that I was a middle-aged, middle manager from the mid-west. I wanted to be something more, so the stories started flowing.

How do you go about writing?

The best I can tell, you just have to do the work. It doesn’t matter whether you go long-hand or with a computer; outline or not. What matters is that you do it as if it were a job. Put on your hardhat and make the donuts. Within minutes, you’ll be having fun!

Do you have any specific pleasures, or displeasures, that come from writing? 
My greatest pleasure is the self-discovery. Every time I write, I learn something about myself that part of my brain never knew before. It’s also a joy to add to an art form, which means I enjoy the actual act of creating something from nothing. There is no better joy than sitting back and gazing at something new you’ve created.
Are there any writers that inspired—or continue to inspire—your own writing?

Ive been inspired probably by 300 writers; what day is this? Currently I’m trying to figure out how James Lee Burke is able to pull off such quality prose.

If you could write anything, without commercial considerations, what would it be?

The type of work I’m aiming for ultimately is an epic multi-generation family saga that explores how life changes as events in the world occur and points of view shift. If that sounds too heavy I’d also like to write a comic strip.

If you were stranded on an island and you had only one book, what would it be?

Ye Gods and little fishes! That would depend on which island we’re talking about and the mood I am currently in. Honestly, there’s no way I could live with only one book.

If you were allowed only to recommend one of your own novels, or stories, which one would you want people to read?

“The Maltese Fountain”. It’s a short story that appeared in one of my anthologies: The Last Martian Chronicles.

You’ve written several short stories, do you have a preference between writing novels and shorts?

I prefer novels. The shorts are okay, but confining. I guess I have a lot to say.

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