Monday, 27 May 2013

Meet a Writer Monday Presents...

... James L Hatch

1. Tell me about the Miss Havana series of books and where you got your inspiration for it?

Several years ago I had a dream that was so funny I woke up laughing. I immediately slipped out of bed and headed to my computer. The concepts and words that became the first novel in the series, The Substitute, flooded out like a tsunami. I could barely type fast enough. In her private life, Miss Havana was a stunning and aloof substitute teacher secretly known by her students as “Wish,” but in private, her character was as dark as a vampires casket and as mean as a constipated IRS agent. Her double-dealing resulted in her murder. In hell, she and those responsible for her death came before Lucifer … who immediately fell in lust with her. That set the stage for an outrageous battle between different shades of evil, and between the forces of good and the forces of evil that is carried out throughout the five paranormal comedy novels.

2. How would you like to be remembered?

For making people laugh. I believe the world is far too serious and that people take themselves much too seriously. I try to put so much humor in my books that readers will feel the same uplift reading them that I feel writing them. Like life, the dividing line between good and evil is not always clear in my books, but the characters deal with all situations in comical ways. The humor is a bit racy, and some readers have claimed I will go to hell for writing it, but my response is always the same: “Did you laugh out loud.” In all cases, the answer has been, “Yes.” That’s the whole point. The books will never change the world but, one at a time, they can make individuals laugh.

3. Do you have a writing process? If so describe it.

My writing process is a mix of “seat of the pants” writing (pantser) and careful planning. The concept for most of my writing comes to me in dreams. When I wake, I write. However, the plot for some of the books is quite complex. For example, in The Substitute, Miss Havana is murdered three times in one night by a multitude of perpetrators. The people responsible for her murders die violent deaths as well, and all end up in hell before Lucifer in a gaggle. To make that happen in a comical and believable way required careful planning. I had to lay out a timeline and make notes for the events that had to occur at each step of the way because none of the murders knew each other, and none realized that Miss Havana was already dead. Each book in the series also has a twist at the end that no one sees coming, so the endings must be carefully scripted. That means, as the book is being put together, I must keep and follow notes that push the story toward a surprise ending. In The Substitute, the ending isn’t revealed until the last paragraph. I do not even hint at the ending in the Miss Havana books. Based on my own dislike of books where the ending can be reasonably surmised, I suspect my readers appreciate that.   

4. What is usually your first thought in the morning?

My mornings are filled with writing—every day. I wake early and have several hours to myself before my spouse wakes. She usually has a number of items on her “honey do” list that I must tend to, so I encourage her to sleep as late as possible every day. She enjoys that time; so do I. Each author must work out his or her writing time in their own way. I am fortunate to be fully retired, and our children left home many years ago. I am not sure how other authors with small children and/or day jobs manage time for writing. I admire them, but am not sure I could do what they do. Writing takes time—lots of time. For me, it also takes focus. A working balance between home responsibilities and writing is hard to achieve. I have the luxury of early mornings (anything from 3 a.m. to about 11 a.m.), and can also close the door to my office like a giant “do not disturb” sign when I need to write after my spouse wakes. I feel deep sympathy for any author who is driven to put ideas on paper, but cannot because of external pressures. That would be frustrating.

5. Are you mostly a clean or messy person?

I am borderline OCD about cleanliness, and messy spaces make me shudder. I like an orderly office for writing, a quiet space with lots of windows and light.

6. How would you describe yourself in three words?

Creative. Intelligent. Adventuresome.

7. What is the most demeaning/demoralising thing ever said about you as a writer?

One Christian conservative woman once told me she only read the first book in the Miss Havana series (The Substitute) because she was afraid she’d end up in hell if she read the others (true story). I didn’t expect that. Although many people have told me that I will probably end up in hell for writing the books, she is the only reader that has expressed concern about herself. I am a nominal believer, and had never considered my books offensive to any group … or even sacrilegious. In my books, good overcomes evil. I should also mention I have read the Bible several times from cover-to-cover, and use that book as “source” for my stories in creative ways. For examples, The Substitute accurately depicts the twenty-seven characteristics of the antichrist (in strange ways), Oh, Heavens, Miss Havana! describes another view of the Angel of Death, The Training Bra provides a new view of the horsemen of the apocalypse, etc. I suspect my depiction of God as an individual that understands humor and Miss Havana was too much for her conservative view of things. My books offer an entirely new view of heaven and hell. That view could conflict with the notions of others. I try not to take things too seriously.  
8. How do you react to a bad interview of one of your books?

Most review of my Miss Havana books are five-star; only one reviewer gave one book a four-star rating. I have never received any bad comments about any of the books. I’m sure, if I get a bad review, it will hurt. I do reviews for many other authors ( I never publish a review that is less than four stars. In my way of thinking, authors pour their hearts into their work. I will never publish anything that would attempt to rip their heart out. I would not like it if someone did that to me either.
9. Are the names of characters in your novels important?

Yes. In addition to paranormal comedy, I have written a Sci-Fi trilogy and a few contemporary fiction novels. Especially in the Sci-Fi novels, every name has meaning, usually in Hebrew or French, and the names reflect the innate character of person so named. In the paranormal comedy series, the daughter between Lucifer and Miss Havana is Lilith, a name infamous in Jewish folklore. The daughter between Miss Havana and God in The Trophy Wife (fourth book in the series) is called Angel for obvious reasons. In the fifth book in the Miss Havana series (Sisters), the battle between good and evil is carried out between Angel and Lilith. So where does the name “Miss Havana” come from? That name came to me in my original dream. In every book, the spirit of Miss Havana haunts different physical bodies, but the name of her physical host is always “Miss Havana.” The trick is that Miss Havana gets her name in different ways in each book. It’s part of the fun.

10. Would you rather write for children or adults?

Adults, hands down. Children would never understand the subtle humor in many of the passages.

11. Have you ever killed someone in a novel and regretted it later?

No. In paranormal comedy, killing one host is just an invitation for a spirit to enter another. My books have considerable “body swapping,” but there is a comical set of rules the spirits must follow.

12. Which do you find more embarrassing to write, violence or sex?

I have written many violent scenes, especially in Oh, Heavens, Miss Havana! While most of my paranormal comedy is written for humor only, Oh, Heavens, Miss Havana! contains considerable emphasis on social issues. In that novel, Miss Havana assumes the role of the Angel of Death, and sets out to right many wrongs on earth. She is not gentle. On the other hand, I have never written an explicit sex scene. I just state that copulation happened … or imply it. I’m not into manipulation of body parts, and I find explicit scenes really boring. Maybe it’s my age.

13. What are the most important attributes to staying sane as a writer?

I alluded to this above. The most important thing a writer can do is find balance in his or her life between the demands of everyday living and the need to write. And yes, I do mean “need.” Writers are driven to write; it’s a compulsion. It took some time in my own life to reach a balance between responsibility to others and responsibility to myself. Until a balance is achieved, I suspect most authors are deeply conflicted and probably not very happy.
14. Do you research your novels?

Yes, especially the contemporary fiction (Kill Zone, Aftermath Horizon and “The Final Experiment”). All of the technology in those books is real, as are all references to scientific discovery. I also ensure my paranormal comedy is consistent with components of the Bible, especially in The Trophy Wife because I am trying something new in that one. For the first time, the novel contains two stories, like Orwell’s Animal Farm. The paranormal comedy stands on its own as a great story, but I’ve tried to make everything symbolic in the novel, so that, for those who can see it, there is another story beneath the surface. The plot is complex and the symbology subtle, so I’m not sure if the undercurrent will come through. I have completed 90,000 words on that novel. I should finish in the next month. I intend to give the book to some beta readers to see if they pick up on the “story beneath the story.” I hope they do. I’m quite certain the underlying symbols are accurate, but I’m not sure if people will see them. That’s part of the fun of writing.

15. What do you like most about being a writer?

The creative process. I love it when the characters take over. It’s like they do things on their own—like I am just the medium through which they speak and act. When creative writing flows on its own, it’s like reading a book for the first time rather than writing it. I laugh at the comments the characters make, and truly enjoy their antics. Sometimes, when I read my published work, it’s hard to believe the story came from me. In some ways, writing is like living in a fantasy. It can be great fun.

16. How do you overcome writer’s block?

I have experienced writer’s block a couple of times. There are two answers that work for me. First, get some sleep. It is vital to be well-rested when I sit down to write. That’s part of the reason I only write in the early hours. Second, if I’m really stuck, I review a book written by another author. I enjoy reading; it’s relaxing. It also provides insight into how others handle Point of View (POV), punctuation, sexual tension, murder and the like. Allowing myself to live in the written world of another author somehow opens my mind to my own creative world.

17. What is your favourite quote?

This might be gross for some, but it can give insight into some of the humor in my Miss Havana series. There is a scene where two “light creatures” in heaven’s probation are discussing Miss Havana, and one says to the other, “Reforming Miss Havana is like picking up a turd by its clean end.” I laughed at that at the time, and still think it’s cute.

18. Say you’re dead but are a ghost? You can’t be seen, can make objects float and walk through walls. What would you do?

I wrote this scene in Oh, Heavens, Miss Havana! In that novel, Miss Havana has been deposed as The Queen of Darkness by her daughter but, due to God’s grace, finds herself in heaven’s purgatory. After many missteps, she realizes she still retains some of her underworld powers, and eventually manages to find her way back to “the surface” where she wreaks havoc. She can walk through walls, but can’t move objects, so she finds a copy of “The Angel’s Guide to Earth,” and tries to follow the rules … even though she’s no angel. As a spirit, she manipulates objects through the people she haunts. She becomes an assassin by night and an advice columnist by day, but no one in their right mind would ever follow her outrageous advice.

19. What three things would you save from a fire at your house? (assume that all your family get out safe.)

We collect art glass, mostly modern. Those pieces would be the first thing to save, along with a couple of exquisite paintings. Second would be photographs. Third … probably firearms.

20. How did you come up with the title for your latest book?
My latest book was released April 3, 2013 by Solstice Publishing, Inc. That novel is called The Training Bra. In the book, the spirit of Miss Havana initially haunts an eleven-year-old girl named Shelly. The title is intended to represents Shelly’s transition from a little girl to a voluptuous young woman. As is the case in all the Miss Havana books, Shelly faces an untimely and comical death, in this case at Lucifer’s hands, and the battle between good and evil occurs mostly in the spiritual/paranormal realm.

21. Do you recall how your interest in writing occurred?

I began writing on September 12, 2001, the day after the Twin Towers were destroyed. I was angry, very angry. Writing was a way to vent the strife I felt within. I retired for the last time shortly after that, and kept writing. It took almost nine years to remove the anger from that first novel, Kill Zone, at least enough to get the book published. Over those years, I also tried to find my niche. I wrote a sequel to Kill Zone called Aftermath Horizon, and also a Sci-Fi trilogy (The Judge, Infinity Quest and The Empress of Tridon). Those novels were published. It wasn’t until I started writing paranormal comedy, however, that I really felt like I was hitting my stride. I will complete The Trophy Wife and Sisters, and might consider switching topics then.

22. When did you first consider yourself a writer?
My sixth publication was Aftermath Horizon, and I still consider it one of my best. It exists only in e-book format, but has weak sales. Nevertheless, when I re-read the book after accepted it, I felt very good about it … and about myself as a writer. Aftermath Horizon is a young adult book with a sixteen-year-old heroine. It is a tale of developing love and survival with an overlay of considerable humor. I enjoyed writing the book, and especially writing the humor. I suppose it was natural that Miss Havana would spring to life after I finished Aftermath Horizon. By the way, even my daughter wants me to write a sequel to Aftermath Horizon. She believes it is one of the best novels she’s ever read, and would very much like to see what happens next. I did complete the story, but the ending was so fantastic readers naturally want more. Maybe that’s what I’ll do when I finish Sisters.


The Training Bra

Sequel to The Substitute and Oh, Heavens, Miss Havana

In an unexpected twist of fate, God gives Miss Havana’s dark spirit a second chance after she fails probation in purgatory. She is returned to the surface in the body of an eleven-year-old girl named Shelly. Over the next six years, Shelly develops into a voluptuous young woman and becomes the central figure in a tug-o-war between the forces of heaven and the ruler of hell, Miss Havana’s daughter, Lilith.

Lilith sends her father, Lucifer, to tempt Miss Havana and report on her progress. However, when Miss Havana’s true spirit emerges, Lucifer murders her out of revenge for stealing his throne. Miss Havana’s spirit returns below, where Lilith orders her to learn from three of the four horsemen of the apocalypse: Stupid, Macho and Scourge. Lilith intends to use Miss Havana to bring the four horsemen together to precipitate the Apocalypse. The fourth horseman is Sin, Lucifer himself, but he isn’t told what’s being planned because he screws everything up.

Battle lines are drawn between Lilith, Miss Havana and Lucifer—just a normal dysfunctional family with serious anger issues … with the fate of the earth at stake.
About James
Although his Bachelors, Masters, and Ph.D. are in Chemistry and Meteorology, James worked as a Chief Scientist and system/software engineer before retiring a third time, and then turned to writing ( Extensive travel, from Thule, Greenland to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef – and to dozens of countries in between – provide the real-life experiences he incorporates into everything he writes.
James enjoys boating, kayaking, skiing, traveling, hiking, tending nine grandchildren (no more than two at a time), and ballroom dancing, but his first love is writing.