So, I was perusing all the great tomes lining the shelves of Barnes and Noble the other day and I found myself meandering to the Christian fiction section (not really a surprise, as it’s one of the first places I usually go). Scouring the brightly colored, multi-fonted spines, my eyes quickly locked onto a volume I’d never seen before. What’s that? I wondered, carefully pulling it from its resting place and turning it to view the front cover. My breath caught in my throat. The scene painted across the cover was reminiscent of a number of my favorite books in secular fiction…an intrepid adventurer carefully stepping into the shrouded darkness of some unknown tomb. It sent chills down my spine. Not that adventure/thrillers involving globetrotting adventurers are all that uncommon, but that I would find such a book within the rank and file of Christian publishers. I don’t know why, but there’s just not a lot of Christian adventure books available. Plenty of historical fiction. A plethora of suspense and supernatural. But just not that many Indiana Jones style adventures. Well, my excitement building, I turned the book over in my hand once more and read the back cover script. This is what it said:
Every year, professor of antiquities Jack Hawthorne looks forward to the winter break as a time to hide away from his responsibilities. Even if just for a week or two. But this year, his plans are derailed when he’s offered almost a blank check from a man chasing a rumor.
Billionaire Gordon Reese thinks he knows where the bones of the prophet Elisha are-bones that in the Old Testament brought the dead back to life. A born skeptic, Jack doesn’t think much of the assignment but he could use the money, so he takes the first step on a chase for the legendary bones that will take him to the very ends of the earth. But he’s not alone. Joined with a fiery colleague, Esperanza Habilla, they soon discover clues to a shadowy organization whose long-held secrets have been protected… at all costs. As their lives are threatened again and again, the real race is to uncover the truth before those chasing them hunt them down.
That was enough for me. Without even bother to read anything else (including the exceptional blurbs and reviews), I grabbed the copy, stalked right up to the counter and paid the clerk. And I’m definitely glad I did. I was an amazingly fun book. This globetrotting adventure goes from a tiny college in the Carolinas to Venezuela to Ethiopia, Australia, and all kinds of cool, exotic locations as the protagonist and his tough-as-nails love interest and fellow researcher move from one clue to the next, narrowly avoiding a sudden, and nasty death at the hands of those who would stop their quest. And one more thing…I’m not one who likes minutely detailed prose. But the way Don Hoesel describes the different locations, ruins, artifacts, people and cultures…it’s as though you are right there in the middle of it all.
Then again, that could also have to do with the intriguing way the story is told…first person present tense. Not many authors can pull such a point of view off, but Hoesel’s easy to read style immerses you right in the middle of the action.
Recently, I had an opportunity to talk to Don about Elisha’s Bones, as well as his most recent release, Hunter’s Moon (now available on Amazon and anywhere books are sold). Here’s what he has to say about writing, his passion, and where the inspiration for these two great books came from:
1. There have been a few biblical artifact searching books over the years…but this one (it’s entire premise) was unique in that it wasn’t a search for some handmade relic, but the actual remains of the biblical prophet. Was there any specific event that inspired the story for Elisha’s Bones? Where did it come from?
I’d just finished another book, a detective novel set in Boston, and was sifting through ideas for my next project. I had dinner with a friend that week and we were actually discussing how a writer comes up with story ideas. I’d made the comment that just about anything could be made into a story and, by way of example, I mentioned a recent Sunday school lesson about the bones of the prophet Elisha bringing a man back to life. As soon as I said it, I realized I had my next book idea.
2. One of the most amazing things I’ve noticed about the book is your incredible attention to detail in regards to the different locales Jack and Espy travel to. It makes the reader believe that you have first hand knowledge of the back streets of every small burg from the Carolinas to Ethiopia. How much traveling have you done? Has it made an impact on your writing or do you spend a great deal of time researching the geographical locations? Or do you, as Lawrence Block openly admits, just make up the streets and landmarks as you go?
All of the above. I’ve traveled quite a bit–it’s one of my favorite things to do. And it definitely has an impact on my writing. When I set a character someplace–even someplace I’ve never been–having a well of experience to draw from adds depth and believability to the scene. For example, if you’ve been to a bazaar in Kenya then you have a feel for what a bazaar in Ethiopia would look, sound, and smell like.
But as far as the countries mentioned in Elisha’s Bones, the only one I’ve been to is Venezuela. That’s where my wife is from. In fact, the town of Rubio mentioned early in the book is a real town in the Andes near the Colombian border, and it’s where my wife grew up.
Ethiopia and Australia descriptions came from hours of research. When I research a setting it’s a pretty involved operation–maps, topographical maps, pictures, city data, weather, demographics, etc. I try to get as many of the details correct as I can. That allows me take some liberties once we get down to the street level. If I’ve sold the reader on the believability of a locale, they will likely feel comfortable following me onto a street that doesn’t exist, or into a building I’ve created for the story. That said, even at the street level, I try to get things as close to accurate as I can.
Some of the most rewarding comments I’ve received about the book have been from people who live/have lived in these places and who are complimentary about the accuracy of their portrayal.
3. Elisha’s Bones and Hunter’s Moon seem to be such completely different types of books. What can you tell us about Hunter’s Moon? What is the inspiration for it?
Of all of the books I’ve written so far, Hunter’s Moon has been the most enjoyable for me and I think that has to do with my love for southern gothic writing, as well as my love for anything by Richard Russo. I know that sounds like a bit of an odd combination but, for me, they work well together. On one hand you have, in the southern gothic genre, reworkings of the historical old south archetypes in the forms of incredibly flawed men and women. And with Russo, you have a distinctly northern sensibility that pays homage to small town life and the inherent humor that runs through all of life’s major events. As a transplanted northerner who has lived in the south for more than a decade, it seemed natural to combine these elements. And I wound up with Hunter’s Moon.
It’s a story about a writer living in the south who goes back to the family home for the first time in 17 years, and who has to deal with the family’s darkest secret. It’s still categorized as a suspense novel but, where Elisha’s Bones starts quickly and yanks the reader along, Hunter’s Moon is more of a slow burn, although the ending is just as suspenseful as Elisha’s Bones.
4. Is there a plan for more Jack Hawthorne books in the future? If so, can you elaborate?
I’d love to write another Jack Hawthorne book but there’s nothing in the works at this point. I’ve outlined a few possible story ideas for Jack and Espy but, for now, the two of them are retired and Jack’s probably back teaching at Evanston University. The next book I have coming out is called The Alarmists and that’s slated for a Spring 2011 release – although that one does also feature a university professor.
5. Who are your greatest influences in your writing? Not only other authors, but movies, TV, etc?
I have more influences than I could list, most of them authors: Larry Brown, Harry Crews, Cormac McCarthy, Flannery O’Connor, Richard Russo, John Irving, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Daniel Woodrell. But I think I’ve also picked up some of my dialogue sensibilities from films like My Dinner With Andre, and a love of story itself from some marvelous foreign films like Cinema Paradiso and Wings of Desire. I was a film major in college so I tend to think in those terms–a visual approach to writing, scene blocking, pacing, etc.
6. Your books are Christian thrillers. If you’re comfortable with this, could you tell us a little about your faith? Your ministry as a writer? What you see God doing in your life through your writing career?
It’s something I don’t think about very much – writing as a ministry. When I start a project my goal is simply to tell a good story and if there’s truth in there (and I hope there is) then it will work itself out. I think, in some ways, Christian writers aren’t much different from car salesmen, or accountants, or plumbers. None of them produce a ‘christian’ product–they just do the best job they can and provide something people want. For a Christian, I think that life, rather than the vocation, is the ministry.
If you love great action, adventure stories…you really do owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of both Elisha’s Bones and Hunter’s Moon today! Go to Don’s website for more information at www.donhoesel.com.