Folks, please welcome author John Connell to the blog today. We chat about Ernest Hemingway, WWII historical resources, the importance of high school history teachers, and plenty more.
Reality in fiction: how important is it? Lengthy travel, cussing, and bathroom breaks happen in real life. How do you address these mundane occurrences in your writing?
I’m like most readers; mundanities might reflect reality in our lives, but they’re generally boring in a story. I believe in the rule that unless some action is integral to establishing character or advancing the plot, it doesn’t belong. Now, if a mundane act adds dimension or give insight into a character—he or she might have a very unique way of addressing bathroom breaks—then that’s different. And if that’s the case in one of my stories (no bathroom-break scenes… yet), I keep it short and to the point. Perhaps, during lengthy travel, a plot is hatched, or a character reflects, revealing character, then great. I’ll use it.
Cussing I put in the dialogue box, and this is a tough one for me, particularly since I’m writing crime fiction with soldiers and really bad guys. The reality is, most soldiers cuss at the drop of a hat, and I feel obliged to reflect a sense of reality with their dialogue. It wouldn’t ring true without it. On the other hand, I find cussing—especially the most vulgar—more jarring on the page than when I’m, say, watching a Tarantino movie. It should be in there, but I avoid using it repetitively or gratuitously. For my protagonist in particular, I find other ways for him to express himself, except when he’s enraged or his frustration is too great to say it any other way. I mean, he’s only human… and a soldier to boot!
What now-dead authors would you like to interview?
I can think of a whole host of them! H. G. Wells, Graham Greene, Victor Hugo, Sir Author Conan Doyle, Ian Fleming…
But one who came to mind immediately was Ernest Hemingway. I’d ask him about his time in Italy during World War One, his visits and impressions of Spain and Africa, and his initial struggles at writing and his incredible life in Paris. And, of course, about his writing process.
To make ends meet after college and into my mid-twenties, I worked as a printing press operator. During that time, I knew I wanted to pursue a creative path—this was after abandoning music and before launching into a film career and writing—but I still needed to work. It was monotonous and mindless, but I insisted on sticking with it until I discovered my “path with a heart.” I had some pretty crazy jobs while working my way through college, but I saw them as a means to end, laboring for my future. But the printing symbolized the doldrums of my twenties, directionless and feeling trapped.
Nothing compares to my writing life. Nothing. It is my greatest passion, and though it can be hard work with no certainty for the future, it is truly a joyous undertaking.
What nonfiction works have you found useful in building your book?
There are too many sources—books, articles, memoirs, archives, and websites—to list here, so here are the sources I turned to time and again: Ian Sayer and Douglas Botting, Nazi Gold (1984); Douglas Botting, In The Ruins of the Reich (1985); Wilford Byford-Jones, Berlin Twilight (1947); Edward N. Peterson, The American Occupation of Germany: Retreat to Victory (1977); Robert Jay Lifton, The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide (1986); Giles MacDonogh, After the Reich: From the Libertaion of Vienna to the Berlin Airlift (1985); Vivian Spitz, Doctors From Hell (2005).
Who are your non-writer influences?
This is a harder question than it seems, since there are multitudes of people who influence who you are. Certainly my parents and some teachers fall into that category. In fact, it was a high-school history teacher who is responsible for me falling in love with history and historical fiction. He taught history by not simply reciting dates and facts, but by portraying history through the eyes of those who lived it. He explained moments in history by way of the people, what their lives were like, how they thought, how the world around them impacted their decisions—good and bad. Historical events became more immediate and understandable. I could relive the lives of those who made it, as if history were like a vast, timeless play. The truth of Shakespeare’s line, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players,” hit me like a bolt. I was hooked. Anything, books and film, that allowed me to peer into this magical looking glass of the past, I devoured, especially stories involving the common man and woman caught up in tumultuous events of their time and called upon to do extraordinary things.
What are the top 3 historical time periods and locations you would like to visit?
Ah, a question I’ve played with every time the notion of time travel has come up. Alexandria in ancient Egypt (especially to visit the legendary library), Ancient Rome in Julius Caesar’s reign, and Florence during the renaissance. Of course, I’d have to carry along Harry Potter’s invisible cloak, or I wouldn’t last long…
Berkley Publishing Group is thrilled to announce the publication of John A. Connell’s RUINS OF WAR (Berkley Hardcover; May 5, 2015; 978-0-425-27895-6; $26.95), an exciting debut thriller featuring a fascinating new character in Chief Warrant Officer Mason Collins—former Chicago homicide detective, U.S. soldier, prisoner of war, and now U.S. Army criminal investigator in the American Zone of Occupation in Munich. At a time when the worst horrors of the war are coming to light, there is another horror that is running rampant in the street.
In the winter of 1945, seven months after the Nazi defeat, Munich is in ruins. The winter is brutal, the citizens are starving, and end of the war does not mean the end of the chaos in the city. Quite the contrary. It’s Mason’s job to enforce the law in a place where order has been obliterated. It’s a dangerous job, though it is a job he requested. And his job just became much more dangerous: a killer is stalking the devastated city. However, these are more than just murders; they are horrifying brutalities that begin to wreak terror on the already beleaguered citizens of Munich. This killer has knowledge of human anatomy, enacts mysterious rituals with his prey, and seems to pick victims at random.
Relying on his wits and instincts while trying to work around the military-political blockades and hard-nosed commander, and trying to keep the memory of his past where it needs to stay, Mason must venture places where his own life is put at risk. From interrogation rooms with unrepentant Nazi war criminals to penetrating the U.S. Army’s own black market and working with an overeager American journalist, Mason must solve this heinous case before the killer strikes again.
About the Author
John A. Connell has worked as a cameraman on films such as Jurassic Park and Thelma & Louise and on TV shows including The Practice and NYPD Blue. He now lives with his wife in Paris, France, where he is at work on his second Mason Collins novel.
Places to Find John A. Connell