Howdy folks. Today we've got an interview with Vaughn C. Hardacker, an author of thrillers.
Vaughn's part of the Maine Crime Writers, a group who blog about living and writing in the great state of Maine.
Now I wrote Shadow of the Wendigo, a supernatural thriller set in Canada. So when I saw this come up (to be released July 11, 2017), I said "Hey, I know that legend."
Furthermore, Vaughn set the book in Aroostook County, where I grew up. So it's chillingly familiar, and he gets it all right.
Q. So how did this novel come to be? Was it envisioned from the start as a bigger canvas, or did it expand organically out of an idea? Please tell us a bit about the origin.
A. The origin of Wendigo is very unusual. I had just finished a novel, THE WAR WITHIN (still unpublished) which was a combination crime and war novel (awarded second place in the 1989 International Literary Awards) and wanted to start something new. I was an avid reader of horror stories and never missed seeing a single B horror movie during my pre-teen years. I still recall reading my first two horror novels, DRACULA, and FRANKENSTEIN. By the time that I graduated high school, I had read all of Poe’s short stories and now wanted to write a horror novel of my own. I picked up my copy of Roget’s Thesaurus and looked up monster. One of the words listed was Wendigo. I had never heard of it, so I did some research, and was immediately hooked.
Q. Did you start with the germ of an idea and start writing to see where it went, or did you map a good deal out in your head (or even outline) before crafting?
A. I’m strictly a seat-of-the-pants writer. Learning that the Wendigo was an Algonquin god made me think of the north Maine woods of my youth (I was living in the Chicago suburbs at the time). I started with a single plot line: A Native American trapper finds a body while tending his traps and believes he has stumbled across a victim of a Wendigo. He races to the nearest phone (keep in mind this was 1989 and cell phones were still in the future) and reports the finding to local authorities and when they return to the scene, the body is missing. Only he suspects what the killer is.
The novel went through numerous rewrites until it was finally worthy of submission to my editor at Skyhorse Publishing. The editor, Jay Cassell, also edited books on the outdoors (The Shooter’s Bible among others—many are sold at Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops). He immediately accepted the manuscript.
Q.What do you feel is the main theme(s)?
A. I believe the main theme, although it’s never actually spoken, has its roots in my childhood. I grew up in an environment where children were to be seen but seldom heard. I still get very frustrated when I feel that people are not listening to me or are unwilling to at least acknowledge that I have a valid argument. Throughout the novel, John Bear (who, after several iterations was no longer a trapper, was now a game warden) has to deal with the frustration of knowing that regardless of how much evidence he presents, no one believes that they are dealing with an extraordinary and horrific monster.
Q. Why do you feel this is important, and what would you want a reader to take away from reading this book?
A. I hope that the reader will walk away thinking about the affects of not respecting the opinions and beliefs of other people can have.
Q. What makes a good book or engaging story?
A. I believe there are three things that make a story engrossing:
1. Characters who are interesting, yet realistic. I have a hard time reading a book in which the protagonist is a super-human hero. There is one very popular author whose main character was an All-American quarterback in college and lives in an aircraft hangar filled with antique cars and airplanes and affords all this while living on a government paycheck. Needless to say regardless of how popular this author is, I will not read anything he has written.
2. The scene must have an effect on the story. In WENDIGO not only is John Bear tasked with tracking a supernatural killer but he must do it in a hostile wintry environment that negates all but the most rudimentary forensics. The killer’s trail will be obliterated by the next snowfall or by drifting snow pushed along by frigid winter wind. John Bear has to deal with all of this, along with disbelieving colleagues and superiors (Did I mention the below zero temperatures?).
3. The plot should be interesting. Periodically, I watch suspense movies directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Modern film seems to be one chase scene after another with a lot of explosions and stunts. Hitchcock mixed physical and psychological action and did it while presenting the viewer with interesting and realistic characters. I wonder what he’d think of the current mindless action films of today if he were alive.
In closing, the writer must respect his reader’s intelligence. They are highly intelligent—they’re reading your book aren’t they?
Q. Are there writers with similar themes to yours? Who are your influences (can be writers, or even artists, musicians, or others) and what is it about their work that attracts you?
A. If, by similar themes you mean the Wendigo, there are many. I have recently read Dale T. Phillips’ SHADOW OF THE WENDIGO and the creature (?) has appeared either overtly or covertly in a number of other writer’s work (i.e. Stephen King’s PET SEMATARY).
I’ve been influenced by many writers. There are the obvious ones: Poe and King as well as some who are not so obvious. I was a freshman in high school when I first read Mickey Spillane’s classic I, The Jury and became hooked on the mystery genre. While in the U. S. Marine Corps, I became an avid reader of Louis L’Amour, I still read many of his short stories (I have always been impressed by his ability to write in multiple genres—about ten years ago, Bantam books published many of his short fiction in a series entitled The Collected Short Stories of Louis L’Amour the sixth volume was his crime stories—prior to purchasing the set I had no idea that he’d written mystery/crime) while best known for his westerns (the Sackett books) he also wrote thrillers and the aforementioned crime stories.
Q. Is storytelling mostly entertainment, or does it serve other functions? Do you have particular goals other than telling a good story?
A. Without a doubt stories have many functions. For many years I taught business management as a member of the adjunct faculty at a community college in the Chicago suburbs. The most effective way to get a point across to students is to link the subject you want them to understand to an anecdote or story. The anecdote should be interesting and reinforce the point you are making. The concept of using stories to illustrate a particular point that goes back to Aesop’s Fables.
Q. Any other goals you've set for yourself, professionally or personally?
A. I only have one goal and that is to write. I was told by an editor (who was a member of a writer group to which I belonged) that even if I never published I’d write. I believe this to be true; possibly because of my need to be heard (mentioned earlier). However, I do enjoy having readers tell me when they enjoy something I’ve written.
Q. Some writers write fast and claim not to rewrite much. Do you do this, or painstakingly revise? When you send the book off to the publisher, are you happy with it, or just tired of it?
A. Sooner or later every writer will be asked: What is your writing style? My response: “I wouldn’t recommend my style to anyone—it’s prolonged periods of procrastination interspersed with frenetic periods of writing. My first two books, Sniper and The Fisherman, were both started in 2002 and completed in 2013. I started WENDIGO in 1989 and have recently finished reviewing the ARC and it is scheduled for a July 2017 release. On the other hand, Black Orchid was completed in a five month period (in the forward of one of his novels, Stephen King said—and I’m paraphrasing here—some books write themselves and others have to be ground out) Orchid wrote itself.
I don’t think I’ve every been either happy with or tired of any book I’ve written. I have one goal: To get the story written and then let the editors help me tweak and smooth the manuscript.
Q. Do you have good editors, and if so, how do they help you? Do they look for particular things? Do you have different people for different editing levels?
A. My experience with the editors at Skyhorse Publishing has been very favorable. Sniper, The Fisherman, and Black Orchid were edited by Constance Renfro, who has since left Skyhorse and opened her own editorial business (http://www.constancerenfrow.com/). Although she is young enough to be my granddaughter, she was firm and when she believed I was wrong (Who would have thought that would happen?) stayed firm and convinced me to make the edits she wanted. I have just finished working with a new editor, Maxim Brown who quickly spotted inconsistencies in WENDIGO. To summarize, my experience with these editors has been positive and has helped me to become a better writer.
Q. If a writer came to you for advice, how would you help?
A. I have assisted writers in numerous ways:
1. Have reviewed your work reviewed by published writers and listen to them, don’t take what they say personal and while you may not agree with their assessment, try what they recommend—you may be surprised to learn that they are right.
2. Develop a tough skin. You are going to receive a lot of rejections, we all do (at least until we reach the height of Stephen King, Michael Connelly, or Robert B. Parker.
3. Join a writer group and then refer to #1 above. Ensure that the people in the group are serious about honing their craft and can help you get better. Joining a group who are either not serious writers or is comprised of your family and friends will usually not be of much help. Never forget that Your best friends are those who tell you what you need to hear; not what you want to hear.
4. Read the successful writers who write books similar to theirs. Review the bestseller lists and keep abreast of what readers are buying.
5. Learn the business of writing and always remember that it is a business. You may not like speaking in public or becoming a salesperson, but they are required skills. If you don’t feel comfortable about your abilities in these areas, start developing them.
6. Last, but not least, I always emphasize (especially to young writers) that they do not quit their day job.
Q. Stories can be told by using a different medium. Can you see your book as a film, audio, etc.? How would that alter the telling?
A. My books are available in audio (Audible and MP3) and I’ve had readers express that they felt they would be great movies.
The audible and MP3 productions are true to the book. It’s well known that once you sell the film rights to a production company, they can change things in any way they’d like. We’ve all heard someone say: “I liked the book better.”
Q. What's the next step in your writing world?
A. Currently, I am working on a new crime/thriller and am between agents. In the fall I expect to be finished with the novel and doing an agent search.
Q. Tell us a fun fact about yourself.
A. My first writer group consisted of three women (all published authors and two of which were professional editors) and myself. The first night I was certain that I was going to dazzle them with my exquisite prose. The reality: They chewed me up and spit me out.
I went home that night madder than a hatter. I vented on my wife telling her how they didn’t understand what I was saying, blah, blah, blah.
She listened quietly and then said: “Why don’t you stop whining and try what they told you.”
The next evening I was in the kitchen, staring into the open door of the refrigerator. She walked in and asked, “What are you doing?”
My reply: “I’m looking for some crow.”
She laughed: You tried what they said, didn’t you?
“Yeah . . . they were right—now I’ve got to eat some crow.”
Q. Any other information you'd like to impart?
A. Finally, I’d like to quote a friend, Hallie Ephron who once said: “To write is heavenly; to rewrite is divine.”
Web page: http://www.vaughnhardacker.com/index
Where to buy: Skyhorse Publishing books are available at bookstores and online.