VWC: When did you decide you wanted to be an author?
JCH: Since an early age, maybe fifteen or sixteen, but was never encouraged. So I did not try until I was in my late thirties, but kind of gave up when I had no luck obtaining an agent or contract with a publisher. Then, I tried again in 2012, and was mentored by Patrick Smithwick, a writer and educator who gave me excellent help and insight.
VWC: What are some of the things you did to reach that goal?
JCH: First, I worked with Patrick Smithwick who read my first manuscript and thought I had something worthwhile. After the normal and subsequently unsuccessful attempts at finding an agent or publisher, I decided to self-publish on Amazon. The Mule Tamer became a big success, eventually making it as a #1 Amazon bestseller for Westerns. All of the great reviews inspired me to keep going with the characters, and this developed into a four book series, about the Walsh family in Arizona and Mexico, spanning from the 1890s through 1911.
VWC: How did you find your first publisher?
JCH: I attended the Western Writers of America (WWA) conference and was able to meet face to face with publishers. I still do not have an agent, but have a wonderful working relationship with the publisher, who has published all three of my books in the Allingham series, about a tough New York cop who moves to Arizona for his health. This series has also proven to be popular with readers.
VWC: How do you find a publisher for a book now?
JCH: I submit my manuscripts to the publisher who has taken my previous work directly.
VWC: Have you ever self-published a book? If yes, what are the greatest challenges for a self-published author?
JCH: Yes, as mentioned above, all of my books except for Allingham – The Long Journey Home started out as self-published books. The greatest challenge is having the books noticed by readers. Of course you’ll have to get someone to professionally edit the book for you, but that just involves finding a good person and investing the money. The real difficulty is having folks actually buy the book. There is a tremendous amount of material out there for folks to buy, and if you do not have the advertising budget employed by the big publishing houses, then you’ve got to find a way to compete.
VWC: Your books are Westerns, is that the sort of book you read?
JCH: Actually no. Although B. Traven, the author of Treasure of the Sierra Madre is one of my favorite authors, I really love general fiction and literary fiction and mostly stuff that has not been written before, say 1960. I purposefully do not read Westerns as I do not want to copy anyone’s style or story. My hope is to produce something that is genuinely novel.
VWC: To date, you’ve had seven books published, four in The Mule Tamer Series and three in the Allingham Series. Why do you write series novels?
JCH: I have found that, once folks get to know certain characters, they like to read more about them. My greatest compliment from readers is that I have extremely interesting and (mostly) lovable characters. One reader stated that he felt as if he could go out to Arizona and visit the graves of my characters. They were that real to him. That was profoundly gratifying. I also feel that the stories become stronger as I go along. I pull various characters who might have played a minor role in the first story and give them center stage. But ultimately, it is the response by the reader that dictates my decision to write additional stories about my established characters.
VWC: What book that you’ve written is your favorite, and why?
JCH: Maria’s Trail in The Mule Tamer series. Chica (or Maria) is the love interest of my protagonist, Arvel Walsh. She is a Mexican beauty who has had a rather storied past. Some of the readers of The Mule Tamer did not like her, as she is bold, profane, and often violent. I felt that I had to defend her honor, so I told her back story in Maria’s Trail. That story almost wrote itself, as I knew Chica by then, and it felt like I was simply chronicling her life. It was extremely fun to write, and made many of my readers love her even more.
VWC: Do you work on more than one book at a time?
JCH: No, but I have several stories in my head at one time. I’ll sometimes write notes about them and revisit them, but my primary focus is on one book at a time.
VWC: Do you have any time-management secrets for writers?
JCH: Do not stay away from your story at all. Even if you only have a few minutes to work on it on a particular day, do something with it. If you are blocked, go back and read what you’ve written and revise it. But keep the momentum. If you do not, you’ll never get it written. Also, I like to write in a linear fashion, but sometimes a particular scene will pop into my head and I’ll just write that. I don’t even know where it will fit in the story, but at least it’s down on paper (virtually, since I write on a PC). Also, sometimes I won’t even write in complete sentences. I don’t worry about that. I’ll clean it up and revise it later, but at least it’s down on paper and that’s the hard part. Cleaning it up and making it plain to the reader is the easy part.
VWC: What projects are you working on now?
JCH: A fiction around the Rough Riders from Arizona. It is the story of two brothers who join Theodore Roosevelt’s volunteers and their adventure. I’ve also got a nice sub-plot story about Nurses, Clara Maass who was a real person at that time, a so-called immune nurse who is an African American from North Carolina, and a nun from Baltimore’s convent of Sisters of Mercy, who also served during the Spanish American War. It is a lot of fun so far.
VWC: What advice do you have for writers trying to get a book published?
JCH: Do not become discouraged. This is a subjective business. Many good books go unpublished. Many bad books become best-sellers, and getting your book published is kind of like winning the lotto. Having a lot of people read your story and like it is like winning the mega millions. Just remember that and keep pushing. Go to conferences where agents and publishers handle your kind of writing. Talk to them, but remember, you’ve got to grow a thick skin. These people are not out to hurt your feelings, but they will if you let them. They are in business and that’s all. Maintain a healthy attitude. The most heartbreaking story to me is the one about John Kennedy Toole, who became so discouraged that he took his own life when he suffered one rejection after another. He did not live long enough to see A Confederacy of Dunces become a grand success. You CANNOT let this stuff effect you in that way. Keep a positive attitude and keep pushing to get that publishing contract.
VWC: Who was your favorite author as a child?
JCH: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
VWC: Who is your favorite author now?
JCH: Olive Higgins Prouty. She was the author of the Vale novels and Stella Dallas. Your readers might remember her as the author whose story was made into the film, Now Voyager, in 1942.
JCH: Whenever I have the time. I am not a fulltime writer, and I have many other obligations, including a family and day job. I have to fit in the writing around all that.
VWC: What was the most valuable piece of writing advice given to you?
JCH: Women read fiction, men read “how-to” books. Always write for a female audience. Even with Westerns, which are read widely by men (at least the men who read fiction), write them with women in mind. I always, always write with the female reader in mind.
VWC: And now, the final and most important question: What’s your favorite kind of cookie?
JCH: Ginger snaps.
Thanks, John, for stopping by. Watch Whimsical Words for more Guests, Quotable Wednesdays, Writing Tips, Recipes, and lots of other interesting posts. Have a “wide open spaces” kind of Monday – Vonnie
PS. If you want to show some love, visit my Amazon page and buy one of my books. 🙂