Author Interview: John Bell
Today I am pleased to welcome John Bell on to the blog with a quick interview! He’s come up with some fascinating answers!
What is your favourite thing about writing books?
At the outset, Faye, I should point out that I’m a relatively new writer with only 4 books in my repertoire. The most recent is The Circumstantial Enemy, my only work of fiction. All it took was writing a few introductory chapters of that novel for me to realize my naivety in the world of fiction. Writing a novel is nothing like writing non-fiction. It was 20 times more difficult. Eager to learn, I placed The Circumstantial Enemy on-hold for a year, choosing to devour every book I could find on how to master the craft. I read about dialogue, characters, plot, viewpoint, structure, even how to write romance. Like most novelists, the learning curve is never-ending. Continuous learning is the thing I enjoy most about writing fiction. In non-fiction, I am still stoked by the opportunity to introduce readers to new concepts in the most interesting ways possible.
Who is your favourite character in your book and why?
When you are on the wrong side of a war, there is more than one enemy. This is the assertion on my book’s cover and it sets the stage for the protagonist’s journey to freedom and redemption. At page 120 of the 324-page novel, I introduce the main antagonist, SS Major Helmut Mauer. Mauer is interned at a POW camp for Germans in Rockford, Illinois in 1943. He is the quintessential Nazi with three peculiarities—he puts his own interests ahead of Hitler’s ideals, he loves catch-and-release fly fishing, and he is infatuated with strangulation. Mauer isn’t my favourite character, but he became my favourite character to write about. Despite his wickedness and the complexity of his character, I reached a point where I understood this man so well that knowing what he would and wouldn’t do was easy; this facilitated penning the most despicable scene in the book. After I wrote that scene, I asked myself how I might make Mauer’s behavior worse. I then made it worse. A lot worse.
What is your favourite drink to consume while writing?
My most productive time to write is first thing in the morning. The ideas from the previous night are all fresh in my head, eager to leap onto a page. But before that happens, I grind freshly-roasted Columbian Supremo beans and fire up the coffee pot. Nothing stirs the senses like coffee. I enjoy 3 lattes between 7:30-9:00AM . . . and that might result in a couple of thousand words or a re-read and re-write of the previous day’s chapter.
Do you have any bad habits while you’re writing?
My wife thinks so. She says I am temperamental when I’m writing. I tell her I am focused. The truth is this: I’m at my creative best in the morning. There is a 4-hour window for my best work. Do I try to exceed 4 hours? Of course I do. The post 4-hour passages are usually the ones I must rewrite the next day.
How do you research your books?
After preparing a plot arc, I begin my research by determining the vital needs of each chapter along the arc. That means researching era, settings, habit, dialogue, events, wardrobes, and historical fact for the envisioned scenes. These elements are critical in bringing the past to life. My initial research for The Circumstantial Enemy began with the internet; the in-depth analysis came from more than 20 non-fiction books (6 of them on POW camps in America), and a handful of historical novels. This was just the beginning. My first draft of the novel was complete in 18 months. I invested another 4 years for rewriting and editing, as well additional fact-checking of the little details of the 1940s that had to be error-free. Another couple of years of fine-tuning kept me occupied while I tried to persuade bona-fide publishers to take on the project.
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I am a plotter. I was introduced to the plot arc during my study of fiction-writing tenets. I faithfully followed its principals and the plot arc worked nicely for me. I had read about the pantser method in the book, King on Writing. Had I tried to emulate Stephen King’s approach I think I would still be writing!
If you could live in any fictional world, which would you choose and why?
A fiction world that has always intrigued me is Jurassic – partly because of dinomania, but more importantly because of the ramifications of genetic engineering that was the underlying premise of author Michael Crichton. Crichton, a Harvard medical grad, used his novels to raise awareness of the dangers. If I was living in the Jurassic world I’d be working side by side with Crichton to bring this science to an abrupt conclusion.
If you could befriend any fictional character, who would you choose and why?
I met Forrest Gump in the movie, a couple of years before I read the book. What’s not to like about this wonderful character? Befriending and spending time with Forrest would be a fascinating ride of insight, laughter, and admiration. If only that was possible.
About the Book
When Croatia becomes a Nazi puppet state in 1941, carefree young pilot Tony Babic finds himself forcibly aligned with Hitler’s Luftwaffe. Unbeknownst to Tony, his sweetheart Katarina and best friend Goran have taken the side of the opposing communist partisans. The threesome are soon to discover that love and friendship will not circumvent this war’s ideals.
Downed by the Allies in the Adriatic Sea, Tony survives a harrowing convalescence in deplorable Italian hospitals and North African detention stockades. His next destination is Camp Graham in Illinois, one of four hundred prisoner of war camps on American soil.
But with the demise of the Third Reich, repatriation presents a new challenge. What kind of life awaits Tony under communist rule? Will he be persecuted as an enemy of the state for taking the side of Hitler? And then there is Katarina; in letters she confesses her love, but not her deceit… Does her heart still belong to him?
Based on a true story, John Richard Bell’s The Circumstantial Enemy is an energetic journey to freedom through minefields of hatred, betrayal, lust and revenge. Rich in incident with interludes of rollicking humour, it’s a story about the strength of the human spirit, and the power of friendship, love and forgiveness.