By Karen Harper
It was fun to interview such a versatile author–John Hegenberger writes everything from novels and short stories to nonfiction such as a comic book guide and a silver screen guide. Here’s what he has to say about his current thriller, SPYFALL.
Please tell us what SPYFALL is about.
In 1959, a hard-luck L.A. PI gets caught up in the international intrigue. It’s chock-full of the popular-culture of the day and based on actual facts. Plus, you won’t believe how close we all came from nuclear holocaust in September 1959.
On your website (and no doubt in much of your varied writing) your motto seems to be HAVE FUN. Can you expand on this? In writing? Reading? In life in general? Do your main characters ascribe to this philosophy?
We all want and need to do this, don’t we? Me, my characters, and my readers; all love to have fun. I mean… isn’t that why we read and write? A thrill ride doesn’t have to just be scary.
Likewise, I was really intrigued by the fact some of your stories are called “rollicking noir.” Can you explain this apparent contradiction as reflected in your work, especially SPYFALL?
Things are actually dark for our protagonist, Stan Wade, but he enjoys his chosen profession and surrounds himself with a host of friends who faced death with a smirk. Readers will have fun in Stan’s universe. Like a circus ride, it’s a high-speed, hilarious romp thru 1959 L.A.
As a denizen of the Midwest myself, I love the idea that your stories are ‘from the heart of the heartland.’ Besides that the ‘heartland’ is your home and no doubt the place you know best, what works for you to set your writing there?
I keep coming back to the private eye profession represents everyone; the kind of person who reasonably can get in over their head, but does it anyway, sometimes for love or money or fun. But the SPYFALL takes the reader to a place (LA) and a time (1959) when everything was calm and quaint on the outside, while underneath we all know the world could end it any moment.
Although your Elliot Cross books and certainly SPYFALL are considered historical thrillers, they are set in more recent history, some in the 1980s. What works for your books set in that time? And where do you draw the modern vs. historical line?
The modern world came with the personal computer; then cell phones and browsers. But 1988 saw the earliest Apple computers. And in 1959, we still used the Univac to predict election outcomes. The computer has become our assistant. Before it came into our lives, we were more alone and a little more noir.
I love that SPYFALL includes characters we all recognize but would like to know more about: Errol Flynn, Walt Disney, John Steinbeck, Noel Coward and Elvis, no less! Are these characters cameo parts or do they play key roles in the novel?
All those characters are walk-ons, but several others play major roles. Mickey Cohen, Ian Fleming, George Reeves, Philip K Dick, John Wayne. Practically every celebrity in Los Angeles 1959 becomes part of the Stan Wade saga. As well as significant places like Pacific Ocean Park, Marineland, the Hollywood Playhouse, all gone… but not forgotten.
Your title SPYFALL is intriguing. How do you select titles and how does this one tie to your plot or characters?
All of Stan’s novels begin with the letters “S” and end with the word “fall” as in the Bogart quote: “You’re taking the fall”. The title is always a clue to the plot; SPYFALL deals with espionage in 1959. Likewise Superfall, Starfall, and Stormfall tell you right up front what to expect from the plot.
You are obviously drawn to PI main characters in your novels. Do you make that “career” come alive through interviews, personal experience, research or good, old imagination?
There’s 1000 ways to play the PI…. I cherry-pick the ones that I like and spin them sideways. I have two other private eye series: Elliot Cross in Columbus, Ohio 1988 and Tripleye, the first PI agency on Mars.
Did you have input on the cover of SPYFALL and, if so, how did you envision it?
Yes the cover design is primarily mine, based in part on Saul Bass’s poster for the film “Vertigo”. But there’s a bit of James Bond and Simon Templar in there too, if you squint.
Can you tell use what you are working on now?
My current work in progress is the fifth Stan Wade novel, Spadefall, where Stan is hired to locate a missing Dashiell Hammett manuscript. The plot involves Hammett, Hitchcock, and Hawaii. I’m also partly through the third Elliot Cross novel, Crossfire, which should be out next spring. It’ll be the 15th book I’ve sold this year.
Born and raised in the heart of the heartland, Columbus, Ohio, John Hegenberger is the author of upcoming Stan Wade LAPI series from Black Opal Books, father of three, tennis enthusiast, collector of silent films and OTR, hiker, Francophile, B.A. Comparative Lit., Pop culture author, crime-fighter, comedian, ex-lead in the senior class play, ex-Navy, ex-comic book dealer, ex-marketing exec at Exxon, AT&T, and IBM, happily married for 45 years.