John Hegenberger has published Cross Examinations and two non-fiction books about collecting movie memorabilia and comic books. He's also sold a dozen stories to Galaxy, Amazing and other science fiction anthologies. He earned a B.A. in Comparative Literature and has worked as an advertising and marketing manager at IBM, AT&T, and Exxon.
One Bite at a Time: Tell us about Spyfall.
John Hegenberger: Spyfall is an adventure story of a Los Angeles private eye in 1959 who gets hooked up with a couple of well-known personalities, Walt Disney and Ian Fleming, to stop a deadly nuclear threat.
OBAAT: Where did you get this idea, and what made it worth developing for you? (Notice I didn’t ask “Where do you get your ideas?” I was careful to ask where you got this idea.)
JH: I came to the idea by thinking about all the great television shows I used to watch as a kid and what would happen if the characters were to team up. In other words, what if someone like Mike Hammer were to visit 77 Sunset Strip in order to work with Sky King to help stop something from happening to Joe Friday?
OBAAT: How long did it take to write Spyfall, start to finish?
JH: Spyfall took about eight months to write. It's part of a series, so a lot of the background material and character development is already established. Nonetheless, I thought it was important to be able to take my time and get this done right.
OBAAT: Where did Stan Wade come from? In what ways is he like, and unlike, you?
JH: Stan Wade is just a guy with a familiar-sounding name. He's a lot younger than me; just starting out in the business still struggling to figure out if he can make it in this profession. He has a lot of help from his friends and he has a lot of luck. He also has an adventurous spirit which carries him to areas and events that he probably should avoid.
OBAAT: In what time and place is Spyfall set? How important is the setting to the book as a whole?
JH: The setting is all important for this series of novels. I fell in love with the year 1959. And it's not just the time that is important… it's also the setting. It seems to me that the majority of great private investigators worked out of Los Angeles at one era or another.
OBAAT: How did Spyfall come to be published?
JH: I wrote some science fiction starting in the ‘70s. I had a couple of nonfiction books published in the late ‘80s and lots of articles and a newspaper column. Spyfall is published by Black Opal Books and, as with most authors, it was simply a case of travelling each day to the marketplace where dreams are bought and sold, hopefully taking my place among the sellers.
OBAAT: What kinds of stories do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors, in or out of that area?
JH: I like to read stories that surprise me and gave me a chuckle. Favorite authors right now include: Craig Johnson, Dick Lochte, Mark Coggins, and Paul Kemprecos.
OBAAT: What made you decide to be an author?
JH: Quite a number of years back, it occurred to me that if you were a writer, you could work anywhere. That's all I needed.
OBAAT: How do you think your life experiences have prepared you for writing crime fiction?
JH: My writing is based more on my reading experiences. They’ve prepared me to be a crime writer. I keep coming back to the puzzles and whodunits in the mysteries of crime writing.
OBAAT: What do you like best about being a writer?
JH: Making stuff up. Nothing pleases me more than to have an entire story figured out and then at the last moment recognize that there's another whole aspect of the story which I haven't spent any time on at all. It's an opportunity to jump in with a nifty new twist.
OBAAT: Who are your greatest influences? (Not necessarily writers. Filmmakers, other artists, whoever you think has had a major impact on your writing.)
JH: I have no idea who has influenced me the most, because hundreds have influenced me a lot.
OBAAT: Do you outline or fly by the seat of you pants? Do you even wear pants when you write?
JH: Yes. I have to outline, mostly because I want to know who done it and I want to know where I can stick in some clever or exciting stuff and have it make sense. However, during the writing process, I probably re-re-outline three times at least.
OBAAT: Give us an idea of your process. Do you edit as you go? Throw anything into a first draft knowing the hard work is in the revisions? Something in between?
JH: Never throw anything away. Everything has a place; you just have to figure out where it is in the overall process. Beyond that, just sit down and see what you’ve typed and how you can make it better.
OBAAT: Do you listen to music when you write? Do you have a theme song for this book? What music did you go back to over and over as you wrote it, or as you write, in general?
JH: Naturally when I listen to music it’s from around 1959. I don't have a theme for Stan Wade, but now that you mention it, I guess I'll go see if I can find one. Thanks for the tip.
OBAAT: As a writer, what’s your favorite time management tip?
JH: This sort of goes back to the question about my process. I get a lot more done when I write out everything first. Once I've scribbled out the content, I type it, which is basically a second draft. Then when I do the edits, I'm already at the third draft, which keeps it fresh and saves a heck of a lot of time.
OBAAT: If you could give a novice writer a single piece of advice, what would it be?
JH: Have fun! If it's not fun, it's not worth doing. If you're writing and it's not fun, maybe you shouldn't be writing, but don’t let the bastards grind you down.
OBAAT: Generally speaking the components of a novel are story/plot, character, setting, narrative, and tone. How would you rank these in order of their importance in your own writing, and can you add a few sentences to tell us more about how you approach each and why you rank them as you do?
JH: For me, story events and setting are key. The other aspects come after that organically, depending on the events of the tale or the place and time that it’s taking place.
OBAAT: If you could have written any book of the past hundred years, what would it be, and what is it about that book you admire most?
JH: I keep coming back to most of that works by Stuart Kaminsky.
OBAAT: Favorite activity when you’re not reading or writing.
JH: Reading TV, comics, and OTR.
OBAAT: What are you working on now?
JH: I'm wrapping up volume five of the Stan Wade series. Then it's on to a western and the third book in my Tripleye, science-fiction series, and finally a new novel in the Elliot Cross series. I expect to have all that done in the next nine months, so I can move on to Stan Wade #6.