Meet Mystery Author John J. Hohn

One of the remarkable joys of the internet is that it allows us to become friends with people all over the world; people we have an affinity with who we would never have encountered otherwise. I’ve met a host of wonderful people through my writing and the social media outreach I’ve engaged in as an author. In the course of all of this I’ve acquired a new friend whose terrific book – Deadly Portfolio: a Killing in Hedge Funds  – and insightful blog I truly admire. John is also a talented poet (you can see his work on his website). He was kind enough to allow me to interview him for my blog. I’d like to introduce you to John and then share his interview.

Author John J. Hohn:

John J. Hohn was born and grew up in Yankton, South Dakota. He earned a degree in English from St. John’s University (MN) and began his career as an English teacher on the faculty of St. John’s Prep School, a position he held for three years. He and his first wife had five children; four sons and a daughter. The couple divorced in 1977. In 1964, Hohn joined The Travelers in Minneapolis, MN and began a 40-year career in the financial services industry. In addition to The Travelers, he held positions with Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Minnesota, Wilson Learning Corporation, and Wachovia Bank and Trust. Hohn retired at the end of 2007 after 17 years as a Financial Advisor with Merrill Lynch serving over 300 clients in the Winston-Salem, NC area. In 1986, Hohn married Melinda Folger McLeod and gained a stepson, Matthew. Currently, the couple divides their time each year between a cabin near West Jefferson, NC and a cottage in Southport, NC on the Cape Fear River.

Interview with John J. Hohn:

1. When did you first become interested in writing professionally?

If by that you mean writing to make money, the answer is not yet. I want my books to pay their way, of course. So far they have not, but beyond that I want to write good, readable literature. I’d rather have an artistic success that was a commercial failure rather than the other way around.

2. Your blog contains some wonderful poetry that you’ve written. Which is your first love – poetry or mystery novels?

My first love is poetry. While I was still working, poetry enabled me to work on something that I could complete without dragging it out for months on end. My first published work was poetry. I feel it is a higher art form than writing fiction because it needs to be much more concise and evocative.

3. Where do you find the inspiration for your writing?

My inspiration comes from the events in my own life – the joys, the sorrows, the trials and the triumphs. I want very much to share out of my experience so it benefits others.

4. Your book is rich with details from your career as an investment advisor. Did you conceive your novel before you retired?

Yes, I got the idea for my novel in the last few months while I was still working. As I looked forward to leaving work, I found myself wondering what could go wrong. I knew that it would need to be something outside of my control, something that made me an inadvertent victim. I am a lot like Matthew Wirth, the older partner on the threshold of retirement. His anguish over seeing his dreams for his later years destroyed would equal mine if something had happened to my plans at that stage in life.

5. When did you begin writing it?

2008. When the economy collapsed, I thought the stage was set. I really did not finish, however, until 2010, after I had retired.

6. Have any of the scenes or characters in your novel inspired poems?

It is probably the other way around. Poems that I have written have been the inspiration for some of the characters in my novel. I have written several poems about my mother and my father and Shirley Wirth has a lot about her that is my mother. The fun side of Matthew Wirth has a lot of the playfulness of my father. The setting on the lake side also comes out of some poetry that I have written about times at Lake Okoboji, Iowa and in Minnesota fishing with my siblings and my parents.

7. Would you like to write in other genres?

I would like to break free of the mysteries and write a serious work that would be somewhat autobiographical. I have made several starts at it, but I run into trouble. I don’t think that I have matured enough as a writer to do justice to the kind of book that I yearn to write.

8. The character of the protagonist’s wife in Deadly Portfolio is so beautifully drawn and is almost idealized. She’s definitely someone I admire and would love to know. Is she based on your wife? If so, what does your wife think of her characterization?

I assume you mean Shirley Wirth, wife of the retiring broker. Shirley is a composite. My wife inspired her balanced, steady manner. Shirley refused to let her husband imagine the worst possible outcome. She is optimistically realistic. Her softer manner and her appearance remind me of my mother at her best.

9. You paint such interesting familial relationships in your book. What are the key ingredients to a good marriage? To successful parenting?

I think the greatest challenge in life is to know oneself. In loving another and in raising children, empathy, tolerance, understanding, truthfulness, willingness to communicate are all important, but if the spouse or the parent is not coming from a place that is self-accepting and self-respecting (not prideful) then he or she will have trouble finding fulfillment in either role. Marriage and raising children become an arena for all the unresolved issues the participants bring into those relationships. Most of the time, people accommodate. They adjust to one another’s shortcomings and faults, sometimes tragically, sometimes humorously. Marriage and raising children are daunting, yet we undertake them so lightly, as if everyone is capable, as if everyone will do well, when the evidence abundantly demonstrates that is a really unrealistic.

How long did it take you to write Deadly Portfolio?

I am going to say two years, but there were long periods when I did very little with it. I am a fits-and-spurts writer. I can get fired up over an idea and write all day. I can get hung up on something and no amount of time at the keyboard will help. I need to step away and ponder what is going on and work to find the better way to move things forward.

10. What is your writer’s routine? Do you work on other projects while you are writing your novels?

I really don’t have a routine. I believe my top priorities are my wife and my children. If I wrote a wonderful book and my children complained years afterward that I was not available to them, I would have failed and the book would not make up for it. I’d say the same about my marriage.

11. Have other acquaintances identified themselves in Deadly Portfolio, and what did they think of their portrayals?

Others have tried to identify with the characters in Deadly Portfolio, but I worked to develop each character as unique and separate from anyone in my life. Some of the events are drawn from real life, but the characters are all created and do not represent anyone I know.

12. Is Deadly Portfolio the first in a series? Please say yes – I want more!

Yes. I am about 70% of the way through my first draft. Detective James Raker remains central to the drama. Denise Becker is cast in a strong supporting role. Others make cameo appearances and I introduce several new people.

13. When can we look for your next book?

I hope by the end of the winter quarter that my next book will be available.

14. What do you want readers to take away from your book?

I want them to feel that they have come to know the characters almost as if they were real people. I want readers to experience the disappointment and heartache of the bad things that happen and rejoice in the good things. I want them to feel that they gained a little wisdom about life because they read my book. I want them to be really glad that they read it.

15. What other novels or authors do you admire?

I really like Phillip Kenney’s novel Radiance. I reviewed it on my web site. It is the kind of profound book that I would like to write some day. There are so many others. Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (from years ago), Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. Outside of Radiance, I have read all of Jane Austin; all of Dostoyevsky, most of Hemingway, Eudora Welty, Faulkner. I haven’t been blown away by anything that I have read lately. I read more history than I do fiction. I am reviewing fiction now for Norm Golden’s web site which has forced me to read more novels.

16. Are you a character or plot-driven author?

I try to strike a balance. I give the characters a lot of room to maneuver. I know the destination. They know the way to get there. I realized in my new book that I haven’t given a central character an urgent stake in what is happening, as I did with Monica Clay who felt her family’s well-being threatened in Deadly Portfolio. I came up with a solution that involves both plot and character. One character, currently somewhat passive, is going to be a really evil guy; someone readers will want to see discovered and brought to justice. There is evil in passivity. Doing nothing is a choice. It is as manipulative as overtly controlling behavior.

The change will involve the reworking of character rather than the plot, but my concerns about the plot gave rise to needing a change in the character. I want the book to be credible so I try very hard to avoid contrivances and inconsistency.

Let me end by thanking you for this opportunity, Barbara. Your enthusiasm for writing is infectious. One of the side benefits to being a writer is that one gets to know others, sometimes at a great distance. I feel getting to know you has been rewarding and I look forward to your next book and to staying in touch over the months to come.Screen Shot 2013-08-21 at 8.08.50 PMScreen Shot 2013-08-21 at 8.08.34 PM