James Hockenberry’s

Award-Winning Author

James Hockenberry’s World War I Intrigue Series brings alive the tensions and controversies of the times and provide insights into many current problems: immigration, terrorism, and the devastating cost of war.The books combine elements this award winning author is known for: page turning suspense, exacting research, and complex characters.

Your trilogy covers American’s involvement inn WWI. How did the series evolve?

First, I want to tell an exciting story in such a way that teaches something. I never started out thinking I would write a trilogy. However, the more I learned about WWI the more interested I became. After Over Here, I wanted to continue the story and the events of 1919 provided great material for So Beware. After covering 1915-16 with one book and 1919 with another, something was missing: America’s 1918 battlefield experience. So, Send the Word was born.

How would you say your books are different from other historical novels?

It’s hard to compare. I pick a canvass with huge stakes: Who wins WWI? What would
happen if the Paris Peace Conference were derailed? I bring the reader into the
controversies and passions of the times. I’m not reinventing history. The main events in
each book happened, who and how may be changed. I explain what is not historically
accurate in my Author Notes. The books include maps and inside art pictures of actual
scenes and people to bring a sense of reality to the reader. I want the books to scream

How do your fictional characters and actual historical figures interact?

Seamlessly, I hope. I introduce a number of actual historical figures (House, Tunney,
Pershing, et. al.) into the action, but my fictional characters and their conflicts drive the
story. They don’t observe; they participate: Black Tom Island, the assassination of
Liebknecht, the fight in the Meuse-Argonne.

Why did you start writing after a professional career in finance?

I’ve loved books my whole life and always wanted to write one. At my college graduation, my English professor said, “There’s a book in every one of us. Good luck.” My professional career interceded, but after I left Corporate America, I needed a new challenge and had my chance to write. I merged this with my love of history and my German-American roots.

What books fostered your love of writing?

I grew with books, particularly Landmark history books written for young readers. I loved my English classes and devoured the historical novels written by Leon Uris and James Mitchener. I was captivated by the idea of Man at his Brink, and military books
such as The Red Badge of Courage that dramatized man’s life-and-death struggle on the battlefield. The early James Bond novels and The Godfather grabbed me, and the intrigue/ spy world opened up to me with Forsyth’s The Day of the Jackal, LeCarre’s Tinker
Taylor Soldier Spy, and Follet’s Eye of the Needle

How did someone who had a career in finance come to write World War I thrillers?

My first response is that Ken Follett stole my idea for a WWII thriller set in Denmark with his Hornet Flight. After that, I realized WWII was covered extensively, so I jumped to WWI. In my research, I tripped over the 1916 Black Tom Island explosion in New York City and Germany’s extensive sabotage campaign in 1915-1916. I was off the races.

What influence did your personal background have on your writing?

My heritage is largely German-American going back to the Hockenberrys who settled in Pennsylvania in the early 1700s. I’ve always been interested in the German-American experience, which was particularly hard during WWI. My maternal German-American
grandfather was a successful businessman during WWI. He built the house in the NYC suburb of Bronxville that I grew up in. It is featured in my 1st book. With that, I had the start for Over Here.

Did growing up in Bronxville have an impact on your choice of material?

Without a doubt. I think this is true of most writers. A good example is Karen Dionne’s The Marsh King’s Daughter. Because I lived in and around NYC for most of my life, I know it well. I know the neighborhoods, how to get around, and how it changed. It was
easy to visit places that feature so importantly in my books (Police Headquarters, Grand Central Station, Wall Street, the harbor, Liberty Park).

So you recommend visiting the places you write about?

There is nothing like actually seeing a place, even 100 years later. It gives your writing credibility and confidence. For example, Send the Word’s chapters in Kingsland changed after I visited it (and could see the Statue of Liberty from the bluff overlooking the site of the explosion, a great detail for the book). I couldn’t have written So Beware without knowing Paris or Berlin. I hired a guide to walk me through the Meuse-Argonne for Send the Word.

Aside from visiting a place, could you talk more about your research?

I want my books to be grounded in history and to make my readers to feel what it was like in those times. To do that, I try to place myself in the 1910s mentally and visually. Details matter, and I try hard to get them right: the sights and smells of the times, the contemporary terminology, the weapons, the means of transportation, the fashions, the politics, and the places themselves. Old postcards and pictures are invaluable tools
visually. I have a bookcase full of WWI books and 6 files of research material. For example, I found a street-by-street map of 1921 Berlin. Gold. In a So Beware chase scene, I can go block-by-block and street name by street name.

How has your professional career influenced your writing?

A great deal. Professionally, I started my career as a CPA and then a business analyst. I love to piece together information into a logical and conclusive narrative. I think my books do the same thing. I’ll call this mosaic writing: plotting and placing all the
disparate historical events and timelines into a framework built around the lives and desires of my main fictional characters. It’s like putting together a complex puzzle. Great fun.

Can you trace your development as a writer?

Writing is a craft that takes time to learn. Every genre has specific requirements so I began to read the thriller masters (Morell, Barry, Child, Furst, et. al.) to see how they do it. When I started to have time to write, I took writing courses at Mercer Community
College. Then I joined a local writer’s group and started attending the Thrillerfest conferences in NYC. I’d be nowhere without T-fest. As I still was working, I wrote short stories. This has had a major influence on how I write novels.

How so?

I look at my book as a tight collection of intertwined short stories with a guiding theme and central characters. Normally, my chapters are the length of the short stories I used to write. I look at every chapter as its own tale with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Each chapter sets up the next. The characters and I steer it along.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Neither. The author Steven James has a great book on writing called Story Trumps Structure. He describes writing organically. I believe this best describes how I write: I know where I want to go but am not locked into an outline; I just let the story develop as
it wants to go within the framework I just described.

How much of “you” is in your books?

A lot. My interest in military history has steered me to the topics I want to explore. I also think a part of me (or someone I know well) is in all my main characters: Gil Martin has my controlled analytical mind; Paul Keller my spirit of adventure and love of baseball;
Shannon Tunney my mother’s intelligence, beauty, and fortitude. I assure you, there are a lot of differences too. The chess cypher in So Beware comes from my knowledge of the game.

What’s next?

The trilogy is complete, but I have the nugget of an idea for another WWI-sourced book. I have much to do before it takes shape.