James Hockenberry

Author James Hockenberry’s Blog #3, January 2017

Happy new year. This is the third of my blogs. In the future, they should arrive monthly. It is broken out in four short parts: a bit of history, little-known detail about the book,a writing tip, and odds and ends. I’d love you to send any thoughts, comments or suggestions to info@jameshockenberry.com. Many thanks.

  1. A little bit of World War I history:
    1. Many scenes in Over Here occur in Police headquarters,located on 242 Centre Street.At the edge of Chinatown, this Art Deco building still exists even though the NYPD moved out in the 1970s. I love to tell people that it is currently high-rent condominiums – Steffi Graf and Leo DiCaprio once lived there. In my research for Over Here, I was able to locate a 1909 Harper’s Weekly Article, “The finest police HQ in America.” This article gave me gold, and many of the details I used in the book (e.g., location of offices, number of cells in the basement, and the use of nylon curtains instead of today’s one-way glass) come from this source.
    2. I have tried to see every New York location (those that still exist, and if not their footprint) that I used in the book. 242 Centre Street was no exception. I walked around the building,took some measurements, and politely asked the doorman of this very exclusive building if I, a poor author, could take a look. He looked around and waved me in. I was able to get a feel for the central lobby with the circular staircases behind it in the minute I was there.
  2. What you did not know about the books:
    1. One of my favorite and most effective scenes in Over Here is the one where Wittig meets the German agent Weil, on his boat in Long Island Sound.Weil is cleaning fish while they talk. I wanted to have a dialogue between two Germans concerning their aspirations for increased political power and the complications of living in an Anglo-Saxon world. The exchange was important to the characters and to the story, but I feared the discussion would be dry,boring, and expositional.
    2. I forget how it came to me,but I invented the idea of having Weil on a boat cleaning fish while he and Wittig talk. Not a fisherman, I had to research how to clean fish. I sandwiched in my dialogue while Weil is chomping off fish parts, and some of the blood ends up on Wittig’s clothes. It was fun to do and improved the pacing while providing dramatic foreshadowing that something bad is about to happen. When it does, poor John Wittig’s life is forever changed. It is a crucial turning-point in the story.
  3. Writing tip:
    1. Written text is often wordy and imprecise. Good editing eliminates and tightens the narrative. Sometimes,the word used is weak and the meaning can sharpened with a stronger one. Here are some words to eliminate (or at least to make sure you can’t find a better way to write the sentence):
      *there  * thing  * very  * really  * just  * like
      * good  * often * totally * quite  * perhaps
      * got  * almost * went  * always  * never
      *quite  * any  * some * many  * about  * more
      Do a word search and rethink your sentences that contain them.
  4. Odds and Ends:
    1. Check out my website and find a quiz based on actual facts that are included in Over Here. An 85% score will earn you a map from the book.
    2. What am I reading?
      1. The Key to Rebecca, by best selling author Ken Follett. Set in Egypt during Rommel’s North African campaign, this is a first-class thriller and one of Follett’s best.
      2. Storm of Steel, by Ernst Junger. This is a WWI classic, written by a German storm trooper who details his experiences in the war. It provides excellent background for my third book, as I try to understand the tactics, stresses, and challenges fighting men faced during the war. For example, what is it like to survive an artillery barrage?
      3. My good friend Tom Avitable’s book, Give Us This Day,set in current time, when heroine FBI agent Brooke Burrell uncovers a money laundering scheme that leads to a devastating terrorist attack on New York City. I met Tom at Thrillerfest many years ago, and recently we concluded that our writing styles are similar – fast paced, action packed,tight descriptions, complex characters, and short punchy chapters. I encourage all of you to pick up one of his excellent books.
    3. I’m hoping to release So Beware, the next book in the series, in the first half of 2017, but I still have much to do. I hope to file for a copyright this week.