Today Excalibur Books is thrilled to have an interview with C. W. Hawes, best known for his Justinia Wright Private Investigator Mysteries series, set in Minneapolis, Minnesota; The Rocheport Saga, a post-apocalyptic series set in America’s Midwest; and the Pierce Mostyn Paranormal Investigations series, set wherever there be monsters.
As a general introduction, could you tell us a little about yourself and your background?
Certainly. I was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, USA in the 1950s and 1960s. The Cold War and the threat of Communism were very real, along with the impact of the Vietnam War. I grew up in an ordinary middle-class family. We weren’t as well off as some, but I can’t say I was deprived either.
The one thing I always had plenty of was books. My mom wasn’t a good reader, but she knew the importance of reading and I grew up with her giving me a strong love for books and reading that I still have today. For 35 years I worked for county governments in Minnesota; the first 5 in the library system, and the last 10 as a technical writer.
My love of writing is an outgrowth of my love of reading. Surprisingly, though, my first success as a writer came from writing poetry, not fiction. And while I don’t currently write poetry, I very much appreciate it as a form and as a training ground for the writer of fiction.
Some of your work seems to be set or inspired by the culture of the early 20th century. What draws you to this historical era?
The first half of the 20th century is a fascinating time period. So much of what we take for granted today can be found in rudimentary form in those first 5 decades of the last century. TV was invented in the 1920s. Movies got their start in the teens and twenties. Radio dramas (think of podcasts today) were great entertainment in the ‘30s and ‘40s.
The viability of air travel was proven in the years before World War I with the German DELAG airship company. The British airship R34 in 1919 proved Trans-Atlantic passenger flight was possible. The airships Graf Zeppelin and Hindenburg, along with Pan Am’s flying boats, made it a reality, not only for the Atlantic, but also the Pacific. And the list goes on and on.
The other aspect of especially the 1930s that I find appealing is the optimism for the future. In the midst of the Great Depression, people were optimistic about the good things that science and technology would give us in the coming decades. All you have to do is look at magazines from the era, such as Popular Science and Popular Mechanics. There was hope that a great future was just around the corner. I love that optimism. I think it would have been a good time to be alive.
There is a strong Lovecraftian influence to the Pierce Mostyn adventures. How old were you when you discovered H P Lovecraft’s work, and how did it affect you?
I don’t remember exactly how old I was when I first read “The Colour Out Of Space” in Groff Conklin’s Omnibus of Science Fiction. Let’s say around 10 years old. But it wasn’t until the early 1970s that I re-discovered that story and got the Lovecraft bug.
There’s actually a lot of depth to Lovecraft’s best work, and to understand it one must have a basic understanding of philosophy and history. Which means one must be well-read and I think on the more mature side of life. Unfortunately, with the state of public education here in the States at present, I don’t think the average reader is capable of plumbing the depths of his best work.
I’m not a nihilist as was as HPL, so I can’t go along with that aspect of his philosophy. But there are certain Emersonian and Nietzschian ideas in the Cthulhu Mythos that I do agree with. But where Nietzsche saw humanity’s salvation in art (that is, creativity), HPL saw it in maintaining a sense of place and culture. He was not into diversity, and you can see that in his work.
Lovecraft saw human beings as insignificant creatures when seen from the perspective of the universe as a whole. He saw us as an arrogant species, with no right to be so. Which is why Cthulhu and his ilk are to be feared: they show us just how insignificant we are, and how unfounded our arrogance is.
ABOVE: Cover artwork by Rowena M0rrill.
Some people think it’s ridiculous to pigeonhole fiction by putting ‘punk’ on the end of a word and claiming it’s a subgenre (Steampunk, Dieselpunk, Atompunk etc.). What are your feelings on the subject?
We humans are namers: we like to give things names. We like to classify things. So why would we treat fiction differently? For one thing, categorizing it helps us to understand it.
Science fiction has been divided into many subgenres and categories. Mostly, I think for marketing purposes. That does, though, help me as a reader.
Punk Lit is an outgrowth of the punk subculture. Punk is non-conformity, anti-authority, anti-corporatism, anti-consumerism. In literature, the punk hero is not a mainstream kind of guy or gal. He/she is an outsider, a loner, fighting for what is right. Fighting the megalithic society, which is corrupt and destructive. A re-telling of the David and Goliath story, as it were.
SF punk lit, starting with cyberpunk, applies punk ideas to various time periods. It is, at base, alternative history. Personally, I see the punk sub-genres as being just as valid as any other way to categorize the various approaches to the writing of science fiction.
What are you working on at the moment? Do you have any future projects you’d like to talk about?
I’m currently working with The Underground Authors on a multi-author mystery-thriller-suspense series which will launch next year. I am writing the first novel in the series. Because the Pierce Mostyn series is my best seller, I’m considering shifting more towards paranormal horror in my writing. To that end, I am thinking of introducing an occult detective series and a Weird West series, as well as writing short stories featuring ghosts, werewolves, and mummies.
Which writers inspire you?
I draw inspiration from a variety of writers for different reasons. My number one inspiration, though, has to be Anthony Trollope. He was not only a superb storyteller, he was the consummate businessman. He took the mystery out of writing and turned it into a process. And in doing so, he did us all a favor. Anyone who wants to see a craftsman in action, should pick up a copy of Trollope’s Autobiography. It will pay dividends to study his methods. Lawrence Block’s five books on writing are another source of inspiration and good craftsmanship. As for writing style, I’m blown away by Rex Stout and Raymond Chandler. Those guys are masters of style.
Do you have a special time to write? How is your day structured?
Usually, I write in the morning. I find I’m fresher then. I’ve never been one for structure. Since I retired, and no longer have to follow the dictates of “The Man”, my day pretty much plays itself out with whatever I feel like doing, plus the few chores I perform to help out my wife.
Do you work to a plot outline, or do you prefer to just start writing and just see where an idea takes you?
Ever since elementary school, I’ve hated outlines. On a practical level, why put all that creativity into an outline? Why not just write the story? When I write, I write to a five-act formula. That way I have direction for the story and don’t get sidetracked. It’s the same methodology used by the prolific writers Lester Dent and Michael Moorcock.
I start with a character, or a situation, or a story idea and go from there. I follow the five-act formula and the dictates of the genre and 9 times out of 10 the story just flows. I don’t need an outline on top of that.
What does your research process look like?
Usually I research while I’m writing. I research when I need to know something for the story. We live in a wonderful age. An age where we have more information than we can ever make use of — and it’s all at our fingertips. Just plug what it is you want to know into your search engine and you have your answer in micro-seconds.
Which book or books are you reading at the moment?
I’m currently reading Neil Mosspark’s Sand Fall Trilogy, and Lawrence Block’s Telling Lies for Fun and Profit. I’m also dipping every now and then into Wildside Press’s The Werewolf Megapack. I just finished reading Private Eye Confidential: Stories from a Real P.I. by Mike Spencer.
What book would you like to see turned into a movie, and who should play the leading roles?
To be honest, I’m not into movies. Nor am I into actors and actresses. I frustrate those around me who drop names that mean nothing to me. I suppose they think I’m a troglodyte that just crawled out of his cave. Because print and film are conceptually very different, film often doesn’t do justice to the book because it can’t match our imagination. Imagination is what makes the book special. The movie essentially only appeals to our eyes. One could say, it is the prime exemplar of the term “eye candy”.
When you aren’t writing, what can you typically be found doing?
Often reading. Very often reading. I also play chess online. Weather permitting, I like to walk. Recently, my daughter gave me a set of brush pens. So I’ll be doing more Zen doodles in the future. They’re something I started drawing my while I was still working. The older I get, the more I like to sit in my rocker-recliner, with a cup of tea, and rock while contemplating how good life is.
Could you tell us more about your wife Raihana’s artwork?
I think Raihana is a naturally gifted artist. Her best medium, in my opinion, is pencil. In her hand, a pencil is not unlike a magic wand. She also does exquisite oil paintings and watercolors. Before we were married, she worked for 3M in Minnesota as a free lance graphic artist. She created the covers for The Rocheport Saga, the Justinia Wright series, Lady Dru, and Rand Hart, as well as my short stories.
If interested, her artwork is available for purchase, and can be found at www.raihanadewji.com. You can connect with her on Instagram (@raihanadewji).
You wrote an incisive column for “The Phantom Games”, examining the global situation. One year on from that article, what are your thoughts now?
My thoughts are pretty much the same. Life is. What’s important is how we react to it. As Basho observed in Oku No Hosomichi: “each day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.”
Life itself is, as it were, our home. We can make our home comfy and cozy, a place we want to be. Or we can turn our home into a hell house, where no one wants to be. But it is all up to us, because life is up to us. As Marcus Aurelius observed: Life is a matter of opinion. Which is why I strive to be positive and send out those good vibrations.
I refuse to get caught up in the COVID hysteria. It is non-productive, and leads to negative, victim mentality thinking. If we put COVID into the big picture, we find it is only one of many issues that we are currently facing. We have a TB pandemic that’s been going on for decades that no one gives a fig about. When was the last time we heard about the TB pandemic? I’d say never. No one cares about the 1.4 million souls worldwide who die of TB every year. Last year, roads and highways, worldwide, claimed 1.35 million lives. That’s 3700 people who die every day on our roadways. But where is the outcry about that? There isn’t any. No one seems to care. We just accept it. And let’s not get started about cancer, or AIDS, which still ravishes sub-Saharan Africa.
I continue to focus, and encourage everyone to focus, on the bigger picture. It’s important to do so to counter the highly negative times in which we currently live. It seems no one is optimistic about the future, or the wonderful times in which we live. And I think that is crazy.
As I mentioned earlier, the 1930s were a time of great optimism regarding the future of the world and humanity. And that was during the worst economic downturn the world has experienced, and during a time when the world was literally marching to war.
Sure there are problems today. But we actually have the solution right in front of us, it’s just that no ones wants to take it. There are two things that must change if we are to advance. The first is to get rid of consumerism, which is hedonistic and narcissistic, and to regain a sense of gratitude.
Everyone wants to live in Vanity Fair. We want to buy, buy, buy that which isn’t worth having. Because we are mesmerized by the bright and shiny baubles, worthless though they be. We are seeking nothing but pleasure and self-gratification, and rotting our souls in the process, as well as destroying the planet. And our governments support this for the good of the GDP.
We’ve lost the frugal ethos of “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” Seneca wrote that the truly rich person is the one who can live simply, even though he is rich. And let’s face it, we’re all rich who live in the first world.
Somewhere along the line, gratitude has gone out the window. In the US we have a day set aside so that we can be thankful for the good we’ve experienced and the bad we’ve survived. Yet, Thanksgiving Day has been debased to Turkey Day, and attacked as an assault on indigenous peoples. This kind of thinking is destructive to our humanity. For as Cicero noted, it is gratitude that is the foundation for all the other virtues. No gratitude, and we lose all that makes us human.
COVID is the least of our worries. Our lack of tolerance for others is creating massive divides, and massive social anger in an ever more fragmented society.
Yet, I remain positive. By being positive, frugal, and gracious I can do my part to make the world a better place. It’s why a good many of my stories have happy endings.
Where is the first place you want to go to after the COVID-19 travel restrictions are fully lifted?
I’m not much of a traveler. As long as I can get to the grocery store and pick up my take and bake pizza, I’m good.
What tasty dish have you cooked recently?
While I love to cook, since she retired, my wife has taken back the kitchen. So I don’t do much cooking. But I do make a pretty mean garden salad and tuna salad, which work well with the hot and muggy Houston summer weather. However, I just got a nifty silicone pastry mat for making pie crusts. My last one finally wore out after 25 years. So a fresh apple pie is definitely on the agenda.
Tell us a strange, random fact.
Black pepper was the most widely used spice in both ancient Rome and in the Middle Ages. In London in the 15th century, a master mason earned 3d/day. A pound of black pepper cost him 3 days wages. Today, in the UK, a top earning stonemason makes £19/hour. And also today, I found online a pound of black peppercorns selling for $7.45 US or £5.39.
So today that stonemason would need to work just under 17 minutes to buy a pound of black peppercorns. Don’t we live in a wonderful age?
How can readers discover more about you and your work?
My website and blog: www.cwhawes.com
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/CWHawes1
I also have 2 mailing lists. Sign up for my VIP Horror Readers Club: https://dl.bookfunnel.com/aj2s8x1slq You’ll get an exclusive copy of “The Feeder”.
And/or sign up for my (mostly mystery) VIP Readers Club: https://dl.bookfunnel.com/dew2bf67hz and get a free copy of Vampire House and Other Early Cases of Justinia Wright, PI.