Between the Lines: John Hart

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Davidson College graduate John Hart is the author of five New York Times bestsellers, The King of LiesDown RiverThe Last ChildIron House, and Redemption Road. The only author in history to win the Edgar Award for two consecutive novels, John has also won the Barry Award, the Southern Independent Bookseller's Award for Fiction, the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award, the Southern Book Prize and the North Carolina Award for Literature.

Lucky for us, John stopped accepting awards just long enough to respond to a few nosy questions from Main Street Books before his visit to the store on March 8th.


1. You’ve published two books since The Last Child, but The Hush (which released on February 27th) will be the first to return to the world of The Last Child. Why return now?

When I first wrote Johnny and Jack I loved them for their friendship and steadfastness, their willingness to walk through fire, one for the other. Mixed with that courage and resolve was the kind of clear-eyed wonder we often lose as adults. Not that they were perfect – far from it – but Johnny, at thirteen, still believed in magic. Consider that sense of wonder, then try to remember the last time you felt anything like it. Successfully building such a child into the core of an adult-themed thriller is one of the great victories of my career. The book worked because of those boys. It’s only natural that I’d want to see what kind of men they’d become. Were they jaded? Still friends? Did Johnny still believe in magic? 

2. In The Last Child, you captured the magic of late childhood/early adolescence with an uncanniness that could rival Stephen King. What was it like to write Johnny and Jack as adults? 

It was pure delight, actually. Every major character I’ve written has been definitively informed by traumatic events from childhood. That kind of backstory lends credence to motivations, and credible motivations make the characters ring more deeply. It’s one of the rules I live by. Love them or loathe them, readers should understand what makes my characters tick. I’ve lived with Johnny and Jack since writing The Last Child nine years ago. That’s a lot of time to think of the men they might become.

3. In your interview with John Grisham, you expressed a firm preference for “death of the author,” meaning that contentious school of thought that advocates for literary works to be isolated from their creators. In fact, you mentioned that this is why you tend not to offer readings during your events. Why do you think it’s so important to leave written works entirely up to the interpretation of the reader? 

I like to say that the relationship between writer and reader is the last great form of intimate communication between total strangers. Think about it. We can read the same book and experience it differently: what we see and hear and imagine. We bring ourselves into a novel in a way not possible with movies or plays or television programs. There, it’s all given to us; we experience it the same way, all of us out there in the audience. I fear that, in reading aloud from one of my books, I might impact the way one experiences the story. The sound of my voice, inserting myself into the experience is no kind of gift. In fact, I consider it a taking.

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4. The Hush is your first foray into the supernatural. How (if at all) did the rules of writing change for you when the rules of your fictional world changed? 

The basic rules never change. Good writing is good writing. Plotting, though … now that’s a different story. Break the rules of the natural world and that world becomes your oyster. Everything is possible. Of course, the story must still make sense at the end. I’m talking about motivations, relationships, connective tissue. Breaking the laws of physics doesn’t abolish those of logic. If there’s no satisfying click at the end of the story, readers close the book, unhappy. That’s a rule no writer wants to break.

5. In The Hush, you tackle three distinct time periods: the 1850s, the Great Depression, and present day. Did you do any research to ensure historical accuracy? If so, what form did that research take and did you enjoy it? 

I generally dislike research, and tend to do the bare minimum to assure the feel of reality. That’s surprisingly simple. The right rifle for the period. The date of the last slave ship into Charleston. Beyond such simple things, it gets down to the feel I mentioned above. Fortunately, human nature has changed very little over the centuries.

6. Can you tell us about any shenanigans you got into while you were a student at Davidson College?

Hmmm, tough question. Blood oaths. Vows of secrecy. I’m sure you understand.

7. What is one class that changed your life or is particularly memorable from your days at Davidson? 

I spent two years in the Humanities Department - six trimesters of concerted study in philosophy, religion, art, and history. That may have had more impact on me than anything else. A close second would be the study of French existential writers. Most of my novels touch, at some level, on existential questions.

8. You’ve lost a bet with your friends regarding the winner of this year’s Superbowl and consequently must perform at the local karaoke bar. You step onto the stage, grip the mic, and belt out...what song?

The song wouldn’t matter. It would be a gruesome croak of a performance and the bar would empty before I finished. Yes, my singing voice is really that bad.