For many journalists, writing a novel is an item on their to-do list, with a big fat star next to it. Alas, many journalists do not get to realize that dream. They need to overcome a certain internal block and reprogram the way they present the information, especially if they work for a high-profile publication where factual errors are not permitted. If you are in the profession of relating facts, how do you pull off that hat and put the one of a storyteller? Enter Douglas G. Hearle, a former NYC reporter and editor, who talks about his debute thriller Outsource.
MJN: Our mutual friend Julian Padowicz labeled your work as "beach read", implying that it's a page-turner that stimulates the adrenaline glands. I think the world of Julian, and take his opinion into consideration, but I am not sure I would take your book to the beach. If you were to categorize your book yourself, would you rate it as thought-provoking or entertaining? Maybe I'm too sensitive, but I don't think that global terrorism is a joking matter. We're not talking about aliens or vampires but rather real people capable of doing real damage. In your own words in the forward, "Terrorism became routine". Where does one draw the line between light entertainment and heavy literature?
DH: What I took away from Julian’s kind words about OUTSOURCE was neither “thought-provoking” nor “entertaining.” Rather, it was user-friendly for any reader. What I took great care to describe was the context in which the story unfolds. And I wrote it so that the reader is not required to be familiar with either the time nor the geography. Of course, the subject matter could never be frivolous but a reader can be interested in the story told in the novel without being a student of: international intrigue; dictatorial governments; the New York Stock exchange or hired killers.
All of the context is accurate. And, at one point during the 1980s, what happens in the book could very well have happened in reality.
MJN: Another reviewer compares you to Ludlum and Clancy. Are you flattered by that comparison? Do envision yourself joining the ranks of those authors?
DH: Now we’re talking frivolous ! Of course I do not envision myself joining the ranks of Ludlum and Clancy. But how nice to see my name in the same paragraph.
MJN: As a former New York reporter, how did you find the transition from journalism to fiction? Did you have to reprogram yourself in some ways?
DH: Journalism ceases to exist when fiction surfaces. But both require communication skills. When I consider each separately I am reminded of my first City Editor’s warm and fuzzy warnings to a young cub-reporter. “The very first time you come in here with a single detail of a single story that you cannot attribute, you’re gone!”
So, think of how unencumbered one feels when he sheds the bonds of journalism and is embraced in the supple arms of fiction.
Not a bit! Same pressure only you have to adhere religiously to the context and, in telling the tale, make up the facts that you used to find in your notebook. Without that exercise, your story simply isn’t believable.
MJN: After all the high profile stories you've covered, do you find yourself desensitized to the corruption in the world. Do you feel that you've developed a coping mechanism for turning your emotions off and just focusing on the facts?
DH: By definition, I suppose, a person whose work takes him into “rarified air” - good or bad; evil or sanctified - needs to stay on an even keel. As a newspaperman, I played chess with a fellow on death row and later witnessed his execution. I interviewed Harry Truman, Ernest Hemingway, Liz Taylor and Fidel Castro. One Christmas season, I walked along a street in Brooklyn and looked up-close-and-personal at the bodies of scores of passengers still strapped in their seats on a jetliner which had just crashed. At the end of that trail of wreckage was a pile of snow and in the snow was an infant. Tossed free and unhurt. The only survivor. So, yes, I suppose there’s some kind of mechanism to provide that “even keel”.
MJN: In the biographic blurb you mention that your wife Mary is a professional editor and scrutinizes your work. How do you detach your marital relationship from your professional relationship? It's a two-edged sword when spouses are in the same profession. They can be each other's most valuable advisers but also harshest critics and potentially competitors.
DH: Actually, I disagree with your premise when you describe us as spouses “in the same profession”. We’re not. I am a writer and she is an editor. I have never met a writer who didn’t need an editor. The editor brings a different perspective to the manuscript - one the writer lacks. It’s a perspective which the writer could never bring to bear on his own words.And, more importantly, a good editor knows that he/she is not writing the piece but is suggesting -from the reader‘s perspective - ways to improve it. I’ve been blessed. Often I simply yell across the hall. “Can I try this out on you?”