I was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina because my father was a State Department officer. At the age of twenty-one, bored with my life in America, I dropped out of a Midwestern college, caught a freighter to Australia, and spent seven years roaming the continent. Returning to the United States, I served a stint in the Army and picked up a couple of degrees in criminology on the GI Bill. I spend twenty years as a counselor and program director in the Indiana Department of Corrections and recently retired from the San Francisco Probation Department where I was assigned to a domestic violence and stalking unit. Due to my background, the Australian Outback and the criminal element figure strongly in my writing.
What is your greatest accomplishment as a writer so far?
My most popular book is Call Me Pomeroy. It’s about a narcissistic street musician on parole who joins the Occupy Oakland Movement and its sister movements in Europe. He does not join for political reasons but to get on television, attract an agent, and score a million-dollar recording contract for his music. The character, Pomeroy, is a consolidation of several criminal types I knew.
Why do you write?
I write because it is necessary to me. If I don’t write, I feel as though my soul has become congested.
What is your writing process? (Any favorite places to write? Any interesting quirks, traditions, or rituals you may have? How many times might you revise something before being satisfied with it? Besides you, does anyone else edit your work? Etc.)
I write every day for most of the day, taking occasional breaks to play tennis. I revise my work continuously, sometimes even after it has been published. I also run my work through my writing critique group.
How did you come up with the idea for your story “The Tallyman”?
When I was a San Francisco probation officer, I had a client who was on probation for stalking a famous movie actress. He was placed on probation after he showed up on a movie set in San Francisco where she was being filmed. I think he intended to kill her because he was carrying a sword. The stalker kept harassing the actress even after he was placed on probation, so I had to arrest him and put him in jail. When the actress did not come to court to testify, the stalker was released and started stalking me personally. Sadly, the San Francisco courts are not very effective in dealing with stalkers because the victims rarely show up to testify. Perturbed by this, I decided to write a story in which a stalker receives justice on a more ethereal plane.
In “The Tallyman”, the narrator references famous literary works several times. What is your background in literature? Did you read English and world lit just in college or do you read it often now? Is it a passion or a way to kill the time or somewhere in between?
I didn’t read much literature in college, but I read a lot of great books after dropping out, sometimes by campfire in the Australian Outback. I particularly like the classics because I’m not sure the best writing was done in more modern times. Shakespeare, Milton, Chaucer, and Homer will always be among my favorite writers.
How much reading do you do? How necessary do you feel it is necessary for an author to read?
I read every evening. Television is okay, but I burn out on television after an hour or two, and then I pick up a book. It is vital for an author to read, and I would recommend that aspiring writers read like the wolf feeds.
Do you have anyone (friends, relatives, etc.) review your works before you publish them?
Yes, my critique group reviews my writing by checking it for content and grammar. An author can’t go it alone—he needs the help of others to get it right.
Could you give us an idea of your upcoming works without spoiling anything?
My latest book, The Ping-Pong Champion of Chinatown, was just launched. This is a tale about a naïve young girl from backwoods Kentucky who leaves her dead-end town in search of fortune and love. She ends up getting into a bizarre series of misadventures, which includes starring on a foot fetish site in Los Angeles, hustling bets as a mechanical bull rider in Texas, and serving a stint in West Virginia’s Alderson Prison because she “trusted the wrong kind of fella.” Her ultimate mishap occurs after she seeks the ping-pong championship of San Francisco’s Chinatown—all while hiding out in the Witness Protection Program. The Ping-Pong Champion of Chinatown is a short, fun read.
Do you have any writing events coming up? For example: something being published/released? A reading of one of your works? Interviews? Any speeches or talks?
I have nothing scheduled at this time, but that is likely to change.
What do you hope to achieve as a writer?
I hope to write the best books and stories that I can and to market them effectively.
What do you think of bad reviews? Are they helpful or harmful to you?
If you put your work out there for anyone to see, you have to expect hurtful reviews. These are usually written by mean-spirited people who have not read your book in-depth. Bad reviews can embitter a writer if he lets them, so he has to learn to shrug them off. He has to be able to tell himself that whoever wrote the review does not count. Occasionally, an author may glean something from a bad review, but I find this to have rarely been the case.
What advice do you have for novice writers?
Read in-depth, write continuously, and join a critique group. Also, learn how to market your books. If an author does not effectively promote his books, he will become the equivalent of a musician playing outside a subway station. No matter how well the musician plays, ninety-nine out of a hundred people will stroll on past him without giving him a second thought.
What do you feel are the most important resources a writer can use?
Talent is important, but persistence is more important. There are countless people with the talent to write a book, but lack the persistence to do so. They let life get in their way to the point that their talents never come to fruition.
Where can people find out more about you and your writing? (websites, social media, etc.)
They can check out my books on Amazon. Here is the link: amazon.com/james-hanna.
Is there anything else that you would like our readers to know?
Yes, I hope they enjoyed “The Tallyman.”
This was a great interview. I am an author, and the advice Mr. Hanna gives to novice writers is spot on, as is his statement about having others critique your work. I’ve read all of James Hanna’s books and there is not a bad one in the lot. My favorite is “A Second Less Capable Head.” There are lots of good stories in that collection.
Thanks for the comment. It is appreciated.