AFG: Tell us what the Blood Flag is?
JH: The Blood Flag was the flag carried during Hitler’s attempt to overthrow the government of Bavaria on November 9, 1923. He and three thousand others marched on central Munich to start the revolution Hitler thought was inevitable. A shootout followed with the state police, and sixteen Nazis were killed, two of whom fell on the Nazi flag that led the procession and bled to death on it. Thereafter, Hitler said the flag contained the blood of the first Nazi martyrs. It became his holiest symbol. It was last seen in late 1944, and its current whereabouts are a mystery.
AFG: What were the challenges of writing a novel like this?
JH: One of the challenges is getting inside the heads of neo-Nazis of today and trying to understand what motivates them. It’s then even more of a challenge to write things that ring true from the perspective of a neo-Nazi and not pull your punches, even though it is distasteful—probably like writing about a serial killer whom you would hate in real life but must portray accurately and believably in your story.
AFG: Have you always been a World War II history buff?
JH: I’ve always been fascinated by WWII, probably because my father was in the war and fought from Normandy through the Battle of the Bulge in Patton’s Army, and to the Elbe into Germany and to the end of the war. He was the only officer in his infantry battalion who wasn’t killed or wounded. And as someone who flew off carriers for seven years in F-14s, I’ve also had an endless fascination with the Navy war in the Pacific in WWII.
AFG: What was the research like for this book?
JH: The most difficult part was researching and understanding the numerous neo-Nazi groups around the world and their opinions. It was like drinking water out of a very dirty glass. Researching the history and the Hitler mindset was much easier and more conventional. Additionally, I had help from some Germans who gave me great assistance on how things work and how they would work in Germany.
AFG: How do you think the situation will play out in Europe with all this hatred and instability?
JH: I think it’s a difficult time right now with the international immigration crisis and extreme right-wing groups taking advantage. I think there will also be a backlash against Muslims in the West and possibly even attacks on mosques and Muslim businesses in retaliation for terrorist attacks and perceived threats. I think it is important that moderate Muslims try to bring about a reformation to persuade the rest of the non-Muslim world that we can live together as we used to before the radicalization of a significant subsection of Muslims.
AFG: What are you working on now?
JH: I am currently working on a book that is more in my traditional area—counter-terrorism—with the central character being Kent Rathman, or Rat, as he was known in two of my previous novels. He is now disaffected, though, as in the last book he was put on trial by the United States government for waterboarding (something I have personally endured) a terrorist.
AFG: Who were some of your influences?
JH: I try to read broadly. My favorite authors are Marilynne Robinson and Patrick O’Brian. I would love to be able to write as beautifully as they do.
AFG: How do you plot your books—via outline?
JH: I actually don’t outline my books. On occasion I’ll write a synopsis of the story, about a page or two, before I start but generally I just go. I find my stories change while I’m writing, and if I am bound to an outline, I find it too constraining.
AFG: What advice do you have for beginning authors?
JH: Read all the time, and read authors who write well. And to really understand fiction, read James Wood’s book How Fiction Works. It is brilliant, and the books he cites make up an outstanding reading list. Write every day. If you’re a writer, it should be irresistible, and if you write a page a day, a year later you’ll have a book!
AFG: Do you think the neo-Nazi movement is getting stronger?
JH: The neo-Nazi movement is undoubtedly getting stronger, and the immigration crisis is feeding the fire. There are 150,000 neo-Nazis in Russia alone. In Dresden, Germany, last month, 20,000 right-wingers marched in opposition to Angela Merkel’s immigration policies and the growing non-German population inside of Germany. The growth of neo-Nazis in the U.S. is slower, but very real and underground.
AFG: Have you in your research spoken to people who witnessed the carnage of World War II?
JH: Yes, I’ve spoken directly with numerous WWII veterans. Probably the most helpful, though, is my own father. After he fought in WWII, he finished his Ph.D. at NYU and then became a history professor at Purdue University. He and I speak of the war every time I see him, and he is still spry and as sharp as ever today even though he’s 97!
AFG: The best and worst things about being a writer?
JH: The best thing about being a writer is writing a story that others find interesting and compelling and it’s even better when they take the time to tell you. I love hearing from readers. Once I got an email from an Army corporal who said he found one of my books under the seat of his Humvee in Iraq. He decided to read it and said it was a fantastic story and was the first book he was ever able to finish. He said I had made him a reader. That kind of thing is very satisfying. The worst thing about being a writer is knowing that any failure of discipline to keep working, or finish a book, is all your fault! No one else to blame!