Novel ideas: John Hart just loves to mislead people

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 1, 2009

By Susan Shinn
For The Salisbury Post
CHAPEL HILL ó John Hart might well have a future as a stand-up comedian.
He’s honed his writing, now he’s honed his public speaking skills as well.
Hart, along with suspense writer P.T. Deutermann, spoke to a delighted crowd Sept. 12 as part of the North Carolina Literary Festival.
The festival brings numerous authors together ó usually in pairs or trios ó for several days each fall at either the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, N.C. State University or Duke University.
This year’s extravaganza took place in Chapel Hill.
If there’s anything writers love to talk about, it’s writing. And readers are more than happy to listen in, followed by the chance to meet some of their favorite writers.
The festival is a smorgasbord for me, an embarrassment of riches.
It’s always hard to choose which of the multiple sessions to attend, so I try to pick authors who have a Salisbury connection.
No one at the festival has more of a connection than Hart, whose mother and stepfather, Nancy and Bill Stanback, live in Salisbury, and whose first two novels have been set here.
His most recent novel, “The Last Child,” is set in a fictional town not unlike Salisbury, the real-life locale that Hart knows so well and where he once practiced law.
Hart described himself as a “recovering attorney” to the crowd at Gerard Hall.
He gave a nod to his speaking partner Deutermann, saying he couldn’t imagine writing 13 novels, as Deutermann has done. (Although you get the feeling perhaps Hart has in fact done just that.)
Hart traced his background for the audience, talking about how neither accounting nor law school was his cup of tea.
While practicing law, he decided to try writing yet another book ó by his account, the first two he’d written failed miserably.
He quit his practice to write what became “The King of Lies,” and we pretty much know the rest of the story. Which led Hart to say, “Don’t get stuck doing something you don’t want to do.”
Hart said he didn’t set out to write mysteries.
“But I looooove misleading people,” he said, drawing out the word. “Nobody wants to read about shopping, they want to read about tension and conflict.
It’s not just about the reveal ó it’s about stripping these characters down.”
Both writers were asked if their plots turn out they way they think.
Hart, who’s also made appearances with Jeffrey Deaver, notes that Deaver often writes 230-page outlines.
“I’m with the other school ó grope and hope,” Hart said.
Hart said he works on knowing his main character, and discerning what pieces of emotional baggage he must resolve.
In “King of Lies,” he wrote about guilt and shame. In “Down River,” he wrote about rage and loss.
After a while, Hart said, the pieces start to make sense. “About halfway through, I know what the story is about and how it will end.”
Both authors answered questions about getting agents and writing query letters ó and about the process of naming their novels.
Hart named his most recent book.
“They hated it,” he said of his publishing house. “I loved it.”
But after the manuscript was read, everybody agreed the only name for the novel could be, “The Last Child.”
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Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury.