Hart entertains crowd at reading event

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 30, 2011

By Hugh Fisher
SALISBURY — Writers create whole worlds with pen and paper … or, in John Hart’s case, a laptop computer.
But many of the local author’s most famous scenes from books like “Iron House” and “The King of Lies” are based on the streets of Salisbury and the countryside of Rowan County. About 350 packed the assembly room Thursday at the Trinity Oaks Retirement Community to hear Salisbury Post book page editor Deirdre Parker Smith interview Hart and ask a few questions of their own.
“John is back home,” organizer Barbara Setzer said, raising a cheer among the guests.
Hart talked about the craft for much of the 90-minute interview session, telling his approaches to writing, how he creates worlds that are vivid based on experience.
Unlike some writers, Hart said he doesn’t rely on outlines.
Rather, his is the “grope and hope” style of writing: catch the thread of a story and follow it until you know where it’s going.
When asked what his ideal day was like, Hart quipped that it was the day he got to write “The End” at the conclusion of a novel.
“I think that’s probably the most fearful way to write,” he said.
There’s always a risk of not finding an end to the story.
It’s a risk he’s faced before. Hart’s first two novels were never published.
Hart’s dream of writing followed him throughout his years as a banker and attorney, years that some in the audience remembered and which he recounted.
“Writing, to me, always seemed this wonderful ideal,” Hart said.
“More fundamentally, it’s my passion … I love language, I really love having fun with the words.”
Writing has also let him meet some of his own favorite writers, such as thriller novelist Jeffrey Deaver.
Asked how he, a man with a loving family and sunny disposition, could create dark and brooding characters, Hart credited his time as a lawyer.
“I didn’t really understand some of the depths that can be plumbed by humanity before I became a criminal defense attorney,” he said.
There are no “criminal masterminds,” Hart said. There are only people who do terrible things, and whose deeds affect entire communities.
But even in his darkest plots, Hart said, there are good people and ideals.
“At the core of each of these books are the things that I think make humanity great,” he said.
Hart’s novels have been praised for their lifelike settings, and he attributes that to experience.
It’s much easier to write about a place like Horah Street, a place you’ve been, rather than a setting like Manhattan that you’ve only seen in maps, Hart said.
When asked the inevitable question about the characters in his novels, Hart smiled. “There’s no one from Salisbury in any of my books,” he said. “That’s my story and I’m taking it to the grave.”
Still, he said, there are plenty of people who think they see themselves in his writing. “There’s a line in every story that separates the bits of the author from pure fancy,” he said.
And, he said, the darker parts of his writing aren’t autobiographical.
“I grew up in a wonderful home. I was given every opportunity,” he said.
“It’s just fascinating to me just how damaged people can be, and I marvel at the things that can cause that damage.”
Members of the audience also got to ask questions.
Ariel Junda, 17, asked why Hart had taken so long to start writing. He was in his 30s when his first novel, “The King of Lies,” was published.
Hart said that young people can make good writers, but his career had taken time to develop. Those first two unpublished novels, he said, weren’t up to par.
He credited his wife with giving him insight and helping him avoid what he called “comic-booky” writing.
After the talk, much of the audience lined up to enjoy treats and coffee while waiting for Hart to sign their books.
Ariel Junda and her mother, Janice, held copies of “The Last Child” and “The King of Lies.”
“She’s the reader in the family,” Janice said. Her daughter had sparked an interest in Hart’s work.
Judy Thompson of Salisbury has been a fan of Hart since his first book was published.
She was most excited by the hint Hart dropped during the interview, that there would be a follow-up to his novel “Iron House.”
“I was hoping for a sequel,” she said.
Thompson said she likes Hart’s writing because it’s exciting. “That’s the kind of books you like to read, the ones you can’t put down.”
Nelson Hodgkins of Pilot Mountain drove down just to hear Hart speak.
“He seems to be a pretty exciting guy,” Hodgkins said. “He seems to be producing so many quality things in such a brief period of time.”
After the book-signing, Hart said he’s hard at work on his fifth novel.
He wasn’t ready to say much about it just yet.
“It’s about a guy who gets out of prison after 17 years and comes back home to settle some old scores,” Hart said.
As to the Summer Reading Challenge, Hart said he was proud of what the organizers have accomplished.
“They always do a great job,” he said.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.