An Interview with Author Terry Hughes

ImageIn this newspaper issue of Book Addicts I reviewed a book by northwest author, Terry Hughes. Called Burning Paradise it is a fascinating look into the world of fire fighting. I was able to connect with Terry in Spokane where he lives and do an interview with him.

1. Tell us about yourself.

Most of my professional career was in construction. I was a carpenter, then a builder, a developer and then a building designer. I live in Spokane, but I grew up moving to many locations, including several stops around the world. My father was a Marine Corps pilot, a FAA pilot, and finally a sub-contractor for the CIA. The most interesting place we lived was Cairo, Egypt, when I was a sophomore in college where I attended the American University of Cairo. I studied Middle Eastern history and taught classes in English as a Second Language. I graduated from UC Santa Barbara where I obtained a degree in History.

2. How did you find your way to being an author?

Believe it or not, I began writing at the age of eight, turning out short, short stories about Charlie the June Bug. My mother and grandmother loved them, and with their encouragement I continued writing and reading. In high school, I decided to become a writer and took typing classes and started to pay attention during English classes. After graduation, I realized I needed to get out into the real world and got a job on a fishing boat in Alaska, which I turned into my first unpublished novel, Fall Run. This takes place during the momentous year of 1968 which brought us Vietnam, rioting in American streets and assassinations of political leaders.

3. Are you a full time writer or do you have another profession?

My profession of building designer is on the recession rocks, so I have quite a bit of time to write. I also produce a television series for Community Minded TV on my monthly seminars entitled The Art of Writing. I also write magazine articles.

4. Is Burning Paradise your first/only book?

It is my only published book. I have several manuscripts finished or in progress and am currently working on a non-fiction work about the Spokane Police Department's homicide of an innocent man.

5. Could Burning Paradise be a fictionalized biography of your life?

No, it is not. Although it takes place in Santa Barbara when I was a volunteer fire chief, and the story is about a serial arsonist. If you're a friend of a writer, watch out, because we are always looking for real-life characters. I purposefully take the city bus to eavesdrop on conversations. I also go into a dive bar and study characters.

6. Do you write other genres besides mystery?

Action-adventure, crime novels and non-fiction.

7. With the advent of e-books and indie companies, there are many more opportunities for the aspiring writer. What are your thoughts on it?

Anyone can be published on e-books now, but, e-books has turned the publishing world upside down, with houses shrinking in size and publishing fewer books.

8. What advice would you give an unpublished writer in choosing a publisher?

Go local. Get to know your regional publisher and attend their events. Discover if your genre interests them.

9. What is a normal working day like for you?

I begin my days with marketing, social networking, setting up signings. Today's writer does his own marketing. I also conduct interviews for my current project. I try to write every day. If I don't, I lose my momentum.

10. What's the story behind the story? What inspired you to write this book?

As I said earlier, I was a volunteer fire chief in Santa Barbara and one afternoon in June of 1991 I was driving home up San Marcos Pass when I saw a plume of smoke explode into the sky, and I phoned it in to 911. A horrendous fire resulted with almost five hundred homes destroyed and three lives lost. A few weeks later an arson investigator showed up at my door and interviewed me about my observations. I was flattered thinking I could help him, but I later learned that I was the first one to report the fire and because I was a volunteer fire fighter, I was a suspect. I had never heard of an arson investigator, so I began to read as much about it as I could.

11. What do you read in your leisure time?

Right now I'm reading a non-fiction history book about the US Naval battles in the Pacific during World War II. For fiction I'm currently reading Paul Lefcourt's The Deal, a comedy about Hollywoodd and screenplay writing.

12. On the blog I recently asked “If you were to be stranded on a deserted island, what three books would you take with you?” Would you give us your choices?

Anything by Stephen Ambrose, but preferably Undaunted Courage about the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Any of Elmore Leonard's latest crime fiction. I'd probably pick Be Cool. And, of course any of James Lee Burke's Dave Rolbicheaux mysteries.

13. Why is Burning Paradise relevant to the readers in Idaho and Utah?

A. Burning Paradise is relevant to all regions which suffer from wildland fires. The season started early this year, and promises to bring some major burns. Just look at the catastrophe New Mexico is undergoing. Also, it is important for wildland residents to understand fire and fire prevention. Plus, all residents should support all of their firefighters, whether Federal, State, local or volunteer.

14. You mentioned you are currently working on a non-fiction manuscript. Could you tell us more about it?

The working title is A Dark Blue Shield. On the evening of March 18th in Spokane, a mentally disabled man, Otto Zehm, was mistakenly identified as stealing money from an ATM machine. Otto, a few minutes later, walked into a convenience store to buy a 2-liter bottle of Pepsi and a Snickers bar. He was suddenly rushed by a Spokane police officer, Karl Thompson. Otto, a paranoid schizophrenic, recognized Officer Thompson as the police officer who had taken pleasure in bullying him from time to time. Thompson ordered Otto to drop the soda bottle, and Otto responded, "Why?" Thompson began to beat Otto with his baton with thirteen blows to his head, neck and shoulders, and Tasered him three times. Other officers arrived on scene and three of them killed Otto Zehm and the Spokane Police Department collected the video evidence of the incident and buried it out of public view. It took the Department of Justice and the FBI to come in and indict Thompson before a grand jury, and Thompson was convicted of using excessive force and lying to cover up the truth. He is scheduled to be sentenced soon. This incident of police corruption and brutality is endemic and widespread throughout the country, and all citizens need to understand this.