John Hood discusses the inspiration and process behind historic new fantasy novel – The North State Journal

The cover of “Mountain Folk” by John Hood

RALEIGH – John Hood, chairman of the John William Pope Foundation, who has spent his career writing about history and economics and leading conservative North Carolina nonprofits, recently decided to try something something completely different: writing a historical fantasy series. Hood spoke with NSJ on December 17 to explain his motivation to move in this new direction, his novel writing process and how his work is being received now that it is published.

“I never really planned on writing a novel,” Hood said. “I’ve written non-fiction books, and I’ve written a lot, and I’ve written a lot of journalism. I was not convinced that I could translate my writing ability into fiction. Of course, my critics have always said that I write fiction. But I mean, intentionally writing fiction seemed a bit of a stretch. “

Another potential hurdle was that after writing so many non-fiction books, John’s wife told him, after a 2015 biography of former Governor Jim Martin, “No more books.” He said she wanted him to spend fewer hours at home in historical research and more with his family. Hood mostly accepted these terms, but he also felt the pull of an image in his mind, the image that would give birth to “Mountain Folk” and the following books in the series.

“So I had this idea, this image, which had been pestering me for years – this image of a young Daniel Boone coming down from Pennsylvania in North Carolina with his family… And I just had this image of him going hunting. one night and meeting magical creatures.

Other authors, like JRR Tolkein, who wrote the “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” trilogy, also report that their creative process began with a single image. For Tolkein, he said he jotted down papers at Oxford University and wrote on a student’s paper: “In a hole in the ground lived a hobbit. He then spent years creating “Middle-earth” around this hobbit and its hole.

“It wasn’t ‘In a hole in the ground lived a hobbit,’ but it was very similar,” Hood said when asked about the connection. “I had a young Daniel Boone, a teenager Daniel Boone, a buckskin shirt, an old shotgun. It’s dark. He climbs a mountain. There is a winged fairy. A giant monster cat attacks. That’s basically what I had. I didn’t know what else I had. But that’s what I had.

Hood did his best to ignore this image and keep his promise not to write any books, but then fell very ill around Christmas 2019.

“I’m not a very good sick person. I’m not a very good patient, ”Hood said. “So I said, you know, I’m a little bored. I’ll write a little story like this and pass it on to my wife and my brother, and they’ll take a hit. So that’s what I did. It took me maybe a good part of an afternoon, and I handed it to Mrs. Hood and my brother, who lives in Hickory, and I went back to bed.

Hood said about an hour later, his wife walked into the room he was sleeping in and stared at him for a minute, then simply said, “Where’s chapter two?”

“So the judge had changed his order,” Hood said of how he understood the implication of his wife’s issue. “I was no longer allowed to write non-fiction books. But, apparently, I was not forbidden to write fiction books. So I started writing a much sought after historical fantasy novel. Probably more research than I have done for any book.

And while Hood initially worried that his journalism and more academic writing style might not translate into novel writing, especially when creating dialogue, he found it wasn’t as foreign as it was. he had foreseen it. Part of that, he said, was getting into the “right frame of mind,” going back to some of the lessons he had learned in theater and performance.

“What I had to do was create a situation in my imagination, then let the characters say their lines in my head, then write them, instead of trying to actively write a dialogue,” he said. declared.

He said the key for him was to create well-developed characters and a basic plot, and then just let the characters decide what happens from there, even if you planned them to do something. completely different.

“Actually, about halfway through, I was trying to get my characters to do things that were in my plot and they refused, of course metaphorically,” Hood recalls. “So you’ll find that a bit fickle and silly too, but towards the end there’s a climactic episode that matches the Battle of Yorktown. And while I was writing this penultimate chapter, I really wasn’t certain of the fate of certain characters, and I was a little on the edge of my seat.

But Hood said he only allowed the characters to rule because he wanted the historical conclusions of battles and events to be accurate, even though the mythical creatures added additional context not on the official record. The point of making the frame of the fantasy story into the real story, and then sticking to that story’s bigger picture, is, for Hood, a way to teach important lessons and events in a format digestible for the average person.

“Having spent most of my life in public policy work and journalism, I want to think that a carefully researched white paper or a really, really fabulous speech, or a persuasive editorial is going to change the way people think about business. ‘a political problem, and my somewhat reluctant conclusion is that these expectations are unrealistic, “Hood said.” I am in favor of these kinds of activities and I continue to do these kinds of activities, but they are not enough. Most people have learned what they know about politics and government other than through political analysis or serious journalism, they learned it by reading books, watching movies, telling stories.

Hood said that it is likely that more people learned about totalitarianism from reading George Orwel than from reading “a long history of the Soviet Union or Hitler’s Germany” or the Federalist Papers. There are also important life lessons from non-historical stories like “The Lord of the Rings” that can teach you about temptations to power and more, even though the events never happened.

“Storytelling is so important,” Hood said. “We are storytelling creatures around the campfire, and that predates any writing system or social science or anything like that. We taught each other important things about life, death, freedom and danger by telling stories around the campfire. So, I am convinced that if I want to do my part to defend America’s traditions of freedom and order and constitutional government, then I must be prepared to tell stories, including imaginative stories, in order to reach people. where they are.

As for the account of the book itself, as Hood sums it up, “There are many exciting escapes, encounters with magical monsters, Revolutionary War battles, and Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson debate the banking regulations. I mean, what more could you ask for?

There are also “fairies”, which Hood refers to in the broad sense of all “little people” – dwarves, goblins, elves, etc. – who live in places hidden among us, where time is slower, as opposed to humanity’s rhythm of time, which they call “the blur”. These fairies interact with key historical figures like Boone and Washington and must decide how to react or even participate in the War of Independence. The Cherokee Nation, also observing the brewing war, plays a big part in history and must weigh the same questions as well.

Hood said he heard history teachers say that “Mountain Folk” was a way to make stories a little more alive, especially for those who saw the topic as memorizing dates.

“I’ve also heard from parents – homeschooled parents or parents who just don’t think their kids are interested enough in the story,” Hood said. “They either gave the book to a child or they read it [together]. A mom read the book every night which is awesome. “

The second book, “Forest Folk,” comes out in April, and Hood also has plans for two more, “Water Folk” and “Valley Folk,” the latter of which is set during the Civil War.

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