I hope to appeal to a wide array of readers: there’s action, but also romance and interaction. In fact, when I first got the book in the hands of a few female readers, I was relieved to hear that they found it interesting too.
Heikki Hietala – 7 February 2013
The Back Flap
The War is over, but for Marine pilot Jack McGuire, it’s only just begun.
Unable to adjust to post-war life, he buys a surplus Navy seaplane and heads for a small island which had been occupied by the Japanese in 1942. He sets up a colonial-style hotel on the island over which he used to fly.
But his past soon catches up with him. A parade of war veterans float through the hotel, sending Jack hurtling back into dogfights over the Solomon Islands, as the story of his wartime life unfolds. Then, out of the Pacific blue, he sees the widow of his former wingman Don Wheeler, who was shot down in action. No one even knew that womanizing fighter pilot Don had a wife, and her arrival sends Jack’s life into turmoil.
About the book
What is the book about?
This book tells the story of US Marine fighter pilot Jack McGuire. As so many World War 2 veterans, he came to the Pacific theater of war from a very different place, a farm in Nebraska. His experiences in the war form his views on life, and when he finds that he misses the hot sun and the flying over the azure water, he returns to the Solomon Islands.
I wanted to write a story that honors those who are cast into the cauldron of war and have to see their friends die, while wondering whether they themselves will survive. That experience leaves no one unhurt or unchanged, and I am happy to report I have a review from a real World War 2 veteran saying I succeeded – to the point that I got him remembering his time in the war.
When did you start writing the book?
I started this book in April 1996 out of the blue. I did not set out to write a book, instead I wrote Chapter 1 and then wondered why I wrote it. I had the good sense to save it though, and when I returned to it a few weeks later, I was intrigued because there seemed to be a story in there, I just had no idea what it was.
How long did it take you to write it?
It took me 12 years, because I never had the chance to put it on the front burner, but had to write it in small snippets. It was completed in May 2008, but then I revised it all the way. In May 2009 I had a version I could send to some friends for feedback, and after that, I thought it done. (It did need three full editor passes – I have the first version in self-published format at Blurb.com and it is much worse than the actual, indie-published version.)
Where did you get the idea from?
I’ve always been interested in the air war, especially in the Pacific carrier war, because for land-based planes, the airfield is where they left it, but for carrier planes, it can be miles away in any direction. I wanted to see if I can weave together the strands of military aviation, personal growth, and a love story. The setting is glamorous enough, and the reviews tell me I managed to provide a coherent story.
Were there any parts of the book where you struggled?
That’d be the end of the book. I knew from the middle of the project onwards how the book would end, but to get it to end in a satisfactory manner took me four versions. I definitely did not want to write an easy ending to the story and I think the one in the book works well (some people have asked for a sequel), but it definitely gave me trouble to write it properly.
Getting the mix and balance of the different themes right was another thing that caused me trouble. War is such a heavy element in any book that it has to be kept tightly reined, otherwise it’ll come to the front and steal the show. I had to juggle the parts around until I found the right sequence.
What came easily?
That would be the aviation scenes. I have amassed a collection of some 70 books on the air war and I am pretty confident in my handling of aerial combat. The air war in the Pacific went from Japanese domination to American air superiority in just two years and I hope to have managed to convey how the air combat changed during that period.
I also wrote most of the air scenes when I was working for a global consultancy and was spending considerable time at 36,000 feet. It is much easier to write about flying when you are actually in the air.
Are your characters entirely fictitious or have you borrowed from real world people you know?
I believe all authors steal something from their own surroundings. A sequence in the book, depicting an event in Jack’s childhood, is based on something that happened to me once, and the boisterous fighter pilot friend Don Wheeler has many features of some friends of mine, down to a certain way of looking at life in a twisted way. Since this is a genre that some consider rife with clichés, I had to try hard to write fresh, and I hope I have succeeded in this.
We all know how important it is for writers to read. Are there any particular authors that have influenced how you write and, if so, how have they influenced you?
I think my main influence is Nevil Shute Norway. His economic, yet powerful prose is always a pleasure to read, and even if his world is somewhat outdated, his stories do not age. Another favorite is Roald Dahl. I like his tongue in cheek style and rich stories, but when you read his wartime memoirs, it’s a sobering experience, and he can write in a laconic style too. There are also a couple of Finnish authors, but their names do not mean much in the global context, unfortunately.
When I read, I like to consume well-written, accurate and well-researched text. For example, I abhor books where the research is sloppy in the vein of Dan Brown. If I have a character in a book exit a well-known building, turn left and see another building, which in real life is to his right, I walk away and never go back to that author. Consequently, I spent ten years on Tulagi Hotel’s research and remain happy with the details. Bar one mistake regarding Pacific islands, but I will leave it to the reader to spot it.
Do you have a target reader?
I hope to appeal to a wide array of readers: there’s action, but also romance and interaction. In fact, when I first got the book in the hands of a few female readers, I was relieved to hear that they found it interesting too. My wife read an early version; she said, “What is this – seven chapters of war in the middle?” and I took the hint. I chopped the middle chapter in two, discarded half of it, rearranged the rest, and wrote one more chapter. I believe the new one is more palatable.
Some readers have commented favorably on the research side of the book. That made my day, because I aimed at readers for whom the setting and background work makes a difference.
Do you have a writing process? If so can you please describe it?
I am not sure I have a process. As a full-time University lecturer, I have not much time for writing at the moment, so I am working on short stories right now. Of my forty-some stories, nearly all are based on a pivotal moment or event, and then I work backwards from that. Notable exceptions are my Flash fiction piece Yessirree which is a single sentence of 444 words and came about while sitting in the morning traffic, and The Ephemeral Man which arose from a need to pay homage to Omar Khayyam, the 12th century Persian scholar.
With Tulagi Hotel, I merely jotted down snippets of text and nuggets of ideas and expanded upon them whenever I had a few moments to spare. That may sound a bad way to write a novel, but it worked with me, since the chronology of the book is not linear in any case and I was free to work on events that are far from each other in the actual book.
Do you outline? If so, do you do so extensively or just chapter headings and a couple of sentences?
I do like outlining. I have an Excel file with which I do my word counts and other housekeeping, and it also has a worksheet for each of my work-in-progress files. In that worksheet I rearrange whatever little items I have laid down for a project, and I feel it is very handy to see all the events on one page. Then for each book, I have a corresponding snippets file, in which I write little things that may wind up in the finished book or not. I have often moved a snippet from one project to another when I see it fits better somewhere else.
Do you edit as you go or wait until you’ve finished?
I edit as I go, but I also want to have a full run at the text when it is finished. I seem to find many errors in timing or continuity only after it is all there, and therefore I do not let my beta readers see any WIP until I have it all down and it has been checked.
Did you hire a professional editor?
I was lucky in getting an independent publisher for Tulagi Hotel after it reached #15 at HarperCollins’ website Authonomy, out of 8,500 books. Diiarts provided two editorial passes for the book, and I may say it was a true godsend, because the original, self-published version had very awkward story structures and even bad anachronisms. In addition to these two passes, I had a friend who is just as plane-crazy as I am, and he took it upon himself to edit the book with a technical eye, and he found some howling errors regarding airplanes (one should not trust one’s memory in technostuff).
Do you listen to music while you write? If yes, what gets the fingers tapping?
I do. Usually I listen to Steely Dan, because the absolutely perfect production of the music makes it very smooth listening. Classical music makes it to the earphones too at times, with Sibelius and Wagner leading the pack. Ambient music work in the early stages when I am landscaping and getting the groundwork done – it is easier to work with music without lyrics in that stage, and Brian Eno plus John Foxx are excellent in that sense. And if it’s an action scene… Madness.
Did you submit your work to Agents?
I did indeed, I amassed a collection of about 250 addresses to agents and publishers, but I learned 56 different ways of saying ‘no’ before I found Diiarts. Some of the agents clearly did not even consider me, or read the submitted synopsis plus 3 chapters, but a few volunteered comments and these were of course very valuable.
What made you decide to go Indie, whether self-publishing or with an indie publisher? Was it a particular event or a gradual process?
I went Indie because of the double hurdle for me to make it to the big houses: I was a debutante and I was writing in English, which is not my native tongue (it is Finnish). This rendered me all but invisible to publishers, as the Finnish ones didn’t want to translate my book, and the English-language ones didn’t believe I could pull it off.
Did you get your book cover professionally done or did it you do it yourself?
I did one cover myself, which was awful, and went to my friend who is an accomplished graphic artist for the Diiarts edition. That one was used at Pfoxmoor too, but when I moved to Fingerpress in the UK, we decided to redo the cover to a more colorful and inviting one. I must say it worked well sales-wise, and on Amazon, the new cover is visible even as the small stamp size image.
Do you have a marketing plan for the book or are you just winging it?
I would love to say I have a plan, but I am a realist – none of these “sell a million books overnight” schemes will work for every book, and I have not used such tactics. I am working on visibility in Twitter and Facebook, but getting the snowball rolling seems quite hard. But having spent 12 years on the project so far, I am not in a rush.
Any advice that you would like to give to other newbies considering becoming Indie authors?
First write the book in full, then have it edited, and only then go and work with publishers. Also, work with other authors on online writing groups or find a local group, because nothing works better than peer reviews when you write. And – keep reading works by published authors and other aspiring writers.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Helsinki, Finland, but moved to Jyväskylä at the age of 6. I went through school, high school, and University there too.
Where do you live now?
I live in a small town called Klaukkala, just outside Helsinki.
What would you like readers to know about you?
I would like to encourage people to try my writing. I have two sample chapters of Tulagi Hotel on my website, and there are many free sample short stories too. Tulagi’s Kindle version also has a free sample that you can get at Amazon.
As a tidbit, I am a Monty Python fan. I can quote Monty Python interminably. I also subscribed to MAD Magazine at the tender age of eleven, which formed my sense of humor in a somewhat twisted way (Don Martin is on a par with John Cleese in my mind).
What are you working on now?
I have two books in the works – one based on the idea of a 3D computer model of a hospital that becomes haunted, and the other a story of a man who has to travel across Europe with the ashes of his father. And there are about a dozen short stories in the works. Stay tuned!
End of Interview:
For more about Heikki or to read those sample chapters, visit his website.