Read this exclusive Q&A with John Hart—the only author to win consecutive Edgar Awards for “Best Novel”—about his newest novel, Redemption Road, what he's been doing during the five years between books, and his advice to aspiring writers. Then, make sure you're signed in and comment for a chance to win a SIGNED copy of Redemption Road!
It’s been five years since your last novel, Iron House, was published. Obviously, you were writing Redemption Road, but what else have you been doing since then?
You’re right—the writing of Redemption Road was a big part of my life, but only a part. Since Iron House came out five years ago, I’ve purchased a farm and moved my family to Virginia. We live just outside of Charlottesville, where the University of Virginia makes its proud residence. Much of my time has been taken up improving the property: putting in bridges, docks, new roads. I also built some horse farm infrastructure—barns and paddocks, etc.—and an office where I write. If I’m not with my family or at the computer, I’m usually on the tractor.
Tell us what it’s like win the Edgar Award for “Best Novel”? How does it feel to be the only author in history to win the the award for two consecutive novels?
Winning the Edgar was awesome. Doing it twice in a row was unreal. I’ve always wanted to accomplish something unequivocal, and I think those wins qualify. Writing can be a tough business—especially when a writer ends up five years between novels—but on restless nights, I remind myself of those Edgars. It helps me get back to sleep.
What was the hardest part about writing Redemption Road?
Finding the person whose story I was supposed to tell. I wrote 300 pages of the wrong novel before I finally figured out who should have been the main character all along. So, what was the hardest thing about writing Redemption Road? Recognizing that mistake and finding the will to start over.
In your opinion, how does Redemption Road compare to your other books?
I find it hard to make those comparisons. How could I choose one child over another? That said, if love were born of blood and sweat and sacrifice, then Redemption Road would be my favorite: a problem child, yes, but raised right and making her daddy proud.
Has your own experience as a defense attorney influenced any of your books?
What I learned in my time before the bar is that there are no criminal masterminds, not truly, not in the real lives most of us live. In that world, criminals do bad things for reasons that are base and selfish and shortsighted, with no real concern for consequence. Seeing that every day for so long taught me more than I ever hoped to know about motivation, stupidity, and the destructive ripples that move outward from criminal acts. Small towns are a tapestry, and they can unravel pretty fast if the wrong thread is cut. That’s common ground for all my books: that broken thread and the hell that follows.
What can you tell us about the setting for Redemption Road?
I write of the South, always the South. For me, that means small towns and forgotten corners, the fields and streams and the abandoned places. There’s such history in the south: lost wars and racism, the long divide between haves and the have-nots. Memory runs deep in the South, as does the connection to family, history, and place. For a writer, that’s rich soil.
Are there are any real-life criminal cases that you feel influenced Redemption Road?
Yes, the BTK Killer, because it is inconceivable to me that a pillar of the community could torture and kill so many women and still be embraced by the town in which he lived. My fascination is not about the darkness, but the blindness. How could so many ignore the signs? They had to be there.
If you were still a defense attorney and had to defend of the characters from your book, who would you choose and why?
Tough question. I love them all. That said, I would choose to defend Channing. Why? Because she’s young and innocent and already damaged to the point she’s almost beyond repair, and because a single, small mistake should not dictate the rest of her life. Besides, she’s tough and selfless and ready to take the heat for what she did. The story, of course, is deeper than that. We all have frailties; we can all break. Beyond that, Channing is not much older than my own daughters. Maybe that’s my weakness.
What do you want fans to think after finishing this book?
That they’ll read the next John Hart book, no questions asked. That’s about faith and the unspoken contract, the conviction that if I’m given a reader’s trust I won’t abuse it.
We heard through the grapevine (aka your Facebook) that your next book will be a sequel—your first ever—to The Last Child. Any juicy information you can share about it?
Oh, yes. This book is different. Parts take place in the 1850s, parts during The Great Depression, and parts in modern times. Where The Last Child hinted at the mystic, the new book embraces it: slavery, voodoo, a deep and secret swamp where strange things happen. Yeah, I’m having a good time with this one.
Any advice for aspiring writers?
Ignore the doubters. The world is full of them, and they’ll say, “You can’t do it,” because they never did. Whatever dream those unhappy people abandoned, don’t let that failure steal your success. Instead, seek out the good friends, the cheerleaders. They are worth their weight in gold.
What’s your favorite line from Redemption Road and why?
“Is that reason enough?” she asked; and Beckett nodded because it was, and because, looking at her face, he knew for a fact that he’d never seen anything so fragile, so determined, or so goddamn, terrible beautiful.
I love this line because Elizabeth is, perhaps, the most complex character I’ve ever created, and because this line captures her so perfectly: “…so fragile, so determined, or so goddamn, terrible beautiful.” Who wouldn’t want to know a woman like that? Who wouldn’t want to know her story?
Describe Redemption Road in five words!
Best one I ever wrote.
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John Hart is the author of Redemption Road, and of four New York Times bestsellers, The King of Lies, Down River, The Last Child and Iron House. The only author in history to win the best novel Edgar Award for consecutive novels, John has also won the Barry Award, the Southern Independent Bookseller's Award for Fiction, the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award and the North Carolina Award for Literature. His novels have been translated into thirty languages and can be found in over seventy countries. A former defense attorney and stockbroker, John spends his time in North Carolina and Virginia, where he writes full-time.