An Interview with Hock Hochheim
by Anecia Ascalon
Hock Hochheim is a former detective, patrolman, and US Army investigator. In the last three decades Hock has sold 35,000 fiction and non-fiction hardcover, paperback, and eBooks. He writes true crime novels based on his police experience, action thrillers, non-fiction books, and “how-to” fighting books. He is also the founder of Force Necessary, an international self-defense and training company.
Wolfpack: How did you get your start writing?
HH: I was commenting to my daughter-in-law the other day – she’s a schoolteacher – how several teachers have pushed/inspired me into writing. One in elementary school, one in high school and perhaps the most influential, a Dr. Carver, an English professor, in college. I told her how many other writers began with a supportive, suggestive teacher in their younger years. I hope she will continue the trend. I have always been mesmerized by stories, books, comics, movies, TV. And I had a natural drive to write, and I hope a natural filtering system to enhance a line.
Wolfpack: What is most challenging for you in writing?
HH: Enhancing a line and avoiding the cliché.
Challenge one – Almost anyone can write a “Dick and Jane and Spot” story (remember those kiddie books?) “Spot run. Jane runs. Dick watches.” You can tell a story that way, yes, but if I am not writing a “rat-a-tat” action scene, which usually requires short sentences for pacing, I try to toast over some of the lines with just a bare minimum of poetry. Poetic terms can create a picture, and a picture is worth a thousand words. This way you do not violate the Elmore Lenard rule of not writing a thousand words of “the parts that people skim over,” yet hold them long enough to set the surrounding stage you need. The perfect phrase, at the perfect moment. Emotional, satisfying, unforgettable. What an achievement! So, it is hard for me to fit that in and write that kind of music. I mean, you can’t overdo it. It’s timing on paper.
Challenge two – Avoiding the cliché. Clichés in entertainment are often like comfort food. People like them, but I try to avoid them when possible, or not overload readers with them.
Wolfpack: What kind of books/genres do you enjoy reading?
HH: I am a switcher. I have switched between fiction and non-fiction for about 35 years now. For non-fiction, science, psychology, and history. For example, I am about to finish The Mosquito, the latest science on the real killer and history-shaper of human history. Wow! Fiction-wise, I guess I like to investigate what my friends and acquaintances brag about. Why do they think so highly of this or that book or series. With non-fiction you are either interested in the subject, or not, but with fiction, you are dealing with people’s widely varied tastes. I have taken deep dives into Mike Hammer and Fleming’s Bond. Spenser. Marlowe. I still can’t finish a Jack Reacher story. Fiction reading is often an investigation for me on the “who, what, when, where, how and why” a book or series “works.” This tells me what I should shoot for and what I should avoid when I write. I am about to reread Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress after decades because a friend bragged on it recently.
Wolfpack: What inspired you to write fiction novels on top of the non-fiction, education books you have published?
HH: After writing in the late 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, and mostly non-fiction, how-to books, around 2005, I had an epiphany about the importance of fiction. People remember history, facts, morality lessons, teaching points through “the story.” You know, from the caveman campfires and so on. Great storytelling. But with another layer of emotional involvement, a fact can become memorable if attached to a good story. An emotional thread. I think people remember facts about the Civil War, WWI and WWII, Vietnam, how the West was won, anything, more from a fiction book or a movie than a dry history class. So, in 2005 or so, I started writing fiction again and realized I was always bursting with ideas and motivations to write fiction. It was fun! In a torturous kind of way.
Wolfpack: What is one of the challenges you face while writing?
HH: One challenge would be trying to be innovative, but not different for difference sake. Another is to try to make fiction feel really, real. I have been a military and Texas cop, a long term police detective and a private investigator and I think this gives me fuel to reveal a touch of reality with a punch, a stab, a gunshot, life or death, human tragedy. That’s two challenges right there.
Wolfpack: Do you ever experience writer’s block, and if so, how do you overcome it?
HH: Yes, but not for long. I don’t plan out a book in great detail. Just generics. So, just about every day or every second day, I put my hero in a mess and I have to figure out a solution. Or, when I have to move the story along properly, and I find I must write a “boring part,” –which is not good–how do I make it interesting?
In the book I am writing now, The China Shanghai I have to get my hero Gunther from San Francisco to China via Hawaii. It’s 1900. Do I just transport him through all that in one paragraph? I hope not. I did some research. It turns out that very year Honolulu had an outbreak of Bubonic Plague! Leaders burned the contaminated parts down and the fires swept across the city in a nightmare scenario. With this factual discovery, my block was over, and I had an exciting backdrop to a “boring” part.
In the “Five Commandments of Writing,” that Moses had in his back pocket coming down from the mount, research is a great cure for writer’s block.
Also, if blocked in one part, I jump to an unblocked part and write that part. Its important to write something daily. The exercise of writing is…well…an exercise. Become a power-lifting writer!
(Other than that, my wife will tell you that I dream or half-dream solutions in the night, in my sleep. They float to the top of my brain. I tell her in the mornings.)
Wolfpack: What has been your favorite book you’ve written and why?
HH: Oh boy, that’s a tough one. I get very excited about every book I am writing. I have three or four main hero characters and the gun-fighting, problem-solver Texas Johann Gunther is certainly a favorite and a blast to write about. In five books so far (three done in the My Gun is My Passport Wolfpack trilogy, and the two in production, American Medieval and The China Shanghai I am recording the exciting life and times of Gunther; so, though while it is not one book, it is really one giant book of great adventures in historical fiction. But, the title book, My Gun is my Passport is such an international epic! It’s Gunga Din, Lawrence of Arabia and Heart of Darkness with a Western American gunfighter Johann Gunther in the lead role. A weighty writing endeavor and might just be my favorite, challenging book.
Wolfpack: Why did you decide to found Force Necessary?
HH: “Force Necessary” is the name of a training company I started almost 25 years ago, while I was a cop, specifically a detective. I have been in the martial arts since 1973. The company motto is to “use only that force necessary to win and, or survive.” I teach hand, stick, knife and gun courses and when asked to. I also teach the martial arts I have black belts in. I do some 20 seminars in 11 allied countries a year. I have always had an odd obsession about “fighting,” and not sports or arts fighting. But in order to learn such things, one must delve into the sports and arts and then weed out those aspects for war and crime fighting. People, police, and the military began to hear about my collected information and wanted to know what I know. And so, the teaching began along with the training films and some have been pretty successful. l have many how-to textbooks as well. It’s all just evolved into an international business.
Wolfpack: What has been the most rewarding part of your career so far?
HH: Writing career wise, I guess, happy readers. In the how-to, non-fiction books I’ve written, folks thank me for the insights and education. The imprint, the lessons are important and should last a long time out of necessity.
In the fiction books, they tell me they really enjoyed the stories. Creating fond memories we hope.
Fond memories? Writing is transitory. Entertainment is transitory. Julius Caesar, then Patton and who knows who else said, “All glory is fleeting.” Sometimes I think about all the work put into making a big movie. Months if not years. Yet, a viewer watches it in just 2 hours, smiles and goes home, feeds the dog and takes out the garbage. Years of work translates down to 2 hours. There and gone. But fond memories have been made we hope. Fading. Fleeting, but fond.
Writing a book is much the same. A year? Half a year? Wrestling with the plot. The physical production. And the reader reads it. Then they are off to the next book, but with fond memories we hope. Fading. Fleeting, but fond.
I am chasing that catchy line, that moment they experience, and those fond memory moments afterward. If the reader is happy, that is very rewarding. Through time, we settle for fond in the fleeting process. Caesars’s individual glories may be fleeting, but we still recall his name!