by Marilyn Meredith
& Terrell Byrd
Marilyn Meredith interviews local mystery author H.A. “Howard” Hurtt whose book is set in caves. Terrell Byrd also reviews his book Double Drop & there’s a chance to win a copy of this book at the end of this article.
Marilyn: Please tell me something about your background.
Howard: My parents were ardent lovers and compulsive travelers. They took us kids everywhere, taught us passion, and spoke to us as to adults. I’ve long been torn between technology and the natural sciences, and my jobs have alternated between the two, but I always got my best grades in English.
Marilyn: When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
Howard: I’m an Air Force brat. We had lived on six different Air Force bases by the time I turned sixteen. I made friends easily but treasured my solitude, and when alone I’d often write stories, poems, or songs. As I got older, my verse became sillier and my stories more structured.
Marilyn: What inspired this particular book?
Howard: Double Drop draws on my long friendships with a group of cave researchers who map and study caves in the Sierra Nevada. I have volunteered with these beautiful people for 35 years and many of the characters are closely based on them. The bad guys and the sinister plots are inspired by news events.
Marilyn: Did you run into any problems while writing this book?
Howard: Learning to self publish was a challenge, but working with my cover layout man was a pleasure.
Marilyn: Will you give me a brief blurb about the book?
Howard: A bunch of serious cave explorers finds weird things happening to them and deduces that these events are part of a larger plot. We learn a lot about the personalities of cavers – that they range from evangelical to atheist and are scary smart but very down-to-earth. So to speak.
Marilyn: Tell me a bit about your road to publication.
Howard: After much encouragement from peer reviewers and about 50 rejections from agents, I decided to self-publish. Publishing is changing fast these days. Conventional is moving more and more in the direction of self- and electronic publishing. As an experiment, I gave myself one year to go from concept to finished project. I hit the Amazon paperback listings, Kindle, and Nook in 13 months.
Marilyn: What are you doing and future plans for promotion?
Howard: Promoting Double Drop was easy in that I had cavers as a captive audience. I was able to persuade NSS, the national caving club, to take 20 books on consignment. I also ran an ad in their magazine and had a review the following month. Because much of the story is set in Sequoia National Park, I convinced the Sequoia Natural History Association, which sells books and trinkets at Park visitor centers, to take 40 copies. It’s a kick to see my title next to Nevada Barr.
Marilyn: What is your writing schedule? Do you have any particular rituals you follow when sitting down to write?
Howard: I try to write every day, whenever I can carve out 2-4 hours of solitude. Early morning works best. My ritual is caffeination.
Marilyn: What do you do for fun?
Howard: My day job, teaching biology at Fresno City College, is actually quite fun. I enjoy cooking and making love with my wife, camping, skiing, and of course caving.
Marilyn: What’s up next for you?
Howard: The sequel to Double Drop, with the working title Wrap Three Pull Two, is about half written. The first book of my sci-fi series, Last Earthman, just went live after 17 years of writing and querying. The second and third books in that series are essentially complete and should follow within a year.
Marilyn: Anything else you’d like to tell the readers?
Howard:If you have a story in your belly, you can write. You need the discipline to write every day and the fortitude to accept criticism. Use your memories. Use your connections. Never give up.
Marilyn: Thanks for taking the time to do this.
Howard will be speaking at the May meeting of the Yosemite Romance Writers. Learn more on their KRL event page.
Double Drop by H.A. Hurtt
Review by Terrell Byrd
“Kayif Alreza descended a rope the diameter of a ring finger. Its nylon sheath whispered through his leather glove with a sound like a fingernail dragged across a silk sheath. His boot tips kissed the water-slicked limestone. A small cascade hissed somewhere off to his left. Droplets flared like meteors in his headlamp beam, then winked out, swallowed by the utter blackness below…. Anyone who has moved along such a line will tell you that while the process is technical and painstaking, it’s as safe as the drive to the cave. Safer.”
Got chills yet? I love adventure/suspense stories. I think I love them most because I am by nature a physical coward. I know I am never going to enter a cave I can’t amble through with twenty of my dearest friends (for companionship and protection), a tour guide and a four course picnic lunch. This book, where a lot of action takes place deep underground, is probably the best chance I have to experience what it takes to be a “caver.”
H A “Howard” Hurtt, a local writer and science teacher, shows his personal experience with cave research in the narrative. Hurtt makes even the technical aspects of running lines, carabineers and exploring the unknown world deep under the surface of the Sierras fascinating and easily understandable. I was particularly impressed by an explanation of the three dimensional mathematics of the mapping of caves being combined with the recent advances in computerized topography. Don’t let me scare you – I just used more big words than Hurtt does and was considerably less informative. I learned a great deal from this volume, I know you will too. It has a lot to say about everything from long term relationships to the nature of teaching.
The main character, Henry Berwyn, unlike most characters in suspense novels, is an older man. He describes himself as a “silverback” and talks realistically about the second half of life – no longer young outside – but with the internal passion of seventeen to explore and learn about what is wondrous in nature. I choose most of my literature for the conversation of characters that are very different than I am. Every so often it is refreshing to have a long winter’s night chat with a mature friend: someone that you understand, even though you have traveled different roads to reach the meeting place of easy chair, book and reader.
I hear through my vast network of sources (we share the same writing teacher, although we are enrolled in different groups) that there is another book in progress. Read this one soon so that you can be ready for the next one – just don’t try to get in front of me in line – I have permanent dibs for the first copy of any new book Howard writes.
To enter to win a copy of Double Drop, simply email KRL at email@example.com with the subject line “Drop”, or comment on this article. Only U.S. residents please. A winner will be chosen next Saturday, April 30, 2011.
Terrell is a member of the Fresno Chapter of Sisters In Crime, a mystery readers and writers group. To learn more about them and their meetings check out their event page here on KRL.