Thank you for joining us today, Harald. I am excited to learn about you and yourr novel and to share this with HFA readers. Why don’t we get started?
Getting To Know You A Little Bit Better…
Tell us a little about yourself – who you are, where did you grow up, and a bit about your family.
Professionally, over the years, I’ve been: a designer, photographer, art/creative director, ad agency owner, magazine publisher, marketing consultant, and now, writer/book publisher. I’ve lived in different places (Germany, Paris, Washington, D.C., Texas, L.A., and now Virginia) and grew up a little more at each stop along the way. I currently live with my wife deep in the woods of central Virginia.
Wow! Sounds like you’ve been living the dream. At least mine!
When you are not writing, what do you like to do?
Besides swimming, which is my lifelong fitness regime (and form of meditation), I like working outside on my property. Remember the stories of George W. Bush always “clearing brush” on his ranch in Texas? Now I understand that because I do the same thing! There’s something about working up a sweat in the outdoors that’s deeply satisfying.
I am a cyclist. I love to get on my road bike and ride as far as I can. It does something for clearing my mind and I love how I feel after a long ride.
Where do you write? Coffee shop? Kitchen table? On the bus?
In my home office. (see more below about “writing room/space.”) Of course, if I get an idea, or hear a bit of dialogue on the street, I grab whatever I can and jot it down for future use.
Now, Let’s Dig into Your Novel
New York 1609 is about the birth of New York City. I’m already interested, but tell us, how did you get interested in this time period and event?
Good question. I have an unusual connection to NYC and especially Manhattan, which is where NYC as the city we know today really started. I immigrated to the U.S. as a child with my parents in 1953. Exactly 30 years later (1983), when I swam around Manhattan island as part of a swim race, I was swimming over the exact spot where my family had arrived to start a new life. And this was also the very same location Henry Hudson encountered in 1609 when he arrived with his Dutch-Anglo crew seeking a new water passage to the Orient. So when I was waiting for the tide to change during that swim, I glanced up at the towering buildings and wondered to myself: How did things get to be this way? What was this place like before; I mean really like at the very beginning?
Inspiration was right there, towering over you! So cool.
Why did you choose New York 1609 as the title of your work?
It was a bit complicated. I’ve always liked numbers (and dates) in book titles (“1984” – “2001”); they’re simple and to the point. So when I first created a series of short ebooks (novellas) to serially write and publish my New York story, I used key dates as the titles: “1609” – “1612” – “1625” – “1640”. But all along I knew I would be folding these shorter works into a consolidated novel (with expanded content), and the trick was how to handle that title. My original title was “Mannahatta” (the Indian name for the Manhattan island), but I couldn’t get it to look good on my preliminary cover mockups (I design my own covers), so I knew I had to change it. Because shorter is usually better, I finally ended up with the cover you see illustrated here. Also, I wanted the title to really tell the story in a nutshell. I know that most fiction authors use clever or even obscure titles, but I wanted something more “this is what it’s about.” And “New York 1609” sums it up pretty well (and is easy to read in thumbnail size, which is essential).
What was the most challenging aspect of writing this HF novel?
Hanging in there for the four years it took me to complete the project. Life threw its obstacles at me, and I had to find ways around—or through—them.
Isn’t that the truth! But, you made it through and look at you now! You’ve got a book to show for your hard determination and perseverance. Way to Go!
What are you most proud about in this HF novel?
The whole package. The writing, cover, interior, maps, promotional materials… I did it all, and I’m proud of that. Even though “New York 1609” is independently published by me, I could put this book up against any similar book by a major publisher or a world-famous author, and it holds its own. At least, in my view.
Is there one character in your novel you most relate to? Why?
The protagonist has bits of me in him. Not all of him, but bits. And each of the other main characters (I alternate between Indian and European points of view throughout) also has certain qualities I relate to.
Is there a message in your novel you want readers to grasp?
Yes. And it’s this: Under our cultural and physical skins, we’re all the same. We love; we hate. We hope; we fear. We’re all human beings who basically want the same things.
How long did it take you, from the inception of the idea to the finish manuscript, to write New York 1609?
The initial concept (“Welcome to Manhattan, 1609”) came to me in June, 2014, as I got serious about writing a historical fiction novel. I spent at least a year or two reading and doing research. Then, because I wanted to get a feel for the entire process (writing, design/formatting, Amazon submission, manufacturing issues) and the audience (reactions, criticisms), I wrote and published the short novellas with pieces of the story in 2016-2017. I finished the final tweaks of the full-length work in May, 2018. So just under four years.
What surprised you the most while researching for this novel?
Honestly, that no one had done it before. Consider: New York City is one of the most important places on earth. It’s the world’s first “megacity.” And no one had written a novel about how it all began when Henry Hudson sailed into New York Harbor in 1609? Hard to believe, but it’s true, as verified by the New York City Chapter of the Historical Novel Society.
Wow! That’s so surprising. But, what an opportunity you have because of this.
A Day in the Life of Harald Johnson.
Tell us about your writing routine
I do my best writing in the morning when I’m fresh, but I’ll frequently end up doing more at odd times, and especially late at night when things are quite and everyone’s asleep.
How do you navigate your way out of the terrifying abyss of Writer’s Block?
In my case, I’m not sure I would call it “writer’s block,” but I do get “stuck” from time to time. And when that happens, I just move onto something else, like go for a swim or go outside and do some manual labor. I always get more ideas when I take a break.
Are you a “pants” writer or do you outline and plan your novels?
I’m an outliner. I want to make sure I have the main plot points and events under control. However, that doesn’t keep me from “pantsing” individual scenes or practice fragments. And, of course, the entire outlining process is just a form of pantsing. I usually end up with an evolving full-scene summary that I write “into.” But there’s plenty of room for changes and adjustments.
Ha! I can completely relate. I like to have the skeleton of my work down on paper and then “pants” it from there.
Do you have any interesting writing quirks?
Not sure it’s that unusual, but I like to have multiple windows open on my desktop computer as I write and research at the same time. One has my scene draft going while the others are open to Google and one of the online thesauruses (I use several). This way, if I have a question for a scene I’m writing about, for example, planting corn, I can quickly get the info to complete that scene.
Describe your writing room/space.
I write in my home office. I have a recycled school desk I sandblasted and added a glass top to. On that sits my large iMac surrounded by millions of postit notes! I live in the woods surrounded by trees, and I usually keep the blinds half-closed so I don’t get distracted. But when I’m writing about trees, I just open the blinds and there they are!
Harlan Ellison, an American speculative fiction author, once said, People on the outside think there’s something magical about writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn’t like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that’s all there is to it.” I love this quote as I feel this resonates strongly with me. It takes effort and focus to shut out the voices that call me away from writing, be they my family’s voice or the voices of the tedious chores and expectations. Is there a quote you find resonates or has inspired you as a writer?
“How did things get to be this way?” is a quote from environmental historian William Cronon (“Changes in the Land,” 1983). That sums up a key question many historical fiction writers ask themselves. I know I do.
What authors have inspired you?
As odd as this may sound, John Grisham did. I would read his legal thrillers and enjoy them. Then I met him after he moved to the area where I now live. Once I realized he’s just a guy who started writing in his spare time and never stopped, I thought to myself: I bet I could do that. And then when I studied famous HF writers like Michener, Follett, or Rutherfurd, I said to myself: I can do that.
What novel from your childhood/teen years was your favorite?
Not exactly in my childhood, but I was bowled over by Camus’ “The Stranger” in my early college years. The alienation theme, the sparseness, the whole thing. I loved it.
My favorite, or at least one of them, was Clan of the Cavebear. It wasn’t required reading, but something I borrowed from the library. I had never read anything like it before! I went on to read all Jean Auel’s novels.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
I hope people are transported in time and place when they read “New York 1609.” It was a very important time under Dutch influence that firmly planted the seeds of commerce, finance, and culture that continue to this day in New York City and far beyond.
Also, besides the new book being available in paperback, I have a special ebook launch price of only $0.99 for a limited time, and the ebook is also available for free on Kindle Unlimited.
And thank you for this opportunity to tell my story!
Thank you Harald! This was very interesting and we all wish you much success with your novel!
To purchase New York 1609 visit:
KINDLE AMZN URL: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07D2N3X2V/
PAPERBACK AMZON URL: https://www.amazon.com/dp/0692115250/
Please visit Harald’s website
Until Next time….visit New York by stepping into 1609!