JH: Well, I did take up some issues in farming. For instance, genetically modified seeds, which are a real concern now in agriculture, especially for the organic and sustainable farmers who are trying not to use pesticides and herbicides. It has also built into the seed the potential to kill an insect that eats the seed because it makes their stomachs leak. And if we eat this stuff, not only are we getting herbicides, but also our stomachs could start leaking. It would be minor for us, but it could set off allergies.
But I like farms. I work at a really small farm, and I only work there part time growing food, trying to grow about half my food and sell a few things, and I have some chickens and an orchard for fruit. I guess I wanted to share a farmer’s life and some of the problems that go with it.
DTH: What do you like in particular about mystery novels?
JH: Well, I read them a lot for relaxation. I started doing that when my kids went off to college, and I had more time late at night. Then, I was in Wales having a writing vacation and my landlady suggested that I write a murder because she knew I liked to read them. So I said, “That’d be fun to try.”
Although I’ve written a lot of poetry and nonfiction, I enjoy creating the characters and seeing what the characters do when they come alive and react and interact with each other. I often learn things that some part of me knew that I hadn’t fully articulated. I’m learning something about people and about myself when I do that, and I like that.
DTH: Do you draw inspiration from people you know for characters in your novels?
JH: After living a long time and raising kids and knowing a lot of people, yes. One of the first things I have to figure out is who is the killer and who is going to be the victim, and I pick the people I don’t like. I try to disguise them, but I can use their personalities. There are just some people that are very annoying; you’ve probably met a few. So I try not to make it exactly like them. But if I really admire someone, I may tell them that I’m going to put them in a novel if I really want to paint a good portrait of them. So far, no one’s gotten mad at me for doing that. And so far, no one’s recognized any of my bad characters, which is good. Nobody’s come after me yet. But it’s fiction, and we’re allowed quite a bit of license in fiction.
DTH: How have the community and the people here affected your career and your writing?
JH: Well, of course, the people at the farmers market gave me ideas. Since I moved here to Chatham County in ’98, I have gotten acquainted with this neighborhood. My immediate neighborhood is largely African-American, and that’s another thing I’ve been interested in. I’ve always been interested in the interaction between black and white folks in this country. Even when white folks are well-meaning, get nervous or they’re not sure how to act, but I’ve always been comfortable, so my neighbors and I have had good relations. I’m interested in that whole area of groups that have been through persecution or discrimination. There are some similarities between African-Americans and Russians, who both went through periods of oppression. I also worked on issues like air pollution and safer nuclear storage and local politics, so I have written novels on those themes, but they aren’t published yet.
I learn everywhere I am and everywhere I go.