I really enjoy teaching. It’s a lot of paper grading that I could do without, but by seeing other peoples’ problems and figuring out what makes them tick, it helps me with my own creative work.
Q: Your students must think it’s cool to have an actual author for a teacher.
VH: (laughs) Some are more into it than others. A lot of them won’t even touch my stuff, but others are fans and read the books.
Q: You’re an accomplished skydiver and scuba diver. Your passion for thrills obviously inspires your work directly, as your characters often take on extreme sports. Does it also inspire your writing indirectly? Do you try to capture the emotions of excitement?
VH: I live for any kind of adventure. I’ve been scuba diving for 26 years now. I’ve done everything from swimming in the Amazon to dog sledding in Finland to visiting Egypt. So yes, my characters are influenced by my recreational activities.
My novels are considered under the “noir” genre. The strict definition entails a dark, mysterious atmosphere, usually containing a love triangle and some kind of betrayal for money. My books don’t always follow that per se. Two are about scuba diving and skydiving (Iguana Love and Sky Blues, respectively), and those stray too far from the traditional noir theme. So those have been called “adventure noirs.” But my characters are generally dark and brooding, and psychologically twisted. So the “thrill-seeking” definitely has an emotional impact as well.
Q: What is it about Miami and this tropical area that makes a good setting for novels?
VH: Almost anything can happen here: things that could never happen in Ohio! Miami is a magnet for weirdos from the whole country. It’s just a really unusual place, a very sexy and violent city.
Q: One review of Iguana Love states bluntly, “This is not a book for the faint-hearted.” Do you include dark, edgy themes in your work for a certain purpose, even if it’s just shock value?
VH: I think I was encouraged early on. My novels are the literary parallel of an independent film; they attract a select audience, a certain group. People were so shocked by my early writing that I think I liked that, and it encouraged me to stay within my more fast-paced style. Instructors were always on my side, but students were getting upset. And once you start writing for a company, your editors keep expecting the same thing from you.
I think I simply like fast-paced, vivid, lively stuff. I’m really interested in violence. Passion and obsession are the two best motives for anything. Murder for money is not as compelling, but passion and obsession just turns naturally into violence.
Q: How would you respond to criticism of your work from people who might say it’s gratuitously dark and edgy, or too sexually provocative?
VH: Usually, people who have a complaint won’t tell me in person. I have gotten two terrible reviews from the Miami Herald. I think the problem is that people are not reacting rationally to my work. Mainly, I think, readers get angry because they haven’t understood the book. They are upset and giving me emotional responses; they’re responding to the subject matter, not my writing style or technique. I can’t take that seriously.
Jessica Misener can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org