INTERVIEW WITH GEORGE R. HOPKINS
George R. Hopkins
CreateSpace Publishing (2017)
Reviewed by Carol Hoyer for Reader Views (5/17)
Article first published as Interview: George R. Hopkins, Author of ‘Chasing the Devil’s Breath’ on Blogcritics
George R. Hopkins retired as assistant principal of English at Susan E. Wagner High School after teaching English for over 35 years in NYC schools. His teaching experiences range from being an exchange teacher in Bayamon, Puerto Rico to teaching in Middlesex College, St. John’s University, Columbia Teachers College and the Options Program at the College of Staten Island. At Susan Wagner High School, he coordinated the NYC High School Poetry Contest and was twice honored by the NY Association of Teachers as Teacher of the Year.
He was a sergeant in the United States Marine Corps and served on active duty during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
He is a true New Yorker. He was born in Brooklyn, raised in the Bronx, met his wife in Manhattan, lived in Queens, and now resides in Staten Island.
He earned a B.A. degree in English from Iona College, a Master’s Degree from CCNY, and a 6th Year Certificate in Administration and Supervision from Richmond College.
His detective/priest series has received awards and recognition in the Premier Book Awards, the International Readers’ Favorite Awards, and the Reader Views Awards. He has also received awards for his poetry.
He and his wife have been married for 50 years and are the proud parents of four children and ten grandchildren. For the past 18 years he has coordinated a Senior Poetry Contest and Festival. George enjoys writing, teaching writing, and videotaping. He has taught writing workshops for the Noble Maritime Collection and for Poets and Writers, Inc. and has had many essays published in the Staten Island Advance.
Welcome George, and thank you for being with us today! Why don’t you start by telling our readers about your journey to becoming a published author?
I always loved writing. In college I was assistant sports editor of our weekly newspaper. Later I wrote a number of personal essays for our local newspaper, the Staten Island Advance. I always wanted to write fiction and one night at a dinner party a friend challenged me to write a book. That started it all. The underlying story of my first mystery/thriller, Blood Brothers, was an assassination plan to kill Fidel Castro. When I saw Castro stumble one night after delivering a graduation speech, I thought I’d better get this story out there before he died. When I could not find an agent, I decided to self-publish and I am happy I did. It gave me more control of my story and allowed me bring some of my friends into the story. It was a lot of fun and led to my second book in the series. Chasing the Devil’s Breath is the sixth mystery/thriller in the series which focuses on the adventures of two brothers, Tom Cavanaugh, a hard-nosed NYC homicide detective, and his brother, a Jesuit priest and former Special Forces Officer.
What is Chasing the Devil’s Breath about?
Chasing the Devil’s Breath is an international mystery/thriller. Retired New York City Police Detective Tom Cavanaugh’s first day as a private investigator finds him tasked with the assignment to locate a missing young, apparently brilliant man. Various omens including the insistence of his clients about “no police involvement” warn him his first case will not be an easy one. At the same time, over two thousand miles away, in the small town of Mompox, Colombia, his brother, Fr. Jack Bennis, is in search of a mysterious drug lord known only as El Apredido (the Learned One) who is producing a dangerous drug called “The Devil’s Breath.” The priest seeks out El Apredido at the request of a letter he received from a woman he loves, but who he is trying to avoid. Fr. Bennis soon finds himself in the midst of a life and death struggle. When his brother leaves his missing person case and comes down to Colombia to help, they find themselves fighting desperately to survive.
Tell us about the protagonists in the book, what motivates the brothers?
Fr. Jack Bennis is a Jesuit priest. He was trained as a member of a clandestine Special Forces team assigned to terminate individuals in other countries. When his mission is compromised, he survived in the jungles of South America where he met a Jesuit missionary and he felt the calling to be a priest. He is a complex character who is constantly fighting his own personal demons and trying to do the right thing. But he is the first to admit, he has “feet of clay.”
His younger brother, Tom Cavanaugh, is compulsive, headstrong, arrogant, and determined. He loves his brother and will do anything to help him, but the two brothers frequently find themselves fighting with each other over different issues.
Which character do you relate to most and why?
That is a good question. I find myself a little of both of them. I see they are both trying to do the right thing, but their methods are different. They each have weaknesses, but they both continue to “fight the good fight” as they see it.
What is Devils Breath?
The Devil’s Breath is an actual drug, which has been called the most dangerous drug in the world as it can block its victims’ free will and wipe their memories clean. It is made from the borrachero tree which is common in Colombia. In Chasing the Devil’s Breath, El Apredido is developing a genetically altered version of the drug which will have hypnotic effect on its victims with world-wide implications.
How extensive was the research required for this plotline? Tell us a bit about it.
I did a lot of research for the plotline, which has many levels. I researched the Devil’s Breath drug and studied the remote town of Mompox, Colombia. Mompox was once an important island-like town used by the Spaniards in sixteenth century South America as a port and holding place for the gold and silver they plundered. It thrived as a wealthy haven and storehouse for precious metals and jewels both because of its strategic location in the middle of the Magdalena River where it joins the Cauca River and because it served as a passageway from the ocean to the Andes Mountains for goods to be delivered upriver into the interior. But when the river began silting up, large boats were forced to seek other routes and its prosperity faded. Mompox became a dangerous place for visitors because of volatile politics and the warring violence of narcotic terrorists and paramilitary groups in the Magdalena Valley of Colombia. When the waters of the Magdalena River shifted again in the early twentieth century, however, the once prosperous Mompox began to revive, but this time as a remote tourist attraction because of the preserved, largely unaltered Spanish colonial architecture of its buildings, its colorful churches, its filigree gold artisans, and its celebrated religious ceremonies. One of the charms of Mompox is the difficulty of reaching it.
Mompox led me to research the stories of Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesada; the conquistadors’ search for the mythical “City of Gold,” El Dorado; the ancient Muisca people who lived in the area; and stories of treasures buried in undiscovered tunnels by the Aztecs, the Incas, and the Musica.
How do you keep the narrative fresh and interesting in a series?
Blood Brothers ended with a letter from Bennis to his brother from Cuba. Collateral Consequences picked up where Blood Brothers left off. This time there were forces following Bennis in Cuba as a result of his previous actions. Letters from the Dead has both brothers returning to Staten Island where they find truths about themselves as they each track down a killer who calls himself Lex Talionis (the law of revenge). In Random Acts of Malice, a judge asks Cavanaugh to investigate a murder threat he has received, and Bennis recognizes a dangerous face from his past. Unholy Retribution continues the plight of the brothers as someone is killing innocent Muslims and the clues all point to Fr. Bennis.
As the series continues, the characters have grown and developed more fully. In each story they face obstacles which they react to in different ways. It has been fun for me to watch them grow in their understanding of themselves and their love and understanding of each other.
What kind of reaction to your writing do you most seek from your reading audience?
I want the readers to enjoy the stories and relate to the characters and the situations they face. It is interesting how some readers tell me they like one character more than the other. As they read, I hope they also learn something. I do a lot of research for my books and try to enlighten the readers with facts, history, or places they may not be familiar with. Overall, beneath the mystery and suspense, I want the readers to feel we are all in this together and need to work together. We are all “our brothers’ keeper.”
What is a typical day for you as an author? What are your writing practices?
I usually write at night. I find it less distracting when everyone else is asleep in the house. I’ve tried writing during the day, but there always seems to be too many distractions. I know some people write early in the morning, but I like my sleep. Sometimes I will be up to 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. writing. I also bring a pen and notebook with me wherever I go. If I have to wait for a doctor’s appointment or an automobile servicing, I write. It keeps me from being bored and gives me inspiration and ideas as I look around and study people.
What can you share with us about your publishing experience?
My publishing experiences have been diversified. I don’t know anyone in the publishing industry and have been unable to find an agent. Long ago I found one who was interested in my manuscript. I waited for a response, but after months of waiting, I called his office and found out he was no longer working there. I published three books with Xlibris, one with Outskirts Press, and the last two with Create Space. With each of them I have had some issues (editing, print size, cover design), but overall I am very satisfied with the results. I love the writing and the feedback, but I hate the need to promote the books by myself. I realize even the major publishers, however, put a lot of the onus to promote books on the authors. I accept the need to promote the book, but I don’t necessarily like it. Writing definitely has its good points and its less than good points, but then again, so does life – it is what it is.
What’s next for the series?
I am playing with a couple of ideas. One will bring the brothers back together and another will focus on an average person driven to murder. The brothers might be in this story, but in a minor way.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received, about writing, or about life in general?
For me Tennyson’s closing lines in “Ulysses” could work for both writing and life:
“Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
But another quote from one of my son’s high school principal stays with me too: “The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.” It’s important to be true to yourself no matter what you do.
What advice can you give aspiring writers of mystery/thrillers?
Read, study, research, write; read more, study more, research more, write more; then re-read, study, research, and write. Repeat as often as necessary, but never give up.
Where can readers connect with you on social media to learn more about Chasing the Devil’s Breath and your other books?
Facebook – George R. Hopkins
Twitter – George Hopkins @George Romano
Goodreads – George Hopkins
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Success is something each of us must define in our own terms. I often think of the closing lines of a Dennis Waitley poem:
“It’s not your talent or the gift of birth,
It’s not your bank book that determines worth.
It isn’t in your gender of the color of your skin.
It’s your attitude that lets you win.
It doesn’t matter what you’ve done before.
It makes no difference what’s the halftime score.
It’s never over until the final gun – if there were one.
So keep on trying and you’ll find you’ve won.
Just grab your dream and then believe it.
Go out and work, and you’ll achieve it.
If you think you can, you can.
If you think you can, you can.”