Interview with Harald Johnson – Author of New York 1609
Peter: Harald, it was a pleasure to get the opportunity of reading your epic book New York 1609 (Omnibus). I am delighted that we have the opportunity to conduct this interview to ask more questions about your novels, plans and your writing experience. Many thanks for making the time available to answer these questions.
Peter: What inspired you to write this book about the first steps in the colonisation of Manhattan Island? [You have a personal connection to New York would you like to share that with our audience]
Harald: Two main reasons. First, I have an unusual connection to New York City, and especially Manhattan where NYC as the city we know today really started. Second, because no one had ever written a historical novel about the birth of NYC from its earliest beginnings before, as hard as that may be to believe. I couldn’t believe it myself until I confirmed it with the New York City chapter of the Historical Novel Society.
A little bit about my personal connection to NYC…
As a child I immigrated to the U.S. with my parents from Germany in the 1950s. And although I didn’t know it at the time, we traced the same water route into New York Harbor that Henry Hudson had followed on his exploratory voyage of 1609. Then, 30 years later I entered a swimming race around Manhattan put on by the city to promote NYC’s “cleaner water” (Ha Ha! I got dysentery from the swim). And as I waited for the tide to change during that race I remember looking up at all the tall buildings and wondering: What was this place like before? I mean, *really* like? At the very beginning?
It all fell into place when my Mom sent me an old photo album of our early transatlantic voyage with little B&W photos and her handwritten descriptions under them, and I started thinking about the long thread of history relating to New York, and my place in it.
I’ve always loved historical fiction books, so I searched for novels about how New York City got started. When I found none I decided that I would write that book.
Peter: You tell the story through the eyes of a Manahate Indian, Dancing Fish. What were your hopes and plans for this character, and did he start to take a life of his own?
Harald: I decided early on that I wanted
And yes, Dancing Fish definitely became a full-bodied character to me as the story developed.
Peter: You created several important characters that illustrated the best and worst of human behaviour. How important was it to be balanced with your characters yet remain truthful to actual events? Who was the most challenging character to develop?
Harald: First, I had to be accurate as to the historical record. Certain historical characters were known to have good and bad
My main protagonist, Dancing Fish, was probably the most challenging character to develop for several reasons. First, he had to pass through the different stages of his life. Also, he had to learn the languages used in the book (English, Dutch, French). So there was a continual evolution of the main character throughout the span of the story.
Peter: It is very clear that there was a great deal of research went into the background of this book. Could you share with us some of your main research and parts that surprised you?
Harald: This was a multi-year project, and I consulted numerous information references from both Native American and European sources. This included history books and articles, maps, memoirs, various language dictionaries, and onsite visits and consultations with experts.
I think what surprised me is that nothing really surprised me. People are people no matter what or when.
Peter: There are some serious societal, racial and political messages in this book. How important was it to convey these messages, and do you feel many of these issues still exist today?
Harald: This gets into the concept of Theme. And my overall theme with this book is that under our skins, we’re all basically the same and have been for hundreds—if not thousands—of years. We all love, loathe, dream, and fear. Equally.
Peter: Do you use storyboarding or a mapping processes to develop your plots and interactions, or do you go with the flow and follow your instinct and gut feeling?
Harald: I’m a plotter/outliner and I want to make sure I have the main plot points under control. But I am also very open and willing change things as I go along. I understand the basic architecture of classic storytelling that has been with us for
Peter: Are you very disciplined in how you approach each writing day? What is your routine?
Harald: While I may not “write” every day—i.e., writing actual story text—I do something related to my books and authorship every day. That may include doing research on my current WIP (work in progress), doing some kind of marketing/sharing for my latest book (like this interview ;-), tweaking my current WIP outline, writing in my personal journal, or doing actual scene writing. So it’s a mix of activities that move in and out like the tides.
Peter: Do you use particular software applications to support your writing activity? For example, Scrivener or Grammarly.
Harald: I use Google Drive/Docs for my main writing and also for timelines, character arcs, outlines, and much more. I have a large desktop monitor and have multiple windows open with multiple tabs in each. I find this very efficient for my needs. And yes, I’ll do a final run through Grammarly at the end before I dive into production (see below).
Peter: What are the greatest benefits and restrictions to being an Indie Author?
Harald: Although I’ve been traditionally published in the past, I decided to go all-Indie with New York 1609. This means that instead of going through the tedious, and many times frustrating
The main benefit of being an Indie for me (besides speed-to-market) is ownership and control. I own and control everything. I can change the pricing, the cover, whatever I want whenever I want. And I can license/sell any of the underlying rights on my terms (audio, TV/film, etc). Try that with traditional publishing.
And where a traditional publisher may generate higher sales in the beginning with their distribution and promotional connections (there is still anti-Indie bias out there), they will quickly stop paying attention to a non-skyrocketing book, and I’m better off in the long run with my higher royalty share as an Indie.
Yes, it’s more work to be an Indie, but I like to work ;-).
Peter: How involved are you in finalising other aspects of the book, for
Harald: That’s easy: 100%. Or close to it. The only thing I job out is the substantive and line editing; I need other eyes for that. And if and when I do audiobooks, I’ll work with a professional narrator for that as well. But other than that, I design my own covers (I’m also
Peter: How much time do you spend on writing compared to promoting your books?
Harald: As stated above, I like to mix things up. I might go for days doing nothing but writing scenes, and then shift to marketing. Or, I might write a scene in the AM and spend PM on promotion. Overall, it probably ends up being roughly 50:50, which works for me.
Peter: What authors have you most admired and have had an influence on you?
Harald: I have a two-part answer. For authors in the historical fiction space, I admire and study the greats: Michener, Follett, Rutherfurd, Mantel, et al. The other part is for the pioneers in Indie publishing who very much inspired me to take that fork in the road. Authors like: Hugh Howey, Andy Weir, and Amanda Hocking.
Peter: What was your favourite book you’ve read over the last 12 months?
Harald: That’s a hard question. Apart from the many nonfiction books I’ve read as part of my research, one recent book that really jumped out as pure page-turning joy was “Dark Matter” by Blake Crouch. It started off as competitive research for my current WIP, but it ended up being just a darn good read.