An Interview with Douglas Cavanaugh

I am very pleased to bring you all my second author interview. I have the pleasure of introducing first-time author Douglas Cavanaugh, author of the Yugoslavian war era thriller, Into Hell’s Fire.

Into Hell’s Fire is a gritty thriller set in Sarajevo and the Former Yugoslavia during the time of intense civil war. It’s dark and pacey, and if you want to find out more, you can find my review here at Books and Beyond reviews. So without further ado, let’s get to know the man behind the book, Douglas Cavanaugh.

Books and Beyond Reviews: Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions. First off, we’d like to learn a little more about you. Who is your favourite author?

Douglas Cavanaugh: I’ve always appreciated the writing of Walter Tevis. He had an ability to say a lot in his writing without wasting words which I admire very much. He also had an uncanny ability to captivate a reader’s attention even though the subject matter of his book’s plot may not have been in reader’s area of interest (i.e. pool, chess).

I also hold John Grisham in high regard for his story-telling versatility. After writing a hugely successful string of legal thrillers in the 90s, he switched gears and wrote an excellent novel of another genre called ‘A Painted House’ which left me very impressed.

And finally, I am an avid reader of fellow native Iowan Bill Bryson’s books. They never fail to entertain me.

BaBR: When you were writing Into Hell’s Fire, did you steer the story from start to finish, or did the character’s personalities take the wheel and drag you along for the ride?

DC: I must admit, when I committed to writing Into Hell’s Fire, I had no idea what the hell I was doing – and I certainly hope it doesn’t show. Before I started, I read a book about how to write a novel but after having finished it, I felt I’d gained little knowledge from it. In the end, I decided to do it the way that made the most sense to me. I made a chapter by chapter outline, and then began writing from the first page until the very last. Then I altered the final rough draft and added some miscellaneous chapters where needed after discussing the manuscript with some trusted beta readers.

BaBR: Are eBooks dangerous to physical books, or do you perceive them as a gateway to getting more people into reading?

DC: eBooks are becoming more popular, and they are a cheaper way for readers to acquire and read more books. In fact, members who belong to the Amazon Kindle Lending Library, can access books for free, and I am happy to offer Into Hell’s Fire on this platform. I absolutely view eBooks as a gateway for getting more people into reading because of this. However, physical books have a very loyal reader base, and I don’t see them disappearing anytime soon. I am familiar with many book reviewers to this day who accept only hard copy books for review. Sales of Into Hell’s Fire seem to be about 50/50 in terms of eBook vs. physical copies sold.

BaBR: Can you tell us one interesting fact about yourself that not a lot of people know.

DC: I quit watching television almost ten years ago, though I do watch occasional cartoons and old, classic programs with my young daughter. I haven’t stopped watching movies altogether, either. But when I’m alone, the television is always turned off. Time is a commodity and I discovered I was able to get much more accomplished after I quit wasting my time watching television.

BaBR: Thanks for that, Douglas. Now let’s discus your book, Into Hell’s Fire. How did you come about with the idea for Into Hell’s Fire? Was it the result of being immersed in the culture and people who lived through the war when you moved to Croatia?

DC: Certainly, the impression made by the culture and people who had endured the war in Bosnia and Croatia played a role in my book’s plot, particularly in the aspect of characterisation. But because the story is purely a fictional account, there are no actual anecdotes or events described in the story. However, tidbits of personal conversations with friends and acquaintances that participated in or survived the fighting did encourage me to take the plot in certain directions.

The initial idea for Into Hell’s Fire’s plot of developed spontaneously and less dramatically. As a matter of fact, my novel was conceived on an overnight ferry trip I took with my parents from Rijeka to Dubrovnik, Croatia in 1997. Sometime on a warm, early summer afternoon, my father and I were sharing a beer on the ferry’s open deck and absorbing the sun. Since the war had ended less than eighteen months earlier, there were still quite a few NATO and U.N. personnel active in the area. On that particular journey, a man dressed in all black and wearing dark sunglasses was seated nearby. He was alone and spent a lot of time speaking in several different languages to several contacts using a cumbersome, early model mobile phone, probably via a satellite connection, I speculated. Though I couldn’t understand any of what was being discussed, out of curiosity, I eavesdropped sporadically on his conversations. I had no idea who this man was – he could have simply been a tour guide or a ferry company official for all I knew, but it did get my imagination working. Who was this guy? Who was he talking to? Why was he speaking in so many languages? Who was he working for? Readers will definitely pick up on this detail at some point when reading the book. After splitting another beer, the genesis of Into Hell’s Fire’s plot emerged. That detail stayed in my mind for another six years until I finally started writing the book.

BaBR: Did the idea for this book come from a desire to bring attention to what went on, given so many people aren’t fully aware of the atrocities that lead to the disintegration of the Former Republic of Yugoslavia?

DC: No. Details concerning war atrocities were provided in the story solely in support of the main plot, which was set during the Siege of Sarajevo’s early stages. I tried to take care not to hinder the progress of the action by dwelling too much on the war yet the plot was set within the backdrop of the fighting so war atrocities were mentioned and incorporated into the story.

As much as I hope some good came from bringing some modest attention to the tragedies that took place in ex-Yugoslavia during the early 1990s, I cannot say the idea for writing Into Hell’s Fire was intended to fulfil that desire. Quite the contrary really, as the main idea for the book was far simpler and competitive in nature. As it happened, I was spending a lot of time on international flights in the late 1990s and passed much of the transit time reading novels. As a result of finishing too many highly praised books which I personally felt were undeserving; I set out to write an action/thriller novel that could equal or surpass those that I felt didn’t measure up. I won’t name names, but more than a few were written by well-established, big name authors in the same genre. Whether I achieved my goal or not isn’t for me to say. That will be left to readers of Into Hell’s Fire to decide.

BaBR: You moved to Croatia not too long after the end of hostilities, in 1996. How did arriving so soon after, and your interactions with veterans and survivors, help to shape the book and your characters?

DC: I did get firsthand experience of dealing with former soldiers and civilian survivors of the war, many of whom were suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome. The city in which I live was never directly touched by the war, yet many people were affected indirectly. Some had lost friends and relatives who lived in the war-torn areas. Others had lost their homes and personal property, and many others had been forced to relocate, often with little or no money to live on. I tried to sufficiently present the unseen side effects war brings to the civilian population to readers, many of whom may not fully understand the ramifications and consequences that war produces. Even so, I suppose one really can’t appreciate the suffering caused by war on other people in some distant land until they have been personally affected by it.

BaBR: Do you feel the world learned from the events in the Former Yugoslavia, or are events in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan history repeating itself?

DC: Well, I’m sure that some people, somewhere in the world, learned some valuable lessons. But I’m less positive that people around the world in general learned much at all. The headlines in today’s news seem to feature different names and locations but the story is pretty much the same. I’m no geopolitical specialist, but if one were to study human behaviour throughout history, it does appear that there are patterns which seem to repeat.

BaBR: Do you have plans for future books, and if so, will they follow a similar idea or genre, or are you looking to try your hand with something different?

DC: I have recently passed the half-way point of my second novel. I decided to switch genres and try something new to keep things fresh and challenging. I also switched from writing in the third to first person point of view, which is a whole new test. There will even be an element of romance in this new story, albeit a minor one, which will test my abilities in another realm of writing. This new effort is primarily set in my home state of Iowa. As it turns out, I first contemplated writing a novel when I lived in Iowa many years ago. At the time, nothing seemed interesting enough to write about on my home turf, and it took a move to another part of the world to stimulate my imagination enough to attempt such a daunting project. Now, ironically, after having completed my first book, interesting ideas to write about in my home state are flowing freely, and I’m still on the other side of the world.

Thanks very much to Douglas for taking time out to answer these questions for me.

You can also connect with Douglas via his website and Goodreads pages.

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