Interview with george r. hopkins
George R. Hopkins
CreateSpace Publishing (2015)
Reviewed by Carol Hoyer for Reader Views (5/17)
Article first published as Interview: George R. Hopkins, Author of ‘Unholy Retribution’ on Blogcritics.
George Hopkins graduated from Iona College with a B. A. in English. After serving in the Marine Corps Reserves as a sergeant, he went on to obtain a Master’s degree in English literature from City College of New York. He wrote a number of human interest stories for the Staten Island Advance and began writing his first novel, Blood Brothers, after a challenge at a dinner party. Blood Brothers won a Drago Literary Book Award. His second novel, Collateral Consequences, won a 2009 Premier Book Award for Mystery/Thriller/Suspense. His third novel, Letters from the Dead, won a Reader’s View award and was a finalist in the 2013 International Readers’ Favorite Awards for Mystery/Thriller. He has also been awarded recognition for his poetry, television production, and community service.
Each of his six Mystery/Thrillers, Blood Brothers, Collateral Consequences, Letters from the Dead, Random Acts of Malice, Unholy Retribution, and Chasing the Devil’s Breath, center around two crime fighting brothers, Tom Cavanaugh, a NYC homicide detective, and his brother, Jack Bennis, a Jesuit priest and former Black Ops officer.
Welcome George, and thank you for being with us today! Why don’t you start by telling our readers a bit about yourself?
Like the rest of us, I am, as Tennyson’s Ulysses says, “a part of all that I have met.” I feel I have been blessed by my experiences as a husband, a father of four, a grandfather of ten, a teacher, a Marine, a student and an observer of human nature. Somehow my experiences have given me a positive attitude toward life and, at times, a wry sense of humor.
I have to confess, writing doesn’t necessarily come easy to me. At one time, I used to tell people how Tom Clancy supposedly once said, how easy it is to write a novel. “All you have to do is write one page a night and at the end of 365 days you will have a book.”
That may be true, but experience has taught me, however, that’s not the whole truth. As Amy Joy said, “Anyone who says writing is easy isn’t doing it right.”
George Orwell was a bit more graphic when he said, “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”
Personally, I think Orwell might have been exaggerating a bit. I tend to agree more with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s view that writers are a whole lot of people trying so hard to be one person. The truth is, sometimes I think there are multiple people running around inside my head. All writers, but crime writers in particular, I feel, may seem to live normal lives while at the same time inhabiting inside their heads a violent and peculiar alternative reality. It’s almost like a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.
For me, that alternative reality is my two major characters, a hard-nosed, conservative homicide detective and his older brother, a Jesuit priest and former Special Forces officer.
As I have gotten older, I am not the lean, mean Marine, I once pretended to be. Now I feel more and more like Tennyson’s Ulysses.
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.
In my writing, beneath the mysteries and adventures, I try to capture the conflicts of mind, body, and spirit that we all face in our daily lives.
What is Unholy Retribution about?
Unholy Retribution is about revenge. It focuses on the brutal acts of revenge and the motives behind the acts themselves. It illustrates how revenge can come in many forms, for many different reasons. But Unholy Retribution is also about love and loyalty and how both anger and love can distort our perceptions. When Fr. Jack Bennis is accused of heinous murders, his brother, Tom Cavanagh, a NYC homicide detective, tries to help him but must fight forces resulting from the actions of his own past.
Religious prejudice and issues with law enforcement consume the headlines in today's world–perhaps they always will. What inspired you to write about these current world issues?
The disturbing graphic pictures of ISIS beheadings of journalists, aid workers, Christians, and even children somehow made me think back to Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice and the quote, “If you prick, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?” What if someone decided to retaliate for wrongs he or she perceived? What if the evidence pointed toward a Catholic priest? Would the priest be capable of carrying out brutal murders of apparently innocent Muslims? What if the priest had previous military training in clandestine operations? What if the lead detective on the investigation blamed the priest’s brother for her own sister’s death? Is justice really blind or can private, suppressed prejudices lead to tragic ends? The inspiration for Unholy Retribution came from world news headlines and stories about ISIS cruelties and clerical misconduct and from my own imagination.
What message do you hope to convey about these issues to readers?
I hope people would see the end does not justify the means and that an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth ultimately hurts all parties. Characters in Unholy Retribution are motivated by past experiences. They let their anger and thirst for revenge blind them. Innocent people are hurt by the desire for revenge. Too many people in today’s society, it seems to me, have lost their balance and react violently and irrationally to perceived wrongs. You read about it all the time. A driver fails to signal a lane change and the other driver goes out of his way to cut him off the road or, even worse, to kill the other driver. Unholy Retribution is about how vigilante justice, smoldering prejudices, perceived injustices, and hatred lead to disaster.
Tell us about some of the most interesting bits of information you uncovered while doing the research for Unholy Retribution.
Every time I sit down to write, I regard it as a potential learning experience. I knew there were incidents of radical Muslim attacks on innocent Americans, but I did not know there were so many and in virtually every state in the Union. I was astonished to read some of the attacks, but I also learned that anti-Muslim hate crimes have risen substantially. We seem to have become a society at war with itself. The characters in Unholy Retribution voice opinions voiced often in private by many people. The heightened rhetoric after 9/11 has exposed an alarming trend in which Muslims are constantly and consistently cast as somehow un-American because of their faith.
I enjoy doing my research. As preparation for this book, I studied and walked through the streets of Belfast. I learned much about the murals in Belfast and Northern Ireland which reflect the past and present political and religious divisions of the country. Some of the murals in the Irish republican areas commemorate the "conflict" or “the troubles.” A large portrait of Bobby Sands on the side wall of Sinn Féin's Falls Road office remains in my memory along with depictions of the Ballymurphy Massacre and the portraits of fallen members of the IRA. In the loyalist sections of the city, tributes to the Ulster Defense Association and the Ulster Volunteer Force commemorate their deceased members. As the city tries to ease the tensions of the past, the still lingering divisions in the city had a sobering effect on me.
Can you give us a little background information about the protagonists in the series?
Unholy Retribution is the fifth story I have written about the two brothers, Jack Bennis and Tom Cavanaugh. Jack Bennis was born as a result of his mother being raped by Devlin Cavanaugh who was sentenced to jail for the rape and attempted murder of another woman. Jack's mother married Michael Bennis who raised Jack as his own child. When Devlin Cavanaugh was released from prison, he killed Michael Bennis and married Margaret Bennis. He was an abusive husband and father who was killed in a fire. Young Jack Bennis joined the Army and became a member of an elite, secret group of assassins. He was shot and severely wounded after one of their missions was compromised. He and two of his men were left for dead. Somehow he managed to survive the jungles of South America. In the process he met a Jesuit missionary and he abandoned his military career to become a priest.
His brother, Tom Cavanaugh, became a New York City hard-nosed homicide detective. In the first book in the series, they are united under some unusual circumstances. Unholy Retribution begins with Fr. Bennis recuperating in the hospital from a gunshot wound received while saying Mass. Cavanaugh tries to come to the aid of his brother, but his own checkered past has created enemies for him, one of whom is the lead detective on the murder investigation who holds Cavanaugh responsible for the death of her sister. Detective Adrianna Perez sees the conviction of Fr. Bennis as a form of retribution for the way Cavanaugh treated her sister.
How has your own relationship with the brothers evolved over the course of the series?
It is interesting to me to see how the brothers have evolved. They have grown closer while maintaining their individual, at times, stubborn attitudes. They look at things through different eyes and frequently disagree with each other. Cavanaugh tries to keep Bennis out of the police investigations, but Bennis always manages to involve himself. They are both persistent and determined, but Cavanaugh tends to charge into things full speed. He will break the rules if it means getting the job done. Bennis is more of a thinker and a planner. As a priest, his "rules" may come from a higher authority, but, as he frequently says, he has "feet of clay." His actions and reactions are often influenced by emotions which he struggles with. They both, however, will do anything to help the other, but it is never an easy ride.
You have a dedicated fan base that eagerly awaits each new adventure involving the Cavanaugh brothers. What are your future plans for the series?
The brothers will rise again. All my novels have required a great deal of research. The sequel to Unholy Retribution is Chasing the Devil’s Breath. It involves both brothers in a drug war in Colombia. In the future, I am playing around with a particularly grisly murder based very loosely on an actual occurrence. It will bring both brothers back to Staten Island where they will be forced to team up once again. The usual characters will be there while Bennis struggles with his vocation to the priesthood and Cavanaugh struggles with the responsibilities of being a husband and a father.
How does your muse move you and what does he/she contribute to your process?
My muse is the world around me. It may come in a news story, a partial conversation overheard in a supermarket, a little known fact in a book, an article on the internet, or anywhere. As Tennyson wrote, "Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough / Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades / Forever and forever when I move." Right now, I have the fledglings of a new story in my mind. As I continue to feed it and nourish it with questions and research, hopefully it will grow and "some work of noble note, may yet be done."
What do you love most about being a writer?
I enjoy the freedom to create stories to entertain and hopefully teach. I enjoy the control I have to develop characters who take on a life of their own. I enjoy the gift of imagination. I enjoy the thrill of the adventure of writing. I name some of the characters after friends of mine. My neighbors and friends have turned up in my books as teachers, secretaries, forensic scientists, police officers, doctors, archeology students, judges, psychologists, mob bosses, bartenders, bouncers, drug addicts, pilots, tourists, priests, and even prostitutes. Our good friend’s 93 year old aunt wanted to be in one of my books. When I asked her what she wanted to be, she said, “A prostitute.” And she is in the next book in the series, Chasing the Devil’s Breath.
I have been fortunate that those who read my books seem to like them. I have resigned myself to the fact I’m not going to get rich writing, but, in perhaps a masochistic way, writing is fun for me and gives me a voice to be heard.
What authors inspire your own work as a writer?
I enjoy a good story. A number of authors inspire my own work as a writer, including Lee Child, Harlan Coben, Ann Cleeves, Michael Connelly, James Patterson, Agatha Christie, O. Henry, Edgar Allan Poe and, strange as it may seem, Geoffrey Chaucer, William Faulkner, John Steinbeck and James Joyce among others.
As a reader, I’m always a bit sad when a good story ends. How do you feel when you finish writing one of your novels?
I feel a bit ambivalent when I finish writing one of my novels. On one hand, I am relieved that it's over. The burden has been lifted. But on the other hand, I am apprehensive. How will readers react to the novel? How will I market my novel? What will happen to my characters next?
Does the writing and the process get easier or harder with each new book? How have you grown as an author?
It doesn’t get any easier for me. The more I learn, the better my writing gets. With each book, I have grown a bit, both as a writer and a person. My characters are fuller, more developed, more complicated. They reveal themselves through their actions and their words. I am able to create more suspense and tension. I realize now so many more ways to develop my story and engage my readers. For me, writing is a continual learning process. As with most things, the more one practices, the better one becomes.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I enjoy my family. We are fortunate most of our grandchildren live relatively close by and we have the opportunity to see them often and watch them grow. I also feebly attempt to play a game I believe must have been practiced by witches in Salem. It entails beating the ground with a stick and muttering curses, not loud, but deep. I believe they call the game “golf.”
Where can readers connect with you on social media to learn more about Unholy Retribution and your other books?
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
William Earnest Henley wrote a poem called “Invictus.” The concluding lines of the poem are, “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.” I believe it is important for all of us, whether we are writers or not, to “fight the good fight,” and not give up. Writing can be frustrating, but it is important to be persistent. Jack London was rejected 600 before he sold his first story. The traditional market for writers may be cold and cruel at times, but if you believe in yourself and enjoy what you are doing, keep at it. I welcome your feedback as I continue to try to improve. There are many different ways to excellence and maybe you can help me on my journey. Please feel free to contact me and I will get back to you. Thank you.