Don Hoesel: Tackling 2012 Phenomenon with Unexpected Twists
1. Where did the idea for The Alarmists come from?
Ancient cultures have always interested me. It’s not uncommon to find me reading a book on ancient Egypt, or Greece, or some vanished civilization—which is probably why my first novel, Elisha’s Bones, featured an archaeologist as the protagonist. When I was hunting around for another story idea, I was noticing the growing interest, principally on the Internet, with the end of the Mayan Long Count calendar, and what that might mean for the world in December 2012. Now, I’m not predisposed to buy into apocalyptic prophecies based on a misinterpretation of old South American timekeeping methods, but I am interested in ancient cultures and I thought that it was just too good of an idea—and too timely of a topic—to pass up.
2. Did you encounter any challenges while researching and writing The Alarmists?
I think the biggest challenge I faced while writing the book was in keeping the focus on the characters and not indulging my own interest in Mayan culture. I could have filled pages—chapters really—with information about the Mayans and their calendar. But the story really isn’t about the 2012 phenomenon. Rather, it’s about a small group of people trying to put together a number of puzzle pieces. So I had to rein myself in a bit.
3. The action in The Alarmists takes place across several countries. Do your descriptions of these places come from personal experience?
I love to travel, and anytime I have the chance, I’ll do it. And I’ve been blessed with many opportunities to scratch that itch. The action in the book takes place in Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Antarctica, and Brazil, and some of these settings come from personal experience. Others, though, owe their detail to research and to talking with the right people. But I’ll let you figure out which falls into each category!
4. Brent Michaels, the protagonist in The Alarmists, is a skeptic—not just about what’s going on in the world the story is set in but about the existence of God. He’s definitely not who one would expect to see as the hero in Christian fiction. Why did you build the story around someone like Brent?
I’ve always been attracted to the skeptic—to someone who has a difficult time believing unless he can see it with his own eyes. Often, skeptics can be very driven people—driven to search for the answers themselves because they’re not content to let others do the legwork for them. But Brent is a skeptic in a holding pattern, comfortable in his life. And the events of this story force him out of his comfort zone and get him to start looking at things differently. Over the course of the book, we’re really watching Brent recover something he’s lost. It’s that journey toward restoration that I really wanted to tap with him.
5. Brent is a sociologist. Did you have any experience to draw from when you wrote about his work?
Well, let’s just say that the Internet is a wonderful thing—as is surrounding yourself with the right people. If you take your time and make use of available resources, you can learn a lot about any topic. Even so, while I like to think that I’m a fairly thorough researcher, I know my limitations. A discipline like sociology isn’t something one can master over the course of writing a book. My goal, then, was to use enough detail to make Brent believable as a sociology professor, without going into exhaustive detail. I couldn’t have pulled that off. But the book’s really not about Brent as a sociologist, but as a man struggling with his faith and who just happens to be one.