Q&A: Don Hoesel
WHAT WAS YOUR INSPIRATION DRIVING THE STORY IN SERPENT OF MOSES?
Really, the inspiration behind Serpent of Moses was the success of a previous book—Elisha’s Bones. In that novel, I introduced archaeologist Dr. Jack Hawthorne, and then sent him traipsing about the globe in a hunt for the bones of the prophet Elisha. It was a fun book to write and Jack turned out to be a great character. But when I wrote Elisha’s Bones, it wasn’t meant as the first book in a series, even if I thought there were some good stories left to tell. But people seem to have really connected with Jack. I got a lot of emails asking if there would be more Jack Hawthorne adventures. Which led to Serpent of Moses.
Once it was established that my next book would feature Jack Hawthorne, I really just needed a subject—a prize—for him to pursue. And I was looking for something that hadn’t been run into the ground already. The brass serpent staff of Moses—the one that healed the Israelites after they were bitten by snakes that God had sent among them—fit the bill. As with the bones of the prophet Elisha, it was mentioned in just a few passages in the Old Testament, which left a lot of area for me to play in.
But aside from the artifact, one of the real drivers behind SoM was the chance to address some of the questions left unanswered at the end of Elisha’s Bones. I heard from a large number of readers who wanted to know what happened to Jack and Esperanza, and if Jack stayed in archaeology after leaving Australia, and if the mysterious organization that had protected the bones for millennia would eventually come for him. SoM answers some of these questions—though not all of them.
OVER THE COURSE OF WRITING IT, WHAT SURPRISED YOU THE MOST DURING THE JOURNEY?
What surprised me most—and I suppose it shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise—is that, of all of the characters who have appeared in my books, I’ve discovered that Jack’s my favorite. From the start, writing this book was like slipping on an old shoe. And that may be because I share a lot of commonalities with Jack.
At his core, Jack’s a skeptic—and I’ve always appreciated healthy skepticism. One of the reasons for that is because a skeptic is usually the kind of person who isn’t content to accept what others say but who will do the heavy lifting to find the answers himself. But Jack’s also a man with a great many faults—and vices—which makes him someone that, hopefully, most readers can find some common ground with.
WHAT PARTS WERE INSPIRED BY REAL LIFE (EITHER RESEARCH OR EXPERIENCE)?
Because Serpent of Moses is a suspense novel, there’s a lot that’s necessarily contrived to make for good suspense. But when I write a story, I work hard to make sure it’s as believable as I can make it. Part of that is trying to maintain a thread of truth—or at least an element of plausibility. And with Serpent of Moses, there was just enough in the biblical record, and a few hints in the extra-biblical record, to provide the basis for a story.
One interesting thing, though, was that as I was researching for the book, I discovered that there were already a few ideas about what might have happened to the staff after its last mention in the biblical record. The trick, then, was to construct a plausible history for the relic that didn’t completely fly in the face of the more established legends—or the fact that the Bible says that Hezekiah actually destroyed the staff.
Beyond the plot, though, the most genuine thing about the book (culled through both research and my love of travel) is the accuracy of location. Most of the research for the book was for the purpose of getting the locations right. I’ve been blessed with a great many opportunities to travel, which makes it easier to write about places outside of the US, but the fact is I haven’t been everywhere my intrepid archaeologist has. And I take a lot of pride in making sure that when I set Jack in a place, I get the details right. So a lot of work goes into making sure I have the geography, clothing, culture, cuisine, etc, as accurate as I can make them.
WHY DO YOU THINK THAT STORY IS SUCH A POWERFUL WAY TO COMMUNICATE TRUTH?
At its core, fiction deals with truth. Defining it; uncovering it; even reminding us of some of the universal truths we may have forgotten. And because it’s “fiction” we tend to experience it without many of the defenses we might normally raise when presented with concepts that challenge our world views.
And Christian fiction, with its focus on the truth-giver, offers a unique jumping off point from which to deal with these ideas.
WHAT PROJECTS ARE YOU WORKING ON NOW?
Right now I’m working on a book titled Blood and Bone, which will be book three in the Jack Hawthorne series. I mentioned earlier that Serpent of Moses gave me the chance to answer some of the lingering questions raised in Elisha’s Bones and that’s true. But SoM does that within the scope of an adventure completely distanced from the first book. With Blood and Bone, Jack will have to deal with some of the choices he made in his hunt for the prophet’s remains—and the impact of those choices on those around him.