Posted on May 3, 2019 at 8:00 AM by Sadye Scott-Hainchek
Today we’re interviewing bestselling author Gerald Hansen, who writes contemporary British and Irish fiction.
Hansen was a Navy brat, starting school in Thailand, graduating high school in Iceland, with Germany, California and his mother’s hometown of Derry, Northern Ireland, in between. He attended Dublin City University, and also lived in London and Berlin.
The first of the Derry Women Series, An Embarrassment of Riches, was an ABNA semifinalist in 2011. There are now six standalone novels and various shorter works in the series.
He loves music, spicy food, wearing Ben Sherman, and traveling the world (still!). He also has a travelogue series, Around The World With Jet Lag Jerry, which is about his trips to the Seven Modern Wonders of the World.
Hansen now lives in New York City.
SADYE: How did you come to see yourself as a writer, and what inspired you to seek publication?
GERALD: Lord only knows when I decided to become a writer, but it must have been at a very young age. I remember the thrill of being a published author at the tender age of eight!
I was living in a Troubles-torn Northern Ireland at the time, dodging rubber bullets and gulping down tear gas (really!) as a primary-five schoolboy (I guess that's third grade in the US?), and I sent off a poem to a weekly comic book.
It must have been the Beano, or some other British comic like that. They had a readers' page, and you got £5 if they published your work.
I don't know now if it was seeing my work in print or the five pounds that was my incentive to send the poem off, let alone write one, but print it they did! I was so excited!
The poem was called “If You Go To Space.” (I still remember it now in all its "glory," and I do wonder if the Beano was scraping the barrel for things to print that week...)
Then, when we were living in Stuttgart, Germany, and I was in the sixth grade, I wrote a 34-page opus called “Adventure In Disneyland.” It's strange that I recall how many pages it was rather than what it was about.
My teacher was so impressed I had to go to all the other sixth grade classes and read it out.
God only knows what the other sixth graders thought of me. But I never got beaten up on the playground, thankfully.
SADYE: What has been the most surprising, rewarding, and challenging parts of your writing career?
GERALD: There's been nothing really challenging, and for that I'm grateful. So I'll talk about the most surprising and rewarding thing that's happened to me.
Back when my first book, An Embarrassment of Riches, came out, I was working as a waiter at the famous stand up club, the Comedy Cellar/Olive Tree Cafe in New York.
I had the launch party at their sister location around the corner, the Village Underground/Fat Black Pussycat.
Everyone from the Comedy Cellar — and I'm including the comedians here — was so supportive to me. It was a blast and a huge success.
And then, months later, I was working “on the floor” in my name tag and apron, and had just finished taking an order for a Mideastern combination platter from table 32, when who walked in but the comedian Colin Quinn, he of SNL, Trainwreck, and numerous one-man-Broadway-shows fame (and an author now in his own right).
I had heard somewhere that he was reading my book. When and how and why he got it, I don't know.
He stopped dead in his tracks when he saw me, and seemed to be struggling for something to say.
I was frozen with horror. Was my book really so awful?
He grabbed my arm, then dragged me through the cafe to the back, where the owner happened to be sitting.
“Do you know,” he said to Noam (the owner), “that your waiter has written a masterpiece?” I was as shocked as Noam.
And since then, Colin Quinn has been a staunch supporter of my career.
He's gladly helped me with all the readings at the launches for my other books, and always says in interviews that An Embarrassment of Riches is his second-favorite book ever (Confederacy of Dunces is his first), and that I'm his favorite “new” author.
It was indeed a welcome surprise, and his support and love of my work makes all the hours huddling over the keyboard worth it. Sometimes I still can't believe it.
A close second would be the agent who is pushing to get my books made into a TV series for a premium streaming service like Netflix or Amazon.
Who knows if this will happen, but even to be considered is a welcome surprise that I'm very grateful for.
SADYE: What has been the most touching or memorable piece of reader feedback you’ve received?
GERALD: There really is no “the most” or “the best,” as I've been so blessed with what seems like an army of readers my writing has clicked with and who have become fans.
There have been so many people who make my day by writing a glowing review, or sending me an email telling me how much they like my work.
And I love those who write wondering when my next book is coming out. It makes me write faster to please them.
But as touching as these reviews and emails are, I do hold a special place in my heart for those people who started out as readers and slowly but surely became friends.
I've never had the pleasure of meeting Barbara, Maddie, Deja, Kate, Joseph, Dawna, Janis or Marla in person, but without their support and love of my work, and, especially, their eagerness to read everything I write, I think I would still be struggling to get book three done (I'm now on book seven).
Maddie was the first, and she's been so helpful throughout the years, helping dry my tears when I get a one-star review (each of the five points of the one star are like an ice pick through my heart), and steering me in the right direction when a story or scene was taking the wrong path.
What I would do without her and the others, I don't know. Sadly, Deja passed away last year, and I notice his absence as I'm writing now.
What would he think of this, or that? I wonder as I write. Now I will never know.
It goes without saying, my upcoming book will be dedicated to his memory.
SADYE: What message or theme would you like readers to take away from your work?
GERALD: Thankfully, what I set out to do when I started my writing career seems to have been a success.
I hear time and again from readers who are grateful they've read my books because, before that, they were convinced they were trapped in the worst, most dysfunctional family in the world. But then they got one of my books and met the Floods and Barnetts.
My books have helped them realize that laughter really is the best medicine. No matter how bad your life is, no matter how crazy your family seems, maybe someone somewhere has it even worse.
I know now that my work is polarizing, but, fortunately, the readers who "get" me far outnumber those who don't.
I understand, perhaps, why some readers are less than enchanted. They hear “Ireland” and they want thatched cottages, rainbows and leprechauns. Those are nowhere to be found in my books.
(I even have one scene in a book where Fionnuala is washing dishes and an Enya song comes on the radio, and as she looks out the cracked and grimy kitchen window at her overgrown back garden, she realizes she can't see any of the magical Celtic Ireland Enya's music conjures up.)
Everywhere in the world has its romanticized version and its own harsh reality.
SADYE: What experience in your past or general aspect of your life has most affected your writing?
GERALD: One reader told me her husband rolls his eyes when he climbs into bed with her and sees she's reading one of my books.
He knows he won't get a good night's sleep, because she's going to keep him up all night with her laughter.
Others have told me about spitting up their coffee/tea/wine at an unfortunate time as they read a hilarious sentence.
One reader cursed me for making her late for work because she missed her stop on the subway, so engrossed was she in reading a book of mine.
Considering the joy my writing has given, it's nice to know that something good can come out of something bad.
The truth is, one painful experience in my family's past inspired my entire writing career. Maybe I missed a trick in not advertising my books as being inspired by true events.
It might surprise people to know that they actually are. I must stress here that they are inspired by, rather than based on.
Way back when, I had planned on writing a very different set of books. My mother suggested I write instead about what her relatives put her through when she and my dad won the Irish lottery and my parents didn't give them what they wanted.
I fictionalized everything, of course, and added some humor, and even created a scary lower-class neighborhood in Derry because, as the years since the Troubles have gone by, the city really has gotten nicer and nicer (and to my writer's mind, nice equals boring).
Now my mother can finally laugh at the antics of the fictional characters of the book and, more importantly, the situation, in a way she couldn't in real life.
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