Ch@T: Dennis Hetzel discusses new novel, which involves Nazis, UFOs and a mysterious abduction

Author’s new book has it all. He’ll discuss the novel at McIntyre’s event on Oct. 2

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Dennis Hetzel is a media consultant, freelance journalist and author of the new book “Azalea Bluff,” a novel which involves Nazis, UFOs, a missing reporter and more. This week, the News + Record talks with Hetzel about his book. He’ll appear at an author event at McIntyre’s Books in Fearrington in Pittsboro on Oct. 2.

Before becoming a novelist, Hetzel worked as a reporter, editor, publisher, college journalism professor, trade association executive and lobbyist recognized nationally for his work on First Amendment issues. A Chicago native, he now lives in Holden Beach. His firm, Fresh Angle Communications, provides a variety of writing, editing and government relations consulting services. He has a degree in political science and a minor in journalism from Western Illinois University, where he met his wife, Cheryl, a school psychologist and guidance counselor.

You’ve said this book traces its lineage to Ed Galloway and an “old time” radio drama he wrote and produced. For those who don’t know Ed, share a little about him and how his radio story inspired you to write “Azalea Bluff.”

I met Ed at my publisher’s booth at the big annual holiday show in Charlotte a few years ago. I could tell that he was a “radio guy” from his deep voice. He told me about his hobby as a UFO buff and how he had created an old-school radio drama that he was selling on two CDs about a journalist who disappears after investigating a strange object that lands on a golf course. Then he added that he had always wanted to find an author who could turn “Incident in Mint Hill” into a full-fledged novel.

I later learned that Ed had quite a remarkable reputation in the broadcasting world. I’m sure people in Chatham County have heard his voice on syndicated shows, commercials or on the Discovery Channel.

It helped that I love great sci-fi. I left the bones of Ed’s story intact, but made quite a few changes as I fleshed out his script with additional research. For example, I moved the setting from the Charlotte suburbs to a Carolina beach town, and my main character, Olivia Claven, is a struggling millennial instead of a nearly-retired journalist. Ed was great about supporting my ideas.

The sad epilogue is that Ed passed away from a heart attack just as I completed the first draft. His widow, Carolyn, quickly agreed that we wanted to complete the project, which now serves as a great tribute to Ed.

As readers, we’re used to assigning genres to books and asking (or telling), “What is the book about?” This book transcends genres, though … so how do you describe it for potential readers?

The truth is that while I like the challenge of writing thrillers with intriguing plots, what I really love is creating interesting, believable and memorable characters — even when I’m not doing it consciously.

Beyond all the intrigue about Nazis, UFOs and more in “Azalea Bluff,” it’s also what I hope readers will recognize as an intimate, all-too human story about the bonds between a father and his daughter, particularly as Olivia’s dad, Jim Claven, is forced out of his comfortable self-absorption to start what turns into a relentless search for answers about Olivia’s disappearance. My daughter Lindsay is about the same age as Olivia Claven. I thought about Lindsay a lot, and asked her advice at times, to help me bring Olivia to life. I get a lot of comments from readers about how much my characters connect with them, and that’s a huge compliment.

There’s been a heightened interest in UFOs in recent years, particularly in the national press. What’s been your interest, and — what do you say to someone who asks whether it’s a “UFO book”? Because it’s so much more, right?

I make no claim to being an expert on UFO incidents and secret Nazi research, but I learned a lot. I think readers will be as fascinated as I was to realize how much the general public still doesn’t know about that topic as well as what the Nazi scientists knew and studied.

Ed Galloway was all-in. As much as I love sci-fi, and as much as I’ve always been fascinated by UFOs, I was skeptical about the facts he said underpinned his original drama. Well, the more research I did, the more I realized Ed was onto something.

If you want to get a hint about some of the fact-based incidents that are part of “Azalea Bluff,” type “Kecksburg, Pennsylvania” or “Hans Kammler” into your Google search bar. Kecksburg was the source of a fascinating UFO incident; Kammler was a key Nazi leader who probably knew all there was to know about their most-secret research.

You’re a Chicago boy who spent a lot of time in Pennsylvania and now lives in North Carolina. How did your familiarity with Brunswick County help shape the book?

It always helps to know your settings. Plus, I thought it would just be more fun to have the setting in a beach town instead of a suburb. “Azalea Bluff” is a fictional town that I plopped into some real-life Brunswick County locations.

Although my wife’s family has lived in North Carolina since the 1970s and we’ve been going to Holden Beach for years, we’re not native Southerners, so I was conscious of being respectful of how much Southerners love and appreciate their literature — and also love and appreciate their beach towns. I hope people feel that the book deserves a spot on a shelf of good Southern fiction.

You’ll make an appearance at McIntyre’s on Oct. 2. Tell us about this appearance and how people can get more information…

My event is Oct. 2 from 2-3 p.m. at the store in lovely Fearrington Village. The capacity is limited and ticketed due in part to COVID. The $5 cost can be applied to the cost of my book, which I’ll be happy to sign and personalize.

To pre-register, just go to this link: The store’s phone is 919-542-3030. And I always invite people to check me out at or my social media pages.

In these weird times, I hope people appreciate the importance of having a great bookstore, and great libraries, near where they live. McIntyre’s is a local treasure.


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