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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: https://www.fearrington.com/events/dennis-hetzel/. The store’s phone is 919-542-3030. And I always invite people to check me out at www.dennishetzel.com 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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