My guest today is Hans Hirschi, who is currently dipping his toe into the choppy waters of published fiction for the first time. I hope it turns out to be clear and sweet and the perfect temperature rather than murky and filled with eels! His first two novels were published this month so please join me in helping him to celebrate.
Elin : Can you tell me a little about yourself? For instance, do you have to have a day job as well as being a writer?
Hans : I’m currently enjoying a few months of paternity leave, taking care of our son who was born in March. I have a small consultancy firm and will be starting to work again in fall, but I’ll also keep writing. I don’t think I could just sit cooped up in my office, writing for a living. I need the social interaction, and I doubt that book signings would do…
What else is interesting to know about me? I’m rapidly approaching middle-age, refusing to acknowledge so. I enjoy traveling, meeting people and being a stereotype Gemini. I enjoy listening to music, good (vegetarian) food and new world wines.
I studied languages all my life, twelve all in all, making English my seventh one. Yet for some odd reason, I feel most comfortable expressing myself creatively in English, more so than in my mother tongue Allemanic (a language with no written grammar, forcing us to use German instead, which just doesn’t work for me), or Swedish, language number nine and the one I use daily in my life here in Gothenburg. Maybe it’s all the traveling I did, working for global companies, or the fact that over one million words make it the perfect writing tool?
I grew up in a small mountain village near the skiing resort of St. Moritz in Switzerland. I was bullied all through my years of school. At home, I’d often retreat into my imaginary world, writing stories, playing the Flash rescuing the world with my brother the Batman… That imagination helped me survive my childhood and youth, before the needs of corporate life and university studies drove the imagination into the back of my head for a good twenty years.
Had it not been for a job not working out last fall and three months of ‘unemployment’ before going on paternity leave, I may have never rekindled my love for writing. That and the purchase of my iPad mini last fall, which is always loaded with a new book to read.
Elin : When you aren’t writing, is there any other creative activity you enjoy? Have you ever written about it?
Hans :My husband and I have season tickets to our local opera house. Since it is a small city, our opera also hosts dance productions and musicals, so we get a great assortment of different productions every year. We’ve done that for a long time. We also love going to the theater catching a good flick, although that’s become a bit more challenging since Sascha’s (our son) birth. And we both love to travel. Have I said that? Yeah, we love to travel… That is, at least in my mind, most creative in terms of what it does to your heart and mind…
I also read again. As I mentioned, I bought the small iPad last fall, enabling me to read comfortably with one hand, and that has really changed things for me (and bloated my credit card invoice), as I read them by the dozen these days…
Elin : Can you name any author/authors, past or present, who have been a great influence on your work?
Hans :There are quite a few actually. I could start with J.D. Salinger whose “Catcher in the Rye” was one of my first ‘wow’ moments as a youth in High School. I also immensely enjoy Christopher Isherwood, Thomas Mann and many other authors that have brought gay characters to life. Sadly, at the time, it was rarely in a positive or happy way, which is something that is important to me. I just can’t bring myself to write a book that doesn’t end on at least a hopeful note. Death in Venice, or Isherwood’s books on “Christopher and his kind” or “A single man” are not really helpful for a young gay man coming out…
I also love Franz Kafka for making horror and despair sound so beautiful. It’s something you need to be able to do, even if it’s only for a few pages, to increase the drama in your story. I’d never be able to be as dark and hopeless as Kafka, but he’s a great inspiration.
I’ve also been enjoying to read about countries we travel to and as a major in literature, I’ve literally read the entire canon of major global literary works, sadly turning me off reading for many years. You try reading James Joyce’s Ulysses and Cervantes’ Don Quixote in one week along with ten other novels and see where that leaves you…
Elin : What are you reading? Something to be clutched to the bosom or tossed aside with force? Fiction or non-fiction?
Hans : I “hate” non-fiction (says I who wrote two great non-fiction books), but in my spare time I prefer to immerse myself into a great story that captures my imagination. If it makes me turn pages with anticipation, all the better (which is not necessarily the case with Kafka, where you turn pages with dread…)
Elin : Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Hans : Pantser, although I can’t take credit for it. I get an image in my head that I start to write about. In my first book it was the image of a hole in a grave yard (I buried my grandma last year, and that image kind of stuck to my retina). The second book started with the image of a man taking a walk along a lake, and I was wondering why. When there was a knock on the door, I realized that the short story would quickly turn into a novel with lots of drama, as there was much to learn about the person knocking on the door… In both books, I literally had no idea how it would end. I vividly remember being about halfway through book number two wondering if the two main characters would make it or not. One even died for a while in the process… (But you’ll have to read the book to get the full story)
Elin : Do your characters arrive fully fledged and ready to fly or do they develop as you work with them?
Hans : I had to ask my brain about that one… Tough question. They develop as the words pour onto the pages. Some of them are very sketchy to the end, some become life-like personas with pros and cons just like you and I, and sometimes a character that’s been portrayed as being e.g. a villain, becomes more lovable as new information becomes available. I do steer the process consciously in my re-writes, e.g. removing names to specifically make someone less personable or adding more background information. My beta readers often come back with valuable input in that regard.
Elin : Do you find there to be a lot of structural differences between a relationship driven story and one where the romance, if any, is a sub plot?
Hans : I don’t know if I have a good answer to that. The two books I’ve written so far are both kind of relationship novels, both including romance in some shape or form. One book is condensed into 24 hours, the other stretches over several months. That in itself has a huge impact on the writing style and the structure of the story. My 24 hour book requires a lot of looking back, remembering instead, which is very different from being able to allow the story to unfold forward.
In my third book, which I’m working on right now, as my parenting duties allow me to, I’m experimenting again with something else, almost a diary style, yet not. Also, which is new for me, I know how this story is going to end, I have the main plot all ready. The reason why it’s not pouring out as I write is that now that my son is born, I don’t get to spend all day writing. However, that doesn’t keep my brain from pouring out stuff and all I can do at this stage is annotate and take the odd opportunity to actually write a few pages here and there. In those instances, writing the itty gritty stuff, my brain still manages to surprise me in the details of things.
Elin : Antagonists are incredibly important in fiction since they challenge the main protagonists and give them something to contend with beyond the tension of a developing relationship. What sort of villains do you prize? A moustache-twirling nightmare or … ?
Hans : LOL My books so far are mostly about our inner growth, although I’d have to say that the ‘villain’ in Jonathan’s Hope is quite a character. I guess, given my personal beliefs about why we act evil (I don’t believe in anyone being born evil), there is hope for everybody to redeem hirself, that is also true for my villains.
But I don’t think that books need villains to be interesting. Sometimes life has enough drama to last for a long time. Having said that, there are sometimes things happening to us, by people we barely know, odd encounters, that have a huge impact on our lives. My villains are often such chance encounters, not much more than a foot note.
Elin : What are you working on at the moment? Can you discuss it or do you prefer to keep it a secret until it’s finished.
Hans : The book I’m working on right now is about a man who loses virtually everything and then has to rebuild his life from scratch. I’m exploring parenthood, the differences (if any) between genetic and emotional parenthood, and using a magnifying glass to point to some of the less fortunate people in society. My books are all LGBT themed, and there is plenty of material to work with…
Elin : Could we please have an excerpt of something?
Yes, in fact here are two somethings
Dan lost track of time, his mind wandering back to all
the memories he’d shared with Sean. The laughter, the
midnight swims in the lake in the summer, waking up next to
him in the morning, Sean’s cooking.
One year, and I miss you so terribly…
He had really stopped living then. Without Sean, his life
was meaningless, empty. Not even Rascal could cheer him
up, despite his daily attempts, despite sleeping on the bed
every night, right were Sean would have slept… Dan knew the
dog meant well, as limited as his intellect was, guided by his
Who knows, if it not for Rascal, then… He didn’t finish
the thought, although he thought about it often enough in the
months after Sean’s funeral. In the end, he couldn’t go
through with it. Not just because of the dog, but he couldn’t
do it for Sean. His lover had been such a firm believer in life,
in taking chances, in making the most of every single
opportunity, just as he had with him.
Sean met him at a gay bar back in the city, noticing Dan
the second he walked through the doors. Not hesitating for a
moment, Sean walked over and introduced himself with the
corniest pickup line in the history of gay dating: “Hey
handsome, where have you been all my life?” Sean flashed a
smile that could’ve melted steel, stretching out his hand for a
They disappeared into a small bubble, talking, drinking
beer, talking, slowly moving closer. Eventually, Sean’s hand
found its way onto Dan’s thigh, resting there comfortably, as
if it belonged there.
They did take it slow, dating for almost a year before
Sean moved into Dan’s large condo in the city’s central
business district. Dan was a successful journalist who’d won
several awards for his writing, while Sean was taking his stab
at life a tad more casually. He was studying to become a
lawyer, working as a paralegal, making enough money to pay
bills, but spending every free minute at the beach or in the
forest, fishing, hunting, surfing, and enjoying life to the
fullest. Dan had never met a guy with such a huge appetite for
life, and a large circle of friends that shared the same
passions. Dan was immediately intimidated by the group, but
Sean always made him feel welcomed.
Dan was an introvert, shying away from social
interaction that wasn’t absolutely necessary. He often felt at
odds with the world, happy only when he had his head buried
in his writing, analyzing a project or taking long walks in
solitude. He’d often wondered why Sean sought him out, the
loner in the back of the bar, mulling quietly over his beer.
But he did and it had been the best years of his life.
He didn’t hear the footsteps outside the house, he was
too deep in his own thoughts. He didn’t even hear the first
cautious knocks on the door, timid, trepidatious.
Rascal heard, jumping up from his place by the fire,
trotting over to the door, barking.
“What’s the matter, boy?” Dan wondered, looking
toward the door. Another knock, more barking, and Rascal’s
tail wagging as if an old friend was waiting on the other side.
“Coming…” Dan hollered across the room towards
whoever was waiting outside in the cold.
Why would anyone venture out there in the middle of
Dan was unnerved. This was not the night to intrude
upon his solitude, his grief, his memories of the one love he’d
been robbed of, the only love he’d ever had. No, tonight was
not a good night at all.
He walked across the small room to the door, and
opened it just enough to peer out and check on his visitor.
Outside in the cold, stood a young man. Just a boy really,
dressed in what looked like rags, too large to fit his lanky and
thin frame, his blond hair a mess. No beanie, no cap, nothing
to protect his head, no gloves.
The poor guy must be freezing!
IT WAS ABOUT three feet deep and not more than one
foot in diameter. To one side, there was a pile of earth
and grass that once had filled it.
In a few hours, Sascha would lay his mother to rest in it,
in a small nondescript urn that he and his brother Mike had
agreed upon. While their mom was Catholic, Sascha had long
ago lost all faith, if he ever had any.
Not that he wasn’t a spiritual person, but organized
religion had never done him any good, quite the contrary.
The service for their mom would be a religious one. He had
lost that battle and didn’t really care. The minister they chose
was not Catholic. The priest had refused to bury a woman
who had chosen to marry a Protestant. She had in effect been
a whore in the eyes of the church, having given birth to two
bastards, i.e. children who had never been baptized. When
she died without remorse, without receiving her last
sacrament, the priest closed that final door to Catholic
Sascha knew it wouldn’t matter. He had no illusions of
any afterlife where she would be beautiful again, not ravaged
by the sickness that had erased life and all her memories from
her, reunited with her husband, who had passed away a few
Looking into the hole again, he couldn’t help it any
longer. Tears welled up inside him, and he shivered all over.
He fell to his knees and nearly tripped into the hole.
Sascha would have preferred to take the urn back to
Singapore, where he lived, and spread the ashes at sea, but
again, he caved in to the pressures and expectations of
society, of his family. After all, his mother deserved to be laid
to rest next to her husband, his aunt had said. So it was
His father had passed away unexpectedly just a few days
after Sascha and Dan had visited them. Doctors said his heart
attack was probably due to overexertion. He had been
looking after their mother for a few years, making sure she
could stay at home with him, despite the Alzheimer’s. Her
constant paranoia, forgetting everything, from keys to
jewelry, had taken a toll on Sascha’s father. When Sascha got
the call from his mom, he had been shocked. That was nearly
four years ago. He had been way past it, yet kneeling here,
over the hole that was to be his mother’s grave, it all came
back to him, as if it were yesterday. The grief took hold of
him, shook him. Tears flowed freely down his cheeks.
Sascha was still on his knees, in his own world, when
Dan approached him from behind: “You okay? We need to
Sascha turned around, momentarily pulled from his
sorrow, to see his husband standing there, looking down at
him. At thirty-six, Dan was still quite a sight, tall, towering
over six-foot five, lean and muscular, with a full head of
blond hair that almost reached his shoulders. Just then,
though, his expression was worried.
“Hon, the kids are waiting at the house, everyone is
getting ready for the service, and Mike is getting anxious
about starting things. You know what your brother is like.”
Dan paused mid-sentence to let the point he was tryin
to make sink in. “Come on, I’m right here, and I won’t leave
you alone in this.”
With his last words, he approached Sascha and helped
him get up from the ground. Dan pulled him close to him,
put an arm around his waist, and started to lead him to the
exit of the cemetery. Sascha leaned against his husband,
taking strength from him, knowing that he would get
through this day, despite Mike, despite their waiting family.
He had to be strong, and he couldn’t let his kids down. Not
on a day like this.
Thanks, Hans, so much for being a good sport and answering my questions. Also, the very best of luck with your two new releases.