With the field of literature being as competitive as it is, it would be reasonable to assume the only ones who really make it are the writers who have dedicated their life to the craft. As it turns out though, life can take some unexpected turns; a writer can never really tell just how appealing their story will be to the public. Rafael Hines experienced this phenomenon first-hand when he was pushed to publish Bishop’s War ; despite believing it might not be good enough for the market, he watched as it netted hundreds of thousands of sales, turning into a sensation. In our interview with Hines, we delve a bit into his life prior to becoming an author as well as his present and future career as a writer.
Q) When and how did your love affair with literature first begin?
My mom gets all the credit for my life-long love affair with literature. I couldn’t wait for our nightly reading sessions when I was kid. She made every book come to life as if it were a living, breathing thing by changing her voice for each different character and acting out scenes. We read everything from Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Langston Hughes, James Fenimore Cooper and J.R.R. Tolkien to James Baldwin and countless others. It was pure magic for me.
Q) What prompted you to become a published author after two decades in the financial and energy sectors?
Once again, if it wasn’t for my mother it’s highly doubtful that I’d be a bestselling author or even a published at all.
I started writing in 2009 while I was travelling from New York to Houston for work and picked up a bestselling thriller at the airport. When I started reading on the plane I was so disappointed that I said to myself, If this is a bestseller, I know can write a novel. I’d never written anything other than emails before, but I fired up my laptop and stared at the screen for half an hour before I started typing.
The more I wrote the more I enjoyed it and I kept at it for the next few years as a late night hobby. Eventually the hero of my novels, John Bishop, and many other characters appeared in my Word doc and started talking… fortunately they haven’t shut up since and I often get a 3AM tap on the shoulder from one of them saying, “Get up, we’ve got something to say.”
Fast forward several years later and I had “finished” writing a 450 page novel, Bishop’s War. Keep in mind that my suspense-thriller writing heroes were, and still are, Elmore Leonard, John Sandford, Tom Clancy, Vince Flynn, James Lee Burke and Stephen Hunter (just to name a few) and I saw myself as a complete amateur playing far outside of their sandbox… Actually, I didn’t even see myself in the same playground.
So, the day I finished writing Bishop’s War I closed my writing laptop, stuck it in a drawer and started thinking about finding a new hobby. Mom wasn’t having it. She was battling a terminal illness at the time, and we’d reversed roles… I was reading aloud to her now and after revisiting some of the classics she’d read to me decades earlier she asked me to read Bishop’s War to her. When we finished she told me that I had no idea how good it was and that more people needed a chance to read it.
A month before she passed she made me promise that I’d post Bishop’s War on Amazon for her. After I self-published it I fully expected to sell 50 or 100 copies to family and friends and that would be that. Promise to mom, check. Bucket list of having a copy of a book I wrote on the shelf, check. Needless to say, all the success and the insane number of book sales has been beyond surreal and it’s all thanks to my mom, Margaret Mary Duncan.
Q) Do you believe your time spent working and accruing experience in those fields can somehow pay dividend for you as an author?
I think that all life and work experiences contribute to the work of any artist, but most of the personal experiences that I’ve built on in my writing and transformed into to fiction are based on events that took place in my youth.
Q) In more general terms, how much do you feel writers are influenced by their non-literary lines of work? Would you say it’s generally beneficial for aspiring writers to spend earlier years gaining worldly experience?
Absolutely. Worldly experience is very beneficial for everyone (not just writers!). New York’s Lower East Side was a rough and dangerous neighborhood when I was a kid and my block was the gathering point for all the gangsters, hustlers, gunman, cops, firemen and soldiers rotating back from Vietnam. They all hung out together at the bar on the corner and they were all amazing story tellers. My friends and I would kind of float around them, watching, listening and taking it all in, and decades later when I started writing I could hear their voices speaking to me.
Q) The authors you list as having inspired your writing career include Elmore Leonard, John Sandford, Stephen Hunter, James Lee Burke and Tom Clancy. What exactly drew you to these authors? What did you find remarkable and inspiring about their works?
Besides being great story tellers all of them paint scenes so masterfully that it’s better than watching a film (that’s why every one of them has multiple novels that have been made into movies). More importantly, it’s their characters and dialog that ring true to me.
Q) Your first book, Bishop’s War, has received a tremendous number of accolades upon being published. Did its general reception surprise you in any way? What was your prognosis for its success?
Yes, what happened after I self-published took me completely by surprise. As I mentioned, I thought I was going to sell a few copies to friends and family and that would be that. What’s happened since has been beyond surreal and I’m humbled and amazed by the number of book sales, reviews and awards Bishop’s War has received. I’ll add that the many thousands of personal messages I’ve received from Military veterans, active duty and deployed men and women (and civilians!) has profoundly impacted my life and my writing. I’m truly honored and forever grateful for this completely unexpected outpouring of support from readers all over the world.
Q) Were there any notable difficulties to overcome in the writing and publishing processes?
The biggest challenge for me was and still is time. With a demanding full-time job, kids and life outside of work, finding time to write is a constant struggle for me.
Q) What pushed you to venture into the non-stop action-thriller genre before anything else? Do you have a particular admiration or fascination with any books or authors in this genre?
My favorite reading genres are action-thrillers, military thrillers, gritty crime dramas and historical fiction so it was a natural fit for me when I started writing.
Q) Without beating around the bush, you were one of the many witnesses to the 9/11 attacks which scarred countless people. As an author, do you believe this event had any impact on your literary abilities, tendencies and/or aspirations?
Yes, 9/11 definitely impacted my life and my writing. I didn’t have an outline or any clear vision of where the book was going, but as the characters emerged and the scenes began to take shape I could feel it moving steadily towards a Military-War on Terror themed thriller.
Q) When writing a novel inspiration comes from a whole lot of places, real life experiences generally being the primary one. How much would you say your own life experiences have colored this book? Were there any events which were directly transposed from your own background?
Yes, when I first started writing, before I actually knew what I was going to write about, I basically wrote down page after page of the crazy events that happened to me and my friends growing up during wild west days of New York’s Lower East Side. Once the book started taking shape I eventually had to cut out a lot of those scenes in order to keep the story flowing, but whenever my main characters are having LES flashbacks more often than not it’s from a moment in my life.
Q) The main characters in your novel were complex and well-developed. Were they inspired by people you know in the real world? If so, could you elaborate on it? And if not, how exactly does the process of coming up with entirely original characters work?
Some of the characters in my novel are loosely based on people I grew up with, but the majority of them simply showed up. To me that’s far and away the best part of writing. When every now and then it becomes pure magic. Characters appear out of nowhere and start talking and I’m frantically trying to keep up, typing away as the story pours out and I’m just along for the ride with no idea of where it’s going or what’s going to happen next.
I wish I could say it was all premeditated, well planned and outlined, but that’s not how I write. I kind of fumble around for months, writing whenever I can find the time and then boom, there’s this electrifying moment when it feels like it’s not me typing anymore. The characters and the story just take over and I don’t get up from the desk until it fades. The longest stretch so far has been 14 hours non-stop and besides the hand cramps and back aches I was completely drained for several days afterwards. Who knew you’d need Advil and ice after writing? 😊
Q) Would you ever consider writing a work of non-fiction? If so, what topic would you center it on?
It’s definitely something I’ve thought about. I don’t think I’m vain enough to write an autobiography about my own life growing up in LES, but I would love to tell my father’s story one day.
My Dad, John Hines, grew up barefoot on the streets of Panama (and then later in the mountains of Jamaica) and got his first pair of shoes when he was eighteen. With his new shoes and big dreams he applied to NYU, won a full scholarship and made his way to America. He went on to become a civil rights activist, a teacher, an actor, author, playwright, publisher and developed the Teaching Reading Through Drama program for the Board of Education for at risk inner city youth. His story is one that needs to be told and when I finish book 3 in the Bishop series I’m going to start writing it.
Q) What can we expect from your next project? Will you continue the Bishop series or venture towards new horizons
Yes, I’m currently writing Bishop’s Law, book 2 in the Bishop series, and my target date for the release is March 1, 2019 (Mom’s birthday 😊)
Thank you for the inviting me to talk about this wonderful writing journey and thank you for all the support you’re giving to so many self-published authors who are eager to share their stories with the world.
Rafael Amadeus Hines has recently been added to the list of the World’s Top 200 Most Influential Authors https://richtopia.com/inspirational-people/top-200-authors and in addition to becoming an Amazon International Bestseller, Bishop’s War is
- a 2018 Pinnacle Book Achievement Award Winner
- an IPPY (Independent Publisher) 2017 Suspense-Thriller Award Winner,
- New Apple Literary 2017 Award Winner for Best New Fiction,
- the New Apple Literary 2017 Suspense-Thriller Solo Medalist,
- a 2017 Global Ebook Suspense Award Winner,
- 2018 Book Excellence Gold Medal Winner,
- IAN 2017 Book of the Year,
- 2017 International Book Award Finalist,
- 2018 Next Generation Indie Awards Finalist,
- and was the Book Viral 2016 Millennium Book of the Year.
Rafael Amadeus Hines is a writer and a native New Yorker and his first novel, titled Bishop’s War, was largely inspired by the people he grew up with over the years. Before becoming an author, Rafael has made a career for himself in the financial and energy markets for over two decades. Having witnessed the Twin Towers crashing first-hand alongside with his office, Hines has often been enthralled by the idea of a lone hero stopping the attack, a theme which might very well recur in his future writings.