Cold War Canoe Club Author Jeffery Hess Interviewed by James R. Duncan
Jim Duncan – It’s not really a question, but I’ve seen your stories referred to as Navy Noir.
Jeffery Hess – I try not to get hung up on labels, but that works for these stories. At least by my definition.
Duncan – And your definition is?
Hess – Dennis Lehane famously said, “Noir is working class tragedy.” The Navy is almost exclusively working class and ripe with tragedy. But above and beyond setting, tone, and mood, remind me to talk about setting in a moment, but in the meantime, the basic motivation for most of these stories’ protagonists is one of the three essential motivations that drive noir: choice, compulsion, or coercion.
Duncan – And the setting?
Hess – The setting is the Navy that people know or they think they know, and then some. I’m not saying I know much about anything, but in the sixty years represented (forty years of Cold War and the twenty years following) I filled in a lot of blanks with research, imagination, and my own experiences aboard the dark recesses of two different ships. My Navy experience had me traveling the Pacific, the Atlantic, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, and even the place where I began my love of the water, in the Gulf of Mexico. From Ft. Myers to Pascagoula, Pensacola, Mobile, Biloxi, New Orleans, Houston, I’ve got great memories about all those places along the Gulf. That’s the body of water that triggered my curiosity of what else was out there, of where the horizon met sky and soil. The only place to appreciate that was at sea.
Duncan – Aboard the oldest and newest ships in the fleet, if I recall from your bio.
Hess – That’s them. My first ship, the USS Proteus, which appears in a couple stories here, was one of the fleet’s oldest ships, while I was aboard. My second ship, the USS San Jacinto was the newest ship in the fleet while I was aboard (including pre-commissioning duty). That’s the ship in the title story. There are many other ships depicted, but those are my two. I used them and that era to inform the other ships and different time periods because at the heart of it, despite if swing music or metal music is playing on the stereo or if it’s a submarine or an aircraft carrier, all sailors want the same thing in their own, sometimes idiosyncratic, ways.
Duncan – Did you write while you were on active duty?
Hess – I wanted to be a writer then, had since my senior year of high school, but I thought that’s what people did when they got older. I had no way of knowing that an eighteen-year-old fireman’s apprentice had the right to write. The first book I planned to write when I got older was Shattered Expectations about a bitter young sailor who felt lied to. Instead of writing, I filled my downtime at sea reading.
Duncan – Is that when you started writing about your Navy experiences?
Hess – No. I wrote for seventeen years before I wrote my first Navy story.
Duncan – How can that be?
Hess – The fancy answer is that I was too close to it then to see the value in telling stories about it. But the truth is that I’d read a Tom Clancy book while I was on active duty and I figured he had the Navy market cornered. Instead, my writing drifted into variations of literary and then crime writing. I didn’t begin writing about the Navy until 2007. It seemed natural to combine it all.
Duncan – What happened in 2007?
Hess – I formed a writing workshop for military veterans that year. In advance of the first meeting, I sent a press release to the Tampa Tribune. A reporter called with interest in writing a piece about me and the workshop. In the twenty-minute interview, I mentioned that writing about the military wasn’t a requirement for the workshop. She asked if I wrote about my military experiences. When I said “no,” she asked why. I thought about Tom Clancy then, but that reason no longer seemed valid. Needless to say, I wrote dozens of Navy stories in the years that followed.
Duncan – Your novel, Beachhead featured a protagonist, Scotland Ross, who was a Navy man. Are any of these stories about him?
Hess – That’s a great question. And I appreciate you mentioning Beachhead. And, yes. One story does feature Scotland Ross. It could be considered a prequel to Beachhead, in a distant sort of way.
Duncan – He presumably brings a crime element with him.
Hess – Of course. But then again, most of these stories deal with, if not actual crime, then surely transgressions, largely based on elements of choice, compulsion, and coercion. Some on dry land, many at sea, many against enemies foreign as well as domestic.
Duncan – It sounds fascinating.
Hess – That’s good of you to say. I enjoyed writing each story. I hope readers enjoy the taste of that era and the people who lived it.
Duncan – What’s next for you? And where can people learn more?
Hess – Project wise, the Beachhead sequel will be out next year and I’m working on the third in the trilogy. A lot of people I know wish is was sooner, but I’m also working on two other projects, while running my workshop, and I’ve just been named to the board of the Milspeak Foundation, a non-profit organization that benefits veterans and their families. In the meantime, you can find me at jefferyhess.com, on Facebook and Twitter, or at DownAndOutBooks.com, and of course on Amazon, etc.
Duncan – That gives us even more to look forward to. Thank you so much for your time.
Hess – Thank you. I enjoyed it.