Hartmann Interviewed

(1) Can you tell ZNet, please, what your new book, The Truth About Fire, is about? What is it trying to communicate?

The Truth About Fire is a political thriller about the Far Right in the U.S. and Germany. Set mainly in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the novel interlaces the stories of two women, Gillian Grace, a professor of modern German history and a political researcher, and Lucy Wirth, a Christian cult member, whose lives collide in the unfolding of a trans-Atlantic neo-Nazi terrorist plot.  I have written the book to be a good read but also to educate people on the dangers posed by the Far Right.

“Nails down right-wing movement milieus with sure hammer strokes of prose,” comments Chip Berlet, co-author, Right Wing Populism in America. The novel has also been described as “the progressive answer to The Turner Diaries,”  by Loretta Ross, National Center for Human Rights Education.

(2) Can you tell ZNet something about writing the book? Where does the content come from? What went into making thei book what it is?

I became interested in, and concerned about, the Far Right through my work in reproductive rights and immigrant rights, especially when a close colleague of mine was harassed by anti-abortion extremists.  

As I read more about the Far Right by political researchers, the idea of the novel began to form. I was also intrigued by a news story about the wife of a conservative Christian cult leader who had left him because of domestic abuse.  I thought it would be interesting to explore the sensibility of such a woman, counterpoised to that of a more intellectual and worldly professor who also has her share of family problems. 

I set the novel in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan because I have spent time there and it has an intriguing history; the German connection is the result of a trip I made to East Germany in 1998.

I wrote the book off and on over two years. Although I did some background research for it and had a loose plot outline, like in most novels, the characters began to take on a life of their own and lead me in unanticipated directions.

(3) What are your hopes for The Truth About Fire? What do you hope it will contribute or achieve, politically? Given the effort and aspirations you have for the book, what will you deem to be a success? What would leave you happy about the whole undertaking? What would leave you wondering if it was worth all the time and effort?

My hope is that the book will make people more aware of the concrete dangers posed by the Far Right and the increasing internationalization of neo-Nazi movements.  This is especially important given the right-wing policies of the Bush administration, which help create a climate of fear and loathing conducive to Far Right recruitment efforts and racial and ethnic scapegoating. In the public imagination terrorism has become linked almost exclusively to the Islamic world, while white American homegrown fascism is being ignored. For me the book’s success will be measured by how many people read it, learn from it, and above all, find it a compelling story with interesting and provocative characters. I certainly enjoyed the process of writing it, and am now thinking about doing another.  



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