Author Spotlight- James R. Hannibal

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I’m so excited for the opportunity to introduce you to James Hannibal. Not only is he at the top of my list of favorite authors, but he’s been a major blessing to me since I met him at the ACFW Conference in September. He’s got a heart to help put an end to the exploitation of children, and Compassion International plays a part in his newest release, Chasing the White Lion. Be sure to read to the end to learn more about this organization that brings hope to at-risk children around the world and how you can make a positive difference in the life of a child.

His stories are on-the-edge-of-your-seat suspenseful from start to finish, his characters will stick with you long after you read the last page, and the positive messages he includes are both challenging and uplifting. If you haven’t read his work yet, you’re missing out. In the words of Donald Trump, ‘Everyone knows it, and everyone agrees.’ He took the time to answer some of my most burning questions, and I’m looking forward to sharing them with each of you.

1. Your characters—among everything else—really make your books unforgettable. What is your process for creating such diverse and relatable characters?

My characters almost always start as people in my life, at least the good guys. Maybe that’s why I struggle with the bad guys. I don’t want to see people I know in that light. In one way or another, I have personal relationships with my cast of good guys, even when one character is an amalgam of several people, because I have personal relationships with the people who inspire them. The closest I’ve come to doing this with a bad guy was to use a horrible person I’d been studying in the intelligence world. I’d studied him so much that I felt like I knew him, and he inspired the villain in Shadow Catcher. Unfortunately, I wound up making the guy so close to the real villain that I got myself in trouble with the Chinese government.

2. If you had the opportunity to live anywhere in the world for a year while writing a book that took place in that same setting, where would you choose?

Tough question. I’ve done this with London (sort of). I was flying a regular route to London as an airline pilot while working on the Section 13 books. They’re about a secret society on Baker Street. I spent anywhere from five to ten days a month in the city during that time.

I’m about to kick off a fantasy series set in a well-established world. I’d love to spend a year as a guardian at the labyrinthine castle of Lightraider Academy, nestled high in the Celestial Peaks and warmed against the long months of snow by a thermal spring. To get close to this fantasy setting, I’d need to arrange a stay at Hochosterwitz Castle in southern Austria. Anyone who wishes to support this effort, please send donations.

The Gryphon Heist by [James R. Hannibal]
One of my top 10 reads of 2019

3. What was your favorite childhood book?

Hands down, my favorite book as a child was the Horse and His Boy from The Chronicles of Narnia. I recently learned from author and C.S. Lewis expert Matt Mikalatos that this story is a stylistic departure from the rest of the series. The Horse and His Boy is a plot-driven, boyhood adventure story, while the others have more fable-like styles. This is likely why it appealed to me more than the others as kid.

4. Have you visited any of the locations in Chasing the White Lion?

Washington D.C. was a second home for a while, and I did some time in Eastern Europe. I’ve never been to the Greek Isles, Russia, or Thailand. I created the Greek Isles scenes from pure research. For the other two, I have former “business associates” who helped me out

5. Who was your favorite character to write and why?

I have a lot of fun with Finn. We share a daredevil spirit. Sometimes I use Finn to relive the glory days of my youth. At other times, thanks to Finn, I find myself begging my wife to let try something I’ve never done and definitely shouldn’t.

“Honey, this is necessary research,” I always say.

“No,” she always replies. “No it’s not.”

Chasing the White Lion by [James R. Hannibal]
So far, my top read for 2020

6. How long on average does it take you to write a book?

I like to have nine months. One month to plan, seven months to write, and one month to revise.

7. Do you hide secrets/inside jokes in your books that only a few people will find?

I can neither confirm nor deny. I will say The Fourth Ruby has a scene that has special meaning to U.S. Air Force Academy graduates. The Nick Baron series also includes decipherable codes for serious code aficionados. The acknowledgements include a hidden message that require old-school code-breaking knowledge, and the text of each book holds the clues.

Shadow Maker (Nick Baron Series Book 2) by [James R. Hannibal]
At the top of my TBR pile

8. What do you hope your readers will take away from Chasing the White Lion?

I hope readers see two things from Chasing the White Lion. First, through Valkyrie, I hope they see how we con ourselves. We sell ourselves lies that might hold us back in our relationship with Christ or hold us back from having a relationship with Him at all. Second, through Compassion International’s role in the story, I hope readers see the value of sponsoring a child in need. Compassion is a real organization, and the hope and sense of identity they bring to families and children around the globe helps slam the door on human trafficking.

9. Who is your favorite author?

C.S. Lewis is my favorite, with Clive Cussler’s later work coming in a close second. Clive is the undisputed master of adventure, and he realized later in his career that he didn’t need the foul language or other stuff to make his stories exciting. Taking that stuff out made them so much more readable.

10. Compassion International played a part in Chasing the White Lion, made me want to sponsor all the children. How did that partnership come about and how did it impact the development of the book?

I’ve been partnering with Compassion for a while. It’s a passion for my whole family. When I realized I wanted to make human trafficking a subject matter in the book, I went to the people who I trust most regarding child dignity. Compassion deals with hard topics in the real world, including child poverty and human trafficking. They manage to do this while respecting the dignity and likeness of Christ of these kids. I knew I needed their help to do the same. In talking it out with my contacts there, I realized I needed to write many scenes we’d normally see from the villain’s perspective from a kidnapped child’s perspective instead. I’m so glad it’s been effective. Since the start, a portion of every book sold has gone to Compassion’s work. Now, even better, if one of your readers chooses to sponsor a child through Compassion.com, they can send their initial receipt to me at jamesrhannibal.com, and I will send them a free signed copy of the book as a gift of thanks.

Shadow Catcher (Nick Baron Series Book 1) by [James R. Hannibal]

If you’d like to consider sponsoring a child through Compassion International, here is the link to their website: https://www.compassion.com/sponsor_a_child/?referer=603603 It’s a great cause, and not only will you have a positive impact in a child’s life, but you’ll get a signed copy of Chasing the White Lion. It’s a win-win!

I’m giving away a copy of The Gryphon Heist and Chasing the White Lion to one lucky winner on May 8th. Please comment below with your email address for an entry into the drawing. Feel free to share this post with anyone you know that loves free books and has a heart for children at risk of being sold into human trafficking.

The Horror Hotel

H.H. Holmes and his Chicago hotel

Close your eyes. WAIT! Forget I said that. If your eyes are closed, you won’t be able to keep reading. So, imagine the Chicago World’s Fair with your eyes wide open. The year is 1893. You’re looking forward to all the brand new sights and sounds at what is being called the Columbian Exhibition. Patriotism swells in your chest as you hear the Pledge of Allegiance recited for the first time by a group of school children. Your taste buds nearly explode as you sample Juicy Fruit gum, Vienna sausages, and Aunt Jemima pancake mix. Okay, so if you’re anything like me, your digestive system will explode after eating a Vienna sausage, but despite the fact that those questionable cylinders are nothing more than mystery meat, they’re still a novelty. And you’re the first person in your neighborhood to get a serious bout of Montezuma’s Revenge from the sodium-laden weenies. Check you out!

Something about Chicago resonated with you the day you arrived, and you gave up your room at the Sauganash Hotel and opted for a long term rental at a new building owned by H.H. Holmes. You’ll search for a job eventually. After all, you’re a responsible adult, but for now, why not enjoy the once-in-a-lifetime experience of the World’s Fair?

After a long day of sensory overload, you want nothing more than to crawl between the cool sheets of your hotel room bed and catch a solid seven to nine hours like the doctor recommends. You take the steps to your room, but when you reach to top, you freeze. A dead end. Something is not right with this picture. Stairs are supposed to lead somewhere. Or maybe you’re already in bed. Already dreaming. You pinch the flesh on your arm. Hard. No you’re definitely awake. A purple welt is rising on your arm to prove it. Have you fallen through the looking glass?

An artist’s rendition of the interior of the Holmes Mansion, showing the staircases with no destination, the basement used for surgical experiments, and the gas chambers.

Unease prickles your skin. No, something is incredibly wrong. You descend the steps two at a time and run down the hall on your left, stomach twisting. Those little sausages won’t stay down much longer. The muscles between your shoulder blades knot and snarl. This has to be a dream. You pinch yourself again, hoping to wake up. Nope. Still in the creepy hallway. By this time, your breathing is ragged. There has to be a way out of here. Where is everyone? If only you could someone for directions out of this waking nightmare. But it’s too quiet. Like a crypt.

Numbers on the doors farther down the hall grab your attention. You take a step closer. ‘205.’ Slowly, your muscles untangle, and you pull your room key from your pocket. Your room number, ‘213,’ is stamped on the smooth brass. A breath you didn’t realize you were holding gushes from your lungs. Exhaustion has always had the habit of playing tricks on your brain.

You find your room, unlock the door, and open your carpetbag. Time for jammy-jams and dreamland. Once you dress for bed, you slip between the sheets. Your feet have been trapped in shoes and stockings all day, and the linen feels cold against your tired, swollen toes. Ahhh. You chuckle to yourself. How could you get so worked up just trying to find your room. What a ninny.

Maze-like floor plan of the hotel.

A low, metallic click echoes from the pipes in the wall. Maybe between now and the next World’s Fair some inventor will find a way to keep pipes from knocking. Wouldn’t that be nice? You sink deeper into the mattress, and the springs squeak. Wait a minute. Your eyelids snap open. That smell. You sniff the air, and terror’s cold, wart-covered hand sinks it’s fingernails into your chest. Gas. You try holding your breath, but the unmistakable fumes curl up your nostrils. You yank on the door knob, but it doesn’t budge. This can NOT be happening.

The window.

You run to the far wall and pull up on the sash, but your finger catches on a jagged nail poking through the wood frame.

Trapped. You ignore the pulse in your finger and run to the door.

If you don’t get out of here soon– No. Can’t let your mind go there. You bang on the door, but the silence that answers you leaves a two ton weight on your chest. Or is that feeling a by-product of the gas? As many visitors have flooded the White City for the Exhibition, surely, the room next to yours is occupied. You pound your fist on the wall and scream for help, but your cries end in an oxygen deprived gasp.

Nothing.

Black specks crawl at the corners of your vision, and a strange sense of calm wraps you in a warm blanket. The shadows cast on the wall by streetlights and the lace curtains fade. Everything goes black.

Investigators discovered the remains of animals as well as human in the Horror Hotel. One corpse belonged to a child who couldn’t have been more than seven years old.

When investigators searched what had become known at the ‘Murder Castle,’ what they discovered would chill the blood in their veins. A trap door in the bathroom floor of Holmes’ private apartment lead to a chute that was used for a little more than laundry, if you catch my drift. One room was lined with gas fixtures. (Who knows. Holmes could have inspired some of Adolf Hitler’s grisly methods.) The walls were lined with metal to kill any sounds originating from inside the deadly chambers.

It wasn’t until officers descended into the basement that the full impact of Holmes’ dirty deeds manifested.

Crematory

An operating table, bloody clothes, various surgical tools, homemade torture devices, and a crematory.

H.H. Holmes had attended medical school and developed an unsettling fascination with dead bodies. While studying in Michigan, he stole cadavers from the laboratory and took out insurance policies on the people whose bodies he purloined. Then, Holmes would burn or mutilate the bodies and plant them for police to find. Talk about a morbid insurance fraud tactic, but it worked. Though he settled in Chicago as a pharmacist (several of his customers died after taking pills he dispensed, btw), his curiosity for more . . . involved ‘medical’ procedures never waned.

After incapacitating his victims in the gas chamber or with the more hands-on method of holding a chloroform soaked rag over their faces, he’d dump them down the chute and dissected them in his basement research lab. Curiosity sated, he sold his victims’ organs on the black market and their skeletons to medical institutions.

It is estimated that he killed 200 people in his horror hotel between 1892 and 1894, but that number can’t be substantiated. Only 9 of those victims had a solid link to Holmes and his Murder Castle. Among these 9 were women who disappeared while working as his stenographers. When his employees vanished, it led the police to Holmes’ doorstep.

Still, during the course of the Chicago World’s Fair, thousands of people went missing, so speculation abounds as to the actual number of men and women who died at the hand of H. H. Holmes in his Horror Hotel.

While researching for this post, I discovered a fictional story based on the true events surrounding H.H. Holmes and the Chicago World’s Fair. Honestly, I can’t believe I haven’t read this yet, since I absolutely loved Grace Hitchcock’s book ‘The Gray Chamber.’ This one’s going on top of my TBR pile, and I’d like the chance to add it to yours. Comment below, and one participant will win an eBook copy!