Author Interview: Heath Daniels, author of Justice!

author interview heath daniels justice

The Lily Cafe is thrilled to welcome author Heath Daniels! His thriller Justice! is a timely novel that touches on issues surrounding immigration and justice with a focus on tolerance, acceptance, and respect for those unlike us.

Title: Justice!

Author: Heath Daniels

Publisher: ITO Press

Publication date: August 12, 2019

Genre: Thriller

Religion and Culture, the Same?

Justice occurs not only in courtrooms, but also in other situations. The story highlights how justice is achieved in other sadly commonplace situations. Action evolves around San Antonio, one of the country’s most cosmopolitan, multi-cultural cities, as well as through very diverse surrounding areas of south-central Texas, including brief forays into west Texas and New Mexico. The situations are not unique to Texas, but the story brings life to places that would otherwise remain obscure.

Action moves quickly focusing on tolerance, acceptance, and respect for all races, religions, and ethnic backgrounds. Is there justice in the United States for those who bring their culture into their interactions with society, expecting to be tolerated? Refugees from Somalia are resettled in a small, close-knit Hispanic community where they do not fit in. Residents of nearby locations take it on themselves to fight back against these outsiders.

Yusef, a brilliant, successful attorney with the U.S. Attorney General who is Shia Muslim, moves up in his career and is further challenged to separate Islam from cultural characteristics of the close-knit Lebanese Shia Muslim community of Dearborn, Michigan, where he grew up. Nistrine, a Shia Muslim whose family is also Lebanese, grew up in “worldly” Dallas, follows her religion, but has less cultural baggage. She demonstrates how a dedicated medical doctor serves society in a way true to her beliefs. The author has based the characters on persons he has known directly or indirectly; there are no stereotypes. Locations are actual.

An entertaining and informative good read to inspire and challenge perceptions.

Thank you so much, Heath, for chatting with me about your novel!

First of all, what made you want to write Justice!?

When my second novel, Day of Judgment, was published, I was ready to retire for a while. No, not possible. Inspirations kept coming to me that I needed to move on to one of the current events of the day, immigration, especially Somali immigration in the US. It was time to develop yet another fictional story around social justice based on current-events of the day. The story would continue the theme of my books as legal thrillers featuring the U.S. Attorney General, FBI, and other justice institutions.

As with the previous two books, the inspirations for the story line would not come to me all at once. Just the vaguest sketches would be apparent. It was necessary to trust myself that the inspirations would come as the plot evolved. But I had to start writing.

Issues of Somali immigrants were major current events. I know this would be a central theme. Also, there was an inspiration that I needed to continue with Yusef Shaito as a lead character, a brilliant young lawyer. He has advanced as far as he can at Attorney General Headquarters in Washington. His next move had to be to a large and important judicial district. A quick internet search revealed that one of the largest, if not the largest district, in geographic size and population was the Western Judicial District of Texas with headquarters in San Antonio. Because I am very familiar with San Antonio and the surrounding area, the inspiration to develop the setting there got me started. The settlement of Somali immigrants in central Texas is fictional. Nonetheless, Somali immigrants had been settled other places in the U.S. so central Texas was as realistic as any.

Why did you choose to title your novel Justice!?

As with the previous two books, the title Justice!, with an exclamation mark, came to me right at the very end. Because the story line pursued themes of social justice as well as legal justice in federal courts, it seemed important to emphasize justice in the title. A musical sub-title came to me while a cover design was being created featuring a picture of the Alamo. A popular song by the Mills Brothers in the late 1940s had the title “Across the Alley from the Alamo”. The Hipolito F. Garcia U.S. federal court house is diagonally across the street from the Alamo in downtown San Antonio. Thus the tile features the notion that justice occurs across the alley from the Alamo in the federal courts.

Is there a message in your story? What inspired you to write it?

All my stories have messages of acceptance, respect, care, and appreciation of all human beings. These include Muslims, children of immigrants, gays, lesbian, transgendered, etc. The inspirations came once I started writing and carry through all of my books, including Justice!.

In this book, inspirations came from the issues of black Somali immigrants being resettled in a predominantly Hispanic community. These continued with issues of young transgendered persons in an unaccepting community. Homosexual issues, although very subtle, also continue.

With immigration and refugees being in the news these days, what do you hope readers will take from Justice!?

One thing is that we can’t just bring refugees to this country and leave them alone and expect them to instantly adapt. Without guidance to settle, they will bring the customs of the country they left behind. Such customs can lead to undesirable consequences. I don’t want to say more so as not to include spoilers. The media had stories of such issues with immigrants, including Somali immigrants. Settling Somali immigrants in Central Texas is fiction. Nonetheless, the situation is realistic.

How have your career and travels impacted what you choose to write about?

Throughout my fairly long career as a researcher and professor of international business, I have known a wide diversity of people. In the numerous books I have read through the years, there has been a notable lack of diversity. The initial inspirations that came to me were that the characters in my books should reflect a broad cross-section of society, especially society in the U.S. Such diversity included having Muslim-Americans in positive roles, not stereotypes of Muslim immigrants. Including gay characters in positive roles is inspired by the need to present an actual, authentic cross section of U.S. society. The very few books I have read that have gay characters are stereotypical gay stories that feature homosexuality as a key part of the story line. The inspiration that came to me was to present homosexuality as a characteristic, but not a main plot of the story. Much the same inspirations came for having blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and others who make up the cross section of society without dwelling on any one characteristic.

Because I have lived in a few different countries and I have traveled extensively, the knowledge of different countries and cultural groups allowed me to develop realistic plots, characters, situations and the like. The beginning of Justice! features characters visiting Finland, Estonia, and Sweden, countries I know well. Some reviewers have stated that characters in previous books are blatant stereotypes. There are no stereotypes in any of my books. All characters are persons I have known directly or indirectly, mostly indirectly.

In Justice! , unlike the other books I have written and published, I have not drawn on this knowledge of other countries and cultures extensively beyond the first chapters. In particular, I have not been to Somalia nor have I had direct contact with Somalis. I have, however, lived in countries with substantial Somali immigrants. Having lived in the Middle East, I have known first-hand the different elements of Islam and cultures of Islamic people. This knowledge from the Middle East provided knowledge of Islamic culture in other countries, including Somalia.

Onto something a little more specific about Justice!, which one of your characters in is your favorite? Which character was the hardest to write?

It is tempting to say that Yusef Shaito is a favorite character because he is a lead character who carries through all of my books. Indeed Yusef is a character I like a lot, otherwise, I would not feature him. One of my favorite characters, though is Jason Henderson, a creative artist. He has shed his rural upbringing to become a successful professional designer.

The most difficult to write is Jesús Luna, I’ll not say too much because to do so could be a spoiler. The inspirations came to me that I must include this type of character. Nonetheless, I personally cannot identify with a character like this nor have I ever known such a character. Readers are very welcome to give me their feedback about how well I did present this character.

What draws you to writing thrillers and what’s your favorite part of writing them?

The main thing about writing thrillers is that they are designed to create reader interest and carry interest in thrill throughout while subtly exposing readers to underlying messages of acceptance, respect, appreciation, and care for all human beings in various fictional settings. J.K. Rowling used a very similar approach in her Harry Potter series. While my series is very different from the Harry Potter series and I do not want to make a direct comparison, nonetheless there is this one similarity.

Again, not wanting to exaggerate the connection with J.K. Rowling, I do recall that her works were rejected many times because they deviated too much from accepted literary norms of the day.

Amazon in its ultimate wisdom classifies my books a political thrillers. This classification might depend on the definition of “political”. Throughout all of the books I write and publish, I have pointedly avoided partisan political references in the U.S. and other countries. The only things that might be even remotely considered political are actual current events that existing politicians. For example in the follow-on novel, Don’t Fence Me In, there is a brief description of competing political rallies of President Trump and Beto O’Rourke in El Paso on the same night. These were actual events that were mentioned in a fictional context. There is no discussion of the words spoken at the rallies. Instead, a fictional character attended both events.

Thank you for the classification clarification! Let’s chat a little about you now. How have you done during the pandemic? Has it inspired any part of your writing?

During the pandemic, I have been mostly in isolation. Inspirations came to me for subplots for the next book, but nothing of a main plot on which I could build my next story. During most of this time in isolation I was open to receiving inspirations, but not many occurred. This was a good time to spend lots of efforts on promotion of my books. While writing comes fairly freely, promotion just isn’t my thing. It is a struggle to get my books out in the public.

I’m sure many authors would agree with that. Why do you write?

Writing in a way is a hobby and a means of artistic expression. It is a release of the inspirations that come to my mind. From early years, I have enjoyed scribbling down stories. A university creative writing class was one of my favorites. Yet I had to follow a real career. While I am very pleased with my career and I was good at it, now I am pleased to follow a second career as an author.

I write for much the same reasons why musicians compose and perform, why artists paint or create. Each of us has a way to express inspirations, feelings, emotions, etc. Writing is mine.

What do you love about writing?

Writing allows me to be creative. Writing allows me to release my thoughts, values, and do it in a creative way. Writing gives me an opportunity to interact with a broad cross section of people, meet new people, make new friends.

What’s your writing routine? How do you plan your stories? How long does it take you to write a novel?

There is no routine. When the inspirations hit, I have no peace until I sit down to write. During the pandemic, there is so much uncertainty in the environment, there are only brief inspirations of subplots, not a main plot, so I don’t write. The length of time to write a novel depends to a large extent to what else is going on. For Justice!, I was in a period of transition moving back to the U.S. from abroad. The inspirations kept gnawing at me, although the actual writing was delayed.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

The inspirations come from so many sources, they are too numerous to list here. It’s like I am programmed to receive inspirations. The challenge is remembering them. I’ll watch the news on TV and see something that needs to go into a book, either a current one or future book. I’ll see someone in a public place and realize that looks just like a character in a book. I’ll have a subplot laid out in a dream, but then have to remember it.

For some, taking the leap to publish is a huge one. Was that true of you?

No, the leap to publish was not huge. It was very satisfying. Instead, the huge leap was to promote, promote, promote, especially for me who am a modest person.

Which author or authors would you compare your novel or your writing to?

As mentioned above, there are some similarities with J.K. Rowling in the sense that subtle messages are included in a thrilling story. Many similarities are with John Grisham who focuses on underlying themes of social justice while writing thrilling legal dramas. Grisham focuses on brilliant descriptions of actual, real, people just like I do. Hopefully my descriptions are equally brilliant, but at least my descriptions are not stereotypes. Incidentally, I had read very little of Grisham before I started writing, so copy-cat cannot describe the similarity. John Steinbeck and more recently Kristin Hannah have written historical fiction about the so-called “Okies” who migrated during the great depression. While my stories, especially in Justice!, are more contemporary historical events, some elements of similarities are there

Thank you so much, Heath! It was wonderful to get to know more about Justice! and you!

About Heath Daniels

Heath Daniels is a semi-retired consultant on various topics involving international activities. He has lived and traveled extensively both within the US and abroad and has developed a large network of colleagues and friends who have contributed directly and indirectly to the insights and knowledge he brings to his novels. When he is not busy thinking of ways to spoil his grandchildren, he writes, reads, and travels. Throughout his life, he has been a keen observer of and avid reader about current events, with special interests in culture and language, history, and spirituality.

Connect with Heath Daniels

Author Website | Facebook | Goodreads | Instagram | Twitter

Purchase Justice!

Amazon | Amazon (Can) | Barnes and Noble | Books a Million | Google Books | Better World Books | Alibris | Discover Books | Flipkart | Josey Books and Records (signed books available) | signed books also available by contacting Heath Daniels at:

Thank you so much, Heath!

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