William Elliott Hazelgrove
Born in Richmond, Virginia, and
carted back and forth between
Virginia and Baltimore, I blame my rootless, restless personality on
my father. He was and is a traveling salesman with a keen gift of
gab, great wit, a ready joke, and could sell white tennis shoes to
It was during these sojourns up and down the east coast I soaked up
the stories that would later be Tobacco Sticks and Mica Highways. I
think authors should exploit their family history before raping the
rest of the culture for material.
Dad finally got tired of the east and moved to the Midwest when I
was fourteen. We settled outside of Chicago. It is here I came of
age and went off to college for seven years -- two degrees and one
novel later I returned to Chicago and lived in many different
apartments, trying to get a little two hundred page manuscript
called Ripples published.
When a local printer said he would take a chance on my book, I
jumped and had my first novel published by a man who had never
published anything. Great reviews and moderate sales put me back to
my jobs as a janitor, baker, waiter, construction worker, teacher,
real estate tycoon, mortgage broker, professor, security guard,
salesman -- anything to make a buck and keep writing. The printer
lost his mind and published my second novel, too. That landed me
with Bantam after some rave reviews and a paperback auction for my
second novel, Tobacco Sticks.
A third novel, Mica Highways, was sold on less than one hundred and
fifty pages to Bantam and then I did a strange thing -- I settled
down to writing in Ernest Hemingway's birthplace in Oak Park,
Illinois. I have since been looking for the Great American Novel up
in the old red oak rafters and I think I might have finally found
one... we'll see. Visit Bill online at
"American fiction is not dead. Highly
— Library Journal
"Hazelgrove writes with warmth and feeling,
his characters richly drawn, moving and evocative of
"Hazelgrove captures the essence of heartbreak
and tragedy beautifully."
— The Denver Post
PageOneLit.com: Where did you grow up and was reading and writing a part of
your life? Who were your earliest influences and why?
William Elliott Hazelgrove: I grew up in Virginia, Baltimore, and in the
suburbs of Chicago. My mother was an artist who also had four children, but
there were always books around the house. She was always reading and I think
I picked up the habit from her. I remember she got rid of our television for
a while and that pushed me to the library down the street. I think the
television was gone for a couple of years and of course when it came back, I
resumed watching, but I never stopped reading. I remember reading adult
novels when I was twelve and not because I was precocious, there just seemed
to be so much literature around about the sixties and what was going on at
the time. I read a lot of black literature, Manchild In The Promised Land,
Black Boy, Black Like Me--again the times were changing rapidly and in
Baltimore City we were in the middle of it. I remember in sixth grade, our
teacher read us S.E. Hintons The Outsiders and that's when I thought, wow,
I'd like to write something like that.
PageOneLit.com: It's been a while but your back with a wonderful new novel
ROCKET MAN -- What's been going on between your last book and ROCKET MAN?
Tell us a little about your new novel (rocket man) and the inspiration
behind writing it?
William Elliott Hazelgrove: Well, it has been a while. The truth is I was
trying to find a new voice. I wanted to write a contemporary novel,
something about the times I was living in but frankly I didn't have the voice
yet. In the ten years between my last novel and this one, I probably wrote
three other novels. They had merit, but they were transitional books, though
I didn't know that when I wrote them. So I just kept trudging up to the attic
looking for this voice and then one day, maybe three years ago, I started
out with this guy Dale Hammer. He was irreverent, satirical, smart, and he
had something to say. Rocket Man is really about us. It's about the attempt
to have the American Dream which is no small thing--the big car, the big
house, the big life. We are now all finding out the price of that dream. But
in Rocket Man I found a motif, the Rockets that Dale is supposed to blast
off are really all of us--it probably starts very early but we are getting
ready to launch our rockets very early and then we do and some of us make it
and a lot of us don't. On a more literal level, Rocket Man is about Dale
Hammer, a guy who moves from the city to the suburbs to live the good life.
He finds himself suddenly saddled with his father who comes to live over his
garage, his son who wants him to be the Rocket Man for the Scout troop and
he is accused of cutting down the sign to his subdivision--and he is broke.
In one week his life blows up, but in the process he finds out who he is.
PageOneLit.com: Who is Dale T. Hammer who describes himself as having
"...Suburban angst." ? Explain the connection to Dale, known to the scout
group, as the 'Rocket Man' and his life as an adult?
William Elliott Hazelgrove: Dale T. Hammer is a man who refuses to grow up.
He suddenly finds himself with two children, a house, responsibilities, but
he cannot really fit in. He is the fly in the ointment, looking for
something beyond the middle class man who is sagging under the heavy weight
of taxes, children, and a mortgage no honest man can pay. He finds his youth
vanishing over the next hill and maybe he is rebelling one last time, trying
to find some authenticity before he vanishes into the bourgeois.
PageOneLit.com: In ROCKET MAN you waist no time with Dale (a father) and his
memory as a boy with his father, who was a traveling salesman, only home on
Fridays -- "That's what I remember. I think it was the only time we were
really together, watching that rocket disappear into the cool sky." Describe
the metaphor of the rocket and young Dale watching it leave "out of sight"
and his father who was rarely around? How did Dale's childhood effect him as
he now navigates the duty of a father himself? How is Dale different as a
Father than his father? Describe their relationship in ROCKET MAN as adults
and how it may have changed from boyhood to adulthood.
William Elliott Hazelgrove:
We all want to give our children more than we were given. We want to be
better parents, better providers, fix all those mistakes we perceive our
parents made. So it is with Dale. His cranky old Southern father comes to
live with him over his garage and we see the way he grew up with a traveling
salesman as a father and Dales determination not be that man even as he
becomes the same absent father. In the first scene we see young Dale with
his dad blasting off rockets and it's very poignant because he only has this
small time together with his dad and like that rocket vanishing into the
coal sky, we know it is over way too fast. Then we pick up with Dale with
his son, trying desperately to preserve his small time with his son even as
events and circumstance rip it away. This is Dales quest in the novel, to
give his son something his father never gave him.
PageOneLit.com: You have written several critically acclaimed novels,
Ripples, Mica Highways and Tobacco Sticks. In ROCKET MAN, you are on top of
your game and stretching your novelist's skills with some 'American satire'
while maintaining a solid plot base in the tradition of your past works. In
ROCKET MAN, did you aspire to do something different? Did you want to
stretch a little as a novelist? As an author are you a little like Dale T.
Hammer reaching for the best and wishing/wanting the American Dream? In your
opinion what is the American Dream?
William Elliott Hazelgrove: In my early novels, I wrote really about a time
before. I had grown up on stories about my family in Virginia and they were
the fodder for Tobacco Sticks and Mica Highways, while Ripples was my
childhood. I did want to do something different and for a novelist this
requires breaking with the past and becoming somebody new. I went through
hell trying to write this novel because I hadn't become the person I needed
to be to write it. And at the same time I am trying to be a good dad and
survive and grab my piece of the American Dream and I realized something my
father had said to me long ago was true, that I had to get myself in the
book somehow. I did with this book and I put all my cards on the table. I
think the American Dream has become the American nightmare. I think the real
dream is behind us and we have to get back to it now. It is a simple middle
class life with the small joys of family and friends. Not the urban life of
money and large homes and big vacations. Middleclass people can't afford
that kind of life and the truth is people end up working all the time and
they miss the best years of their lives.
PageOneLit.com: You say that ROCKET MAN has a somewhat connection to this
years election? Explain.
William Elliott Hazelgrove: Well, Rocket Man is connected to this election
in this way. It doesn't matter what side of the political spectrum you are
on, change is in the air. It is not a choice. Our life will be different and
in that way, Dale, ends up in a very different place from where he started.
He is going through this change with us too and his answer will probably be
PageoneLit.com: I got the feel you were having fun writing ROCKET MAN -
William Elliott Hazelgrove: I had a lot of fun writing Rocket Man. It is a
fun book, for all the seriousness of the topics. It is satire and Dale gets
himself into all sorts of situations that are hilarious. People come up to
me and list off the funniest scenes. Dale doesn't take a lot too seriously
and in that way he remains pliable, able to handle what comes at him. But
yes, it was a fun book to write and a fun book to read.
PageOneLit.com: You are very well known as 'the novelist who writes in
Hemingway's Attic'? Explain the inspiration from writing in the attic (10
years now) and how now we can now see you on a tour and book reading in the
'Attic' on You Tube
William Elliott Hazelgrove: I ended up in Ernest Hemingways Attic because I
simply needed a place to write. I had a new baby and I saw this old house
and I asked the woman if I might use some space to write in. To make a long
story short, the Hemingway Foundation allowed me to use the attic and its
been great. I have written in many places and they all have their
advantages, but the attic is certainly the most unique. I did some readings
of Rocket Man up in the attic and I think it will give people a flavor for
the book and a flavor the attic.
PageOneLit.com: Your association with PageOneLit.com and your exclusive
essays titled The View FROM HEMINGWAYS ATTIC go back before Google started,
Can you believe that? Also, you were the inspiration and the beginning of
PageOneLit.com's The Author Project for 9-11-01 which is still is up and
after seven years and is still getting media attention and essays from
published authors -- It all started with one essay you wrote. How does that
William Elliott Hazelgrove: I think when you and I talked way back when
John, we were both like, well, let's see how this will work. Will people
come to these internet sites to really get their information. Silly thought.
Then 9/11 happened and we came up with the Author Project which I think was
a very cathartic project for the writers involved. Those were crazy times
and I think when you read the essays now, they capture that moment of
uncertainty, the feeling that life would never be the same and indeed it has
PageOneLit.com: What do you hope to achieve as an author/novelist?
William Elliott Hazelgrove: Well, every writer has a responsibility to his
or her talent. And part of that responsibility is to not only write the
book, but make sure it gets out there. So I hope I can just keep publishing
novels and never stop. It is no small task to write a book and no small task
to get it out there where other people can appreciate it. But then no one
ever said it would be easy.
PageOneLit.com: What's next?
William Elliott Hazelgrove: I just finished another novel called A Life Less
Certain. I will be wrapped up with Rocket Man for a while but I hope to get
that book out there next year.
PageOneLit.com: What was the last book you read?
William Elliott Hazelgrove: Well I am always reading several books, so it
would be Tom Porattas The Abstinence Teacher and Jonathan Troppers How To
Talk To A Widower and Christopher Buckley, Boomsday.
PageOneLit.com: What does Bill Hazelgrove do when he is not in "The Attic"
William Elliott Hazelgrove: I bike a lot and hang with the kids and shoot
pool and go out with my wife and the million other things every parent with
three kids does.