John Noel Hampton – The Wrong Bus: An Urban Christmas Story

What is your most recent book? Tell us a bit about it.

It’s called The Wrong Bus: An Urban Christmas Story and it’s not your normal “Hallmark Card” kind of tale. It involves an elderly white woman who refuses to believe that her MIA son from the Vietnam era will not be coming home despite the 40 years that have passed and her chance encounter with a young African-American college student who comes to her rescue when she is robbed and injured while doing her Christmas shopping a few weeks before Christmas. It’s a story about relationships, acceptance, trust, understanding, taking chances, pride and moving on set in big city. And it’s about polar opposites learning from each other.

Tell us something about yourself.

I was born in a central Illinois town of 100 inhabitants, survived Viet Nam and was a successful banker in Los Angeles for many years before taking up writing. I’ve written 2 novels, 5 screenplays and a few short stories. The screenplay version of this novel “The Wrong Bus” has been optioned twice with an Academy Award winning actress attached to play one of the leading roles. I live in beautiful Palm Springs, California where I write when I’m not walking my dogs.

What inspired you to write this book?

I had been planning an urban Christmas story for some time but had trouble finding just where to start. One evening on my way back from a bank consulting job, I was travelling down Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles and pull to a stop alongside a LA transit bus. I looked over and saw that a wealthy looking elderly lady had fallen asleep with her head cupped in her right hand pressed against the window. The light caught a very large diamond ring and made it sparkle. This was not a typical worker on her way home riding a bus, probably a shopper. I began to wonder what would happen if she missed her stop or transfer point and wound up in a dangerous place. Playing “what if?” is a great tool when writing.

How did you choose the title?

The bus incident dictated the title really. And the story is actually about the emotional “wrong bus” each of develops at one point or another in our lives. It’s that experience that colors our thinking or causes us develop a reflex action that keeps us from moving on, that limits us in some way. So, “The Wrong Bus” was the perfect metaphor for this story.

What obstacles did you encounter in getting this book published? How did you overcome them?

Anyone who has ever tried to get a first book looked at by an agent or publisher knows that it’s an uphill battle. No different for me. I sent hundreds of query letters, mailed countless manuscripts and piled up equal numbers of rejection slips… “Loved the story, but…” became my nightmare. So, I did what countless others are doing now. I self-published and wish I’d done it earlier. I used a division of and as well. Both were incredibly helpful and inexpensive. I recommend them both.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?

I have always loved to read and to collect books. I have a very large library and can lose myself in my book world. So, I guess it just evolved. I had done a good deal of technical writing in my banking career, but that’s not creative. I had always had a secretary and relied on him or her to the typing. When I left the bank and began consulting, I was suddenly playing catch up with that most basic of skills, typing. So, I sat at the computer to practice and build speed and didn’t’ want to copy dull banking text. I decided to write a short story about a wacky neighbor lady in her 80s who had been a fan dancer in the clubs on Hollywood Boulevard during the 30s. That turned me on to creative thinking in a way that surprised me. So, here I am still creating characters and loving it.

Do you have any writing rituals?

Yes, but I call them quirks. I like to have a cup of coffee nearby, seldom drink it, usually watch it go cold. When I’m at a difficult part of the story, I get up and sweep the patio or rake leaves, do something that is mundane and rote which allows me to find the answer to my quandary.

How do you come up with the names for your characters?

When you live in a place like Hollywood or Palm Springs, characters find you by the hundreds. The key is to never use your family or friends unless you like trouble.

Did you learn anything from writing and publishing this book? What?

Oh, yes! I learned to trust my instincts, listen to advice but only adapt that which advances the story of character in a way that is true to your overall theme. And, I also learned have faith in my ability to communicate, something that I was never very sure about.

If you were doing it all over again, what would you do differently?

I would have started writing much earlier in my life. This is such an interesting and sometimes even rewarding field.

What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors?

I love murder mysteries, historical fiction and humor. Martha Grimes for a good mystery, Michael Malone for laugh-out-loud humor, and Philippa Gregory for racy historical fiction.
My all-time favorite writers are Agatha Christie, Robertson Davies, and Charles Dickens.

Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?

I’m finishing up a new one, “Talking To Albert’ which is completely different this The Wrong Bus. I pitch it this way:

A former showgirl battles with her control-freak niece to keep her home, a vintage Cadillac convertible and some semblance of independence, even as she shoots herself in the foot by taking in the newly-released and maybe not cured pyromaniac son of an old friend who promptly falls in love with her Jewish/Hispanic cleaning lady with a past.

There’s hell, fire and brimstone in the Hollywood Hills when these quirky characters create a cross between “Sunset Boulevard” and “Harold & Maude.”

What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?

Just write! Then re-write. Then rewrite again and polish it and go for it!

Who is the perfect reader for your book?

For this one, I’d say females from 35 on up. At least, that’s the target audience. But I think most of us enjoy and uplifting Christmas story, don’t you?

Where can readers learn more about you and your book?

My Facebook page under John Hampton
My Author Page on Amazon

My Wrong Bus page on Amazon