Chemical weapons are missing from a military research facility, and Army investigator Capt. Ben Hawkins springs into action to prevent a possible terrorist attack. He is willing to take the necessary risks, including going against the FBI, despite the threat of being arrested.
At first glance, the above paragraph may be an unexpected inclusion in a hearing healthcare publication. It, however, describes the plot of the debut novel by audiologist Dennis Hampton, PhD, of White Plains, NY.
Written under the pen name D.C. Hampton, A Touch of Nerves (ISBN-10: 1470048086) brings a new perspective to the long-standing tension between the United States and Iran. The Hearing Journal talked with Dr. Hampton about his inspiration to write a novel set in America's War on Terror, and what hearing healthcare had to do with it.
HJ: What is the plot of your novel, A Touch of Nerves?
Dr. Hampton: The story is about what goes on when there's a scheme involving some rogue agents from Iran. We've had chemical weapons of mass destruction in the United States for many years; we're actually in the process of destroying all of them. If someone wanted to use chemical weapons in the U.S., they wouldn't have to smuggle them in—they could steal them from one of our facilities. That's what this plot is all about.
HJ: Why did you decide to write a novel?
Dr. Hampton: I've been writing about hearing healthcare, hearing loss issues, hearing aid issues, and rehabilitation techniques for people with hearing loss for about 25 years now. I have also been reviewing and citing professional articles for a physician newsletter.
I wanted to try something very different from anything that I had ever done before, and that was a novel. I really wanted to see if I could do it, and I certainly had some ideas that I wanted to get on paper.
HJ: What inspired you to write about the military and terrorism?
Dr. Hampton: Through my sons, one son in the U.S. Army and one son in the U.S. Navy, I've met a lot of young men and women who are enlisted in the service. We have a lot of people in this country who are willing to do that service. The details of the story have nothing to do with their work specifically, but I did run some of the scenes past them to check for accuracy.
HJ: What research did you conduct for the novel?
Dr. Hampton: There's a tremendous amount of information available online to almost everybody from almost any place, so I did a lot of research online about chemical weapons, U.S. treaties, the Iran–Iraq War, and the role of the U.S. in the Iran–Iraq War, when we turned a blind eye after Iraq used chemical weapons against Iran. Not that any of that excuses anything, but it explains some of the attitudes that some Iranians have.
I read several novels and nonfiction books on the history of U.S. and Iran relations. I also got some help from the FBI by spending time at the agency's headquarters in Washington, D.C.
HJ: What was your inspiration for the main character, Capt. Ben Hawkins?
Dr. Hampton: It's interesting: when people read the book, a lot of readers like Capt. Hawkins, but he isn't a superhero. He's not Jack Reacher, who has five people attack him and beats them all up, or a world-class Olympic athlete; he doesn't speak three languages.
I describe him as a normal guy in a very abnormal position. He's a guy who sticks to it, and when he gets involved with an FBI task force that seems to be going down a dead-end road, he's ready to strike out on his own to get the job done.
HJ: How does the novel relate to the very real and current themes of the threat of terrorism and the engagement of the U.S. military overseas?
Dr. Hampton: Over the two years that I was writing the book, a lot of things that appear in the story showed up in the newspapers.
For example, an effort on the part of rogue Iranian Revolutionary Guard agents to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States occurred as I was finishing up the story. There was also information about chemical weapons actually being used, such as in Syria.
Finally, there's quite a bit of action in the story about cyber activity and efforts to get into some of the facilities here in the U.S., including civilian facilities—mainly power stations, utilities, and oil refineries.
HJ: How did you find the time to write A Touch of Nerves?
Dr. Hampton: Well at least for me, I found that if you give up watching television there's a lot of time left to work. There were times when I would put it aside for several weeks at a time—I guess what you might call a dry spell—but in the end it took me two years from start to almost finish.
When I say almost finish, I mean I thought it was in good shape, and then I had some people read it and make some suggestions. I did some fine-tuning and brought it to a professional copy editor, and then it was another 12 months or so until it was in shape to be published.
HJ: Congratulations on the critical praise the book has received. What has been your reaction to the reviews?
Dr. Hampton: I'm obviously very pleased because I wondered if I would be able to pull it off and whether people would get it. By “get it” I mean that this is not just a story about espionage, spying, and terror; it's about what leads people to these kinds of activities and what leads to the misunderstandings, the distrust, and the hatred.
There is some personal background about these terrorist agents in the story, not enough to sympathize with at all, but maybe enough to understand a little bit about what motivates them. I was pleased that some of the reviewers got that and understood that this was not just a shoot ‘em up, good-guys-and-bad-guys kind of story.
HJ: Do you plan to write more books in the future? Do you see yourself ever becoming a full-time novelist?
Dr. Hampton: I don't know about doing this full-time because I'm still writing about hearing loss issues, but I do have one idea percolating in my mind, and I'd like to get started on it. I have to admit that I haven't put anything to paper yet, but it would involve Capt. Ben Hawkins again.
HJ: How did your training and work as an audiologist influence you as you wrote the novel? Have any of your patients mentioned that they've read it?
Dr. Hampton: Several of my patients have read it, and I've had a lot of my audiology colleagues read the story as well. But as you look through the story, I stayed far away from audiology, maybe too much. I could've had somebody complain about tinnitus, or certainly I could've had somebody complain about not hearing in that noisy restaurant, but I didn't, and maybe I should've put in a little joke about that.
PODCAST INTERVIEW WITH AUDIOLOGIST AND NOVELIST DENNIS HAMPTON
Interview by Paul Bufano
Only in the December iPad issue, listen in as audiologist Dennis Hampton, PhD, discusses his debut novel, A Touch of Nerves.
Get a sneak peak of Dr. Hampton's favorite scene, and hear his description of the book's major theme.
“The story sounds like a military story, but it is not at all,” he says in the podcast. “It is really about what happens when hatred and revenge takes over people's lives and you begin to lose track of who's seeking revenge or who did what first, and all you're left with is hatred.”
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