Interview with Joe Niehaus, author of "Shadow in the Reflection"


Joe Niehaus, a veteran police officer in Ohio, is the author of six books and numerous articles in police and martial arts magazines.  He holds certificates in fraud examination and clinical and forensic hypnosis.  A graduate of Tiffin University, he is an adjunct professor at his alma mater, Ashford University and Sinclair Community College.
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Mary Sikora is a former daily news reporter, freelance writer, and editor. A University of Dayton graduate and Cincinnati native, she is the author of A Mississippi Family and Orphan’s Gift. Previously, she and Niehaus collaborated on Beware the Whale’s Wake and Hypnosis Unveiled.
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What is your favorite quality about yourself?

Oh, I would say I’m honest, friendly, loyal – sort of sound like man’s best friend a dog.

What is your least favorite quality about yourself?

I can be a bit impulsive at times and not think a situation through completely before acting on it.

What is your favorite quote, by whom, and why?

Not sure who the author was but this was on a tombstone – Remember as you walk by, As you are now so once was I, As I am now, so too you shall be, Bow your head and pray for me. 

I think this quote puts life into perspective and lets us realize that our time here is short so we should make the most of what time we do have.  Any parent will understand as we have our children for only a short time and then they are grown and gone.  So make time now for family and friends – and keep in mind the chances to tell people we care and to show it are gone before we know it.

What are you most proud of accomplishing so far in your life?

I would have to say that being in the law enforcement field for 36 years.  During that time I have had the opportunity to accomplish many things and to experience things many people will never.  I think though, being told that I saved a person’s life when I gave them CPR is high on that list.  To think that it was my action that provided them the opportunity for more time with their family was awesome.  Of course, solving some complex cases is also something I remember.

How has your upbringing influenced your writing?

Well, I would have to say that my upbringing had a mixed influence.  I have always been interested in telling stories, even as a child.  When I would approach my parents with the idea of writing I was always told that I would really have to study hard as smart people are authors.  So I figured that meant I wasn’t good enough.  But I am persistent – in high school we were given the option of writing a poem or a short story for an English class.  I was not very good at poetry but did like short stories (especially Sherlock Holmes).  So I wrote a short story.  My teacher made copies and gave it to my entire class – so I sort of panicked, and swore never to write again.  The teacher was very enthusiastic about my story but I was kind of shy at the time, but as time went by – the urge to write reemerged.   I would have to say that one big thing from my upbringing was tenacity – and to write you have to be tenacious.

Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

From an early age I was interested in telling stories.  I can remember one year I received a reel to reel tape recorder and I would narrate stories on the recorder.  I never did anything with them, it was just for fun but I liked creating a world and characters.  I think most children do as that is a big part of play but I sort of liked putting a structure to it and having it scripted out.  Then there was the short story I wrote in high school.  So I guess my interest was fostered early on by watching tv, movies and reading stories.  The whole idea of making characters come to life has always been interesting to me.

When and why did you begin writing?

That is certainly a question to think on.  As I mentioned I took a big step in high school to write the short story – in fact I even remember the title – “The Great Brain.”  It was based on Sherlock Holmes.  I really liked that character as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did create a character so lively that for a time I thought he had been a real person.  Anyway, my in my story the main character wasn’t on the side of the law but would have been a Professor Moriarty type.  The idea was to pull off the perfect crime.  Of course being an awkward teen at the time I did not go further with it and figured that there was no future there for me.

When I became a police officer I found that police work – unlike on tv and in the movies – is not all glamour and excitement.  In fact, it is a lot of paperwork.  Of course in police work we ask the who-what-where-when-how and why questions all the time.  So writing became a big part of my everyday life.

At the same time I was working as an officer I began taking a new martial art.  I had taken several forms of the martial arts before but this was the early 1980’s and the art of Ninjutsu was very new.  I met Stephen K. Hayes who was the man who brought the art here to the U.S. from Japan.  I became one of his first students and guess what…he was an author of books.  Suddenly I began to realize that what I had been told by my mother for years was wrong – not all authors are rich and live in California or New York.  Stephen showed me that authors are real people and live in neighborhoods just like mine.  So with that I thought maybe I can write.  So my first venture since high school was to craft a novel based on the time of the samurai and the ninja and of course had fight scenes in it based on the art of Ninjutsu.

How long have you been writing?

 For as far as how long I have been writing – I would say since about 1982.  During that time I have taken time off because of family and work issues but I have always dropped back in and crafted an article for a magazine or worked on a much larger fiction or non-fiction book.

When did you first know you could be a writer?

When I met and got to know my martial arts teacher, Stephen K. Hayes, who was an author and supported me in my efforts to get published.  I think that sometimes all it takes is for you to see that it is not an impossible hurdle to overcome and then to dig in and tell your story your way.

What inspires you to write and why?

I find inspiration from people, places and events that surround me.  I have been the police adviser on several of Sharyn McCrumb’s books.  A secret she once told me is that the person who dies in her novel is usually based on someone she had met that was not a very nice person.  She said that instead of shunning them she would start asking them questions so she could place some of those details in her story. So, like her, I find inspiration all around me.

An example of how I come up with plots would be the inspiration behind Mary Sikora’s and my novel Beware the Whale’s Wake.  I was at the movie theater when the movie Star Trek 4 (yes, I know how that ages me!) while watching the movie the thought suddenly came into my head that what would happen if the hunters of whales suddenly became the hunted.  So from there I developed the plot of a murder mystery where people on an illegal whaling operation started to be murdered one by one.

For my mystery, Fade Out, I was sitting in the prosecutor’s office one day waiting to file a case when I picked up a magazine talking about the recent DNA discoveries and such.  My mind started wandering and I said what if someone could alter a living person’s DNA to make them someone else?  Sort of a modern day Frankenstein plot.  From there the story developed into recombinant DNA and a murder mystery.

For Shadow in the Reflection, I drew on my experience as a hypnotist.  The story developed from a true account of a doctor who was doing past life regression on two of his clients who did not know each other but he noted that they had the same past life memories.  Turned out they had the same memories of being married to each other and on their honeymoon cruise (on a steamboat) he fell overboard and got caught in the paddles and died.  So from there my imagination took off and the Viking story developed into a mix of past and present.

What genre are you most comfortable writing?

Probably because of my law enforcement background I prefer mystery but my martial arts background opens me up to also fantasy and historical writing.

What inspired you to write your first book?

I would have to say it was my interest in the martial arts and the history of Japan.  That time period is much like our westerns – looked at through nostalgic eyes and romanticized. 

Who or what influenced your writing once you began?

I would have to start with the authors that influenced me.  Early on of course it was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his Sherlock Holmes stories but close behind him was Rex Stout and the Nero Wolf stories.  That was pretty much what I would devour as a teenager.

Later I became influenced by the works of James Clavell and his Asian saga (Shogun, Noble House, Tai-pan, etc.)  I found his plots to be very intricate and complex and that I found really enjoyable.  Then I discovered Clive Cussler and his Dirk Pitt stories or as he often refers to his stories as a poor man’s James Bond.  His books are fast action and designed to keep you turning pages.  This style of writing was a big influence on me and I have tried to develop that same kind of writing.

But then there are the authors who I have met and developed friendships with.  People like Stephen K. Hayes, Sharyn McCrumb, Sharon Short, Katrina Kittle and others.  I attend the Antioch Writer’s Workshop in Ohio often and as a result of that workshop I have met many talented authors and even became part of a writer’s group as a result.  What is nice is I get to discuss writing with them and sometimes get to see their works in progress which is always good to see how a story develops and is polished.

Who or what influenced your writing over the years?

Like I have mentioned I have been influenced by authors I have read and met.  But perhaps the most influential thing was when I had the opportunity to talk with students from a local high school who used Mary’s and my book, Beware the Whale’s Wake, in their English class.  Getting to talk with them and to see that characters that we created came to life for those students was fantastic.  That is perhaps the greatest gift a reader can give an author – to believe in their characters and story.

What made you want to be a writer?

I don’t think anything made me want to be a writer – I think the desire for this has to come from within.  It is sort of like a drive inside you and if you do not have that drive and tenacious attitude then you probably will not write.

What do you consider the most challenging about writing a novel, or about writing in general?

For me I would think that the most challenging thing is getting the plot down.  Is it believable?  Is it plausible and do all of the subplots fit in with the overall plot?  Being able to create an entire community of people and have them interact in a believable way with enough tension and emotion to allow someone to care about it besides the author is perhaps the most challenging.

Did writing this book teach you anything and what was it?

In writing, Shadow in the Reflection, I think the thing that emerged at the end of it was that no matter how bleak life may seem – there is a brighter future awaiting us.

Do you intend to make writing a career?

That would be great – but I believe in the old saying – don’t give up your day job (or in my case night job as I work midnights).  I think being a full time writer would be a great way to spend my days!

Have you developed a specific writing style?

I would say my style is unique and perhaps it is a blending of my favorite authors, Cussler and Clavell.  I try to make the plots a bit intricate but not as in-depth as Clavell’s and I try to keep the reader turning the pages like Cussler.  So to steal a line from Clive Cussler – perhaps I am a poor man’s Cussler and Clavell!

What is your greatest strength as a writer?

I think plotting of a story is one of my strong suits but I have to admit I am a bit partial to my fight scenes as I let my martial arts background shine through here.  I think my characters are real and believable.  Of course the truth is, we may think these things are our strengths but the true judge is the reader!


Can destiny be fulfilled in just one lifetime? Dr. Gregory Ambrose thinks so. Through past-life regression therapy with a young woman named Anne, he finds himself carried over the centuries to not only a different time but a different reality. Anne’s memories act like tendrils, drawing Ambrose into this most savage time with her. Frustrated and confused Dr. Ambrose reaches out to a colleague for help. During their conversations, he learns that one of this doctor’s past-life regression patients believes that he was some kind of Viking in another time-not unlike the Vikings in Anne’s memories. The coincidence is too much, and Ambrose’s imagination and ambition tempt him down a dangerous path. Determined to know the truth and understand the connection, he begins to push the limits of his ethics. What evolves is a story from another time, when wizards and warriors battle for power. The fate of two lands-one fighting for unity, the other for safety-hangs in the balance as two druids play out their own endgame strategies. At the same time, two hearts seek their destiny with true love. Fate lends a hand as all meet in a final battle. Is it truly the end or just the beginning?

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