Writer to Watch: John Van Roekel

Normally, when I see those “Writer to Watch” interviews in glossy magazines, I cynically wonder how much money those authors had to shell out to big-deal publicists to get them featured in said magazine. But recently I was flipping through a local publication and spotted a familiar face. It belonged to John Van Roekel, author of a trio of historical fiction books, and he was being featured as a “Writer to Watch” – chosen by San Diego’s Friends of the Central Library.

“Hey!” I said, “I know that guy!”

John Van Roekel, photo by Judith at San Diego Literary Scene
Photo credit: Judith at San Diego Literary Scene

John and I are both regular exhibitors at the new Local Author Spotlight nights, held quarterly at San Diego Writers, Ink. We usually chat about writing and what we’ve been up to since the last meet-up, in between selling books and sipping wine, and he’s a pro at making his elevator pitch sound totally natural. I think that’s because it is totally natural for him; he’s written three novels he was really excited about writing (as well as a fourth, which is a nonfiction collection of his father’s WWII letters), and he loves talking to people about them.

He’s also slated to give a talk at the Central Library next Saturday, February 18th. He promises a “lively talk,” which will be heavy on the storytelling and lighter on the history – and definitely not one of those boring lectures!

So this time I’m not surprised by the Friends of the Central Library’s pick. John really is a writer to watch, and I’d definitely recommend picking up one – or all – of his books if you’re a fan of historical fiction. Even though I don’t normally read this particular genre, I’m curious to read his latest book, Lorenzo’s Assassin, which deals with religion and power in Renaissance Italy. As John puts it, in our interview over at Black Heart:

“After my wife Pam and I visited Italy in 2006, I developed a rabid interest in Rome, both ancient and Renaissance. One day I was listening to an audio lecture about the Italian Renaissance, and the speaker mentioned the ‘Pazzi Conspiracy’ when Pope Sixtus IV ordered the assassination of Lorenzo de’ Medici. After a year of plotting, the professional soldier who was supposed murder Lorenzo in the great Duomo cathedral in Florence decided he could not do it ‘in front of God.’ When I heard that, I thought, ‘Now there’s a story.’ Lorenzo’s Assassin is the result.”

Intrigued? Check out the full interview with John here.