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I’m John Twelve Hawks. No, I’m John Twelve Hawks!

September 4, 2009

jthNobody really knows who John Twelve Hawks is, apart from being the author of two popular novels of mysticism, paranoia and kung-fu. But I can tell you one thing: The man is a marketing genius. To publicize his third novel, The Golden City, the reclusive writer has deputized 20 fans to represent him at readings all over the world — as “John Twelve Hawks.”

In addition to New York, Los Angeles, London, Belfast, Paris and a TBA location in Australia (click here to see a nifty world map), “John Twelve Hawks” will be giving a reading in South Florida. It’s this Sunday, 7 p.m., at the USK Karate Academy, 8210 Wiles Road, in Coral Springs.

This marketing ploy is in keeping with the strategy John Twelve Hawks has used so successfully to promote his previous books, The Traveler and The Dark River, the first two entries in “The Fourth Realm trilogy.” To wit: JTH (the real one) doesn’t hide his identity because he’s shy or misanthropic, like, say, J.D. Salinger or Thomas Pynchon. Not, it’s because he lives “off the grid” to avoid detection by the surveillance apparatus he says is taking over the world.

He doesn’t own a phone, or a credit card or anything else that could identify him to snooping surveillance cameras or computer programs. These precautions coordinate nicely with the themes of his books, like matching the color of your socks with the color of your shirt. The novels are much concerned with loss of privacy, dividing the world up into The Brethern, a powerful secret organization that wants to control everybody; the Harlequins, a vestigal organization of superhuman martial artists who oppose them; and Travelers, rare individuals born with the ability to leave their bodies and voyage to higher realms.

Our local JTH has so gotten into the spirit of the event, he won’t reveal his identity, but he did give me this message, via email:

“Of course, I am not John Twelve Hawks, the actual author will not be there, and you can freely mention that John has put together these readings using handpicked representatives who will ‘be’ John Twelve Hawks. I will also give away a signed copy of the book as a door prize.

“I have corresponded with John for a few years and am doing this by invitation.
The books appeal to me not because of the storyline per se, but on the issues they raise on the matter of personal freedom as it relates to personal privacy. I am forced to live on the ‘grid,’ but conduct most online business and correspondence using alias. I don’t give my personal information to anybody unless it’s unavoidable.”

When The Traveler came out in 2004, it generated a lot of media attention, mainly because of its mysterious author. But the book also received many positive reviews, became a minor best seller, and gained a devoted cult following.

But some reviewers greeted the book with skepticism, including yours truly. In my Aug. 3, 2005 review, I said: “For a man who lives ‘off the grid,’ John Twelve Hawks has an impressive familiarity with the cliches of popular entertainment. Indeed, his much-hyped sci-fi thriller, The Traveler is steeped in tropes long worn smooth in other books, movies and especially television shows such as “The X-Files,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Alias” and –God help us–‘Highlander.'”

If JTH lives “off the grid,” presumably without satellite or cable TV service, how does he know these familiar contemporary cliches? Surely “John Twelve Hawks” is the pseudonym of some clever guy living a perfectly ordinary life right on the grid with the rest of us. (Besides, to satisfy my appetite for mystical kung-foolery, I prefer the Xenon Pearl series — The Cutting Season, Quiet Teacher— by Arthur Rosenfeld.)

Some bloggers seem to have become obsessed with identifying JTH’s secret identity. One compelling theory names screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen (Karate Kid, The Fifth Element, The Transporter). Others suggest Stephen Hawking, Dan Brown, Peter Gutteridge, F. Paul Wilson or Thomas Pynchon. And here is an in-depth discussion of several additional theories. And another — dontcha love the Internet?

By none of this do I mean to spoil the fun for the John Twelve Hawks fans –or the newly curious — who might attend Sunday’s Coral Springs reading. Don’t mind me. I can’t abide multiple Man Booker Prize winner Ian McEwan, either, which has strained my friendship with Miami Herald book critic Connie Ogle.

And even I can’t help but appreciate an inventive marketing ploy, played out over time and with conviction. John Twelve Hawks is about the best I’ve ever seen.

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