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Behind the Page: Stealing John Hancock

Something happened to ignite us. A spark. An article in the newspaper. Suddenly we were compelled, inspired.

The newspaper was on Hejsa’s kitchen table. The headline stared back at us. The article explained the plight of a homeowner who discovered that the deed to his house had been fraudulently transferred and a huge mortgage taken out against his home without his knowledge. The very idea of stealing a giant immovable object that is the greatest investment most of us could dream of having seemed absurd. Can someone steal your house? Of course not! But there it was. Neither of us could get the story out of our minds. The scenario was too bizarre and too impactful for us to forget.

Just the day before we had been on the phone with our screenwriting manager in Los Angeles discussing some ideas for a screenplay that he had in mind. We had finished doing some scene re-writes on someone else’s heist screenplay that was in production and our manager wanted us to write an original to pitch. He said you can find a lot of interesting material in articles and suggested an underworld story that could be drawn from an old Men’s Vogue article centred on Geneva, “a place where dollars and people go to hide,” the city that housed “a third of the world’s internationally invested private wealth.”

After the call, we discussed the idea and both dismissed it. It just didn’t hit a cord that related to issues we would be interested in, nor a setting we knew. We were itching for substance meaningful in our world and, to be honest, we were itching to write a novel, something that could be an ocean to dive into. And then there was that house stealing article. Maybe we were more in tune to the news after that phone call with our manager.

We researched more. Discovered countless variations of the same scam. Houses being sold, mortgaged, or transferred without the owner’s knowledge. Two things about these thefts intrigued and haunted us: The monumental size of the loss (both physical and economic) and how easily the scam could be executed.

It got us thinking not only about house stealing, but also about different forms of identity theft and how they could, without warning, invade our lives in the most unsuspecting ways, and how emotionally devastating the ramifications could be in an ever-expanding web of unwittingly snared participants. We were drawn to the idea of using the ultimate identity theft story to explore the very nature of identity and how we each construct our own sense of self. What happens to that construct when your house is stolen? When your lifestyle is stolen? When your name is stolen? When everything is stripped away, who are you really and how do you rebuild?

We wanted the format to be a novel, something that could explore characters, settings, and plot nuances in depth. Not to say we didn’t enjoy writing in the screenplay format, we did, and still do. There is, however, the aspect of the screenplay in which your baby is taken from you to be moulded by many others. We wanted this baby to be ours, to nurture and grow and see to maturity. And so Stealing John Hancock was born.


Stealing John Hancock is a thrilling, and sometimes frightening, look at modern identity.

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