JOHN DESJARLAIS INTERVIEW

Today I’m very pleased to welcome JOHN DESJARLAIS, the author of VIPER, BLEEDER and other books. A former producer with Wisconsin Public Radio, John Desjarlais teaches journalism and English at Kishwaukee College in northern Illinois. His first novel, The Throne of Tara (Crossway 1990, re-released 2000), was a Christianity Today Readers Choice Award nominee, and his medieval thriller, Relics (Thomas Nelson 1993, re-released 2009) was a Doubleday Book Club Selection. Bleeder and Viper (Sophia Institute Press, 2009 and 2011 respectively) are the first two entries in a contemporary mystery series. His work has appeared in periodicals such as Student Leadership Journal, U Magazine, The Critic, On Being, Student Soul, Apocalypse, The Upper Room, The New Pantagruel, The Karitos Review, Dappled Things and The Rockford Review.  A member of The Catholic Writers Guild, The Academy of American Poets and Mystery Writers of America, he is listed in Contemporary Authors, Who’s Who in Entertainment, and  Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers.

On All Souls Day, Selena De La Cruz’s name is entered in her parish church’s “Book of the Deceased.”

The problem is, she’s not dead.
And someone thinks she should be.  

Is it “The Snake,” a notorious drug dealer Selena helped to put in prison when she was a Special Agent with the DEA years ago? Or someone far, far more dangerous?

VIPER  a mystery

by john desjarlais
coming March 2011
from Sophia Institute Press

the thrilling sequel to BLEEDERHaunted by the loss of her brother to drugs and a botched raid that ended her career with the DEA, insurance agent Selena De La Cruz hoped to start afresh in rural Illinois. But her gung-ho former boss needs her back to hunt “The Snake,” a dealer she helped arrest who is out of prison and systematically killing anyone who ever crossed him. His ‘hit list’, appended to a Catholic Church’s All Souls Day ‘Book of the Deceased,’ shows Selena’s name last. Working against time, small town prejudice and the suspicions of her own Latino community, Selena races to find The Snake before he reaches her name while a girl visionary claims a “Blue Lady” announces each killing in turn. Is it Our Lady of Guadalupe or, as others believe, the Aztec goddess of Death?

See the 30-second video trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vY1wljwPe5w

That certainly sounds intriguing. Tell us a little more about your latest novel, Viper.
VIPER is the sequel to BLEEDER, a mystery published in 2009. It features a minor character from the first book as the protagonist, Latina insurance agent Selena De La Cruz. Since the first book touched upon immigration issues in rural Illinois and my main character Reed Stubblefield was disabled and dealing with insurance problems, Selena provided a way to present a positive and empowered Mexican-American character while at the same time addressing those insurance claims. As soon as she walked on the stage in those cherry high heels and with that attitude, I knew she had a story of her own. She played a larger role in BLEEDER than I’d originally envisioned. Then, in thinking about the next book and the “Book of the Dead” on All Souls’ Day, I learned that the Mexican holiday called “The Day of the Dead” runs nearly concurrently with that feast. It was clear to me then that the sequel would feature Selena and the story would be told against a rich tapestry of Aztec mythology and Mexican Catholicism.

What age were you when you decided to write a book and what prompted you to do it?

I was 35 and working as a scriptwriter in a small media company that produced videos for corporate training and public relations. I produced a documentary on the history of Western Christianity and became intrigued by the Irish monastic movement – scholarly men and women who valued art, literature and poetry, who were close to nature and champions of womens’ rights. Columba of Iona fascinated me in particular – a hot-tempered monk with “Second Sight” from a royal family who went to war over a disputed manuscript. 3,000 men were killed in the “Battle of the Book” in 560 AD, and in remorse, Columba exiled himself among the Picts of Scotland where he dueled the druids, miracles versus magic. He’s also the first man in recorded history to have encountered the Loch Ness sea-beast. This was material for a novel, I told myself, and I wrote “The Throne of Tara” in 1989 (it was published in 1990 and re-issued in 2000).

You have written historical novels – do you have any plans to write more?
No – I’m hooked on mysteries for the time being.
Did you find your background in teaching a great help when it came to
writing novels and if so, why?
Teaching literature and writing has provided me with a short cut in learning the elements of style, perhaps, although I’ve benefited more from writers’ conferences and books about genre novel-writing.  Being a teacher allows me time to write, especially since I have summers free – and my college granted me a sabbatical to finish a draft of BLEEDER.I imagine, as your books combine history, religion and mystery that you must
do a lot of research. How do you set about this? Does the research take
longer than writing the novels?
Research is time-consuming but opens up many character and plot possibilities. I love libraries, and the Internet has changed everything. I conduct interviews where needed. You might think that the historicals require more research than the mysteries, but it is a different kind of research and nearly as demanding. For historicals, one must re-create a world and pay assiduous attention to every detail of clothing, customs, architecture, weapons, food, the works. Everything contributes to atmosphere and authenticity but must never be overbearing. With contemporary mysteries, there are a whole new set of concerns. For BLEEDER, I needed to do research on blood diseases, cancer treatment, anxiety medications and other medical things. I needed to learn about the mystical phenomenon of the stigmata and the Catholic Church’s procedure for investigating such things (they are quite rigorous and skeptical about it), as well as know the process of canonization. I was not Catholic at the time of drafting and so I needed to learn about the Mass and the special services on Good Friday (I didn’t know there was no Mass on Good Friday). Then there’s all the police procedure, police interrogation techniques, police report writing, coroners’ inquests, etc. VIPER was even more of a challenge, since I had to create a credible Mexican-American female protagonist in the insurance business with a troubled background in the DEA and ongoing issues in her family.  So research about Aztec religion, snake handling, vintage car repair, firearms, DEA undercover operations and crime scene management were all easier than learning to “be” a 30-something Latina.

Tell us about your heroine, Selena De La Cruz, and why you decided on her
character. Is the choice of name of any significance?

Selena is a thirty-something Mexican-American woman in a family of three brothers; her Mami and Papa were well-off since he was a PEMEX executive before becoming an official in the Mexican consulate in Chicago. The family was raised in the Pilsen neighborhood in Chicago. Selena’s fraternal twin Antonio developed a drug problem in the Army and was killed in a car accident in Germany, leaving her with his chili-pepper red 1969 Dodge Charger called “The Beast.” Always a tomboy anyway, Selena was motivated by this incident to join the DEA where she applied her finance degree from Loyola in the Financial Tracing division before hitting the streets where she really wanted to be. She is handy with a P226 SIG Sauer pistol, does undercover work well, and knows how to maintain her awesome car. She’s fond of expensive shoes (seized drug money pays for them) and struggles with living in two worlds at once, being bi-cultural and being an independent woman in a man’s world. Her real name is Selena Perez; she changed it to De La Cruz when she left the DEA under a cloud and wished to start afresh as an insurance agent in rural Illinois. The name is from a medieval Spanish poet and mystic she admires, Juan De La Cruz (John of the Cross). 

Here are some reviews for VIPER

“I just couldn’t put it down! More compelling than BLEEDER!”
     Regina Doman, author of The Shadow of the Bear and The Midnight Dancers

“Non-stop action, nail-biting suspense –and enough genuine compassion to warm the coldest heart. A winner, start to finish.”Jeanne M. Dams, author of the Dorothy Martin and Hilda Johansson mysteries

“A compelling mystery that will keep readers in suspense.” spiritualwomanthoughts

“Desjarlais keeps you guessing as the action accelerates faster than De La Cruz’s souped-up vehicle. VIPER strikes fast and sinks its teeth in you. You won’t be able to put it down.”Tony Perona, author of Second Advent and Angels Whisper

“A don’t miss it page turner that blends ancient Aztec mysticism, Catholic Mariology, and a good old-fashioned whodunit.”Mike Manno, author of Murder Most Holy and End of the Line  
 

Wow! As we can see, above, you’ve had some tremendous reviews. So what next for John Desjarlais? It sounds as though your novels would make for exciting movies. Is there anything in the wind?

No movie options yet. I need an agent for that, and my previous agent left the business after a serious car accident. I managed to sell BLEEDER and VIPER on my own.

What are you currently writing?

I’m working on the third book in the mystery series and, at the moment, I think it will be the last in this arc. I’d like to try a stand-alone thriller and pitch it to an agent next year. Let’s see if Selena has other ideas.

Clearly religion has played a big part in your life. Tell us about your upbringing, where it happened and the importance that religion had in it.

I was raised Roman Catholic in north-central Massachusetts but it didn’t mean anything to me and I chucked it all in high school. However, I discovered Jesus in college and was utterly transformed. After bouncing among churches, I finally landed in the Presbyterian Church where I was a devout disciple for years along with my wife. Around age 50 I began reading the Church Fathers and Catholic poet and intellectual Thomas Merton, seeking a closer, more ‘sacramental’ union with God through contemplative prayer. I went to Catholic monasteries on retreats and came to see that the majesty, mercy, and mystery in the Catholic tradition was completely fulfilling. It was nothing like what I knew as a kid. There is a beauty, peace and wisdom here that has made me a new man. I appreciate the Catholic social teaching on justice for the poor and the weak, and the historic support of the fine arts is also a wonderful thing.

Is there anything else you’d like to add that your readers would like to know?
My wife and I are involved in retired racing Greyhound rescue. These gentle creatures make excellent family companions and I’d encourage everyone interested in adopting a dog to do a little research at a site like regapgreyhounds.org in Illinois (REGAP is “Retired Greyhounds As Pets”);  there are REGAP chapters in many states and rescue organizations in many other countries.
Thank you, John. A most interesting interview. I was intrigued to learn about your background and the widely divergent style of your novels.
An interview with John can be found in Novel Journey and Time with Tannia.Contact John at his website: http://www.johndesjarlais.com/

Visit John’s blog,
Johnny Dangerous

Meet John at www.facebook.com/jdesjarlais1.

Follow John on Twitter

Viper is not yet on Amazon, but here are the links for Bleeder – USA paper, Kindle, and UK paper, Kindle:

Coming Soon! Interview with John Desjarlais

John Desjarlais is a former producer with Wisconsin Public Radio, he teaches journalism and English at Kishwaukee College in northern Illinois. His first novel, The Throne of Tara (Crossway 1990, re-released 2000), was a Christianity Today Readers Choice Award nominee, and his medieval thriller, Relics (Thomas Nelson 1993, re-released 2009) was a Doubleday Book Club Selection. Bleeder and Viper (Sophia Institute Press, 2009 and 2011 respectively) are the first two entries in a contemporary mystery series. A member of The Academy of American Poets and Mystery Writers of America, he is listed in Who’s Who in Entertainment and  Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers. 
John sounds like an interesting man to interview and I’ll be doing just that on 14 February 2011. Why not stop by on that day and find out more about John and his books?

Interview with David Wisehart, screenwriter, director, producer and now novelist

David Wisehart has had a varied career, as a screenwriter, actor, director and producer, in Hollywood and in the UK. Devil’s Lair is his first novel.

CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT DEVIL’S LAIR?
Devil’s Lair
is an epic fantasy set in Dante’s Inferno: a medieval knight leads a quest through hell to recover the Holy Grail from the Devil.

The story takes place in Italy, 1349, during the Black Death, when nearly half the population of Europe was wiped out in a few short years. It was an apocalyptic time, a time of enormous sorrow, and yet it birthed one of the world’s greatest comic masterpieces, Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron.

Giovanni is my main character. He’s a poet, a lover, and a scoundrel. He’s also an expert on Dante, and gets recruited against his will to join an expedition through Dante’s Inferno to steal the cup of Christ from the Devil. Nadja, an epileptic girl with the gift of prophecy, has visions of the Holy Grail and believes the plague was caused when the Devil stole the Grail. The two other main characters are: the historical William of Ockham, a philosopher-priest; and the fictional Marco da Roma, a Knight Templar with no memory of his past. Together they descend through hell, facing many dangers—including their own personal demons—to save the world from destruction.

YOU’VE HAD SOME GREAT REVIEWS. HAVE YOU ANY PLANS TO BRING OUT A PRINT EDITION?

Yes, Devil’s Lair has received some wonderful reviews. USA Today bestselling author Rebecca Forster wrote, “Devil’s Lair is by the best book I have read in years!” And Christa Polkinhorn, author of Love of a Stonemason, called the book, “Brilliant!” Both of these authors were writers I interviewed on my Kindle Author blog. After the interview, they bought my book and wrote their glowing reviews on Amazon. I’m quite pleased, of course.

I might release a print edition of Devil’s Lair through CreateSpace. No definite plans yet.

YOU HAVE A VERY INTRIGUING BACKGROUND; COULD YOU TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT IT? I’M PARTICULARLY INTERESTED TO LEARN HOW YOU GOT STARTED IN FILM-MAKING.

I went to film school at UCLA and ended up working in the multimedia business, producing educational CD-ROMs based on licensed characters like Snoopy and Charlie Brown. I worked for awhile with Charles Schulz before he passed away. Then I got into video games, landing a producer job at Fox Interactive, where I worked on a kid’s adventure game based on the animated movie Anastasia. I directed Meg Ryan and Hank Azaria for the game. I produced several Simpsons games, and got to direct the TV voice cast. I also produced a CD-ROM based on Titanic, and had a chance to work with James Cameron. It was fun for awhile, but the job left me with little time or energy to write my own stuff. I was pretty unhappy there at the end, and creatively unfulfilled. I eventually left Fox to write full-time. I wrote a lot of unproduced screenplays.

 I wrote Valentino: a play in verse and my first novel, Devil’s Lair. This year I directed, co-produced, and acted in Valentino at the first-ever Hollywood Fringe Festival. Lately I’ve been heavily involved in acting and directing theater. I wrote the libretto for an opera, The Other Wise Man. I’m also the stage director for that. It opens in Hollywood December 5. I’m currently casting another play, Friends Like These, which I’ll be directing in December for a January run.

WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO PUBLISH ON KINDLE?

I was getting tired of reading letters from agents who said they loved my writing but wouldn’t represent my book because they didn’t think it was commercial enough. I’d already self-published my uncommercial verse play through Lulu.com, and sold about 100 copies. I decided to publish Devil’s Lair myself on Kindle, even if it meant I’d only sell 100 copies. I exceeded that sales number in my second month.

YOU HAVE WRITTEN, DIRECTED AND PRODUCED FILMS AND ARE ALSO AN ACTOR. WHICH OF THESE SKILLS DID YOU FIND OF MOST HELP WHEN YOU STARTED TO WRITE DEVIL’S LAIR?

I trained as a screenwriter, which is a very pure form of storytelling. Screenplays are structure. Plotting now comes very easily to me. Writing great characters took longer for me to learn, and for that my training as an actor helps. One thing that was difficult when making the transition from screenwriting to novel writing was point-of-view. This isn’t something a screenwriter worries much about. You are always in the camera’s point of view. In other words, the audience’s point of view. But for a novel written in limited third-person, or in first person, you are in the point of view of one character. You are in their heads. You know what they know, and only what they know. This is both liberating and limiting. It was a challenge, but I’ve grown to enjoy it. As an actor I learned to focus on my intention: what does my character want in this scene. That is also what a novelist needs to know when writing a scene from a character’s point of view. So acting definitely helps.

WHICH OF THESE PURSUITS GIVES YOU MOST PLEASURE? OR IS IT A CASE OF LOVING THE DIVERSITY?

I’m an introvert by nature, and have written stories since I was a kid. Writing is a more substantial pleasure than stage acting, which is ephemeral. But stage acting, in front of a live theater audience, is much more fun. That’s why they call it a play.
WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE ON THE KIND OF BOOK TO WRITE?

I grew up with a love of epic fantasy. My father read Lord of the Rings to me and my brothers when we were kids, and I’ve read those books more than a dozen times since. One of my favorite passages is the mines of Moria sequence, which is what the ancient Greeks called a katabasis, a descent into the underworld. It’s a common theme in mythology, but for me it goes back to Moria. As an adult reading Dante’s Inferno, I kept thinking back to Moria. I was reading a lot of Italian literature at the time, researching my verse play, Valentino. It was on a plane ride back from Italy, reading the prologue to Boccaccio’s Decameron, that I came up with the idea of Devil’s Lair. In his prologue Boccaccio gives a vivid account of the Black Death, which he lived through. Boccaccio was also the first Dante scholar. Elsewhere in his writings he gives an account of some townspeople watching a man walk down the street with a singed beard, and the people exclaiming that it must be Dante returned from hell. Boccaccio’s comic idea was that these people really believed in the tale of Dante’s Inferno. But what if it were true? What if the Commedia was Dante’s actual memoir? And what if Giovanni Boccaccio, Dante’s literary heir, was forced by dire circumstances to literally walk in Dante’s footsteps? I combined this idea with an idea from the Grail legends, that the loss of the Grail led to terrible plagues and famines in Camelot. Then I knew I had a story. It would be a historical fantasy about a writer, Dante’s literary heir, traveling down through Dante’s Inferno to steal back the Holy Grail and save the world from history’s greatest plague. It would be told in the style of Tolkein’s Moria scenes, with an epic quest, fantasy creatures, a reluctant hero, great personal sacrifices, and a surprising-but-satisfying conclusion.
YOU VERY GENEROUSLY INTERVIEW OTHER AUTHORS ON YOUR BLOG (INCLUDING YOURS TRULY!) WHO WAS THE MOST MEMORABLE INTERVIEWEE AND WHY?

I’ll give you three.

The first was Stacey Cochran, because his was the first interview I did on the Kindle Author blog. It set the stage. At first I didn’t think Kindle Author would be an interview blog. I imagined it would be an advice site for beginning authors, with a bit about my own writing. But within in a week of starting the blog I read a comment that Stacey posted on Jon Konrath’s blog, asking for authors with websites to help him with the blog tour of his latest book. I interviewed Stacey, and he sent a lot his readers to my Kindle Author blog. I saw some good traffic from that interview, and realized that interviewing self-published writers was a win-win. I could give them a platform to publicize their books, and they would send more readers my way. This has worked out great so far. Also, I really love interviewing. I learn so much!

The second memorable interview was with Lee Goldberg. Lee is a very successful television producer and novelist. He’s traditionally published, but he also self-publishes his backlist books on Kindle. Among other things, Lee writes mysteries based on the TV series character Monk. He gave me a very gracious interview, with lots of wonderful insights, but at the end of the interview I asked him, as I ask everyone, what advice he’d offer to a new writer who wanted to self-publish on Kindle, and he basically said, “Don’t.” Of course, most of my readers are beginning writers who are self-publishing books on Kindle. Some were upset, and took the comments personally. A few of these writers began posting in forums about what a terrible thing Lee had said in the interview. The interview became controversial. People visited my blog to find out what Lee Goldberg had really said, and I got a lot of traffic from that kerfuffle. So I remember that incident quite well. For the first several months of my blog, Lee’s interview was the most-read post on the site. To this day I’m grateful to Lee Goldberg not only for granting the interview, but for kicking the hornet’s nest.

The third memorable interview is one I did recently with M.R. Mathias, also a controversial figure online. Mathias has a unique and compelling story. He wrote his fantasy novels while serving time in maximum security prison. Though he rubs some forum readers the wrong way—he has a very in-your-face promotional style—he does have a lot of interesting things to say, and his personal story is a great example of overcoming obstacles, and personal demons, to find success. I’m really glad I had a chance to interview him, and share his personal story with a wider audience.

DO YOU HAVE ANY OTHER INTERESTS? OR DON’T YOU HAVE TIME FOR ANY OTHERS?

I’m interested in many things, but have time for only a few. When people ask me how I can be so productive, I tell them to turn off the television. That’s my secret. I don’t own a TV, and haven’t for years. Of course, I do spend a lot of time on the Internet, but I’m also fairly productive there, as my Kindle Author blog will attest. I generally post at least once a day, and very often more than than.

I think that having various interests has allowed me to ask better questions on a wide variety of topics. The authors I interview seem to appreciate that.

WHAT ARE YOU PLANNING TO DO NEXT?

I’m working on a couple of books. One is a contemporary horror novel called The Highwayman. It’s based on a screenplay of mine that recently had an Oscar-winning director attached. The director has an overall deal with one of the big studios, but they passed on the project. He tried to raise independent financing, but couldn’t get the funds he thought he needed. My contract with the director expired in October, and he didn’t renew, so now the only person attached to the project is me. I’m rewriting it as horror novel. I expect to have a first draft by December 1, and to release it on Kindle before the end of the year.

My opera, The Other Wise Man, opens in December. I wrote the libretto for composer Damjan Rakonjac. He’s the music director and I’m the stage director. It’s a contemporary retelling of a classic Christmas tale. The production is turning out quite well, and I hope one day it will become a standard holiday piece for churches and smaller opera companies, as an alternative to the widely-produced Christmas opera Amahl and the Night Visitors by Gian Carlo Menotti. I’m working on two more librettos for composer Damjan Rakonjac. One is a short, intimate opera we hope to stage for next year’s Hollywood Fringe Festival. The other is full-length opera, based on a well-known literary classic.

Next I’m directing a play, Friends Like These, which was written by LA-based playwright Gregory Crafts. My production will run for three weeks in January. I’m also writing another verse play, and a rather zany farce for the stage, plus I’ve written a low-budget horror script that I’ll direct when I have the money.

Thank you, David, for a very interesting interview. Devil’s Lair is available on amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Devils-Lair-ebook/dp/B003AOA4IQ

You can learn more about David’s work on his website: http://davidwisehart.com/

David is also on Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/#!/david.wisehartHe Tweets: http://twitter.com/#%21/DavidWisehart

and has a blog: http://kindle-author.blogspot.com/
where you can read all the interviews to which he refers above.