Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Tony Perona Review of VIPER

As he did in BLEEDER, John Desjarlais takes a contemporary mystery and expertly intertwines a supernatural one. VIPER features Selena De La Cruz—insurance saleswoman, shoe fashionista and former Drug Enforcement agent—who is forced back into police work when a hit list is discovered and her name is on it. The nine people on the list have one thing in common—they all had a run-in with a drug dealer called the Serpent. As Selena and her colleagues try to track down the dwindling number of people on the list to stop the killings and learn who is behind them, they must deal with a young girl whose visions of a Virgin of Guadalupe-type apparition precede each death. Are the little girl’s messages of a veiled vengeance real? Are the apparitions somehow connected to the deaths, or is this event being used by the killer to cover each murder?

Desjarlais keeps you guessing as the action accelerates faster than De La Cruz’s souped-up vehicles. When Selena becomes the last woman standing, she must either figure out who is behind the killings or fall victim to La Serpiente. 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"

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Selena's Christmas

Hola, it’s me, Selena. Johnny’s busy grading Final Exams so he asked me if I’d guest-post something about Christmas this month. Apart from processing a few fender-benders with this week’s storm, it’s a slow season in the insurance office (people buy homes and cars in Spring), so I thought ‘Why not?’

The whole season was important in my familia: Advent, with the weekly lighting of Advent candles and the reciting of the Christmas story with each candle representing an angle – the angels, shepherds, Mary (the pink candle among the three purple ones), the Wise Men. Then there was the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12, of course, with an evening Mass and music by Mariachis. Papá wanted very much for us to fit in while retaining our own tradiciones, so we had a Christmas tree with Mexican ornaments: hand-painted tin and blown glass (my favorite was a Sagrado Corazon with red and yellow flames on the top).

In the small-town (Anglo) neighborhood where I now live, the religious aspects are obviously played down. Front doors sport wreaths and Santa Claus cut-outs, while lawns display sleighs and reindeer or plastic snowmen. Someone on my street has a gaudy inflated penguin with a fan that makes it wave at passers-by. Everyone is celebrating “The Holidays” but no one seems to be celebrating “The Holy Days” that these truly are.

I haven’t even started decorating and I won’t until the novena begins before Nochebuena, Christmas Eve. Years ago, during the nine days of the posadas, my three brothers and I paraded through the neighborhood each night with all the other kids, in bright costumes, holding candles and singing Mexican carols accompanied by guitars. The songs are called villancicos in Spanish (pronounced vee-yan-see-kose), a mix of familiar songs in English, such as Noche de Paz (a Spanish version of Silent Night), and some are purely Mexican, like Las Campanas de Belen (The Bells of Bethlehem). In imitation of Joseph and Mary, we asked neighbors if we could stay. The first two always refused (by plan), and the third took us all inside where there was already a barn scene set up. Everyone prayed the rosary in Spanish, the Santa Marías rolling like soft waves. Afterward, we partied with piñatas, fritters and fresh fruit drinks like horchata, chía, and piña. One time my brother Lorenzo got into the men’s tequila supply somehow and spent the rest of the night kneeling in front of the toilet.

These days, I keep my décor simple. I put white candles in the windows and evergreen garland on the banisters. I add a few Nutcrackers among my santos y virgencitas figurines. Instead of a tree, I have a traditional Mexican Nativity Scene called a pesebre, with carved olive tree figures I bought from a Palestinian Christian group that visited our parish to support the very small (and poor) Catholic community there.

My familia had a large Nativity set in the living room and each person had a little crèche in his or her own room. Every year someone disappeared from the big set-up; if it wasn’t Saint Joseph, it was a shepherd or a magi. One year we couldn’t find the Baby Jesus to put in the manger on Christmas Eve. I cried because I thought there wouldn’t be a Christmas that year because of it. The Baby Jesus turned up in time, albeit with tiny bite marks from Mamí’s Chihuahua. This year, I’m still missing a magi from my own set, the one carrying the gold. Maybe I’ll find him, but I’m wondering who else will disappear?

On Christmas Eve, Nochebuena, we all gathered at my godmother’s place in Chicago. First, we attended Christmas midnight Mass, and then returned to my madrina’s place to chow down her famous bacalao a la vizcaina and romeritos in mole sauce. Christmas Day was quiet – board games, TV.

Family gifts weren’t given until Epiphany, Dia de los Santos Reyes Magos. But after dinner on Christmas Eve, the Baby Jesus, El Niño Dios, was placed in the manger and a small gift was given to us kids. We never did the Santa Claus thing. Papá would only go so far with acculturation.

Well, I’ll stop here. Feliz Navidad, everyone. And I bet Johnny lifts some of this for his next story. I’ll consider it my Christmas gift to him.

(photo above: me, in my Loyola days).

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Selena's Thanksgiving

After Thanksgiving dinner, the men sprawled on the plastic-covered chairs in Comadre María’s living room swigging beers and yelling at fútbol on TV while the women chattered loudly over the stove and sink in the cocina. Handing each other plastic containers, they were putting away the leftovers of traditional American fare – turkey, celery and cornbread stuffing, mashed garlic potato, green bean casserole with onions, corn with red bell peppers, yams with marshmallow, and cranberry relish. Papá had always insisted that his children fit in and be acculturated, but not assimilated. Selena couldn’t help but smile at the fact that all the traditional “American” foods were indigenous to Mexico, except for the cranberry.
Lorenzo’s two kids pulled out a Serpientes y Escaleras board game on the parlor floor and argued about who should go first.
“Hey, none of that!” Lorenzo barked. “Los niños hablan cuando las gallinas mean.”
Selena and her brothers had heard it often: Children speak when hens pee. And everyone knows, pues claro, hens don’t pee.
“The chipotle and chive cornbread was yours, wasn’t it Selena, dear?” asked Auntie Big Hair, who was stuffed into a satin dress two sizes too small for her.
“Sí, that was mine,” Selena said. “New recipe.” She got it from Latina magazine.
“Delish-io-sho,” Auntie said, mouth full. She licked her fingers and glossy nails. “At last you are learning to cook. Why aren’t you cooking for a man yet? ¿Cuando te vas a casar? When are you going to settle down?”
“I’m trying to establish my business,” Selena said.
“What would your mother say?” Auntie Big Hair said. “Do you want to end up like la Cucarachita Martina?”
It was a familiar fairy tale – the little girl cockroach Martina finds a nickel and after much thought uses it to buy powder to look pretty and find a husband. She refuses the proposals of the dog, cat and rooster because they bark, hiss and crow “Aqui mando yo,” I give the orders here, when asked what they will do on their wedding night. Finally Perez the mouse wins her amor by his caring and gentle demeanor, because Latinas at heart desire a gentleman like that. But as Cucarachita Martina is making a stew for the wedding feast like a good wife and una buena mujer should, Perez gets impatient and while trying to taste it he falls in the pot and drowns. Lesson: el destino will take you away from the good man you hoped for and you’ll have to settle for a man driven by machismo.
Auntie Giggles bare-shouldered her way into the conversation, floral taffeta swishing. “What’s this I hear? Hee-hee! Selena is going to settle down? You found a man at last? ¡Que milagro!”
“It’s – it’s not like that,” Selena struggled.
“So there is someone,” Auntie Big Hair gushed. “Who is it? Tell me. Does he have a car as nice as yours?”
“I’m not seeing anyone right now,” Selena said, wishing that Reed, chivalrous, chisel-chinned and smart, were here to take the pressure off her.
Auntie Giggles pouted. ”¿Qué pasa? A curvy chica like you still sola?”
Selena firmed her lips. Every Latina knew that an unmarried and childless woman hasn’t lived up to the expectations of the familia.
“I guess I want Señor Right, not Señor Right Now,” she said. It was a ragged cliché, but it might stop the women’s badgering.
Her brother Lorenzo belched wetly and called out for more black bean dip. His wife Elena scooped some from a plastic bowl into a decorative dish.
“And another beer!” Francisco hollered. Then a player muffed a kick and both brothers stood with Uncle Hairy Nose and Uncle Baldy and three cousins to shake their fists and shout insults at the TV.
Elena grabbed four beer bottles from the fridge and closed the door with her knee.
“They’re big boys, Elena,” Selena said. “They can get their rumps up and get their own beers.”
“I’d answer for it later,” she said quietly. “Excuse me.”
“Hey, that’s not the one I want,” Lorenzo complained. “The Corona Light. And put a little wedge of lime in it, ok?”
Francisco shook the chip basket. “We need more chips, too. Those blue ones.”
Elena set down the dip. “Sure. Right away, mi vida.”
Selena crossed her arms. “My brother is a lazy slob,” she told Elena when she re-entered the kitchen. “You’re encouraging him. Make him get up now and then. Why serve him hand and foot?”
“Your Mamí did,” she said, brushing past her. “All Mexican mothers do. You know that. Or maybe not.”
Comadre María asked Selena to step aside so she could wipe the counter top.
“Oh, let me do it for you,” Selena offered, uneasy about Elena’s snippy remark.
“No, no. I’m fine,” Madrina said. “You relax and enjoy. There’s plenty left over. Take some home.” She squeezed Selena’s arm. “Still so skinny. Take it all home. If only you weren’t so far away. Why be so far away? You have to drive all that way in that old car. And it sounds worse than the last time you were here. Maybe you can have the mecánico de auto look at it before you leave.”
Selena smiled. How could she explain that it was supposed to be loud? “Madrina, it is best for everyone that I live where I am right now.”
“Your mother felt the same way as me. Why so far? Living alone in that big house? How can your brothers protect you when you are so far from the familia? We just want you to be safe.”
Lorenzo belched again and Francisco laughed like a burro. “It is best for all of us that I am far away,” Selena repeated.

(That's because she's on a drug dealer's hit list! VIPER is due for release March 25, 2011. Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!)

Monday, November 22, 2010

VIPER has ISBN, price, sort-of release date


John J. Desjarlais

ISBN: 978-1-933184-80-7

256 pages

5.5 x 8.5 trim



Available Spring 2011 (I'm hoping by "Love Is Murder" in February)

Monday, November 15, 2010

first VIPER review

by John Desjarlais
Manchester: Sophia Institute Press, 2011

Reviewed by Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur

In the book of Genesis, it is written “I will make you enemies of each other: You, serpent, and the woman. She will crush your head and you will strike at her heels.” (Genesis 3:15) That quote serves as the inspiration for John Desjarlais’ latest work of Catholic fiction, “Viper,” a compelling mystery that will keep readers in suspense.

Selena De La Cruz, a woman with a fondness for expensive footwear, is an insurance agent trying to forget her past as a drug enforcement agent. When her name shows up on a short list of people to be murdered, she is forced to face her demons – both literally and figuratively. Meanwhile, Jacinta, a young Latina, has been seeing visions in a cemetery of a “Blue Lady” many believe to be Our Lady of Guadalupe. “The Blue Lady calls for prayer and repentance, and then announces judgment upon those who are victimizing her children and bringing shame upon her people.” The individuals on the hit list have been killed one by one within forty-eight hours of when the visions occur.

A man known only as “The Snake” is the primary suspect. All of the targets, including Selena when she was working undercover, have had dealings with him. His calling card is the snake venom left in his victims.

“Viper” is rooted in Latin culture and religion. Selena is a woman trying to live in two worlds and not finding a home in either one. This is a classic who-done-it, but it is also a story of Selena’s evolution as a woman. Desjarlais has woven a highly-readable tale that mystery lovers or fans of Catholic fiction will greatly enjoy.

(photo: Selena checks a clue)

FREE copy of BLEEDER, VIPER for bloggers

If you are a blogger who writes book reviews, you can get a free copy of BLEEDER (and in January, VIPER) by filling out the form at this URL, below:

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Final cover art for VIPER?

This might be the final cover art - or close to it. There's a blue aura behind Selena, the gun-hand is female (the other was a man's hand with the nails painted red) and the gun is different, and the serpent-smoke is lighter, more subtle. Now for the back cover, which will probably have a story tease and a blurb.

Monday, November 8, 2010

VIPER view from Jeanne Dams

"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

Sunday, November 7, 2010

MWA approves Sophia Press

I got news Friday that the Mystery Writers of America Board designated Sophia Institute Press as an 'approved' publisher, which means I can change my membership status from 'affiliate' to 'active' (full) and take part in Midwest Chapter promotional events, such as Printers' Row Book Festival in Chicago. I really feel like I belong to 'the club' now. Thanks, Sophia Press, for submitting the paperwork, and thanks, MWA, for the approval.

MWA 'approves' publishers who put out a certain number of titles per year and pay their authors a minimum of $1,000 for an advance. Only books from the approved list of publishers can be eligible for awards (such as The Edgar) and be listed in "The Third Degree" newsletter when they're released.

Speaking of...

Sophia Press tells me that VIPER should be out in early January now instead of before Christmas, as first hoped. Staff in the office, as well as the out-of-house proofreader, had illnesses and family emergencies, delaying the release date. The editor, who also assists in this process, delivered a new baby into the world a couple weeks ago (congrats, Regina and Andrew!) and so she's been preoccupied as well. At least the book will be out in time for the February "Love is Murder" mystery conference in Chicago.

I began outlining the third book in the series last night. I suppose having the extra hour after changing the clocks motivated me.

(photo: Selena De La Cruz returns in - well, I don't have a title yet. I guess it should end with -ER to match BLEEDER and VIPER).

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Galley Proofs have arrived

The galley proofs for VIPER arrived last week and I've gone through them already to make minor adjustments. The typesetter had a few flagged lines and spelling questions - easy to fix. This process is going faster than it did with BLEEDER. There's still no release date, but it can't be far off. As soon as I get a date, an ISBN, a price and a final cover design, I can begin marketing and sending copies to reviewers.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Deconstructing the Cathedral

Some students in my Composition classes have asked to see the whole essay I use, in part, in class, to illustrate how clustering and outlining can be used to construct a Profile. Here, then, is the essay - which took Honorable Mention in the Writers' Digest Competition a few years ago in the 'essay' category.

The copy/paste function eliminated all paragraphing and such. It's still readable, though.

Deconstructing the Cathedral
(c) John Desjarlais. All Rights Reserved.

At first, it looks like the typical tangle of tourists debarking from busses at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. But the crowd is larger than the usual mix of pilgrims and panhandlers, and there are a number of native New Yorkers gawking skyward – people who never do this at the risk of being called a tourist. I look too, and notice that the familiar iron web-work of scaffolding has been removed from the just-completed twin towers of Peter and Paul. They are festooned with bright balloons. A taut wire is strung between the towers, and a man in a striped bodysuit is walking the wire, juggling hoops.
“What’s this?” I ask someone.
“Hundredth anniversary of the cathedral.”
Yes, I recall seeing something in The Times about it, I say.
Camcorders hum. The aerialist dances on the wire; I imagine absurdly that the architects sent him there to test its tension, to assess the strength of the towers.

When Charles Jencks popularized the term “postmodern” to describe a movement in architecture which despoiled styles from diverse periods, he might have had the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in mind. New York Times architecture critic Herbert Marchamp once called it “New York’s greatest postmodern skyscraper.” The hulking, two-thirds complete behemoth, the second largest church in the world next to St. Peter’s, has been compared to a grand novel – built in fits and starts, not quite up to the original vision of the work, revised continually, and interrupted by a series of contentious editors. It may be more like a sprawling postmodern novel, lacking a linear narrative with many of its disconnected pieces previously published in disparate journals over several years, a comic self-parody.
Cathedrals as texts narrate the centuries that build them. Medieval structures reflect a unified and cohesive worldview marked by symmetry. God is One, a Unity, and is discerned in the unifying, unchanging principles of mathematics. Seeing God manifest in the underlying coherence of sacred geometry, masons felt privy to the secret knowledge of the divine architect of the (uni)verse.
Furthermore, Christian ethics, like architecture, followed orderly, balanced standards, using the spiritual plumb lines of sacred shapes and numbers: seven cardinal virtues and seven corresponding deadly sins. Avarice, lust, and pride – money, sex, and power in today’s terms – shadowed the monastic ideals of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Paul summed up Christian ethics in the trinity of faith, hope, and love; a cathedral education began with the Trivium of grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic.
The Cathedral of St. John narrates a different time, a fragmented century, one that gave us doubters like Sartre and deconstructionists like Derrida. No wonder Muschamp calls it “an existential cathedral, both alienate and engaged.” It is historically characterized by structural chaos and social activism. The first bishop, Henry Potter – really, that was his name – invited black clergy from nearby Harlem to dinner and worked with them to clear area slums. Today, there’s a homeless shelter, a soup kitchen, and an AIDS clinic.
But it could also be called “postmodern” because of its contradictory construction and shifting concept of self. It is not a static structure exemplifying universal precepts built on sure foundations. It does not adhere to the fiction of textual coherence, but views all text like itself as open-ended and the product of many hands. University of Texas rhetorician Lester Faigley once said that

Printing…tended to magnify the distance between the author and the reader, as the author became a monumental figure, the reader only a visitor in the author’s cathedral (italics mine).

So it is with visitors to St. John the Divine; they arrive expecting to “read” a unified whole but they get constant reminders that this is a work in progress: framed blueprints in the narthex, clinging scaffolding, unfinished sculptures in the fleche, piles of blocks heaped in the stoneyard. The cathedral as text is always in process, constructed of competing discourses, and, in an odd way, never set in stone.

The initial 1886 design of George Heins and C. Grant LaFarge was the winning entry of an international competition, and a collection of contra-dictions from the get-go. “A bold and florid piece of eclecticism, more Byzantine than Romanesque within, more Gothic than Romanesque without,” said one reviewer. The first phase of the project called for a central dome topped by a pyramidal tower and lofty spires at the north and south transepts. But the four granite arches and eight buttresses that were to support the central dome sank in quicksand made by underground springs hitherto undiscovered on Morningside Heights, and the original design sank with them. From the beginning, it seems, the cathedral rejected foundationalism and sought a moral mooring somewhere between the rocks of 19th Century optimism and the quagmires of 20th Century uncertainty.
The prize-winning plan was abandoned; the architects were dismissed. Ralph Adams Cram replaced them in 1911 is responsible for most of the cathedral that stands today. He did not use the word “postmodern” but he loathed modernity. As an “anti-modernist” rather than a “postmodernist,” Cram snubbed the modernist dictum that form follows function, designing buildings as criticisms of modern life. Knowing full well that it was an anachronism to build in a 13th Century French Gothic style, he did so, while retaining the Romanesque chancel. Ponderous, rounded arches co-existed uneasily with graceful, lace-like lattices. Goths and Romans always had an ambivalent relationship.
Although Cram railed against modernism and modern technology, his plans were financed by industrial barons who were busy modernizing America. Furthermore, Cram told the patrons of the seven radiating chapels of the apse that they could choose their own architects. The result: an architectural stew, whereby the coherent and cosmic unity of matter and spirit which once defined a cathedral, portraying the order and balance of the Logos (Reason) which created all things, is replaced by multiple perspectives and personal tastes in open repudiation of the reign of rationality and an overriding meta-narrative. In this sense, the cathedral is “postmodern.” At the least, it was meant to be “multi-cultural,” since the radiating chapels were named for the patron saints of countries considered a century ago to be New York City’s ethnic world: Italy, Ireland, Germany, Spain, Scandinavia, France, and “The East.”
While the diversity may appear on the surface as a celebration of American democracy (an impression reinforced by the stained glass windows in the bay chapels recognizing American artists, armed forces, lawyers, labor unions, schools, and sports), Cram despised democracy. He believed Americans would soon withdraw into walled cities governed by feudal hierarchies. This would explain his choice of 13th Century Gothic, as a prophetic (and sarcastic) statement of what the surrounding neighborhoods, and culture, would become.
Perhaps Cram was right. One needn’t go far from the 13 acres of the cathedral grounds to spot the spray-painted territorial markings of rival New York gangs. Two blocks north, a cultural tribalism is redefining the academic turf at elite Columbia University, itself fortified against Harlem with a huge castle-like wall.

The cathedral presides regally atop Morningside Heights, a colossal ark stranded on Ararat. Its buttresses thrust outward and down like massive oars ready for a mighty stroke to launch itself once the Hudson rises high enough with the tide. There is no movement or sound, no clank of rowlocks, but a continuous exchange of thrust and counterthrust storing enough energy to hurl the huge vessel forward on command, freed from the fetters of earth. The apse is a granite prow, and the transverse ribs of the nave ceiling look like the hull of a ship. Nave, after all, is from the same root as navy, reminding worshippers that the Church itself is the ark of God in the tossing storm of the world.
Perhaps to emphasize this idea of the ark, the canons (clergy of the cathedral, having nothing to do with cannons on a ship – well, maybe) host an annual blessing of animals in the nave. Every October, on the Feast of Francis of Assisi, the ark of Morningside Heights boards the likes of elephants, camels, goats, ostriches, and other exotic birds. Parishioners bring their pets to join the eccentric parade and to be aspersed with holy water. Some frightened animals asperse the owners. Stone squirrels watch bemused from above in the pier capitals, while outside in the gardens the cathedral’s peacocks call furiously for help. The cacophonous creatures enter at the cathedral’s west entrance, through massive bronze doors with cast panels of Biblical scenes; one of them portrays the loading of animals onto Noah’s ark. The doorway art looks much too orderly, with creatures in pairs queued up like Canadians at a bus stop. Surely it must have sounded – and smelled – much more like this.

On a normal day, the cavernous nave echoes with the scuff of shoes and the sibilant voices of tour guides. In French, German, Japanese, and who-knows-what, the groups shuffle like millipedes from site to sight. They are not like cathedral pilgrims of old, doing penance or seeking healing from the virtue of the cathedral’s relics. Instead, they exemplify the postmodern condition, living life episodically, passing through many spaces, knowing one will not stay for long in any one place, just long enough for a few impressions and a souvenir or two. It’s life lived as a series of spiritual package tours with options to meet one’s intellectual and emotional budget.
Tourists pack lightly and avoid the burdensome weight of moral responsibility. They move through the spaces other people live in, and they often view them through a lens. Churches everywhere are filled with spiritual tourists like that.

When aerialist Phillipe Petit thrilled busloads of tourists by walking a wire strung between the Twin Towers of Peter and Paul (as he once had done between the other Twin Towers of New York at the time of their completion ) he was demonstrating the dilemma of postmodernism (even if postmodernists despise binaries).
For some time now, this theoretical movement has balanced precariously on a tightrope of denials: that there is no unified, coherent self but only a public projection of private subjectivities each of which is socially constructed; that there are no grand narratives pretending to contain truth but only historically situated, ideologically-embedded discourses constructed for the purpose of establishing and preserving cultural hegemony; that knowledge is a shifting consensus among members of a rhetorical community who pool their perceptions in a process of linguistic negotiation. The result, says Faigley, is that postmodernism does not – cannot – supply a theory of agency or ethics.
Until the question of “the subject” is resolved, he says, postmodernists will walk a precarious wire, unsatisfied with the artificial projection of multiple “selves” on the one hand, while remaining resistant to any concept – Modernist or Christian – of individual consciousness and conscience on the other hand. The trick to keeping this balance between linguistic determinism and Platonic atomism, reply postmodernists, is maintaining some kind of momentum, placing principles from different sites in dialectic. The ethical decision-maker stands not only in one site, but walks between them, balancing the universals and the particulars.
Like an aerialist on a wire.

Construction on the cathedral came to a halt during World War II because the nation needed iron and steel. With peace, the Episcopal church was reluctant to resume work on such a grand building in such a poor neighborhood, concerned that they would appear insensitive to the needy. The church turned to social activism instead.
In 1979, the church decided to hire unemployed young men of Morningside Heights, Harlem, and Newark and teach them the dying craft of stone carving. As conceived by the Very Rev. James Morton, Dean of the Cathedral, architecture and social ethics could be combined. The Cathedral Stoneworks hired master artisans from Europe, and under David Teitelbaum (an historical architecture preservation advocate and former real estate developer), “the little shop that could” employed 65 at-risk teens and all the modern technology that Ralph Adams Cram would have despised: computers, lasers, and digital cameras.
Three computer specialists operate large robotic saws and drills that do most of the cutting and shaping. But it’s young men from Spanish Harlem with names like Angel Escobar and Eddie Pizarro who work the details, chipping away for 10 hours a day on Indiana limestone blocks to shape textured window jambs, gargoyles, tiny squirrels, and saints.
The young carvers, then, learn to carve by carving. They learn to build by building. This is how people are built, too. As Aristotle said, “None of the moral virtues arises in us by nature,” but character (ethos) is the result of ethike (ethics, or more literally, habits):

The virtues we get by first exercising them, as also happens in the case of the arts, as well. For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them; for example, men become builders by building.

Ethics, Aristotle tells us, are a practice, not a position. They are not mere dictums determined in advance and applied to situations later. They are constituted by actions within situations. “By doing the acts that we do in our transactions with others, we become just or unjust,” says Aristotle. The apostle James may have had something similar in mind when he wrote, “Be not hearers of the Word only, but doers.” Such actions may lead to “ethike,” or “habits,” but insofar as they are self-conscious and self-critical, mindful of the power they exert for good or ill, they constitute ethike.
Taken this way, postmodern ethics do not necessarily contradict the historical Christian ethic which the cathedral also nominally represents. Resisting all other powers that would pull us down, we make such decisions and act upon them while trying to manage the other details of our lives, like juggling so many colorful rings on a wire. We keep the universals and the particulars in a healthy tension. To take one position, and to stay there, as some “absolutists” insist, is to fall. To walk anywhere you like, however, as the “subjectivists” suggest, is to fall just as hard. The truth is to keep moving, to keep acting justly, knowing that we will be fine as long as we are anchored to the twin towers of Saint Peter and Saint Paul.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Big Book of Black Mask Stories

I recently read an advance review copy of The Black Lizard Big Book of Black Mask Stories. In it, anthologist and Mysterious Bookshop owner Otto Penzler has gathered a stunning collection of short stories, novelettes, and novels published in that wonderful pulp magazine. You could never hope to find these stories on your own. The original magazines are rare and only two entire collections exist (The Library of Congress is one of them). This huge 1,000-page-plus paperback volume (just $25) is full of dope heads, gamblers, gangsters, cops, femmes fatales and hard-boiled American heroes. These fellas are good with guns and with their fists —reporters, photographers, cops, sailors, and such— working-class men who work hard for a living and have a sense of right and wrong. OK, so they smoke and drink a lot, but they are idealistic and sentimental, tough guys with gold hearts. They are street-wise and wise-crackers.

The original Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett is included in its original serial installments with 3,000 differences from the version we have today (the differences are not indicated in the text, however - too bad. I only say it is 3,000 because of the publicist). Raymond Chandler and John D. MacDonald are here, Erle Stanley Gardner and Cornell Woolrich, too, but many lesser knowns who are awesome. The writer intros are informative and there are many illustrations from the original mag. Very cool. Penzler's intro and the prologue by the last Black Mask publisher granting insights into some famous writers are terrific. I wish there was a better way to organize the material, me being an academic - I mean, a chronological or thematic arrangement would have been nice. The organization is a bit haphazard.

OK, there is misogyny and racism here and there, but hey: it was the early 20th Century. We know better now. We can still appreciate each story that presents American heroes who did their job, dirty though the work was, with a sense of chivalry.

It's due for a late September release.

guest at WritersInBusiness

I'm the guest today at : http://writersinbusiness.blogspot.com/2010/09/mystery-writer-and-readers-choice-award.html talking about making the transition from writing historicals to mysteries. C'mon by and say hi.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Rockford B&N Event

Many thanks to everyone who showed up for last night's event at the Rockford Barnes & Noble Bookstore. I especially appreciate the high school writers who stopped by to say hello and talk shop.

My next event is an Internet radio interview September 8 at 5 pm Central (it will be posted as a podcast as well); details to follow.

Still no word on the release date for VIPER; it's still in the editing process and there are other projects in front of it at Sophia Press.

Oh, and it's my anniversary today - 32 years with my beautiful wife, Virginia.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Mystery Writer Panel August 25

I'll participate in a panel of regional crime writers at Barnes & Noble Bookstore in Rockford (Cherryvale Mall, 7200 Harrison St.) on Wednesday, August 25, at 4 pm.

I'll be signing copies of RELICS (Thomas Nelson 1993; 2009) and BLEEDER (Sophia Institute Press 2009) until 8 pm, and introduce its sequel, VIPER (forthcoming Fall 2010).

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

VIPER cover prototype

After a few revisions, this is what the publisher has landed on for the cover art - for the time being. We needed something quickly for an August trade show. I doubt it will change much.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

VIPER: a mystery EXCERPT

Chapter 1

Selena De La Cruz finish-welded the high flow exhaust tubes at the manifold flanges, twisted off the white flame and lifted the mask to inspect her work. Perfecto. She blew at the torch as though it were a smoking gun and thought about the next tasks: install a low-temperature thermostat to keep the Charger’s engine cool, check the brake bleeder valves, and - line one on the garage phone trilled.
¿Ay, ahora qué? she sighed with a roll of her eyes. Hadn’t she made it clear to her new receptionist Felicia that her lunch hour in the insurance claims garage was sagrada and she was not to be disturbed while working on her car?
She ducked from under the Matco lift, tugged off her work gloves and crossed to the Formica counter, her Filas sneakers squeaking on the glossy concrete floor. She raked her fingers through her sable hair. It must be an emergencia, she thought, her heart rate accelerating with each quickened step. Un accidente malo with injuries. Lord knows how the early November drizzle had slicked the roads. She seized the chirping phone and punched a button. “¿Sí, Felicia?”
“Selena? Is that really you?” asked a man’s voice.
She wrinkled her brow. It wasn’t her brother Francisco asking for another loan. It wasn’t her brother Lorenzo looking for a place to crash, now that his wife had kicked him out again. It wasn’t Reed Stubblefield, calling about their weekend date; he knew better. And it felt a bit presumptuous for an insurance agency customer to call her by her first name. The nerve. And how did he get this direct line number? She drew a cleansing breath and used her softest business voice. “How may I help you, sir?”
“Selena Perez, ex-DEA?”
“Who is this?”
“Geez, you don’t know how hard it is to find you.”
Her heart hammered against her ribs. “I’m sorry, sir, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Sure you do. But being hard to find was the whole idea, wasn’t it?”
She rifled through her memory. “Del?”
“The same,” Del Bragg, her old team leader said with a snort. “Say, I like your new last name. Dee-lah-Crooz?”
“From John of the Cross, a Spanish poet,” she said, her breath suddenly short. “I always liked his work.”
“Yeah, well, I always liked your work, too.”
“That’s not true. You wrote me up twice for insubordination.”
“Three times. The third was because of that little girl you shot. I know you want to forget about that.”
“What do you want, Del?”
“So don’t thank me for getting the media off your butt about it. She lived, didn’t she? Aren’t you over it yet?”
“I said, what do you want?”
“Guess you’re not over it, not even five years later,” Bragg said. “But I need you back anyway.”
“When I left the agency it was for good,” Selena said, biting off the words. “I did everything I needed to do, and I’m done. Goodbye.”
“The Snake is out of prison,” Bragg shot back.
Selena brought the receiver back to her ear. “No way.”
“Way,” Bragg said. “His lawyer finally got the appeal. The judge said there was no evidence to prove the substance he was attempting to buy from you was heroin since the state couldn’t provide any chemical testing on it at the time. You remember why, don’t you?”
The fire.
“He’s free and back in business,” Bragg continued, “We need your help to find him.”
“Yeah, right,” she huffed. “You’ll just blow my cover and make me a target for every dope head I ever busted. Forget it, Del.”
“You blew your own cover, Selena,” Bragg retorted.
“What do you mean?”
“Hang on a sec.” Some paper rustled. “Here it is. I’ve got a Sinnissippi Weekly Observer newspaper clipping in front of me now, the whole story of some murder case involving a priest. You helped the River Falls police last spring, and there’s your picture, big as day. You’re still lookin’ great. Working out, huh? Love the long hair. Hey, are you seeing this guy in the other picture – Red Stubblefeld?”
“Reed Stubblefield,” she said shortly. “And it’s none of your business.”
“It might be. Listen up: If I can get hold of this newspaper article and recognize you and find you, anyone can, including The Snake, and believe me, I think he’s looking for you.”
Selena felt her forearms prickling with goose bumps.
“I can be at your house at 1500 hours to talk this over. I don’t want to come to your office since we might need you undercover again. I told your receptionist we were the police checking on somebody’s ID. It wasn’t a lie. Hey - you live alone?”
“Not surprised. Can you get the afternoon off?”
“I’m the boss.”
“Still got your piece?”
“No. It was government issued. I returned it.”
“I thought so. I’ve got another one for you. You didn’t like the standard government model, though, is that right? You had a P226 Sig Sauer, wasn’t it?”
“Yes.” Her heart recoiled against her ribs pow pow pow.
“You’re gonna need it,” Bragg said. “You remember what he said to you on the day we busted him.”
She closed her eyes. “I do.”
And the images of that day flooded back.

Chapter 2

It was five years ago.
At that time, like every time, Selena saw right away why he called himself La Serpiente, The Snake.
For one thing, he wore rattlesnake-skin boots with the steel toes that Bragg and her Anglo colleagues at Drug Enforcement sneeringly called “Fence Climbers.” When he crossed his sinewy legs and swung his foot, the tip glinted.
For another, his unmoving onyx eyes fixed on her cleavage - not all that uncommon when she met men – but that gaze was not measuring her size. It was calculating a striking distance. She averted her eyes to the side, a demure Mexican custom she hadn’t lost through acculturation. Locking eyes is also how snakes paralyze their prey. She wouldn’t give him the pleasure.
With a casual shake of her head, she quickly assessed possible escape routes. A back door. Two open windows where the greasy odor of tamales fritos drifted in from the outdoor cantina. No telling what was beyond the ratty blankets hung as partitions on laundry lines that stretched along the barracks wall. Behind them, shadows and voices. A woman’s giggle. Along the opposite wall, empty bunk beds, the men away at work. It might be rural Illinois, but it looked just like the barrio back-alleys of Mexico City when she did undercover work there. She puzzled over why The Snake arranged to meet here, in makeshift quarters for immigrant slaughterhouse workers, where the stink of hog offal clung to the men’s overalls and to the army-surplus sheets. Maybe he thought its remoteness more secure against reconnaissance or a raid. He was certainly more in control, and she didn’t like it.
A horse-faced mestizo shouldered through the partition. The man gave her a leer and then winked at her. Selena’s stomach clenched in disgust. Women behind the blankets were servicing laborers, and this man thought she was one of them reporting for work. She narrowed her eyes to angry slits, and the man, intimidated, hurried to the door and ducked out.
Ahí nos vemos,” The Snake rasped to the departing customer. See ya later. No doubt he would.
“I didn’t know you ran a side business,” Selena said, masking her revulsion. “Are the women documented?”
The Snake laughed through his teeth. It sounded like a hiss. “Does it matter?” he said. “They are fully employed and they put food on their family’s table. Maybe some day they can afford fancy shoes like yours.”
We’ll nail you for aiding and abetting human trafficking, too, slime ball, Selena thought, glancing around, anticipating areas of possible threat.
“I was hoping for a meeting place more private, as before,” Selena said. And more open, like a parking lot. Less chance of being trapped or taken hostage.
“So do they,” he said, waving a hand at the door where another customer arrived. La Serpiente shifted in his chair and smiled at him. No fangs. But the teeth were bleach white and evenly spaced like the military tombstones that paraded on both sides of her brother Antonio’s grave.
“And when did you start using bodyguards?” Selena asked, lifting her chin at the stern woman and the bald goon in the V-shaped beard and black T-shirt standing beside the seated Snake. The man’s hungry eyes scanned her up and down. A phone blinked in his ear. A Beretta gleamed from his belt.
“Since I could afford them,” the Snake answered. “Business has been good, and when business is good, people try to take advantage of you. I’m sure you won’t. Let’s see what you brought for me today. But first-”
He cocked his head, a signal. “Rosita! Búscala.”
The copper-cheeked woman with peroxide hair and gang tattoos stepped forward to search Selena for weapons or a wire.
Selena stuck out her arms, crucifix-style. “I was already searched outside by the door guard.”
The Snake smiled. “I know. I like to be sure.”
Rosita circled behind her. She ran her calloused hands up Selena’s black jeans, ankles to hips, rubbed her back and belly, patted her sides and chest, lingering there. When she stepped away, she whispered “Nice shoes” in Selena’s ear with an envious look at her red open-toed Espadrille wedge sandals. The woman’s teeth were streaked and cracked. Meth head. It was bigger than heroin or weed in the Midwest now, smuggled across the border or made on remote farms where the ingredients were easily available.
“It’s in her bra,” Rosita announced in a gravelly smoker’s voice.
“I also keep my passport there when I travel to see the Barracuda in Oaxaca,” Selena said.
The Snake leaned forward, eyes gleaming. “Did you see him last week as you promised? What does he think of my little business proposal?” he asked.
It wasn’t so little. He wanted to be the Mexican cartel kingpin’s Chicago – and hence MidWest - distributor.
“The fact that I’m here should tell you,” Selena said.
He smiled, satisfied. “Tell me again: does he really look like a barr-”
“Yes,” Selena said, jumping on the question too soon. Did it make her seem nervous? “Little teeth, always showing. Breathes through his mouth. Eyes widely set, so they look like they are on the sides of his head. He says he can see all around him and no one can take him by surprise.”
“Another thing we have in common,” he said, closing his eyes. The snake eyes tattooed on the eyelids made him look awake and prepared to lunge. No one would dare assassinate him in his sleep.
He opened his eyes and curled his lip, a sign that she had passed the test. Why was he testing her? Didn’t he trust her after two walk-away buys, the $50,000 flashroll, the dinner and that dance with his cold hand in the small of her back?
“Here’s what he has for you to sell,” Selena said, slipping two fingers down her scalloped blouse and extracting the one ounce sample. “If you do well with the first shipment, he says he will consider a partnership. You have the down payment?”
The Snake snapped his fingers and Rosita produced a thick roll of greenbacks. She waved it in the air.
Selena flicked the baggie in The Snake’s direction. The burly thug beside him snatched it in mid-flight. The man’s belt creaked when he leaned over. He snapped open the zip-lock bag, licked a fingertip, and dipped it in.
Chocolate de Fumanchú,” the bodyguard confirmed.
Low-life amateur, Selena thought. No professional tests it like that anymore. Must be watching Miami Vice reruns.
“I never test heroin myself,” The Snake apologized, “not after what happened to Don Caballo last year in Colombia.”
“Forgive me, señor,” Selena said, “but it was Venezuela.”
“Ah!” he exclaimed with palms up in mock dismay at his error. “But of course. How could I forget?”
Test two over. Something wasn’t right. She held out her hand, waiting for the money.
“The poor man,” La Serpiente said. “I’ve heard tell that Fortune, as they call her, is a drunken and capricious woman and, worse still, blind; and so she doesn’t see what she’s doing, and doesn’t know whom she is casting down or raising up.”
Always with the Cervantes quotes. Especially when he was edgy. Does he suspect something? Is he provoking me with that ‘woman’ line? Is he stalling? “You did not forget his terms, I trust?” she said, tapping her foot.
“I remember,” he said.
That was good. There was no need to belabor the details. Get in, get out.
“Good,” Selena said, extending her palm. “I’ll take my payment and be on my way.”
The bodyguard pressed his palm to his earpiece, and then whispered something close to his boss’s ear. The Snake’s pupils widened.
“One last thing, Selena, mi corazón,” he said, dwelling, it seemed, on the ‘s’ sounds.
A new condition? Test three? Play impatient. Balk and threaten to back out. She rested her palm on her hip. “, what is it?”
“That truck pulling in – is it my delivery already?”
Rosita pulled back a window shade. “It’s just the Supermercado produce delivery truck for the cantina.”
“They already came early this morning,” La Serpiente said, scowling. He pointed to Selena’s feet. “Take off your shoes.”
Madre de Dios, he knows. She shook a finger at him, irritated. “¿Qué cochinada es esta? Give me the money now or the deal is off.”
“The shoes, por favor.”
The bodyguard drew his Beretta.
Aimed at her.
She kicked off her shoes.
The door splintered open. The room blazed white and the blast from the Magnum 470 flash grenade hurled Selena to the floor.
“Police! Search warrant!” Del Bragg bellowed. “Down on the floor! Down! Down!” The agents behind him, in helmets and Kevlar armor, rushed in and dropped to their trained positions. Selena sprawled on the planks, covering her head. The Snake’s bodyguard squeezed two shots into the air before Bragg did a Rambo-roll and unloaded fifteen rounds from his M-4 into him. Cartridges flew. Hot grenade shards skittered across the floor. Women shrieked “¡La migra! ¡La migra!” as the fabric of the hanging blankets crackled into flames and smoke filled the room.
Rosita, on hands and knees, grabbed Selena’s sandals and scrambled for the back door. An officer yelled at her to halt. She shook a shoe at him in scorn. He mistook it for a pistol. He pumped five deafening rounds into her.
The snapping fire raced across the blankets and leaped to the walls like a ravenous animal. Wailing women stumbled outside, sheets to their breasts, kerchiefs over their mouths and noses. Agents coughed despite their masks, hauling men outside with their arms twisted behind them, shouting in badly accented Spanish.
Bragg seized Selena by the arm, yanked her to her feet, and hauled her outside. Once in the open, he jerked her arm up behind her to the middle of her back and shoved her toward the supermarket truck, barking, “You are under arrest. You have the right to remain silent-”
“Not so hard, Del,” Selena said through gritted teeth. “You’re hurting me.”
“Gotta make it look real, dollface,” he grunted in her ear. He resumed his mock arrest. “Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney-”
Bragg pushed her past The Snake who was belly-down in the dirt with an officer’s boot in the small of his back and with his head jerked up by the hair. Another agent waved a search warrant in his grimacing face.
“This is your fault, Selena!” The Snake hissed. “I’ll get you for this!”
“It’s your fault!” she screamed at him. “¡Puerco! Pig!”
“¡Puta! Whore! ¡Traidora!” he spat back.
“Shut up,” the officer said, and rammed his M16 stock into his ribs.
The paddy wagons screeched up, though at a farther distance than planned. The barracks were engulfed now. Smoke billowed from the windows and long tongues of flame licked the tarpaper roof, spitting an acrid smell.
“Get these rats out of here!” Bragg ordered, still gripping Selena’s wrist like a vise below her shoulder blade. “Let the others go. We got what we came for. And get those pick-up trucks out of the way before the gas tanks blow.”
“Local fire on their way, sir,” an agent called with a phone to his ear.
“Good.” He pushed Selena behind the delivery truck and released her.
She rubbed her throbbing elbow, took two steps and dropped to one knee, gulping for fresh air. Nausea writhed in her belly.
Bragg stripped off his helmet and face mask. “You all right, Selena?”
“Sure, Del.”
She wasn’t. She fought off dizziness.
“Let me get you some water.”
Selena wiped bitter spit from her mouth. She watched Bragg open the truck cabin’s creaking door and toss his helmet on the seat. She tried to swallow but her throat burned from stomach acid and smoke. She levered up, steadied herself against the truck, and faced the Quonset hut barracks that were now completely consumed in flames. The blurry heat prickled her cheeks.
That was a close call. Too close.
She back fisted the truck in anger. The evidence was burning. Maybe the recording would be enough. They might have gotten him for prostitution or human trafficking if Del had detained the women. Not our jurisdiction, he’d say. That’s for the ICE guys or the FBI. Gringo idiota.
Bragg twisted off the cap of a water bottle and handed it to her. She took an eager mouthful, rinsed, and spat.
“You know what I think?” Bragg chortled. “I think he wasn’t interested in the sample at all. He wanted to hold you hostage. To see what you were worth to the Barracuda. He didn’t know about the mic in the shoes. He just wanted to keep you from running away. He was probably going to ask for your clothes next. Don’t thank me for busting in a little early.”
“Fine, I won’t,” she said, wiping her mouth.
“We got everything. The mic in the shoes worked good.”
She squinted at the roiling flames.
“I liked those shoes,” she said.

(c) John Desjarlais 2010. All Rights Reserved.
(sorry, but the paragraph formatting disappears when I copy/paste. So it goes. Still readable, I think)

VIPER: a mystery

forthcoming Fall 2010 from Sophia Institute Press

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Still time to register for Writers conference

There is still time to register for this great writers conference. Details below:

For Immediate Release

Catholic Writers to Hold Conference in Valley Forge, PA

World Wide Web--The second annual Catholic Writers’ Conference LIVE will be held August 4-6, 2010, at the Scanticon Hotel Valley Forge in King of Prussia, PA. Sponsored by the Catholic Writers’ Guild and the Catholic Marketing Network (CMN), and held in conjunction with CMN’s annual retailer trade show, the Catholic Writers Conference LIVE provides Catholic authors with a prime opportunity to meet and share their faith with editors, publishers, fellow writers, and bookstore owners from across the globe.
This year's conference will feature presentations on such topics as market tips and time management for busy writers, poetry, creating evil characters, working with an editor, creating winning proposals, journaling and much more. Speakers include Catholic publishing representatives Mark Brumley - CEO of Ignatius Press, Claudia Volkman - General Manager of Circle Press, Regina Doman - acquisitions editor for Sophia Institute Press, and Tom Wehner - Managing Editor of the National Catholic Register, all of whom will also hear pitches from writers.
Among the other speakers are Michelle Buckman, (Maggie Come Lately and My Beautiful Disaster), Mark Shea (Mother of the Son), Donna Marie Cooper-O’Boyle (Mother Theresa and Me), Susie Lloyd (Please Don’t Drink the Holy Water), and Publicist Lisa Wheeler from the Maximus Group. Tom Wehner (National Catholic Register), and Long Island Catholic diocesan newspaper and editor Rick Hinshaw will share a panel discussing “Journalists as Evangelists.” Mystery writer John Desjarlais (Bleeder, Viper) will offer seminars on character development and finding an agent.
“Attending this conference has been the best thing I have done for myself professionally,” Carol Bannon, author of the children’s book Handshake from Heaven, said of the 2009 conference. Her fellow writer Melanie Cameron agreed, saying she left the last conference re-energized. “I recommend [this] conference as a resource for any author (or wannabe) at any stage. You will walk away empowered!”
The Catholic Writers Guild, a religious non-profit organization, sponsors both this live conference in August and an online conference in February to further its mission of promoting Catholic literature. “Our conferences are totally focused on encouraging faithful Catholics to share genuine Catholic culture and faith in their writing no matter what genre,” says CWG President Ann Margaret Lewis. “These events are integral to our mission of creating a rebirth of Catholic arts and letters.”
Registration costs $85 for CWG members, $95 for non-members and $42 for students. There's also a discounted combined membership. To register or for more information, go to http://www.catholicwritersconference.com/.

# # #

Friday, July 2, 2010

VIPER summary

Haunted 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 Latin 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?
VIPER: a mystery
by john desjarlais
coming this Fall from Sophia Institute Press

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

VIPER accepted by Sophia Press

VIPER was accepted today by Sophia Press. Here's the email sent by the acquisitions editor to the publisher and cc'd to me today:

Last night I just finished reading John Desjarlais's new manuscript VIPER (the sequel to BLEEDER). I really couldn't put it down. I hope to call John D. today with some suggested revisions, none of which are major.
When you return from vacation, I'd like to recommend that we bring this MS to contract as soon as we can. I found it even more compelling than BLEEDER and I strongly suspect our readers will feel the same way.

So I'm at work on the minor adjustments and we're aiming to promote the book at the August Catholic Marketing Convention and aim for a release in Fall.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

VIPER sent to editor

I finished a full draft of VIPER last week, received feedback and corrections this week (mostly re: Spanish language from my reader), made those adjustments over the last 2 days, and sent the revised ms to the editor at Sophia Press today, both an emailed e-version and a land-mail paper version. I'm certain there is revision work ahead - heck, the editor might not like it at all! - but I cannot describe what a relief it is to have the ms in the mail. I have been so stressed during the final stages that I was speaking Spanish in my sleep, according to my wife, and I don't speak Spanish. How weird is that? It must have been Selena, pictured here.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Barnes & Noble book signings in June

I'll sign copies of BLEEDER at Barnes & Noble, Green Bay WI, on Saturday June 5, 2-5 pm, and at Barnes & Noble, DeKalb IL, on Saturday June 12, 1-5 pm.

The era of 'the book signing' may be coming to a close, and not because printed books themselves may be passe soon (big piece in the Wall Street Journal today about ebooks). Have they ever been a good marketing strategy for non-celebrity writers? It helps if one is speaking to a book club on the premises, or offering a workshop of some sort, but to just show up and be shown to a table is ineffective. "Book signings," even if fairly well publicized, just don't draw a lot of people. A writer has to work the room, passing out bookmarks and initiating conversations with strangers.

At least it is a good opp to meet book sellers face to face and befriend them, since they will be your sales people long after you leave, making recommendations to customers largely because they got to 'know' you.

Book signings as public events also give you an opp to get your name and book title in local newspapers and radio 'community calendar' shows. Only a few people may show up, but many, many people will have seen the announcement. That's gotta be worth something.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Congrats, Johnny

Hey, it's me, Selena. Just wanted to say felicitaciones and high-five to Johnny for finishing the book that features me as the protagonist. Well, a fictionalized version of me. I know as well as he does that there's the laborious editing process to come with changes to be made and all that, but it's still a happy occasion to get that first draft completed, printed out, and in your hands. So we're going out tonight for Margaritas and steak fajitas to celebrate (with his lovely wife Virginia, of course). Thought I'd dress up for the occasion and wear the Stuart Weitzman peepsling heels in Adobe Serpent he got for me to say thank you for helping with VIPER.

He's been bugging me about my father's career with PEMEX and my undercover work in Mexico years ago because he's already thinking of the next book. He has to - the ending of VIPER is such a shock that it begs to go on. Looks like he's stuck with me for another year or two.

The poor fish.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Finished draft of VIPER

Yesterday I wrote those wonderful and frightening words, THE END. The first full draft of VIPER is done. This sequel to BLEEDER features a minor character from BLEEDER as the protagonist, Latina insurance agent Selena De La Cruz.

I pushed very hard these past two weeks, since Commencement at my college, hoping to deliver a draft to my editor by the end of May as I'd promised. So it is ready, a few days early. I've sent a copy to my Latina reader who checks the ms for cultural accuracy and sensitivity, correctness in the Spanish (she's a professional translator), and to provide general feedback. So far she likes it and says I'm getting the Latina stuff right.

The editor suggested that we might be able to do all the editing, rewriting and designing over summer and aim for a Christmas release. So here's hoping.

The draft came in at 60,000 words, 311 pages, a bit shy of what I'd hoped for (65-70K, 320-350 pages). But this happened with BLEEDER, too, and I'm not too concerned about it.

So now I'm thinking ahead about promotion - well, only a little - but I don't want to count too many chickens before they hatch, as it were. I have plenty of promotional chores for BLEEDER at the moment to keep me busy, too.
For now, I'll mix a Margarita (Selena likes them) and relax a little.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Catholic Writers of Long Island conference

Catholic Writers of Long Island: Growing Together Spiritually, Artistically and Professionally
CONTACT: Lisa Mladinich 631-421-6119 lisamladinich@optonline.net
For Immediate Release

Charitable Event Launches New York Writers' Group

Huntington, NY-Catholic Writers of Long Island, which is poised to become the first local chapter of the Catholic Writers' Guild, will hold a full-day conference at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception, 440 West Neck Road, Huntington, New York, on Saturday, June 19th, 2010 from 9:30-4:30pm, entitled, "The Word Made Flesh: A Day of Encouragement and Enrichment for Catholic Writers." Signed copies of good Catholic books, theater tickets, and other valuable prizes will be raffled off and proceeds will benefit Catholic Relief Services, which is a 501[c]3 organization. All are welcome, including nursing mothers with their babies.The event's keynote speaker, Rick Hinshaw, editor of the Long Island Catholic, will receive the Catholic Writers' Guild's "Lily" award for Meritorious Achievement in Catholic Arts and Letters. Other speakers include: award-winning author and publisher, Josephine Nobisso; author and composer, Alexander J. Basile; retreat leader and host of "Among Women" podcast, Pat Gohn; and author and seminary rector, Msgr. Peter Vaccari. Msgr. Charles Fink, Director of Spiritual Formation for the seminary, will be the homilist.The event emphasizes connectedness in the Body of Christ and supports professional networking via breaks with refreshments and a special bonus; early-birds will have bios and contact information listed in ¼-page sections in the program, an added value worth $15. Mass, Rosary, and buffet lunch included. Tickets before June 1st: $25 for adult early-birds and $17 for student early-birds. From June 1st-June 15th, tickets: $35 for adults and $25 for students. Meal head-count closes June 15th.

Register at: http://materetmagistramagazine.org/store/ and click on the "Catholic Writers of Long Island" link in the left sidebar under "Important Links." Add your 100-word [max] bio in the "comments" section, or mail check and typed bio to: mater et magistra, P.O. Box 251, Hamlin, PA 18427 and put "LI Writers" in notes section.

To learn more, see Facebook page for "Catholic Writers of Long Island" or contact chapter president, Lisa Mladinich, at lisamladinich@optonline.net

Friday, May 14, 2010

Selena's ride

If anyone wants to hear Selena's car, they should visit http://www.tuningmag.net/?name=dodge-charger-1969, scroll to the bottom, and click the mp3 button. That's her car.

Monday, May 10, 2010

amazon.com review of Throne of Tara

"Desjarlais has carefully researched the history of this saint and vividly brought him and his world to life. An easy and interesting read. Great chance to learn some little-known Church history in a way that is as entertaining as it is educational. "
amazon.com reviewer, April 2010

Saturday, May 8, 2010


Here's the RELICS video trailer to accompany amazon review I just posted.

RELICS review

from amazon.com:

I love stories of castles and knights, but there is so little good stuff written about this part of our history. Desjarlais is a master of historical fiction--weaving vivid descriptions of the food, clothes, beliefs, politics and habits of the time into a story that grabs hold of your imagination and doesn't let go! For the guys, there's plenty of swordplay, action and intrigue. For the girls, there's romance and uncertainty. I never knew what a key role the collection and preservation of relics played in the history of the Catholic religion. It's also great to get into the mind of someone who might have lived in that time period and see how similar their dreams and struggles were to our own. I heartily recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading about the days of the Crusades and doesn't mind learning a thing or two in the process!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

June Book Signings

So these are a month away but maybe it's worth announcing now. I'll be at the following venues in June:

June 5, Saturday, 2-5 PM, Barnes & Noble
2498 S. Oneida St., Green Bay, WI 54304

June 12, Saturday, 1-5 pm, Barnes & Noble, Oakland Place Shopping Center

2439 Sycamore Road, Dekalb, IL 60115(815) 787-3234

June 26, Saturday, all day (probably 9 am to 6 or 7 pm?), Creekside Books

(part of the town Strawberry Festival)

W62N596 Washington Ave., Cedarburg, WI 53012

contact: Glen Switalski, (262) 546-0004

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

St Anthony Messenger review of BLEEDER

BLEEDER, by John Desjarlais. Sophia Institute Press. 272 pp. $14.95

Reviewed by JEAN HEIMANN, freelance writer, retired educator, psychologist and oblate with the Community of St. John.

IT'S NOT OFTEN that you come across a book that captures your full attention on an emotional level, and challenges you intellectually and spiritually, too. Bleeder was such a book for me.
In Bleeder, we are introduced to Reed Stubblefield, a classics professor on sabbatical. He is recovering not only from the physical wounds of a gunshot accident in a school shooting, but also from the emotional wounds of his wife's recent death. He retreats to a rural Illinois cabin to write a book on Aristotle.

But the town of River Falls is filled with the ill and infirm—all seeking the healing touch of the town's new parish priest, reputed to be a stigmatic. Skeptical about religion since his wife's death from leukemia, Reed is reluctantly drawn into a friendship with the priest, Father Ray Boudreau, an amiable Aquinas scholar.

Then the priest collapses and bleeds to death on Good Friday in front of horrified parishioners. Is it a miracle or is it a bloody murder? Reed needs to know because the police say he is the prime suspect.

Once Reed is identified as the prime "person of interest" in the mysterious death, he seeks to discover the truth with the help of an attractive local reporter and Aristotle's logic.
In his third novel, author John Desjarlais presents the reader with an exciting and suspense-filled mystery that is difficult to put down. A gifted writer, Desjarlais captures the reader's attention from the very first page with his sharp imagery, gripping plot, vivid characters, amazing climax and satisfying conclusion.

Bleeder uses sharp imagery, which is descriptive yet concise. For example, Desjarlais writes: "Two squad cars blocked the street at both ends, their blue and red lights flashing like votives."

In this mystery written in the first person, Desjarlais introduces us to a variety of well-crafted and colorful characters as he works through clues and dead ends, casting suspicion on a number of people, challenging readers to ponder their motives and to try to guess "whodunit."

What makes Bleeder uniquely Catholic is that, in addition to the practical mystery contained in the plot, there is a mystery that Desjarlais delves into on a higher level—the spiritual level— which he explores through the suffering that Reed Stubblefield, Father Boudreau and other characters encounter. In Bleeder, Desjarlais contemplates the mystery of "undeserved suffering" from a Catholic point of view.

Bleeder is an exciting and thought-provoking Catholic mystery that I thoroughly enjoyed and one that I highly recommend for all adults.

Monday, April 19, 2010

WANB interview

I'l be interviewed Tuesday April 20 at 11 am Eastern on WANB AM 1580, Waynesburg, Pa.

Monday, April 12, 2010

d-review of BLEEDER

Nice review of BLEEDER at d-review: http://d-review.blogspot.com/2010/04/bleeder.html
John Desjarlais’s “Bleeder” is a delightful page turner with full of twists and appealing characters to make it a complete mystery thriller. This novel is an action packed adventure though not as gory as the title might sound.
The protagonist in this novel is a professor, on sabbatical, Reed Stubblefield. After being wounded physically by a student’s shot and mentally by his wife’s death, Reed moves on to his brother's home at a small town in Illinois where he finds himself surrounded by many believers and sick pilgrims who have come to get cured by a stigmatic priest, Father Ray. Reed’s skepticism and curiosity leads him to an unusual relationship with Fr. Ray. The main event of the story is death of Fr. Ray during the Good Friday service, which makes Reed the prime suspect. The death of the beloved priest and its consequences will make Reed to question his long held beliefs and philosophies. Reed’s search for the real killer, the secret behind Fr. Ray’s death and other mysteries won’t let you put this book down.
This book is an enthralling work of fiction. It also includes lots of quotations from Aristotle as Reed is writing a book on him, which enhances the reading experience. Also the Catholic background helps in developing a great effect as the mystery unfolds.
(I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Sophia Institute Press.)

Rating: 5/5

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Radio call-in show tonight

I'll be on www.adviceradio.com tonight, Wed 4/7, at 7-7:30 pm Central for a call-in show. Fee free to call 800-405-6425 with a question about BLEEDER, writing in general, faith and fiction, whatever.

Oh, and that last review I posted is from www.thegenReview.com - I omitted the 'the'. Sorry.

Monday, April 5, 2010

GenReview.com's take on BLEEDER


Reviewed by Larry W. Chavis


Devastated by the loss of his wife to leukemia, partially crippled and traumatized by a school shooting, Aristotle scholar and professor Reed Stubblefield seeks the peace of his brother’s hunting cabin in downstate Illinois to recuperate and write a book on Aristotle. Arriving in rustic River Falls, though, he finds all the area camps and lodgings crowded with people - sick and injured people, who have come to see the local Catholic pastor, a priest who is said to bear the Stigmata, and to be a healer. In spite of his own evident antipathy to any involvement in what he considers to be pure superstition, Reed discovers that his brother has arranged matters so that Reed’s meeting with the priest is inevitable. What follows is a bit of subtle intellectual give-and-take between the two, until the shocking demise of Father Ray during Good Friday services, a death that may or may not be murder.

The book is published by an imprint that, in its own words, ” … seeks to restore man’s knowledge of eternal truth …” and Christian thought, specifically Catholic thought, does inform the book. Yet Desjarlais is able to have his characters address deeply human issues in a manner that is in no sense heavy-handed or preachy. The college professor finds a kindred scholarly spirit in Father Ray, and is able to build a relationship on that basis apart from any religious connections, though he is, perhaps, able to address the void that has existed within since his wife’s death from a new angle as a resulting of knowing the priest. In the end, there is no grand conversion … merely deeper thought and consideration, perhaps an openness that he hasn’t had before.

The mystery around which all the events revolve is twofold - is Father Ray a stigmatic and healer, and was his death murder? These two questions are kept before the reader as the plot develops, through a young reporter seeking her big break in the stories surrounding Father Ray. The plot resolves both questions in what I felt was a satisfactory manner, and in keeping with the atmosphere of the story.

While the book does have as background a Catholic motif, it tells a story that transcends any particular set of beliefs, and is a good mystery besides.

Copyright ©2010 Larry W. Chavis

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Selena says bye for now

Johnny's been a good sport to let me blog here this month. Since this is the last day of March, I thought I'd depart with one more memory.

I wanted to join the boys' soccer team in Middle School. Not that they had a problema recruiting boys for the team, as happens in some school districts. And it wasn't because there wasn't a girls' team - there was, and they were pretty good. But growing up with three brothers, I needed more competition. A challenge.

So my brother Antonio took me to the boys' field to introduce me to the coach. I politely asked to join the team, bouncing a ball knee to knee to show him what I could do. But the man spat out his whistle and laughed at me. "The cheerleaders are over there," he said, pointing behind me and widening his stance.

It sure looked like a goal to me.

So I drop-kicked the ball hard right between his goalposts, so to speak.

I was suspended for three days.

Ay, my Mami had the fire of an amazona in her eyes when I got home.

"Y que te ha entrado a ti? El que diran?" she scolded while stirring habichuelas on the stove. "What has gotten into you? What will they say?"

"They'll say I should have been allowed to try out," I said, displaying the unbecoming gringita
habit of speaking my mind.

So I was sent to bed without supper as well.

This is one of the 'rules' of growing up Latina: do not forget a woman's place. I keep forgetting this rule.

That's it. I'll "see" you again when you read Johnny's book VIPER coming around Christmas. For now, adios.

Bye for now

Johnny's been a good sport to let me take over his blog this month. Now, with the end of March, I'll add one more memory.

I wanted to join the boys' soccer squad in Middle School. Not that they didn't have enough boys signing up, which I hear is a problema in some school districts. It's just that the girls were not competitive enough for me. And they could be very competitive, believe me! But growing up with three brothers and being something of a tomboy, I needed more of a challenge.

So my brother Antonio took me out to the field during the boys' practice and introduced me to the coach. When I asked to join the team, the man spat his whistle from his mouth and laughed at me. "Who ever heard of such a thing?" he guffawed.

"At least let me try out," I requested, bouncing a ball knee to knee to show him what I could do.

"The cheerleaders are over there," he said, jerking his thumb and widening his stance.

It sure looked like a goal to me.

So I drop-kicked the ball hard, right between his goalposts, so to speak.

I was suspended for three days.

Ay, when I got home my Mami had the fire of an amazona in her eyes while she stirred the habichuelas on the stove.

"Y que te ha entrado a ti? El que diran?" she scolded. "What has gotten into you? What will they say?"

"They'll say I should have been allowed to try out."

So I was sent to bed without supper as well.

This is one of the 'rules' of growing up Latina: do not forget a woman's place. To be an 'independently minded Latina' is seen by many as a contradiction in terms. This is why a Latina must be brave -- to deal with the pressures of our jobs, our families' expectations, our tradiciones, and our own divided selves contra viento y marea, against all odds.

That's it. I guess I'll "see" you next time when Johnny's book VIPER comes out, maybe around Christmas. For now, adios.

Monday, March 29, 2010

At the Sinnissippi Dragway

Ola, it's Selena again.

Some gringo idiota in a 2009 Dodge Charger passed me on Route 2 today on the way to work. He honked and cut it pretty close, showing off. I was in the company Jeep Cherokee with the decal on the rear right-door window that says “You just got passed by a girl,” but I didn’t punch the gas just so he could see it when I returned the favor. After all, the road is two-lane and curvy, and badly pitted in spots from an Illinois winter.

So I just smirked to myself. I knew my Charger would leave him in the dust. I regularly burn carbon from the valves at 100 miles per hour in the first one-eighth of a mile on a country road I won’t name here. I’d go for 120 if the car still had the chutes, the ones Antonio installed to use at the Sinnissippi Dragway.

I’ll always remember the day Antonio took me there to watch him race the Charger at the annual Power Wheelstanding Competition. I got to wandering around and the track manager mistook me for the new flag girl and shoved a zebra-striped umpire’s shirt with black Lycra short-shorts into my gut, said I was late and told me where to change and report.

What else could I do?

I snapped the short shorts over the man’s head, pulled them down over his astonished face with a jerk, and stormed off shouting “¡Insolente! ¡Descarado!”

“Did you have to do that?” Antonio steamed while driving out the gate a few minutes later, the manager glowering at us in the rear-view mirror. “They said I can’t race here anymore.”

“Go back,” I said, thumping my chest with my thumb. “I’ll drive. I’ll show them what a Latina can do.”

“You already did that,” he said, gunning the gas to spin his back wheels. Gravel peppered the manager, and we both laughed.

Ay, I don’t pass a day when I don’t think about my fraternal twin brother. He’s the reason I joined the DEA in the first place. When you read Johnny’s new book VIPER, you’ll find out how that happened.

And amigas, when you do, remember he’s making all that up, and there are some things in there about me that just aren’t true.

Friday, March 26, 2010

How Mexican Am I

So I take the Facebook quiz “How Mexican Are You” and score as “coconut,” brown on the outside but white on the inside. Yo me ruborizo! How is that possible? I know my Papi was determined to have us kids fit in and be acculturated (not assimilated) and that’s a reason why we always had a very traditional American-style Thanksgiving with turkey, yams with marshmallows, corn, beans, and cranberry relish (all indigenous Mexican foods, ironically, except for the cranberry). But my Mami, well, she raised us in las viejas costumbres, the old ways.

I think I sensed this deeply for the first time in high school when I brought home an Anglo boy, Jerry, to meet the family. I feared Papi would interrogate him like a cop drilling a suspect and my Madrina Maria would corner him with stories of Oaxaca even though she didn’t speak English and Mami would serve tripe soup with chiles colorados to test his mettle – but I brought home the Anglo boy anyway. A crowd of Mami, Papi, my three brothers, all my cousins, uncles and tias, with all the curious, chattering neighbors greeted him. Jerry shook hands with Papi and my three brothers and smiled at everyone else – not knowing he was expected to meet everyone personally with a handshake and a warm verbal greeting. I should have told him.

Later, Mami called him muy frio, very cold, mal educado, ill mannered. Is this how we raised you – to find a gringo for a boyfriend who is so bent on dishonoring us, who has no respeto for our familia?

He doesn’t know our ways, I cried. He is Americano.

And what are you? Mami asked.

And I realized fully for the first time I was in two worlds at once.

Maybe that’s why my Thanksgiving dinners have a Mexican twist to them these days, like the corn with salsa, jalapeños, green onion and red bell pepper, or my chipotle and chive cornbread, or the black bean dip for the blue tortilla chips. Just don’t ask me to serve mole with the turkey.