Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Selena and Christmas

(excerpt from VIPER) When Selena rounded the corner of her street she noticed the Christmas decor strung on neighbors’ shrubs and eaves. It was too early in the day to see lights, but doors sported wreaths and Santa Claus cut-outs, while lawns displayed sleighs, reindeer and plastic snowmen. She hadn’t even started decorating and wouldn’t until the novena before Noche-buena, Christmas Eve. During the nine days of the posadas, she and her brothers had paraded through the neighborhood each night with all the other kids, in bright costumes, holding candles and singing Mexican carols with guitars and, in imitation of Joseph and Mary, asking neighbors if they can stay. The first two always refused, and the third took them inside where there was already a barn scene set up. Everyone prayed the rosary in Spanish, the Santa Marías rolling like soft waves. Afterward, they partied with piñatas, fritters and fresh fruit drinks like horchata, chía, and piña. One time Lorenzo got into the men’s tequila supply somehow and spent the rest of the night kneeling in front of the toilet.
This year I’m going to keep it simple, she thought, parking at the curb. Candles in the windows as usual, garland on the banisters. I’ll set up the pesebre with the carved olive tree figures of the whole nativity scene.
Her family had a large set in the living room and each person had a little crèche in their rooms. Every year someone disappeared from the big set-up; if it wasn’t Saint Joseph it was a shepherd or a magi. One year they couldn’t find the Baby Jesus. Selena cried because she 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. Selena was still missing a magi from her own set, the one carrying the gold. Maybe this year I’ll find him, she mused with a soft chuckle. But then who else will disappear?
The familia always gathered at Comadre María’s. First, Christmas midnight Mass, then chow down at madrina’s. Her mouth watered thinking of the colorful bacalao a la vizcaina and romeritos in mole sauce. This mess had better be over with by then, she muttered as she stepped out and trotted to the front door.
Still plenty of light left in the day. She checked her watch, thinking she didn’t have time to think about presents. Anyway, family gifts weren’t given until Epiphany, Dia de los Santos Reyes Magos. Reed might expect something at Christmas, though. There was the cognac she bought for a special occasion. Maybe that. But would she see him again at all? Her heart squeezed like a limón.
She jingled her keys, found the one for the front door and plunged it in, rushing through a mental list: bundle up, it’s getting cold. After changing, drive to the office, get the Charger and race down I-88 to Prophetstown. Do I need to get gas? Take the GPS just in case I get lost even if I was there before. Check with Felicia about office calls.
She shouldered against the door but it didn’t budge. The deadbolt was engaged. Don’t remember doing that, she thought. Glancing over her shoulder furtively, she leaned her body on the door frame and fingered the keychain again, opened the door, and stepped inside.
A glass tinkled in the kitchen.
Someone was in the house.
Madre de Dios, they went for Miguel first and now they’re here.
She backed to the wall and drew her pistol from the purse. She set the purse down and double-fisted the SIG Sauer against her thumping chest. She padded toward the kitchen, her mouth suddenly dry. A cup scraped on a countertop.
She lunged into the kitchen, gun high.

(You’ll have to buy VIPER to find out who was in the kitchen and what happens next!)

Friday, November 18, 2011

blog interview today

I'm interviewed at 'The Muriel Reeves Mysteries' blog today. It's the last stop of 16 stops on my Fall Virtual Book Tour. http://tiny.cc/n54nl

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

researching mystery #3

Did more research recently for mystery #3 in the series regarding the real-life assassination of Cardinal Posadas Ocampo of Guadalajara in 1993. Selena was involved as well as her former PEMEX-executive Papa during her graduation-from-Loyola visit to Mexico. That's all I should say for now. I've applied for a sabbatical with a proposal to draft this novel during the leave.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

working on book 3

I've begun research for book 3 in the mystery series - it's turning into a political thriller, involving the 1993 assassination of Cardinal Posadas Ocampo of Guadalajara, when Selena was a 22-year-old graduate of Loyola. Here's her Senior photo. The family went to Mexico to celebrate her graduation and - well, it got more exciting than anyone could have guessed.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Criminal Minds at Work VIPER review

Here's a review of VIPER from Carl Brookins, writing for the blog "Criminal Minds at Work":

Set in rural Illinois, the novel follows disgraced DEA agent Selena De La Cruz as she tries to re-order her life into some semblance of normality after a drug raid gone bad results in a tragic aftermath. Leaving that life turns out to be more than just difficult. It is impossible. And so Selena leaves her insurance company and re-enters the dangerous world of undercover drug enforcement among a Latino population that is turbulent, ever-changing and marked with friends who become enemies and family members short on understanding.

The author cleverly establishes Selena as an independent capable woman beset on all sides by the chauvinism of her bosses and the cultural disapproval of her family. Good Latinas do not carry guns and arrest drug dealers. There is an invasive Latin Catholic presence throughout the book. The basic theme of the story is a list of names entered into a church’s Book of the Dead, requesting prayers for their souls. The problem is that the people represented are still alive as the book opens. But one by one they are murdered. Since Selena’s name is last on the list, she has more than usual reason to be concerned. Her interaction with law enforcement and Church officials becomes more and more intense as the list is shortened, one by one.

The novel is smoothly written, logical and mostly gripping. There are several sections of Aztec and other religious history and legends used by the author to explain some of the ritual Selena encounters which, while interesting in themselves, have a tendency to slow the narrative. Nevertheless, Viper is a worthwhile read, blending religious mystery with brutal modern crime.

Monday, August 8, 2011

FabianSpace review of VIPER

VIPER is another excellent mystery by John Desjarlais. Too often, you read a thriller/mystery and have to wonder if the main character is even human for all the abuse and emotional trauma they live through in the course of a book. The thing I enjoy most about John's books is that he doesn't rely on over-the-top action or heart-clutching angst to get you through a story. Rather, he begins with a strong mystery with believable characters you could expect to find living next door, and he lets the excitement and the emotion flow naturally from the story. The result is a novel that will keep you reading through the end, but not leave you feeling like the characters--and you--need a long vacation on a deserted island just to recover! The Catholic and Hispanic culture, so well researched and deeply infused in the book, add flavor and uniqueness. Definitely worth reading!

(photo at right: Selena De La Cruz, VIPER's protagonist)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

new amazon review of VIPER

"VIPER is John Desjarlais's sequel to BLEEDER. Having enjoyed the first novel so much, I snatched up the second as soon as I saw it in the bookstore. I was not disappointed. John Desjarlais has the uncanny ability to at once take you on a seat-belt-tightening suspenseful ride of your life, immerse you in another culture, and have you live in his character's skins--whether they're Aristotelian professors or Latina maidens--and all at the same time. His story-line is fast moving and never predictable...like the twists and turns of a country road at high speeds. Be warned, though, if you pick up VIPER, you need to carve out a nice niche of time to finish it because--once you fall into the Viper's lair--you won't be able to crawl out."

Gerard Webster, author of In-Sight

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Murphy has arrived

Our new retired racing Greyhound, Murphy, has arrived at our home! He's a beauty, white with brindle patches! 3 years old, 33 races, his Mom was a million-dollar-winner. His track name: Sovereign Knight. He is housebroken, has already learned to climb stairs, and (for the most part) live in a human home.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

http://www.sophiainstitute.com/productdetails.cfm?sku=Mystry is where to order BLEEDER and VIPER together for $25 - limited time offer. VIPER is officially released July 15. It was printed and shipped to Sophia this week.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Northern Star feature

Local journalism professor publishes sequel to thriller
Heather Skripp Posted: Monday, June 27, 2011 3:25 pm

DeKALB Kishwaukee College's own John Desjarlais will release the second book in his mystery series Friday.

Desjarlais, professor of English and Journalism at Kishwaukee College, studied at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Columbia University and Illinois State University, worked at Wisconsin Public Radio and wrote three books before his upcoming release, Viper. Desjarlais said that the act of writing is itself a constant source of inspiration.

"Inspiration comes when the pen moves across the page or the fingers begin to type," Desjarlais said. "It is in the act of writing that ideas come."

Viper is the sequel to 2009's Bleeder and follows protagonist Selena De La Cruz as she struggles to find out why her name is in her church's Book of the Deceased. Viper, like Bleeder, combines elements of mystery novels with religion and mysticism. Aztec myths, Mexican Catholicism and bi-cultural identities are themes of the novel, Desjarlais said

"First, they are indeed classic mystery novels in the sense that they are driven by a crime requiring a sleuth to solve the puzzle rationally, with clues planted for readers to follow and a surprising solution at the end," Desjarlais said. "The crimes involved in both books determined their spiritual flavoring."

Desjarlais said he takes extra care to make sure the portrayal of religious beliefs and practices is accurate. Anything else, he said, is a form of disrespect to readers.

Readers can look forward to a third book in the series, which is currently in the works. Characters from the first two novels will be brought back for a new story dealing with life insurance fraud.

Readers can see book summaries and reviews at Desjarlais' web site, www.johndesjarlais.com. Titles are on sale at Amazon.com.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Seattle Post Intelligencer/Litland on BLEEDER

Finally, I get to review a book in my favorite genre: cozy mystery! John Desjarlais masters it well in Bleeder. Reed Stubblefield is a professor on sabbatical. While often used to finish research or publish books, a sabbatical is truly meant to be a time of learning, development, self-improvement. Reed endures life "lessons" that he didn't anticipate in this quiet rural town.

Written for adults, older teens will also appreciate the rich context within which Desjarlais situates his mystery as well as his multi-faceted characters. The protagonist, a religious skeptic, ends up knee-deep in a possible miracle - or is it a hoax? Criticism and misunderstanding of Catholicism are treated realistically and given intellectual critique. In contrast to authors like Regina Doman who integrate classic literature with a poetic effect, Bleeder is equally intellectual but for the philosopher rather than the poet. However, rather than a heady treatment, we are entertained with a continuous theme tying Aquinas to Aristotle in the self-talk and dialogue of characters. This gives it practical application to every day life (great for school assignment). A standard ethical process for decision making is provided that leads to the truth.

Each character in the story is dubious, and the reader sees how easy it is to appear to be a "good" person when not. Some are misguided religious fanatics who perpetuate their own beliefs from within a church community, showing how easily one can think they are following a path of Truth while actually straying into twisted religion. For others, their desire to see a good outcome may lead them to force results regardless of the means taken, forgetting to leave all up to God's will. The outer community also has its struggle with outsiders (immigrants) changing its culture, and the common fears and prejudices that accompany such changes.

At the same time, however, our protagonist is wrestling with serious matters straight out of modern living. Whether it be dealing with the death of his wife, being a victim himself of assault and injury, depression, medical insurance debacles, loss of employment, or relationships with family and love interests, Reed Stubblefield contends with it all. As salt is rubbed in his wounds, he doesn't falter but instead perseveres. An unseeming hero, yet a hero he is when it comes to conquering life's challenges. The author's treatment of loyalty, chaste dating, and self discipline is done in a manner that is very realistic, not idealist, and yet Reed makes the right choices each time.

If I were teaching junior/senior year secondary school (college prep) or lower level college ethics, philosophy or literature, I'd assign this book. What a great way for older teens and young adults to test their own ideas of how to live out Aquinas or Aristotelian ethics. Yet it also provides meaningful conversation for book clubs too. The author smoothly takes his reader into small-town life leaving much to be discussed about the foundations of ignorance and prejudice, true loyalty vs. self-protection.

Of course, putting aside its deeper meanings, as a fast-paced mystery it equally serves the purpose of pure enjoyment for any crowd too!

Just like what we watch on TV or movies, and who we hang out with, books also influence our values and attitudes. Our perspective on life is continually altered from what we read and, through that, so are our choices and behaviours. We are never too old to need a good story where realistic characters struggle with life's challenges and temptations, but end up having the self-discipline to make the right choices. Bleeder is such a story and highly recommended! See our criteria review against character education guidelines at http://www.litland.com/

Desjarlais, John. (2008) Bleeder: A Miracle? Or Bloody Murder?Sophia Institute Press. ISBN: 978-1-933184-56-2. Publisher age recommendation: Adult fiction. Litland recommends age 16 through adult. Not recommended for younger advanced readers.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Mystery writer Tina Whittle on VIPER

I am such a sucker for a strong (if sometimes flawed) female protagonist -- and VIPER delivers.

Selena de la Cruz (pictured here) is strong because she's vulnerable, both contemporary and traditional at the same time, which makes for an uneasy road. A former cop now working as an insurance agent, she's brought back into the world of drug smugglers and homicide when her name turns up in the Book of the Dead. She's still alive, but the people whose names precede her are being violently murdered. Suddenly a marked woman, Selena must face an old nemesis -- El Serpiente -- while solving a series of murders that may or may not be part of a plan of divine retribution, and may or may not be a prelude to her own demise.

Exciting stuff, this. The mystery hits several themes -- faith vs unbelief, insider status vs outsider exclusion (and how those edges cut both ways), justice vs retribution. I especially appreciated Selena's struggle to be an assertive, intelligent female in a culture that has traditionally valued a certain home-and-hearth-based passivity even as it produces strong women who buck that trend.

But this book isn't just smart; it's also fast and edgy and laced with murderous tension. Read VIPER, and then do like I'm doing and go get BLEEDER, the first mystery novel by Desjarlais. Or better yet, do it the other way around. But don't miss these books.

(from Goodreads)

Thanks, Tina!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

VIPER preorders

VIPER is now available for pre-order at Amazon.con or Sophia Institute Press:

Here's the cover blurb/Amazon description:

Selena De La Cruz has a problem.
Just before All Souls' Day someone entered the names of nine parishioners in her church's Book of the Dead, seeking prayers for their souls.
The problem?
All nine are still alive. Until they start getting murdered . . . one by one . . . in the precise order their names were entered in the Book of the Dead . . . and always right after a local visionary sees a mysterious woman known as The Blue Lady.
Is she the Virgin Mary warning the next victim? Lady Death, the Aztec goddess, come to claim another soul? Or someone less mystical, but deadly nonetheless?
Selena doesn't know but had better find out: only a few souls on that list have not yet been murdered, and the last name on it is . . . Selena De La Cruz.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

CatholicMom.com VIPER review

"Compelling characters, an engaging plot and a 'can't put it down' vibe combine to make Viper another literary jewel from one of my favorite novelists John Desjarlais. Viper picks up where Desjarlais' hit Bleeder left off, and John's writing is better than ever. The cultural underpinnings that color Viper are rich, diverse and well researched, and its action and dialogue will have you instantly connecting with heroine Selena De La Cruz. Another winner for John Desjarlais!"

Lisa M. Hendey, Founder of http://www.catholicmom.com/ and author of A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms.

Daring Novelist interview

http://daringnovelist.blogspot.com/2011/05/character-wednesday-john-desjarlais.html is where I'm interviewed today about Selena's role in BLEEDER.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Guest at raeblog

http://raeblog.blogspot.com/2011/04/interview-with-john-desjarlais-on-viper.html is where I'm a guest interviewee today.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Sophia Press merges with colleges

My publisher, Sophia Institute Press, has successfully completed a merger with two Catholic colleges. The story is here: http://www.catholic.org/college/story.php?id=41014 This means that the company is preserved, the fiction line will be retained, and VIPER has been scheduled for release in June. Further details as they become available-

North Suburban Library

I'm speaking and signing books tonight at the North Suburban Library District, Loves Park, IL, 6-8 pm. C'mon by if you're a local.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Authorfest today at Shaumburg

I'll be speaking and signing books at Authorfest in Shaumburg, IL, today, 10-4. My talk is at 10 am. http://shaumburglibrary.org

Friday, April 1, 2011

Creatures n Crooks guest today

In other news....

My publisher, Sophia Press, was recently acquired by Thomas More College. In the process of negotiating the merger, all book contracts were put on hold - which explains the delay of Viper's release. I haven't heard yet what the new release date is, but I'm hoping it is in time for summer writers' conferences and book fairs.

Bleeder is available in a Kindle edition and I'm hoping Viper will be as well.

I've begun the third book in this series with a working title of Specter. Yeah - ghosts. Or ARE they?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Selena's first day at the DEA

Hola, it's me again, Selena. Johnny asked me about my early days with the Drug Enforcement Administration in Chicago, since he's working on the third mystery in his series and needed some material. So I shared this:

On my first day working in the DEA office in Chicago, I wore a black blouse with a scoop neckline to show my best pearls, a stylish gray suit with a black belt and coral Christian Dior high heels, with my freshly oiled P226 SIG Sauer holstered on my hip. A girl’s gotta have accessories.

When my supervisor, Del Bragg, called me to his cubicle, I was SO ready to break down doors and snap on cuffs like they’d shown me in the Academy.

“There’s something important I need you to do,” Bragg said in a somber voice.

“I’m ready, sir,” I said, straightening. My silver hoop earrings jangled.

“Good. Follow me.”

He pushed away from the desk, brushed past me and marched past the other cubicles to the entryway, heading for the elevator. I followed him, chin and spirits high. At last I was on my way to be fitted with a jump suit and body armor so I could be assigned to a Task Force. It might even be Team Five-One-Six, suiting up in the corner and snapping 9 millimeter magazines into their service pistols for an op near New Comisky Park, or so I'd overheard. Surely they’d need my Spanish, sin duda.

Bragg stopped short at the secretary’s station and planted his hairy knuckles on her desk.
“Laura, I want the files purged this week,” he said brusquely. He issued orders that the bottle-blonde woman – wearing too much mascara, if you ask me -- jotted down on a memo pad. When Bragg looked at the ceiling once to recall an instruction, Laura glanced at me, rolled her eyes and primped her lipsticked mouth with a here-we-go-again face. I shrugged in simpatía. Bragg finished his list and said “Got it?”

“Got it, sir,” Laura said.

“Good,” Bragg said. “I know you and Selena will work well together. Hop to it, girls.”

He spun around, tapped me on the fanny and bustled out the door.

The air rushed out of my lungs. My Spanish blood boiled.

Just then Team Five-One-Six hurried past me, strapping on holsters, pulling on baseball caps, shouldering Kevlar vests. ‘Scuse me. Heads up. You trust dis informer, Rocko? Sure, I flipped him. They were heading for street work.
Without me.
Laura tore the top sheet from the pad. “We’d better get going, dear.”

I squeezed my fists, regaining control. “Be right with you.” I said something else in Español under my breath that I shouldn’t share here.

I returned to my desk, the Christian Dior heels sounding like sharp reports from my pistol. I locked away the SIG; no need for my piece while sorting through old files. I shrugged off my jacket, rolled up my sleeves, and spent the rest of the day on my hands and knees with cardboard boxes, a shredder, and Hefty trash bags.

Late in the afternoon Bragg checked on our progress.

“Hey, Selena,” he gruffed, pointing to my hip. “Where’s your piece?”

I blew away a strand of hair from my face. “I put it away, sir.”


“In my desk drawer.”

He aimed a finger at me, pistol-style. “The manual says an agent shall have his weapon in his possession at all times. Now go get it. Don’t. You. Ever. Forget. It. Again.”

He said it loudly enough so that others poked their heads above cubicle walls to see what was going on. Cheeks burning, I stood, brushed off my sore knees, and strode to my cubicle ignoring every eye that followed me.

For the rest of the week, I rifled through files with a useless gun knocking at my hip.

Then they parked me in the Money Laundering Unit. I felt insultado, muy avergonzado, after all the training I had. When I complained to my brother Francisco that night, waving my hands in frustration, he said that’s where women belong, in the laundry, and I almost slugged him.

But as it turned out, esté gracias a Dios, it was training I needed for the dangerous case I took on long after I left the DEA and became an insurance agent, when I got involved in a shocking life insurance scam that – well, that’s the subject of SPECTER, Johnny’s next book, and I’d better not talk about it.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Snoring Scholar review of VIPER

"(VIPER) is the sequel to Desjarlais’s action-packed Bleeder, though it stands on its own. It should come, however, with a warning label across the cover. I wouldn’t have put it down if my family hadn’t demanded my attention (don’t they know I have reading to do?!?). This book had me laughing out loud and thinking I had things all figured out. I was delighted that it had me fooled and that it as written as well as the first. When it comes out, consider it a must-read. Highly recommended."

Thanks, Sarah Reinhard!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Saint Patric in Training

(Here's a short story published in The Rockford Review a while back - seems fitting for St. Patrick's Day. It's a chapter from a novel-in-progress set in the late Roman Empire and featuring Patrick).

Saint Patric in Training
by John Desjarlais

Fiacc the Poet lived by the bank of the River Boyne in a hut of riverbed stones, for the poets know it is always on the edge of water that poetry is revealed to them. For seven years he watched the waters, searching for the Salmon of Knowledge which, when eaten, would give him all that could be known.
It was at the time of the salmon-leap, then, that Finn, leader of the Fighting Fianna warriors, came for hospitality, and by the Brehon codes, Fiacc could not refuse them. The men dipped their nets and in one of them twitched the Salmon of Knowledge. Fiacc said nothing of it, but let Finn roast it and bade him to not eat of it.
When Finn brought it to him, the poet asked: "Did you eat any of it, boy?"
Finn answered, "No, master, but I burned my thumb lifting it from the fire and put my thumb in my mouth. At once I knew why you told me not to eat it."
Then Fiacc gave him the whole fish, and from that time Finn had all the knowledge that comes from the nine hazels that grow by the Wisdom Well.
Fiacc told me himself, but he is no longer here to tell you, Patric. After my fosterage with him, he took service with his teacher Dubhtach, who wears the seven colors of a poet and who sings the twenty-score tales of Erin at the gatherings of the kings at Tara.
Have you not heard of Tara, Patric? It is the hill of the kings where the five avenues of Erin meet in Meathland, where the Stone of Destiny screams whenever a true king steps on it, for under it live the fairy folk, driven into exile there by the first men who invaded Erin. Did the shepherds not tell you this?
Listen: when Finn was yet a lad, he went up to Tara at the Feast of Beltane, the feast that welcomes back the sun from its winter journey. There, the kings of Ireland meet with their druids, and the cattle are driven to their spring pasture between the bonfires for luck. The Brehon law says no one is to raise a quarrel or grudge during the feast. So the kings met in peace, elected the High King for the festival, and sat at table with Goll, head of the Fianna - Finn's Men of the Woods - and Caoilte son of Ronan of the Speckled Shield, and Conall son of Morna of the Sharp Words. And Finn took a place among them.
The High King passed the horn of meetings to him and asked his name.
"I am Finn son of Cuhal,” said he, “who was once head of the Fianna and Fighting Men of Erin, and I come for your friendship."
The king that year was a friend of Finn's father, and so put him at his side as his own foster-son.
Thus the king spoke to Finn and his fighting men: "For three-times-three years now, there has come a man from the north, Ailen of Missh, stolen at birth by the glamoring sprites who live under that mountain, who taught Ailen their music that charms all to sleep who hear it. Each year he comes to Tara, plays the Sleep-Song, and lets out a fire from his mouth to burn all Tara while we sleep. If there is any man of Erin who can keep Tara from being burned by that Ailen, he will receive a rich reward."
But no man answered, for they knew well the power of that sweet and pitiful music which overcame even women in birthpain and men wounded in war.
But Finn said, "I am from that country, and know what to do."
And given leave, he called upon Lugh, the god who casts his brass shield across the sky each day. Lugh gave him his own Shining Spear, made by the three gods of metalwork, saying: "Gobhniu made the head, which will boast to you of all its battles if held to your brow, blocking all other sound. Luchta made the shaft which can never miss, and Creidhne made the rivets which hold it together and so will it hold fast to the wound such that no one can survive its strike."
So that night Finn lay in wait, and when he heard the first strums of that sorrowful music, he held the speartip to his head. Ailen played the harp till all were charmed asleep, but Finn only heard the spearhead's loud boasting. He came out into the open, and when Ailen saw him, he breathed fire. But Finn cast the spear into Ailen's throat, where the fire melted the metal. The molten iron filled Ailen's head, and the head fell off because of the weight. There is yet a round stone on Tara's hill that men say is the fallen head of Ailen.
Why do you laugh, Patric? Some say all these stones you see are fallen warriors, who walk to the stream at night for a drink and kill anyone in their way. That is why you must stay close to your watchfire at night. If you wander, the changelings may meet you, and you will wake up in the morning as a deer and not a man. Even Finn's wife was changed into a doe, when she refused the advances of a druid.
Ah! I see you have heard of this one. I know why. Is it because my sister Brona makes eyes at you? Lucatmael the druid desires her. Surely you knew that? I’ll tell her not to come out here to see you, because some day she will find you changed to a dog or a pig. Lucatmael could do it, for my father has taught it to him. Aye, he has told me from my youth that the wild pigs on Mount Missh are warriors he defeated in battle in order to become the chieftain of the mountain. So do not cross him or his fosterling. Remember, only a druid can change you back, or the kiss of a hag.
Do not make such a face! It is said my father's overking, Niall himself, met three hags in the woods one night while hunting with his two brothers. The crones asked each man for a kiss, but the first brother ran away and the second brother kissed only his hag's warty cheek with his eyes shut. But Niall pulled the third hairy face to his, and the warmth of his kiss flowed over the woman's bent body and she became a beauty with swan-white skin and golden hair. And in the voice of a spring songbird, she told him,

"I am Eriu, the Spirit of this land,
Erin Herself, espoused to you by the union of our breaths.
The sovereignty will be given to you."

Thus did Niall become king of the clan, to rule Ulster.
Oh, now I have offended you. It was in Niall’s Hosting of Ships that you were taken from your homeland. As always, I have spoken too much. Please, do not leave. I have told enough stories for one day. Patric, please stay. Tell me again of your druid and king, Christos, who the Romans hung on a tree. In Erin, there is a curse put on anyone hung from an oak. My father says: Gosact, it is just like the Romans to kill the Wise Ones among conquered people, to keep them under their heel and crush their hope. What do you say?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

new Amazon RELICS review

"A clever historical novel. This book reminds me so much of Voltaire's "Candide" with the innocent hero on a quest; the beguiling, yet more clever, heroine; and various other priests, servants, and noblemen who appear to guide or mislead the young man. Like Voltaire, whose tale was designed more to satirize his contemporaries, Desjarlais too has much to say about the world today in the guise of an epic. His observations on religious disputes are particularly apt."

Patricia Rockwell, author of "Sounds of Murder"

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Kaye George interview

In case you missed the Kaye George interview (at travelswithkaye.blogspot.com) March 2:

A former producer with Wisconsin Public Radio, Desjarlais teaches journalism and English at Kishwaukee College in Malta, Ill. In the Small World Department, Malta is not that far from my hometown of Moline. Welcome to my Travels, currently located in Taylor, Texas, John.

His two mysteries, VIPER and BLEEDER, are both published by Sophia Institute Press, a publishing house devoted to Catholic fiction. BLEEDER came out in 2009 and VIPER is scheduled for late spring 2011.

KAYE: There's a lot that fascinates me about this series. First, there's the sleuth, a female Mexican-American insurance agent, formerly with the DEA. Can you tell us a bit about Selena De La Cruz (pictured here)?

JOHN: Selena is a thirty-something second-generation Mexican-American woman with midnight hair and a café-con-leche complexion from a family with three brothers, one of whom was her fraternal twin. Her Papa was an executive with the Mexican oil company PEMEX before taking a position at the Mexican Consulate in Chicago where Selena was born and raised in the Pilsen neighborhood. She can be feisty and tomboyish, a tough competitor (given her brothers) and, like many Latinas, is struggling to come to terms with living in two cultural worlds (Old World expectations versus New World aspirations) and also living in a man’s world. She speaks Mexican Spanish well, graduated from Loyola with a finance degree (Papa insisted) and went to work with the DEA over her Mami’s objections shortly after her twin brother was killed in a car accident in Germany where he was stationed with the Army (drugs were involved). She inherited his chili-pepper red 1969 Dodge Charger and she knows how to maintain it and race it. She is fond of expensive shoes (seized drug money paid for the high-end brands); she is handy with a P226 SIG Sauer pistol and was excellent in undercover work until she was compelled to leave under a cloud. She took a new name, De La Cruz, and an insurance franchise in rural Illinois in order to start afresh. But her DEA past comes back to haunt her in VIPER.

KAYE: I can't help but notice her unusual last name. And how did you get the idea to write not only a female, but a Mexican-American?

JOHN: “De La Cruz” is really from St. John of the Cross, a medieval Spanish Carmelite mystic and poet whose writings Selena admires. Her real last name was Perez (and, of course, she had many names working undercover). Selena was a minor character in my first mystery, BLEEDER. Taking place in rural Illinois, that story considered the issue of Latino immigration (as a backdrop) and I needed a positive, educated Latin character who would be seen as a counter-balance of sorts to the many day-laborers, legal and otherwise, who were a poor and distrusted underclass. My protagonist, Reed Stubblefield, had been disabled in a school shooting and so I decided to have the local insurance agent be with his company and handle his claims. Once Selena walked on stage in those cherry heels, with that attitude, and driving that kick-butt car, I knew she had a story of her own. She played a larger role in BLEEDER than I’d anticipated.

When developing an idea for the sequel, I went with a premise about the Catholic custom on All Souls’ Day where a ledger called “The Book of the Dead” is placed in church where families record the names of relatives who died that year so they can be remembered and respected. I learned that Mexicans celebrate a holiday concurrently called “The Day of the Dead” where families respect their departed relatives with home altars and cemetery picnics, among other things. And then I realized that, in blending these ideas, Selena’s name would be found in her church’s “Book of the Dead” – and the problem, of course, is that she isn’t dead. But someone wants her to be. It was clear then that Selena would take the lead in the sequel, with Reed as a minor character this time.

KAYE: The second intriguing factor is your publisher. How did you convince a Catholic publishing house to take on a book involving drug dealing, serial killing, and just generally sordid topics? I suspect this isn't the usual fare at Sophia.

JOHN: Sophia Press had been known a long time for re-issuing older classics of Catholic literature and philosophy (like Thomas Aquinas). However, partly in answer to Pope John Paul II’s call to engage the culture and get real with art (he was, you may recall, a fine playwright and a good poet), Sophia hired an editor whose job it was to find stylish genre fiction that told the full truth about our humanity, in both its nobility and fallenness. She had a particular interest in mysteries, a genre that explores the best and the worst of our human nature and is concerned with justice. We met at a writers’ conference and BLEEDER, which had been looking for a secular home for a few years through an agent, intrigued her. My agent had recently retired, and so I was shopping the book on my own. BLEEDER had a distinctive Catholic coloring (it HAD to, given the stigmatic issue) but was never preachy, and the hero was a lapsed Presbyterian with Aristotle as his ‘mentor’, to boot. She asked for the manuscript and offered a contract within a few days. BLEEDER’s underlying theme about the higher mystery of undeserved suffering made it attractive to Sophia, and VIPER’s rich backdrop of Mexican Catholicism and Aztec mythology suited them, too. It helped that the murder elements were not sensational or gory or gratuitously violent.

KAYE: Do you have more books planned in this series? Do you think you will stay with your present publisher?

JOHN: I’m working on the third book in this series now. I expect to stay with this publisher for the series.

KAYE: I see mentions, in your summaries and reviews, of Aztec mysticism. Is this novel straight mystery, or is there some paranormal business included?

JOHN: Not ‘paranormal’ in any way, as understood in the publishing biz today – y’know, ghosts, vampires, werewolves and such. But Catholics are all about ‘higher mysteries’ and they affirm ‘the seen and the unseen,’ and all of it is ‘natural,’ that is, part of the created order. The ‘supernatural’ is actually ‘natural’ and ‘normal’ because it is part of the universe God made. But perhaps I quibble too much with the definition. Scratch a professor, get a lecture.

VIPER is part mystery and part thriller because there are crimes to be solved (a quality of ‘mystery’) but also a “ticking clock” to be beaten (a characteristic of ‘thriller’). The “clock” is that “Book of the Dead” in the church, where there’s a list of eight Latino names with Selena’s name written last. All the names are of drug dealers who are being killed one at a time in order. Police and DEA officials believe it is a hit list of “The Snake,” a dangerous dealer Selena helped put in prison years ago who is now out and systematically killing anyone who ever crossed him. Just before each killing, a mysterious “Blue Lady” appears to a local girl visionary to announce the death. Many in the Mexican community believe it is Our Lady of Guadalupe (the patroness of Mexico), but others believe it is the Aztec goddess of death (see, Catholics wouldn’t call a Marian apparition ‘paranormal,’ but again I quibble with the term). And we see our killer from time to time in the story, in first person, tending poisonous snakes and offering devotion to Aztec deities (snakes were very important in Aztec myth and religion). Modern Mexicans are becoming more aware of their Aztec (and Toltec and Mixtec etc) heritage; it is a growing part of their self-identity as they seek to acculturate into American society without becoming assimilated.

KAYE: Are your characters mostly devout Catholics? How much religion is included, if any?

JOHN: No, not many main characters are practicing, devout Catholics. In BLEEDER, my protagonist is a lapsed Presbyterian, a secularized Aristotle scholar who wants little to do with religion of any sort. Still, he enters a cautious friendship with the local parish priest, an amiable Aquinas scholar – who dies on Good Friday in front of horrified parishioners. My hero becomes a prime ‘person of interest’ in the case as a result. He interacts with a diocesan investigator and other clerics. Selena is a ‘cradle Catholic’ like so many in the Mexican community. It’s more of a cultural thing. Catholicism is a bit more forward in VIPER, since my heroine Selena is Mexican and for most Mexicans that means being Catholic, if only in a cultural manner. Selena has prayer cards, framed images of saints and small statues (what Mexicans call virgencitas y santos) around the house, and she goes to Mass with her family out of duty. She's not very devout, but like with other Mexicans it is a very rich part of their identity, and their distinct customs add a great deal of color to the story. The secondary ‘mystery’ of the story is whether or not the “Blue Lady” is Our Lady of Guadalupe or the Aztec goddess of Death or someone else. I don’t think anyone will be put off by all this, but instead will rather enjoy the rich tapestry of Mexican custom and Catholicism blended with Aztec mythology that forms a backdrop to the story, and informs my main character, Selena – who isn’t quite sure what to make of it all.

I don’t think readers mind ‘religion’ in their mysteries – Dan Brown proved that. My issue is this: Let’s get the ‘religion’ right and be honest with the material. Brown had everything wrong. I think you can have a mystery that has a distinct Catholic coloring that respects that tradition, genuinely informs the story, and has an appeal for everybody. Consider Andrew Greeley’s work, or Ellis Peters, or Ralph MacInerny. The same thing could be said about mysteries with a Jewish flavor, like Harry Kemmelman’s Rabbi Small series.

KAYE: Can you give links to your webpage and places to buy your books?

JOHN: Gladly. Readers can find me at http://www.johndesjarlais.com and my blog http://jjdesjarlais.blogspot.com and email me at jjdesjarlais@johndesjarlais.com
VIPER isn’t out yet, but it will be available through Amazon.com and can be ordered through bookstores sometime later this Spring. BLEEDER and RELICS and THE THRONE OF TARA are at Amazon, too:







Monday, February 28, 2011

Monday, February 14, 2011

New Web Site Design

It seems that the license for the images used by my Web Site host has expired, and we were all notified we'd have to change our templates. The new choices were very limited, but I chose one that seems to work ok. What do you think? See http://www.johndesjarlais.com/ for the new look. It's mysterious, has a female image that suits my work fine, and while I still need to work with the colors of the type, it isn't all that bad (Hmm - that's as big as I can get the image here).

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Writing the "When" hook

This is a handout from the "Love Is Murder" workshop on queries and fiction proposals. As I explain in the session, writers need a 'hook' that describes the basic story in a way that intrigues - even teases - a potential agent or editor. There are three basic kinds of 'hooks'. The "When" hook is the most common with mysteries; the "What if" hook is most often appropriate with thrillers where a premise is paramount; the 'quote' hook is uses a direct quote from a protagonist that poses a question or problem the reader can identify with. The focus in the LIM session was on the 'when' hook.

The “When” hook: This popular formula grabs attention and interest by summarizing the story the way jacket copy does – to intrigue. Don’t reveal everything. Try keeping it to 5 sentences or so to describe “When this event happens, this character with these qualities must do this to gain this or avoid that.”

When classics professor Reed Stubblefield is disabled in a school shooting, he retreats to a rural Illinois cabin to write a book on Aristotle in peace. Oddly, in the chill of March, the campgrounds and motels of River Falls are 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 nevertheless drawn into a friendship with the cleric, Rev. Ray Boudreau, an amiable Aquinas scholar with a fine library -- who collapses and bleeds to death on Good Friday in front of horrified parishioners. A miracle? Or bloody murder? Once Reed becomes the prime 'person of interest' in the mysterious death, he applies Aristotle’s logic to find the truth before he is arrested or killed -- because not everyone in town wants this mystery solved.

(for VIPER)[This began as 'When Selena De La Cruz's name is found in her parish church's Book of the Dead.." but I re-arranged it later]
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 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, 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?

TRY IT! Write a 5-sentence hook to describe “When this event happens, this character with these qualities must do this to gain this or avoid that.”

LIM Query Sample

Here is the fiction query sample I used at "Love Is Murder," with comments, which I handed out. In case there were not enough handouts, here it is:

Your Name
123 Your Street
Yourtown, IL 61000


Address line
Address line

Dear AGENT/EDITOR NAME HERE:[be specific – not ‘to whom it may concern’; get gender right]

After I saw your listing in X and noted your interest in mysteries with a supernatural slant, I thought you might take interest in my 75,000 word contemporary mystery, BLEEDER.[open with some point of contact – a listing you saw, a conference "Thank you for speaking with me briefly at 'Love Is Murder' last week' – to show you are a pro. ID your book by genre and give a word count]

When classics professor Reed Stubblefield is disabled in a school shooting, he retreats to a rural Illinois cabin to write a book on Aristotle in peace. Oddly, in the chill of March, the campgrounds and motels of River Falls are 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 nevertheless drawn into a friendship with the cleric, Rev. Ray Boudreau, an amiable Aquinas scholar who collapses and dies on Good Friday in front of horrified parishioners. A miracle? Or bloody murder? Once Reed becomes the prime 'person of interest' in the mysterious death, he applies Aristotle’s logic to find the truth before he is arrested or killed -- because not everyone in town wants this mystery solved.[your hook – like jacket copy, 75-100 words or so, 5 sentences or so. Keep it enticing; no need to tell the whole story]

Readers of Andrew Greeley, Ralph MacInerny or Graham Greene mysteries will appreciate BLEEDER.[try to position your book – what else out there is like it?]

My first novel, The Throne of Tara (Crossway 1990), retold the story of Columba of Iona, the hot-headed 6th Century Irish monk who went to war over a book. My medieval thriller Relics (Thomas Nelson 1993) was a Doubleday Book Club selection. My short stories have appeared in periodicals such as The Critic, The Karitos Review, The Rockford Review, Dappled Things and Apocalypse. [offer pub credits if you have them; if not, don’t say so. Don’t apologize]

A former producer with Wisconsin Public Radio, I teach journalism and English at Kishwaukee College in northern Illinois.[something personal can help, especially related to platform, publicity or any expertise you have about the book's subject. For example, if your book is a legal thriller and you're a lawyer, say so; if it is a police procedural and you're in law enforcement, say so.]

Thank you for your time and kind consideration. May I send you the first fifty pages as per your guidelines or the completed manuscript for an exclusive review? [show you are courteous and you did your homework about their guidelines. Ask the yes/no question]

This is a multiple query. Looking forward to your reply,[you must let them know that it is a multiple query]

Sincerely, [keep the whole thing business-like, all the way through. No boasting 'I'm the next John Grisham' or whining 'You're my last hope since I've been rejected 500 times']

John J. Desjarlais

enc: SASE [e-queries obviously don’t need this, but all mailed ones do]

[As you can see, the query is a one-page business pitch. No colored paper, no perfume, no chocolates (yes, I hear it has happened). Agents and editors are business people, so be sure to present yourself as a professional]

LIM Fiction Proposal Guidelines

In case I run out of handouts at the "Love Is Murder" workshop on 'fiction proposal guidelines,' here is the handout. These are guidelines taken from The Steve Laube Agency web site and from the web site of Regina Doman, the acquisitions editor for Sophia Institute Press. These are rather typical of fiction proposal guidelines. I've edited them for brevity; you can visit their respective web sites for all the technical details and other good advice they offer along with the guidelines.

From The Steve Laube Agency:
There are a number of ways to do a good book proposal. I’ve met many writers that get bogged down in the details. The bottom line is whether your idea has traction and if your writing delivers. Your book proposal is like a job application, you want to present yourself in the most professional manner possible. Your proposal will be a simple vehicle to convey your idea to us, and ultimately to a publisher.
COVER LETTER: The cover letter should include your name, address, phone number, and e-mail address. It should sum up the plot or idea in a single paragraph, as well as giving the book’s title and estimated word count of the entire manuscript (not page count). The cover letter should not be more than one page.
SAMPLE CHAPTERS: The sample should be the first three chapters or fifty double-spaced pages, printed single-sided and unbound. Please make sure the pages are numbered. (Please use Times Roman 12pt font or a similar very readable font.) Do not print out the pages so they look like actual book pages. Print double-spaced on one side of the page in black ink on 8″ x 11″ white paper, use 1″ margins all around and don’t justify the right margin.
SELF-ADDRESSED STAMPED ENVELOPE: We will not reply to you unless you include an appropriately sized SASE with sufficient postage. A letter-size SASE for a written response is preferred.
Your non-fiction book proposal should include the following; fiction proposals include most of these:
A one-sentence summary of your book.
Create a 75 word summary of the book. Imagine that this is what will go on the back cover of the book.
A half page to one page overview of your book including (a) an identification of its uniqueness (the distinguishing “hook”that will draw your reader in: What will motivate a person to pick up your book?) and (b) what you hope to accomplish in the way of transformation in the life of the reader:
A brief profile of your reader with a clear explanation of the problem he or she faces and how your book provides a solution. Also, list any additional audiences you expect your book will attract:
A listing of other books available that are similar to yours and a brief explanation of how yours is both different and/or better:
A description of potential marketing channels to which you have access (e.g., contacts you have in key organizations, groups you speak to regularly, key people you know who might endorse your book, etc.):
Your qualifications to write on this topic and a list of your writing experience and educational/career background. If you have published previously, what are the titles and approximate sales to date of your books?
A chapter-by-chapter annotated outline that clearly summarizes the overall content and key ideas of each chapter:
Projected word length of the manuscript:
Expected completion date of the manuscript:
Three sample chapters of your book (for fiction, the first three chapters)

· FICTION Proposals:
· Follow the basic information above in the non-fiction proposal section, but realize that the biggest difference between the fiction and non-fiction proposal is the synopsis. While the non-fiction proposal requires a chapter by chapter analysis, the fiction proposal should be a maximum of three single spaced pages that present the entire story. Don’t worry, your synopsis will be the worst writing you’ve ever done. That is okay. Just tell the story in quick form so we can know what happens after your sample chapters.
· Create a Promo Sentence and a Sales Handle (these are the bits you see on the front cover of a novel or as a headline across the back cover. In addition create back cover copy that tells the story without giving it away (back cover is usually around 75 words) Examples (from the cover of the novel Oxygen):
· Promo sentence:A mission gone desperately wrong – and no way out short of blind faith…
· Sales handles:A tragic accident or a suicide mission?
· Back cover copy:
· In the year 2017 Valerie Jansen, a young microbial ecologist, is presented with an amazing opportunity to continue her research as a member of the NASA corps of astronauts. When a sudden resignation opens the door for her to be a part of a mission to Mars, her life dream becomes a reality. Dreams turn suddenly to nightmares for NASA and the crew as an explosion cripples the spacecraft on the outward voyage. The crew’s survival depends on complete trust in one another – but is one of the four a saboteur?
· Since fiction can be entertaining and taps the emotional center of a reader here are some other helpful things to include in your proposal :
· In a single sentence, state your purpose for writing this novel. Why did you write (are you writing) this story? What are you trying to prove about life with this story?
· Describe your protagonist’s quest. What does he/she want or need? What is his/her goal? For what does he/she yearn?
· What is at stake in this story? If your protagonist doesn’t attain his goal, so what? Why does it matter and why should the reader care? What are the consequences?
· What is the “takeaway value” of the story. How will the reader be changed for having read it?
From Sophia Institute Press:
Criteria for submission: (this section is preceded by 2 sections: what they are looking for and what they are NOT looking for; technical guidelines – email submissions only,.doc or .rtf files only, no zip files, no PDFs, rules about attachments)
1. Completed questionnaire (in the body of your cover letter email)
2. First three chapters of your book (in the email body or as an attachment)
3. Synopsis of the rest of the book (in the email body or as an attachment: see our updated notes on the synopsis by clicking here)
Generally speaking, we prefer exclusive submissions. If you are making a simultaneous submission, please inform us of the fact. Completed manuscripts only; no partials. Allow 3 months for a reply.
A: Contact information
Please provide us with your:
Name (legal)
Name (pen name, if applicable)
Phone Number where you can be reached most easily:
Email address: (required)
Previous publications: books, articles, print or web-based.
B. About your manuscript
1.What is the title? What is your backup title?
2. Can you summarize in three sentences what your book is about?
3. How much work are you willing to do on this manuscript?Would you be willing to rewrite the manuscript according to our specifications? Would you be willing to rewrite your manuscript two or three times, and then possibly still have it turned down if we think that it is still not fit for publication?How fast can you work? How much time do you have to master the craft of writing? How long does it take you to do a rewrite? To accept or reject editorial suggestions?
4. Who is the main audience for this book? Who would read it and why?Can you tell me what other books they typically enjoy? How is your book like these books? How would it satisfy readers?
5. What are your plans for marketing the book? How would you reach those people who would like to read your book?How much time are you willing to invest to reach those people? Will you travel or speak at conferences? Do you have contacts in the media that you could use to promote your book? How many contacts?Do you have access to an email or mailing list of potential readers you could use? How many names are on it?Do you have a marketing plan? Can you create one or is it beyond you? How much time do you have to learn?Do you have a slogan or tagline you could use to sell this book?
6. Can you write a sequel or a companion book sufficiently similar to intrigue readers of your first book? How invested are you in this particular genre? Do you want to master it or try something different?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

BLEEDER is now available at the Amazon Kindle Store for $9.95. (here's the full URL in case the link doesn't work: http://www.amazon.com/Bleeder-A-Mystery-ebook/dp/B004L62D4K)

Monday, January 24, 2011

I'm conducting a "Virtual Book Tour" by visiting a number of blogs this Spring (the schedule is in an earlier post). Here's the Allison Cleary interview for mycatholicblog.com from 2 weeks ago:

Let's start at the beginning. Your first book, The Throne of Tara, first published in 1990, is based on the true story of Columba of Iona. What compelled you to write this story, and what kind of message are you hoping readers will take away from it?

I began “Tara” soon after producing and scripting a documentary on the history of Western Christianity. During the research, I became fascinated by Irish monasticism and discovered Columba in particular. This was the best man the 6th Century could produce: a warrior, scholar and poet, gifted with Second Sight and a thunderous voice, a natural leader with a serious flaw – his Irish temper. He went to war over a book (a copy of the Latin Vulgate, most believe, that he copied by hand but lost in a court dispute to the owner of the original) and in the “Battle of the Book” in A.D. 560 nearly 3,000 men were slain. In remorse and in order to avoid excommunication, Columba exiled himself among the savage Picts of Scotland, vowing to win as many souls to the Church as were lost in the battle. The records say he encountered the Loch Ness monster on the way. Once in the royal court (which he entered miraculously), he dueled the Druids, miracles versus magic, in a contest of power. Well, all that said ‘great novel’ to me and I was off.

As for the ‘take-away value,’ it’s hard to say. Writers with a message in mind often mess up a great story. There are some clear themes, though, such as the conflict between nascent Christianity and the Old Religion of the druids. Both respected nature and recognized power in the natural order but had a different understanding of where the power came from.

And what made you transition from a producer with Wisconsin Public Radio to college professor?

I was let go during the recession of 1993, and since I’d just published my second novel, “Relics,” and I was placing short fiction in magazines, I decided that earning a second Master’s degree in English or Creative Writing that enabled me to teach writing at the college level would be a wise career path. Funny thing is, given my media background, I also teach the mass communication courses at my community college, including Radio Production.

Looking at more current literary achievements, your novel Bleeder tells of protagonist Reed Stubblefield, a professor who must face the challenges of physical disability, the loss of his wife and (as the story progresses) becoming a murder suspect. Why did you feel it necessary to portray a character that has faced so much suffering? How does it facilitate the character's spirituality and religious perspective?

One reviewer called BLEEDER ‘a novel-length contemplation of the mystery of undeserved suffering,’ and that captures it pretty well. Surely a traditional ‘mystery’ is about an unsolved crime and the restoration of justice, but I wanted to explore “higher mysteries” that we all think about: why is there evil and injustice in the world at all? Why do we endure undeserved suffering? Is it, in any way, ‘redemptive?’ What meaning can we draw from the suffering of Christ – exemplified in the stigmata of Father Ray - to comprehend our own? All mystery novels consider to some degree the problem of human grief, loss, and woundedness – but awfully few go beyond the solving-of-the-puzzle. The Catholic understanding of human frailty and fallenness, of human promise and potential, is very deep and profound, and something that moved me as I wrote the story as a devout Presbyterian. Soon after finishing the book I entered into full communion with the Catholic Church. My character Reed doesn’t. One of the things that makes so much “Christian fiction” sentimental and spiritually smarmy is the inevitable conversion at the end. Reed, an Aristotle expert and logician, comes to recognize new possibilities beyond his secularized understanding of the world. He grows to respect people of faith as intelligent and winsome, and not as superficial or saccharine. One might say he is newly opened to the mysteries of faith, hope, and love, although much remains unresolved at the end.

Along these same lines, with so many deep questions to ponder, why did you decide to write Bleeder as a mystery novel?

Mysteries - classic murder mysteries, I mean - connect with something deep inside us. They are the modern form of the medieval morality play, where the sleuth is Everyman who works against time, big money, a determined antagonist, daunting odds and his own flaws to expose evil and to restore the balance of justice. At the end, readers who identify with the successful hero or heroine feel a little better about the world and about themselves. A critic might say that mystery novels are escapist, since they offer a fantasy world in which justice prevails, right always wins over wrong, and love finds a way. But what's wrong with that? That's healing. I really think the ‘entertainment’ aspect comes first. This is why people read mysteries.However, mysteries are close to the barest human desires and fears, and because they deal so openly with death, they have a built-in opportunity to explore life's higher mysteries, as I mentioned earlier. All literature tries to make meaning out of the frightfully short dash between our birth date and departure date on our tombstones, and the hardships during that short dash. So the ‘mystery novel’ is a perfect vehicle to consider the mystery of undeserved suffering and the problem of evil in a world created by a good God.

What can you tell us about the inspiration for your newest novel, Viper? How did you create the character of Selena De La Cruz, and how do you write so convincingly as her? Was much research into the Mexican American community necessary?

As a new Catholic, I was excited by observing all the new customs and practices I hadn’t known as a devout Protestant. One of them was the “Book of the Dead” on All Souls’ Day, where a ledger is placed in the church for relatives to record the names of loved ones who have passed away during the year so they can be remembered and prayed for. The mystery writer in me asked, “What if there were names in the book of people who weren’t dead yet? And what if they were killed one by one in the order in which they were listed? Who are they, and who would kill them and why? At about the same time I learned about the Mexican “Day of the Dead,” a festival celebrated at about the same time and blended with All Souls’ Day in Mexican-American culture. That’s when I knew my Mexican-American insurance agent minor character from BLEEDER, Selena De La Cruz, would be the protagonist in the sequel. And her name would be last on that list. Once she walked on the stage in BLEEDER in those cherry high heels, with that attitude and driving that vintage Dodge Charger, I knew she had a story of her own. It took me a little while to realize she had a former career with the DEA and she’d left it under a cloud and was trying to start her life over as an insurance agent in rural Illinois. It took off from there.

And I was scared to death. How could I - an Anglo guy – presume to write the story of a Mexican-American woman? I feared the audacity of it and anticipated objections from the Latino community: “How can you, an Anglo man, tell our stories? And how can you, an Anglo man, represent a proud Latina?

So for nearly two years I became a second-generation Mexican-American woman.

Not literally, of course. Lacking any personal experience as a Latina, I immersed myself in the experiences of Latin women vicariously in many ways. With the recent meteoric rise in this population’s numbers in the USA, there are many new books in circulation by Latinas about coming to terms with one’s culture and traditions (especially family traditions and the Old-World expectations placed upon women) while trying to fit into New-World American society. I read most of them and took careful notes, as with any other research I had to do for VIPER (DEA undercover operations, police interrogations, crime scene processing, shooting a SIG Sauer which I really did, snake handling which I really didn’t, Aztec religion and so on). I studied Mexican holiday customs (especially The Day of the Dead and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe), Mexican Catholic practices and Mexican cooking and proverbs and on and on, all online. I subscribed to Latina magazine for fashion, beauty, relationship and lifestyle issues. I paid attention to any news related to this community, especially immigration issues. I browsed Latinas’ blogs and web sites to see what everyone talked about, especially with regard to family life, work and social life, negotiating two cultures at once and living with a bi-cultural identity. Just like the Dad says in the movie Selena, “We've gotta be more Mexican than the Mexicans and more American than the Americans both at the same time. It's exhausting!"

I interviewed Latinas and visited social spaces online where Latin American women (Cuban, Puerto Rican, Guatemalan and so on, not just Mexican) talked about their life experiences. By dipping into so many other Latinas’ life experiences, I noticed things that were common to them all that I could easily adapt, and other things I could tweak and make my own – well, Selena’s own. I built a very thorough backstory – life story – for her based on all this research. I had pages of notes and stacks of cards that I browsed through repeatedly to remind myself of small details that were of possible use as ‘bits’ in the story or for possible flashback scenes. In these ways I was able to construct an authentic Mexican-American woman with a real family and real-life inner conflicts most Latinas could identify with – not a ‘composite’ but a unique and genuine person. My wife tells me I spoke Spanish in my sleep but I don’t speak Spanish. A Latina translator helped me with the Spanish phrasing and reviewed the work-in-progress, and at one point she told me, “I am SO into Selena!” That’s when I knew I was getting it right – down to the 3-inch heel Giuseppe Zanottis.

Finally, what else can we expect from John Desjarlais in the upcoming year?

I’m gathering material for the third book in this series and it’s all vague at this point. Insofar as VIPER considered Selena’s relationship with her mother in some detail (to correspond to her developing relationship to Our Lady of Guadalupe), I think the third book needs to consider her troubled past with her father, a former PEMEX executive who suddenly moved to Chicago to take a position with the Mexican Consulate there shortly before he died under questionable circumstances. I expect Selena will have to investigate and resolve all this before she can move ahead in her life.

Friday, January 14, 2011

BLEEDER in Polish

The cover image may be a bit blurry but ya gotta love they way they re-titled it.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Mike Manno review of VIPER

Viper review mike manno January 7, 2011

I JUST FINISHED reading an advance copy of my friend John Desjarlais’ new thriller VIPER, a don’t miss it page-turner, which will be released this March. VIPER is a blend of ancient Aztec mysticism, Catholic Mariology, and a good old-fashioned whodunit. The story follows a former DEA agent, Selena De La Cruz, haunted by a young girl’s shooting that ended her career, whose name shows up on a list of the dead for All Soul’s Day. Selena, as it turns out, is not the only living person on the list, and as – one by one – the others are killed, the “Book of the Dead” appears more of a hit-list than a religious exercise.

Selena, who is now an insurance agent, is paired with her former DEA pals and a local cop to locate the killer, thought to be a high profile drug dealer she helped put in prison years ago who goes by the name The Snake. Each of the persons named on the list had some dealings with The Snake. Selena races to find La Serpiente while a young visionary, speaking on behalf of an unseen Blue Lady, announces each death in advance. Selena’s name is now next on the list!

VIPER is a great sequel to John’s earlier novel, BLEEDER. However, familiarity with BLEEDER is not a prerequisite to enjoy VIPER. Look for VIPER this spring from Sophia Institute Press.

Mike Manno, author of the Parker Noble mystery series

Sunday, January 2, 2011

VIPER Spring 2011 Blog Tour

VIPER 2011 Spring Mystery Blog Tour

There's about one per week to allow for interaction with those who visit and post a comment. There's still room for your blog if you'd like me - or Selena - to visit.

1/10 http://www.stacyjuba.com/blog/ (Selena as a young teen)

2/7 http://www.thelittleblogofmurder.com/ (article: developing a Mexican- American female character)

2/14 http://wwwgeraldineevanscom.blogspot.com/ (yes, that's the correct addy, though it looks wrong) (interview)

2/21 http://www.suspenseyourdisbelief.com/ (requested article: how you knew 'you made it')

3/14 http://themysteryworldofpabrown.blogspot.com/ (article: Aztec myth and Mexican Catholicism)

3/21 http://midlistlife.wordpress.com/ (article: Anglo guy developing a Mexican-American female character, Selena)

3/21 http://www.suspensenovelist.blogspot.com/ (article: Anglo guy developing Mexican-American female character, Selena)

3/28 fabianspace.blogspot.com (interview)

3/30 http://chrisreddingauthor.blogspot.com/ (article: developing Mexican-American character Selena)

4/1 www.cncbooks.com/blog (article: Viper's backdrop of Aztec myth and Mexican Catholicism)