Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Interview with Stephen L. Brayton

Please welcome Stephen to my Travels! It seems we have a connection, other than writing. (This is such a small world.) He lives and writes in the area where I grew up, Iowa and Illinois, bordering my beloved Mississippi River. Oh, how I miss the river.

KAYE: I haven't ever seen crime fiction feature Des Moines or the Quad Cities. I see a passing reference to Moline or Davenport every once in awhile, but that's about it. Do you know of any others using that setting.

STEPHEN: I’m sure there are a few others, but I haven’t run across them. Most of the time I read about Des Moines in passing in other books. John Sandford’s books are set in the Minneapolis area and sometimes he’ll mention Iowa. Usually, you see on television shows based in New York or Los Angeles victims or their families being from Des Moines. I chose Des Moines and the Quad Cities because I’m familiar with both areas. I lived for a few years in the QC and still have family residing there. I live about an hour away from Des Moines and am up there at least once a month. I used to drive up there weekly for a writers’ critique group, but taekwondo has recently filled my weeknights.

KAYE: You say you've written stories for many years, but your path to publication seems pretty quick. Your first mystery conference was in 2007, and here you are with two books! Is this speed an illusion?

STEPHEN: Yes. I don’t think the path has been quick. Frustrating, yes. I have a four inch stack of rejection notices, so the road hasn’t been easy or quick. Love Is Murder in 2007 was the first conference I attended and the main reason our writers’ group traveled to Chicago was because we could pitch ideas to agents and editors. Unfortunately, each either rejected me or never contacted me afterward, which is a rejection in itself. It was a learning experience, though. Every new writing group or conference or meeting I attend is a learning experience. Sometimes I learn that I don’t want to go again (lol), but I love meeting people and making friends and contacts. When a friend and I went to Killer Nashville in 2009, I met so many great people who helped me and guided me to better my writing and my marketing skills. Yes, we went, again, to pitch ideas to the attending editors and agents, but the seminars we took were so informative and friendly and fun. Many times we had to choose between two or three good seminars going on at the same time. I met Mary Welk from Echelon Press and she was a bonus because she hadn’t originally scheduled herself to accept pitches. She was there to speak to authors of short stories. After getting the information on the shorts, I told her about the novels and she said for me to submit. Less than two months later I had two novels accepted. Just this last January four of my short stories also were accepted.

KAYE: On the surface, your book, NIGHT SHADOWS, published in February of this year, seems like a police procedural, featuring a Des Moines homicide detective and an FBI agent. But then it veers into alien territory. Have you been interested in detective fiction for awhile, Stephen?

STEPHEN: Most of the books I own are murder mysteries and I started writing mysteries long ago. I’ve always enjoyed the 87th Precinct detectives from Ed McBain, Archer Mayor, Ellery Queen, Erle Stanley Gardner. These guys, and others, really open up the imagination and bring the reader into their worlds. I thought if they could do it, I’d give it a try.

KAYE: What made you bring the aliens into the mix?

STEPHEN: I wouldn’t necessarily call them aliens in the sense most people think of aliens as in little green men or monsters from Mars. These are more elusive creatures because they are something you see everyday and don’t even realize are there. The detectives in the book comment how shadows are everywhere. So what happens when these shadows move on their own and start attacking people? I had listened to a radio show about shadow beings and my mind started working and characters and plot lines fell into place. I had a lot of fun writing the story and conducting research. I struggled for some time trying to find a particular location in Des Moines to use as the dimensional portal. This bothered me because I couldn’t seem to find the spot that worked. Then a friend suggested a particular art exhibit. I managed to secure a tour and as soon as I saw the room, I knew I had found the last element of the story. The place is real and people can actually visit it.

KAYE: What can you tell us about your publisher, Echelon Press?

STEPHEN: It’s a small press with a staff of freelance editors. Last year I hired on as an editor but recently have dropped back to focus on my writing. I think small presses are an excellent way for new authors to break into the business. Plus, they’re actively seeking new talent. With small presses, you’re not forced to desperately hope for the big boys to notice you. You still have to follow the guidelines for submission, and with Echelon, you have to prepare a marketing plan. However, I think this is a good thing because authors need to know how to promote their product. The publisher doesn’t have enough time or money to do this. With Echelon, new authors are published in e-format, so the Internet is where you have to go to market your books since you have nothing ‘tangible’ to present. It’s a challenge, but it’s been fun.

KAYE: From your webpage (http://www.stephenbrayton.com/) it looks like you're combining a longtime interest with your next book. How long have you been practicing taekwondo? And is it proper to call it Tae Kwon Do also? The pictures of your school bring back memories of when my daughter studied this.

STEPHEN: I’ve seen the term spelled different ways, but usually taekwondo is used. However, you have to watch your spell-check. Until you add the word to the dictionary it wants to change taekwondo to teakwood. Lol.
Yes, I started martial arts in 1991, earned my black belt in 1993, started a club in 1996, in 2003 took over the Oskaloosa club. In 2007, I earned my Fifth Degree Black Belt. I’ve attended many tournaments and camps and seminars. I love the people in my organization and I enjoy martial arts because unlike some other sports, you advance and improve at your own pace. If you play basketball and you have problems shooting the ball, you may end up sitting on the bench. With taekwondo if you can’t kick head high, that’s okay. You kick knee level at first, then slowly improve. As my organization’s founder once said, “Today not possible, tomorrow possible.”

KAYE: What's BETA about? And who is Mallory Petersen?

STEPHEN: Years ago, I created a private detective was named Sam P. Peterson and he lived in East Moline. When I moved to Oskaloosa I changed the character to a woman named Mallory Petersen who, along with investigating cases also has her own martial arts club in Des Moines. A lot of the skills, self defense techniques and sparring tips I’ve learned go into the story. Mallory is a young, six foot blonde, whose cases seem to be on the nuttier side of life. However, she is hired to find a kidnapped eight year old girl and things quickly turn serious.
I had written a previous story with Mallory but this one hit me hard and felt right. It deals with a serious subject matter, child pornography, so it is definitely not for kids. However, I also don’t turn away adults with graphic detail and I temper the seriousness with several humorous scenes. Mallory can’t keep away from the goofy bad guys. Martial artists will like it because you don’t see a lot of stories where the detective isn’t using just punches or a weapon.

KAYE: Good luck with the books. I'm looking forward to reading about my old stomping grounds. Thanks for bringing this area into the mystery world.

Look in on Stephen's blog when you're finished here: http://stephenlbrayton.blogspot.com/
And no guest interview would be complete without a purchasing link!


Friday, March 25, 2011

My Review of FIRST GRAVE ON THE RIGHT

I mentioned Darynda Jones last week, but time got away from me and I failed to post the review of her book I did for "Suspense Magazine". Since I'm still at Left Coast Crime on Friday, I will trust the blogger scheduling to post this so you can see what fun I'm having on a panel with her!

Here's how it appeared, with the addition by me of her cover. 


“First Grave on the Right” by Darynda Jones:  

Charley Davidson, a woman who does her name proud, strides into this novel with sass and energy to spare. For starters, she wasn't born as a normal person: she remembers every moment since she left the womb, she knows every language ever spoken anywhere and she sees the dead who are having trouble passing to the other side. In fact, that's where her most special talent lies. She's the portal through which those uneasy dead must pass to get to the good place. She's Darynda Jones' version of the grim reaper.

But something changed for her about a month ago. A dark, smoky being began visiting in her erotic dreams. She doesn't know who or what he is, but she doesn't want him to stop.

In addition to her full time reaper job, she works part time tending bar for her Dad's place, has a private investigator business complete with an office and a sidekick helper and is a consultant to the Albuquerque Police Department. This last role is because she assists her Uncle Bob—a homicide cop—by consulting murder victims and letting him know who killed them. When three lawyers who were in practice together all turn up dead at the same time and none of them saw who killed them, she has to dig deeper.

It takes all her talents to survive several incidents—which would have left an ordinary mortal dead—and to worm information out of the living as well as the dead to uncover a nefarious crime ring. All this while surviving the onslaught of the increasingly frequent visits from the dark, smoky, sensual being and getting tangled up in his complicated existence.

It's a fun, sexy, exciting read.

Reviewed by Kaye George, Author of “A Patchwork of Stories”, for Suspense Magazine

BTW, her webpage is fun, too!


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Publicity, Promotion

I'm cheating this week and reposting the blog I did Monday for All Things Writing. I have a good excuse, though! By the time you read this, unless you get up very early, I'll be on a plane for Santa Fe. There WILL be pictures next week!

The above are other words for selling, of course. And now that an author has to not only write, but sell their own books, more and more of us are--for the first time ever--working in the sales department.

If I'd wanted to be a salesperson, I tell myself, I would not have become a writer! In the Good Old Days, a writer wrote, a publisher published and sold. Alas, no more. Publishers are stacking that task onto the backs of the writers. Which means, there are a LOT of brand new salespeople in the world of literature.

My only attempt at selling was a job I quit just before I got fired from. (See sentence above that begins: If Id' wanted to be....) I'm hoping I'll prove better at selling my own dang book.

So far, my attempts have included guest blogging, trying to be active and visible online, and booking myself into a couple of mystery conventions. I chose large confabs that fans attend. A writers' conference isn't going to do it for this purpose. Wednesday I leave for Left Coast Crime in Santa Fe, and in late April I'll attend Malice Domestic. These are both well established venues for promoting and selling. With that in mind, and having been told I could probably count on having my book available by mid-April, I'm booked as an official New Author at Malice Domestic. Three other authors and I, all from Mainly Murder Press, went together on an ad in the program. It shows a placeholder cover that I designed, but it's at least getting my name and title before people. There have been a few holdups, so I'm having to cross my fingers that my book will be ready for Malice, but I have faith!

I'm now emailing people to see if I can get some pre-publication (or maybe *at* publication) reviews. I've had some good results, but no one has broken my door down to get my attention.

In the past few days I've designed bookmarks for this book. The cover is not the final version, but the publisher told me I could use it for promotion. I'll take these bookmarks to the convention in Santa Fe this week, Left Coast Crime, and hand them to anyone who will take them. Maybe someone will remember the book and buy it when it comes out.

Meanwhile, I learned that an anthology that has been in the works for some time is probably being printed this week! So I'd better start promoting that, too. Today I had a dozen postcards printed up at the local print shop. I forgot to have them cut, so I'll go by my husband's office and borrow the paper cutter as soon as I finish this. (Which I did Monday.)

I've read mixed results for online ads, so I'm not going to do any of those yet. Both the above-mentioned volumes are paperbacks, but I'll eventually put out an e-book for the novel. At that time I might do some online ads.

Some authors have had good luck with give-aways, which I'll try when I have the physical product to give away.

This is all stumbling in the dark, though! Baby steps.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Writing tools and reviews

I've had an AlphaSmart Neo for a few years now and love the little thing. If you've never seen one, it's a nifty little word processor, great for first drafts. The screen of the Neo lets you see about 6 lines of type at a time, so it's not a wonderful editing tool, although you can cut and paste with it. But I mostly use it for first drafts. They were originally made for school kids and they run on a few AA batteries for months and months, are lightweight and convenient, and practically indestructible. But not completely indestructible.

My granddaughter managed to wreck the R key a couple years ago, but I experienced incredible customer service when I called and they guided me through fixing it while on the phone with them.

Then, more recently, I managed to wreck the screen. NOTE: Do not pack AlphaSmarts in checked luggage when flying. It emerged from my suitcase with a black splotch covering the middle third of the screen. I think something inside cracked. I lamented about this online and a wonderful, generous person named Colette Garmer offered me hers, which she wasn't using. She sent it to me and I used it a bit, but it's an older model and, since she didn't have the cord and it's not available on the AlphaSmart website, I had to acquire a conglomeration of cords and adaptors to make it communicate with my PC. The screen is also smaller and I couldn't get used to it for some reason. I still missed my Neo.

I found it would cost about $100 to ship it and get my screen repaired. Then the company put out a trade-in offer, giving $25, for a machine in any condition, toward a new one. So I took them up on that, filled out the form, and mailed my broken one in. Then, I experienced even MORE incredible customer service! The day they received my crippled Alphie, they called and got my new one ordered, on a Tuesday, and I received it that Friday! The woman spoke English and everything. She said they're located centrally, in Wisconsin, so they can get the product quickly to anywhere in the US. LOVE that company!

Next, here's another tool that's indispensible for me as a writer. Barking dogs drive me just a little crazy. I can't stand that their owners are ignoring them--don't even hear them in the case of my deaf neighbor behind me. Once, perusing the SkyMall catalog while flying somewhere (not the same flight that ruined my Alphie) I spotted the Super Bark Free and had to have it. YES! I love it. When they start in and have been barking non-stop for about 45 minutes (not uncommon, unfortunately!), I carry it out to the back yard, turn it on, and aim. A few little yips, then blessed silence. And I can work!

Finally, I just learned that I can post all the reviews I do for "Suspense Magazine" here, so I'll start doing that on Fridays. I've had the great good fortune to receive a widely varying bunch of books from them. One was serendipitous! I reviewed FIRST GRAVE ON THE RIGHT by Darynda Jones a few weeks ago, and she's on my panel at Left Coast  Crime next week!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Time for a Rant

I'm grouchy today. I'll be grouchy all week. I hate Daylight Savings Time.

This will be short because I'm so sloggy and foggy and boggy today. And I'm not alone, if you can trust the studies that have been done on this horrible imposition.

According to this article (http://www.cos-mag.com/Safety/Safety-Stories/losing-sleep-over-dst-can-lead-to-injury.html) done by Michigan State University, there are 5.7 per cent more workplace injuries and 67.6 per cent more workdays missed due to injuries on the first Monday after the time change.

More injuries reported here (http://www.myhealthnewsdaily.com/daylight-savings-time-may-affect-health-1259/) where a 1996 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed an 8 percent increase in motor vehicle accidents on the Monday following the time change. 

And that's not all! You can die from DST! The same article cites a Swedish study done in 2008 that showed an increase of about 5 percent in heart attacks on the three weekdays following the spring time shift.

So, injury and death. Wonderful. Why are we doing this again?
 
Oh yes, let me wish you Happy PI Day. Maybe pie will make it better.

[[grumpy toad photo by Matt Reinbold used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license
apple pie photo by Sage Ross used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license]]

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Interview of Kate George

Kate is my guest today! That's Kate George, Kate with a T. As opposed to me, Kaye George with a Y. Confused? We are. We, ourselves, even send emails to the wrong person sometimes. By the most bizarre coincidence, we have even both landed at the same publishing house, Mainly Murder Press. What are the odds?

Kate's first mystery was MOONLIGHTING IN VERMONT, which won a FIRST PLACE Daphne for excellence in mystery/suspense! It introduced readers to Bella Bree McGowan, an appealing heroine. Bree, as she's called, ventures all the way to the west coast in her second outing, CALIFORNIA SCHEMIN', although she's reluctant to do so. This book is out March 1st and, if I were you, I'd run out and get a copy.

Kate, where did the idea for Bree come from? Are you in there somewhere?
Hi Kaye, thanks so much for having me here. I love to visit.

Bree is who I might have been when I was thirty, if I had been living the life I wanted. And if I'd been a little bolder. She's kind of a cross between me, Miss Marple and Miss Congeniality. I've been told that some of my readers see Sandra Bullock in the role of Bree. She looks more like Rachel Ray to me, but Sandra's on screen personality in her funnier movies works quite well.

Bree is a Vermont girl, through and through, while I'm a Californian, but we do have quite a bit in common. Dogs, for one thing, and horses. Guys. We both like men a little more than we should.

Why give her such a lovely first name and then use the middle one? (Although it's a good name, too.)
Bree's name evolved. I couldn't think of a name I felt fit for her character so I used Bree as a place marker. But both my beta readers and I got used to her being Bree. I added Bella for some reason or other - I don't even remember now! I think I thought she needed more of a name and I didn't want her to be Brianna. 

Bree's Dad called her BB and that stuck for a long time. It was high school before people started calling her Bree instead of BB. The teachers started calling her Bella but she didn't like that - she was going through a rebellious stage - and she insisted on Bree if they wouldn't call her BB.

I know from your webpage, http://kategeorge.com/, that you have wildly varied job experiences. Do any of your actual on-the-job experiences figure in either book? Or can you even tell us that without killing us?

Well it is top secret, but I can tell you that I have worked as both a turn down maid in a ritzy hotel, and a motorcycle safety instructor. I was a jack-of-all-trades at a weekly magazine, doing paste-up and designing ads. I trained police dogs and worked closely with cops for several years. I knew an FBI agent who's job was to protect the Reagans. My roommate in my twenties was a shape shifting alien. All the normal stuff.

That stuff leaks out into my books. It's so much easier to write about occupations I have experience with, rather than going out and doing research. And I've had so many that I could write for a long time without running out. Need a foreclosure officer? Done that. Answering service operator? Yep. Actress, dog trainer, assistant to the dean of a medical school? Been there. I have a very short attention span!

How long have you been writing?


If I told you that I'd would have to kill you. Didn't your mother ever tell you it wasn't polite to ask a woman's age? 

How did you learn to polish your writing? Courses or critique groups?


How did you learn to polish your writing? Courses or critique groups?Both! In fact my critique group grew out of the courses I was taking at our local writing center. I love courses,they are invaluable for developing craft and keeping me writing, but it's my critique partners that really help me. They are deadly honest and aren't afraid to argue amongst each other about what's best. It makes for some really interesting conversation and ultimately all our work improves.

What has kept you going in your search for publication?

Denial. I completely ignore the realities of publishing and press on regardless how many rejections I garner. And I always remember that several bestselling novels were rejected many, many times before someone saw the genius in the book.  

I have absolute faith in my books - It isn't until after they've been published that I realize how bad they are!

Do you have any advice for new writers?

I subscribe to the ABC method of writing. Apply Butt to Chair. You can't be a writer if you don't write. The more regular you make your writing schedule the more likely it is you'll finish your book.  And set yourself a daily goal. My daily goal fluxuates depending on what's going on in my daily life, but my word count ranges from 250 to 5000 words a day. Even a page a day will get you a book in a year.


What's in store for Bree next?


Ah, well that would be telling!  You can have a hint, though. Bree's hairdresser finds a dead body in her shop. The Feds get involved because there seems to be some connection to organized crime. Hammie will be back, and Moose. Probably Madison as well. Of course the regulars; Meg, Tom, Beau, James, Miles will all be there.

There will be a man in her life that finds her absolutely frustrating, but can't seem to stay away. And Bree can't stand him either, but she can't seem to wash him out of her hair...


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Interview with John Desjarlais

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 March 25th. 

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?

JOHN: Selena is a thirty-something second-generation Mexican-American woman with midnight hair and a cafĂ©-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 and was excellent in undercover work until she was compelled to leave under a cloud. She took a new name and an insurance franchise in rural Illinois in order to start afresh. Every weekend, she visits her beloved Madrina Maria (her godmother-aunt) who has been her mentor especially since her parents’ passing. She is very modern and independent (and an ‘independent Latina’ is seen by many as a contradiction in terms) who likes to keep many old tradiciones.

KAYE: I can't help but notice your unusual last name, which doesn't look Spanish. How did you get the idea to write not only a female (and I suspect, being named John, you're male), 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 (in the background) 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. Well, once Selena walked on stage in those cherry heels, that attitude, and 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. It had a distinctive Catholic coloring (it HAD to, given the stigmatic issue) but was never preachy, and the hero was a lapsed Presbyterian, to boot. She asked for the manuscript and offered a contract within a few days. Both BLEEDER and VIPER portray the worst consequences of people’s poor choices and desire for selfish power, but in a way that is 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. Catholics, like other Christians, have a particular understanding of ‘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 (you 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 actually 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 as part of his investigation. He does not ‘convert’ at the end. 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. 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 Catholicism and 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 with a distinct Catholic coloring that respects the tradition by being accurate, 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? Is there anything else you'd like my viewers to know?

JOHN: Gladly. Readers can find me at www.johndesjarlais.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:

BLEEDER at Amazon