Thursday, July 29, 2010

Miscellaneous Matters for Friday July 30

CHECK IN WITH author Jerry Peterson’s blog Friday to see his take on my latest book, End of the Line. Then come back here next week to see my interview with Jerry on my Mondays With Mike column. Jerry is the author of Early’s Fall, a mystery set in Kansas shortly after World War II.

Luanne and I had a great time at the Newton Public Library Monday night. We had a great discussion about plotting, characterization and other writing topics. Many thanks to Holly Youngquist from the library staff for making the arrangements!

OMG: Say it ain’t so!

Anyone who knows me knows I am a BIG Philadelphia Phillies fan. My family is from Philly and as a kid growing up I spend a couple of weeks every summer in Philly with family and friends. So naturally I’m elated that the Phillies have an eight game winning streak and have pulled within 2 ½ games of the division leading Braves. But on top of all that good news is this sour note: the team mascot, the Phillie Phanatic is being sued. Yes, it’s true. Seems a Pennsylvania woman is suing the big, green, lovable Phanatic for exacerbating her arthritis and forcing her to need knee replacement surgery. According to the lawsuit, the Phanatic claimed onto the woman at a minor league game in 2008. Oh the horrors of it all! Please, say it ain’t so!

Calendar of Crime: Mystery Conferences of Note

Killer Nashville Mystery & Thriller Conference, August 20-22, 2010, Franklin, TN

Writers’ Police Academy, September 24-26, Jamestown, NC

Bouchercon by the Bay, October 14-17, 2010, San Francisco, CA

Magna cum Murder, October 29-31, 2010, Muncie, IN

NoirCon, November 4-7, 2010, Philadelphia, PA

New England Crime Bake, November 12-14, 2010, Dedham, MA

Love is Murder, February 4-6, 2011, Rosemont, IL

Malice Domestic, April 29-May 1, 2011, Bethesda, MD

Monday, July 26, 2010

Mondays With Mike: Author interview with John Desjarlais

TODAY I AM STARTING a series of interviews and guest blogs for what I call “Mondays With Mike.” Each week I’m going to try to have a guest author, most will be mystery authors, but some will write in other genres. I am pleased that my first interview is with my good friend John Desjarlais. John is a former producer with Wisconsin Public Radio, and now teaches journalism and English at Kishwaukee College in northern Illinois. His first novel, The Throne of Tara (Crossway 1990), was a Christianity Today Readers Choice Award nominee, and his second historical novel, Relics (Thomas Nelson 1993, 2009) was a Doubleday Book Club Selection. Bleeder (Sophia Institute Press 2009) is his first mystery and it will be followed soon by another mystery,Viper.

Mike: I'm interested in the main character in BLEEDER, Reed Stubblefield. He is a college professor and so are you. How much of John is in Reed? Or is Reed based on a real person or a composite of several people?

John: Reed is me but smarter, more witty, and much better looking. He's intellectually curious, open minded, and a big fan of Aristotle, like me. While married (he's a widower) he was deeply in love with his wife, Peggy, and totally committed to her, especially when she took ill with leukemia - and I adore my wife of 31 years. Still, in many ways, he is not like me at all. He's a lapsed Presbyterian, full of doubts, and I'm a devout Catholic (a 'convert' from Presbyterianism, somewhat recently - in fact, during the drafting of BLEEDER). He can be a bit of a whiner, but considering how badly wounded he is in body, soul and spirit, we can cut him a break. My son says that when he read the book, he heard my voice whenever Reed spoke. I'd always heard that it was not recommended that a mystery writer base a first-person narrator on oneself, and I see the wisdom of that, but speaking as Reed came rather naturally.

M: BLEEDER involved the death of a priest, Fr. Ray Boudreau, on Good Friday in front of his parishioners. The priest was widely believed to be a stigmatic and miracle worker. So, two parts here: how 'Catholic' or religious is the book? And second, how big a role did your own faith play in writing the book?

J: My secular reviewers are pleased to note that BLEEDER is 'an intellectual delight where faith is neither demanded nor held up to ridicule' (Mystery Scene). TheGenReview said "Desjarlais is able to have his characters address deeply human issues in a manner that is in no sense heavy-handed or preachy. [BLEEDER is] a story that transcends any particular set of beliefs, and is a good mystery besides." I wanted that 'crossover' appeal and it looks like I succeeded. I had a secular publisher in mind all the way (it ended up with a small Catholic house). Readers do not need to be Catholic or religious in any way to appreciate the story. Millions read mysteries by Ralph McInerny or Andrew Greeley, which have a Catholic coloring, and aren't put off. It adds depth and another level of 'mystery,' I think. My Catholic reviewers appreciate the understanding and respect of Catholic traditions and practices. As the reviewer for Saint Anthony Messenger said, "It's not often that you come across a book that captures your full attention on an emotional level, and challenges you intellectually and spiritually, too. BLEEDER was such a book for me." I had to look up a lot of this since I was a devout, practicing Presbyterian when I started the book. I didn't know, for example, that there is no Mass on Good Friday and the first draft had Fr. Ray celebrating Mass that day. That got fixed. Now I'm Catholic. Reader beware! Ha! Seriously, unlike some 'Christian fiction,' I have no intent to proselytize, and the hero doesn't get converted in the end. As for your second question, I feel my own faith was deepened and broadened by the experience and helped me to explore the problem of undeserved suffering. One reviewer called the novel a book-length contemplation of the problem of suffering. Like I said, writing the book was part of my journey into full communion with the Catholic Church (which has a wonderfully nuanced understanding of the mystery of human suffering). This is actually a hard question to answer since, for a believing and practicing Christian, everything is filtered through that sensibility.

M: Let me get a little background from you. I know you were with Wisconsin Public Radio and a screenwriter, and you've written two other novels, Relics and The Throne of Tara. First, tell us how you got your start writing, and second, tell us a little about your first two books and if they are still available.

J: I wrote scripts for films and videos while working in the media department of Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, a non-denominational campus ministry. One of these was a documentary on the history of Western missionary movements, and I came across the Irish monistics. This fascinated me, and I discovered Columba of Iona, a hot headed monk who went to war over a disputed scripture manuscript. Three thousand men were slain in the Battle of the Book in AD 560, and in remorse, Columba exiled himself among the savage Picts of Scotland, vowing to win as many souls to the Church as were lost in the battle. He faced the Loch Ness monster and dueled the druids, miracles versus magic. This was the stuff of a novel, I thought, and wrote it. A Protestant house picked it up in 1990, and when it went out of print in 1999, I got the rights back and re-issued it through It's still available there or at Amazon.

In my research for that, I came across the rich trade in relics that pervaded dark age and medieval Europe and how that was tied into the crusades. That brought me to Relics, a medieval thriller/romance set in France and Crusader Palestine around AD 1250, after Louis IX's disastrous invasion of Egypt. Thomas Nelson published it in 1993 and re-issued it in 2009. It's available at the Thomas Nelson web site or Amazon.

BLEEDER began as my third historical. The idea was to have Aristotle, the Father of Logic, solve a crime. But early on I found that someone else had done this. So I imagined a college professor who knew Aristotle well and who would apply Aristotelian logic to solve a crime with a non-rational element to it.

M: You have a new book, Viper, due out. Can you give us a little teaser about it?

J: Haunted by the loss of her brother to drugs and a botched raid that ended her career with the DEA, insurance agent Selena De La Cruz hoped to start afresh in rural Illinois. But her gung-ho former boss needs her back to hunt "The Snake," a dealer she helped arrest who is out of prison and systematically killing anyone who ever crossed him. His 'hit list', appended to a Catholic Church's All Souls Day 'Book of the Deceased,' shows Selena's name last. Against a rich backdrop of Aztec myth and Mexican Catholicism, Selena fights time, small town prejudice and the suspicions of her own Latino community 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?

Selena was a minor character in BLEEDER. Once she walked onto the stage, I knew she had a story of her own.

M: What is Viper's release date?

J: It's in the editing process now and the publisher, Sophia Institute Press, is aiming for a fall release, in time for the Christmas season.

M: Finally, can you give us a little information about your writing style, such as how often do you write, how you develop characters, plot, and so on?

J: When I'm cranking on a book I write every day for about two hours, and in the summer, all day if I can. I used to be more regular with a 9-5 job, very methodical, on a daily schedule. But now that I'm teaching, my hours are irregular and I find I write irregularly and in binges.

A premise comes first, a 'what if' that is then populated quickly with interesting, motivated characters. The plot develops from choices they make when confronting obstacles or complications that get in the way of their goals. I work hard at having small recognitions and reversals along the way - plot points - leading to the grand recognition and reversal, the climax. It's all very Aristotelian, really. Tara was somewhat different, being a fictionalized biography. The 'plot' - Columba's life - was largely known, though I had to imaginatively fill in gaps and make it all come alive. I set intermediate deadlines for myself and that's a good way to manage a large, long project like a novel.

M: John, I want to thank you for taking the time to visit with us today. If anyone is interested, how can they get in touch with you?

J: Thanks for the opportunity to share with you and your readers, Mike. I can be reached at or via my blog at and people can get more details about my work at

Friday, July 23, 2010

Miscellaneous things about writing (and me)

A WHOLE LOT of nuthin’—well, actually a bit of something. Starting Monday I’m going to add a new “feature” to my blog: Mondays With Mike. Each Monday I’m going to have another author on for an interview or a guest blog. Next Monday I am starting with John Desjarlais author of the mystery Bleeder, about a priest who dies mysteriously in church on Good Friday, and the upcoming mystery, Viper. John has written several other non-mystery books and I think you’ll find his story interesting and hope you will feel free to comment.

I am getting back to work on my third Parker Noble mystery. Unfortunately, my computer crashed and I lost about four chapters of the manuscript. Fortunately, I had printed those chapters off and was able to scan them back into my computer; a hassle, and it took most of my free time yesterday, but I got the job done.

Speaking of writing, mysteries were not my first genre; I had started several books many years ago. One was political novel about the first black president, Albert Oliver Armstrong. But, as you can see, I waited a bit too long to bring that project to conclusion (I knew there was a reason for wanting McCain).

I also had a non-fiction historical book I want to do right after college. In fact, I had made some tentative plans to travel and do the research for it, but decided I should keep my job instead. The book I wanted to do was on the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson; had I started when I wanted it would have been ready just about the time there was serious talk about impeaching Richard Nixon. The timing alone would have made it a best seller. And to add insult to injury, I was eventually fired from that job.

Oh well. Tune in Monday to meet John. Have a great weekend, and remember, if you are in the Newton, Iowa area Monday evening, stop by the library say hello.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Coming up: Newton Monday evening July 26

NEWTON IS NEXT. Monday night, July 26, I will be at the Newton Public Library at 6:30 for a presentation. I’ll also have copies of my new book, End of the Line, as well as my first book, Murder Most Holy, to sign. I was at the Newton Library several years ago for a signing and the folks there made my wife and me feel right at home. Newton, of course, is the home for one of the nation’s newest auto racing venue, the Iowa Speedway. The Speedway was designed by NASCAR legend Rusty Wallace and features NASCAR, ARCA and Indy Car races. In fact, the weekend after I speak at the library is the US Cellular 250. Anyway, the library is located at 100 North 3rd Avenue West. Hope to see you there!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Standing room only for launch party

A STANDING ROOM ONLY throng crowded into Beaverdale Books Wednesday night for the launch party for my latest mystery, End of the Line. Guests were treated to goodies which included cookies and my special “red herrings.” Not only did the folks snap up dozens of copies of my new book, the copies of my first book, Murder Most Holy, were also flying out of the store. We had a great time with many friends and guests, including young adult (YA) and women’s fiction novelist Wendy Delsol. (Check out Wendy's new YA novel STORK.) If you missed the event and would still like an autographed copy of either book, stop by the store at 2629 Beaver Avenue, Suite 1, Des Moines or call 515-279-5400 with your credit card for a mail order.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Read Mike’s interview on the blog Writers in Residence

I AM THE FEATURED author interview this week in the blog Writers in Residence. The interview was conducted by the California-based writer Jacqueline Vick. The timing, of course, is perfect as this appears just before my big book launch party Wednesday at Beaverdale Books here in Des Moines.

By the way, Beaverdale Books is a great little independent book store. I was there yesterday to meet Jason Turbow, the author of the new book The Baseball Codes. We were able to have a nice chat about the old Philadelphia A’s manager Connie Mack. Anyway, Jason’s book is still available. And don’t forget, my friend Jerry Hooten will be at Beaverdale Books Friday to sign his new book, Friends and Others.

Let me know what you think of the books, and if you can’t make the launch party Wednesday you can click on the photo of the book on the right and get it delivered to your door from Amazon or call Alice at Beaverdale Books at 515-279-5400 and she can put it on your credit card.