Saturday, September 25, 2010

Mystery Writer and Readers Choice Award Nominee John Desjarlais

A former producer with Wisconsin Public Radio, John Desjarlais teaches English at Kishwaukee College in northern Illinois. His first novel, The Throne of Tara (Crossway 1990, 2000), was a Christianity Today Readers Choice Award nominee, and his medieval crime novel Relics (Thomas Nelson 1993, 2009) was a Doubleday Book Club Selection.

Bleeder and Viper (Sophia Institute Press 2009 and forthcoming 2010, respectively) are the first two entries in a contemporary mystery series. A member of The Academy of American Poets and Mystery Writers of America, he is listed in Who's Who in Entertainment and Who’s Who Among America's Teachers.

John, Thank you for joining us today. It's exciting to interview such a prolific writer. With two books published, I'm eager to learn what you are working on next. Can you tell us about your latest books?

BLEEDER is a contemporary amateur-sleuth mystery where a stigmatic priest bleeds to death on Good Friday in front of horrified parishioners. A miracle? Or bloody murder? Aristotle professor Reed Stubblefield needs to find out, because police regard him as the prime ‘person of interest’ in the mysterious death. He applies Aristotle’s logic to get at the truth before he is arrested or killed by people who don’t want this mystery solved.

VIPER, the sequel due out this fall, features a minor character from BLEEDER as the protagonist. Latina insurance agent Selena De La Cruz learns that her name has been written in her parish church’s ‘Book of the Deceased’ on All Souls Day. The problem is, she’s not dead. But someone wants her to be.

These are interesting plots! I’m intrigued. How did you pick the genre you write in?

When I worked as a scriptwriter for a multimedia company in the 1980s, I produced a documentary on the history of Western Christianity and became fascinated by the Irish monastic movement. These artistic, scholarly monks saved civilization at a time when barbarians were burning their way through Europe. Saint Columba of Iona was especially interesting – a hot-headed warrior and poet with Second Sight who went to war over a disputed manuscript and, in remorse over the thousands slain, exiled himself among the Picts of Scotland where he dueled the druids, miracles versus magic. So his fictionalized biography, The Throne of Tara, was my first novel.

I learned about relics along the way and the rich trade in them (and battles over them) in the Middle Ages and that became the basis for book 2, Relics. I’d begun researching a third historical wherein Aristotle, the Father of Logic, would solve a crime. But I learned this had already been done (and well) by a British writer not long ago. So I fancied a classics professor who was familiar with Aristotle’s writing and who would apply Aristotelian logic to solving a crime that defied reason. That’s how BLEEDER began, a story of a stigmatic priest who bleeds to death on Good Friday. I always enjoyed reading mysteries and now I’m hooked on writing them.

It sounds like you enjoy the experience of researching topics and writing about them. Are there any parts of the writing process you find challenging?

You won't believe how many times you'll read your own book in the proofing process. You do want it to be perfect and avoid typos and such - but what tedious work.

Promotion and marketing are harder than writing the book, more time-consuming, and potentially a real hindrance to writing. 15 years ago, my publishers invested in my titles with advertising, solicitation of reviews and other things. We've all heard how little publishers are putting into marketing these days, backing only their top-sellers who don't need much publicity anyway. The business side of writing, the selling side, is a real challenge. There's always something you could be doing, and this can bite into the work you like most - writing.

How can my readers get in touch with you?

My email is – my web site is – I look forward to hearing from your readers. Thanks for the opportunity to talk with you.

It’s been a pleasure to host you and to learn more about your books. Thank you for sharing your writing with us.


  1. Author Desjarlais gave a terrific session on poetry writing at the recent writers' conference in August. BLEEDER is a good mystery. The author does his research - his description of recovering from a gunshot wound to the leg resonated loudly with my own experience. (Nah, it was a hip replacement, not an actual gunshot wound. But the recovery/rehab process is similar.) I'm looking forward to reading Viper.

  2. Hello, Rae: Thank you for your kind words about the poetry session at the conference. -- Yes, there's a lot of research involved in writing credible mysteries. For BLEEDER I had to find out about police procedure, interrogation techniques, blood diseases (especially leukemia), physical therapy for a leg/hip wound, stigmata - a lot. For VIPER, I had to figure out what it is like to be a 30-something Mexican-American woman like my protagonist Selena. Good thing I had some real Latinas look over the work-in-progress to make sure I was getting the character right.
    John Desjarlais

  3. When you are proofing your book, have you discovered any tricks to catch errors? I remember reading somewhere it helpful to read each page backwards. Not sure I could do that though!

  4. Reading it aloud helps. Backwards? I don't think I could do that either.

  5. I agree with you about the business/selling side of writing. I really enjoy the process of forming an idea and organizing it into a novel rich with character development. However, I'm not an outgoing person so the selling & promotion is hard for me. Wish there was an easier way.

  6. There isn't an easier way these days. Authors are largely on their own when it comes to marketing. I'm grateful for some ads and email blasts my small publisher is doing, and they sent out some ARC's (advance review copies). They're reaching their loyal customers that way. But their budget for marketing is - well, non-existent and so it's pretty much up to me. -- I hired a publicist but there's only so much she can do for me. The main thing has been getting radio/TV gigs I really couldn't do myself. It's nice to have blogs like Brigitte's where authors can make connections with readers. That's what 'marketing' is - making connections.

  7. I read about a list someone created with contacts for radio stations who do author interviews. I think it was on Dan Poynter's site. If I can find it, I'll send you the link.

  8. John,

    Thank you for answering the questions on your post. Being involved and responding when interviewed is a great way to maximize your publicity. You'd be amazed how many authors forget this step. Once the interview is posted, they are off on something else and don't check back.

    Thanks again for being a participant in this interview :)



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