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Please welcome my special guest, Jack L. Brody, author of the latest suspense thriller, The Moroni Deception. I had the opportunity to read it and you can find my review in Blogcritics. In this interview, Brody talks about the history behind the book and how difficult it was to dwell in Mormon controversy, among other things. 

ImageAbout the author:

Jack Brody is a writer, ex-military, and an avid traveler. After his Army stint and then deciding to pass on law school, he went to film school, wrote screenplays, and held a number of jobs which ran from everything to working for a newspaper for one day, to film production, to then going into real estate (with at least five others along the way).  He’s fascinated by history, politics, and architecture, all of which play a part in his novels (yes, he already has two more in the works). When not writing, he can often be found hiking with his two faithful dogs, occasionally breaking out the old BMW bike for a ride though the mountains, or playing volleyball or bar trivia with his friends.  He divides his time between his home in the Southern Appalachians and wherever his passport will take him. After reading Jon Krakauer’s bestselling “Under the Banner of Heaven,” he was inspired to undertake a full year of research in preparation for the novel. Taking what he’d learned, along with a bit of imagination, the result was the conspiracy thriller, The Moroni Deception. Go to http://www.themoronideception.com/ for more information about the novel and to read the first chapters for free.

The Moroni Deception is your first novel. What made you decide to sit down and write it?

I’d written screenplays for a number of years, and had made several half-hearted attempts at a novel before, but not only was it was so different, but it was so much harder I found than writing a screenplay, so I had tended to give up pretty easily.  The thing I ran into with screenplays, however, was the old Catch-22, that to sell a screenplay you have to have an agent, and to get an agent you have to have sold a screenplay.  I won’t go into a lot of details–for possible future legal actions which I may still take, but in my attempt to navigate around this agent obstacle, I sent my very best screenplay directly to two different director/producers.  Both wound up–although it’s not yet been proven in court– “borrowing” very large and significant portions of this screenplay, and went on to make two different movies where I got to see a lot of my work up on the big screen, but without a penny in compensation.

The second film even went on to make over $100 million, which was sadly ironic, because I had always jokingly referred to that script as my “$100 million dollar screenplay.”  Those episodes really kind of took the wind out of my sails, and so I thought I the next time, maybe I need to to write a novel, and that hopefully it would be easier to find an agent, who could then represent my 5 other screenplays.   My first, well, I hate to call it an inspiration, but what spurred me on, believe it or not, was an episode of “South Park” –“All About Mormons.”  Like a lot of people, I had never really given the religion much thought and had always just kind of thought of it as one of the lesser know Protestant branches of Christianity. After having my interest sparked, I then went on to read Jon Krakauer’s Under The Banner of Heaven. With all the sordid history, and some, what I found to be, rather odd beliefs and practices, I knew, there was a lot of potential there for a novel.

I found the history behind the story fascinating. Is the prophecy mentioned in the novel true? 

I did, well, I won’t say “tons,” but literally, pounds of research, from all the books I went through, notes that I took, and reams that I printed off from my internet research.   While I had some idea in the beginning of what my story would be–which at the time, started out having to do with a rogue FBI agent who was investigating the murder of his Mormon girlfriend who had broken away from one of the LDS’s radical fundamentalist offshoots.  As you can see after reading it, it’s changed quite a bit from that. I then probably took close to a year of doing nothing but researching and taking notes, mostly of what seemed like fascinating items to further explore and perhaps later work into the story.  As far as “The White Horse Prophecy” goes, I wish I could take credit, but Joseph Smith supposedly first came up with that in the 1840’s.  There’s actually a pretty good Wikipedia entry on the prophecy that gives a basic explanation.  Mr. Romney has mostly dodged the question when asked about it, but I think back when he was running the first time, he said something along the lines that he considered the Prophecy to be a matter of “speculation and discussion by church members” and “not official church doctrine.”

ImageThe novel deals with a negative aspect of religion, especially the Mormon religion. Was it difficult to deal with this aspect of the novel while working on it?

Definitely, because I never wanted to turn it into a screed against the religion, and I tried to say some positive things that I could find whenever appropriate in the story.  I did, though, want to work in as many true beliefs and historical facts as I could and let the reader make up his or her own mind.   Like Michael Chenault, the main character, as well as the writers of our Constitution, I  firmly believe that everybody has the right to believe in, and practice their religion in whatever way they see fit.  But on the other hand, if say, Tom Cruise, a well-known practicing Scientologist, was to run for President, I would have to take his religion and beliefs into account before I went into the voting booth. 

How long did it take you to write it?  

If I could condense all the time I spent, doing both the research and the writing, it would probably be about 2 and a half years.  However, and unfortunately for me , that’s not the way things work, especially when we’re not only living out our lives, but trying to put bread on the table with our day job. So the true time it took stretched out to almost 5 and a half years. I started it more than a year prior to the election of 2008, which is how I remember.

Are you a disciplined writer?
 

In that, unlike most people, I wrote and completed a novel, yes.    But when compared to other writers, definitely not.  When I read about how a guy like Dan Brown gets up every morning at 4:30 or some ridiculous hour, does an hour of exercise, and then sits down to write for 4-5  straight hours, or 10-15 full pages, and I’m both impressed and amazed.  My writing time has always generally been limited by how much energy–both physical and creative–that I had left at the end of a working day.  I often found myself not beginning my writing until 11 at night, and then writing until 1 or sometimes 2 AM.  And that, again, was not every night.  I also for about a year, had a very real case of “writer’s block” where no matter what I did or how hard I tried, I couldn’t get anything substantial down on the page.  I even went to a hypnotist, which didn’t do a lot, and I almost gave up.  Also during this time period,  I  had to deal with a heart attack at a relatively early age, which came completely out of the blue, and then after that, the year and a half long battle a best friend of mine had to endure in his losing fight with cancer. 

Did you plot in advance?  If yes, tell us about your plotting process.  

Well, as I mentioned earlier, I started out with a completely different story.  I don’t even quite remember where along the way my protagonist turned into an investigative journalist, other than that I thought I wanted to create a character who solved his problems more with his brains than with what he was packing, which seemed to be so often the case with a lot of adventure/thriller protagonists I was reading at the time.   With The Moroni Deception, which I think is fairly intricately plotted, a lot of the little details that I think made it that much better, came out along the way.  I, of course had a general plot outline in my head, and then down on paper.  And then when something else would pop into my head, I would see first if it worked, second, if it actually made the story better, and then if it would work into the overall conspiracy.   The lead conspirators/villains I didn’t settle on until probably two thirds of the way through that I was working on the book. But when I finally did settle on this person or persons who shall remain nameless, that’s when I then went back and made little subtle changes starting from the beginning.

What reaction do you think or hope your story will have on the general reader? Do you think it’ll create a controversy the way The DaVinci Code did?     

Well, the reaction I’ve gotten so far from just about every reader I’ve spoken with, or heard from either by email or through their reviews, is that The Moroni Deception is a fast, fun, very topical read, especially with the current election going on.  I guess I should mention that in addition to exploring the strange but true history of the LDS (Mormon) Church, the protagonist, Michael Chenault, is investigating the background of a candidate running for President, who is a Mormon Senator from Utah, who it appears will say or do just about anything to get elected.  Comparisons have obviously been drawn to Gov. Romney, and I’ve even had the timing of the release questioned.  But I really did just finally finish writing in mid July, and I’m pretty sure I had no idea five and a half years ago that Mr. Romney would be in the position to be our next President come this November.  As far as controversy, I can imagine some old school LDS members maybe not being too happy with some of what is revealed,  but I’m not making any of it up–like the White Horse Prophecy, or the secret brotherhood of vigilant assassins known as the Danites, and some of their beliefs, like for instance, how any man can become a god and one day live on his own planet.

Where is your book available?
 

With a brief bit of explanation, because it took me so long to finish the book, I realized that if I went the traditional route of trying to find an agent, and then a publisher, and then have the publisher finally release the book, it could take up to another 2 to 3 years.  I thought the timing was right, with the current election and all the interest there has been in the Mormon religion over the last several years, as well as the fact that electronically delivered books appear to be the wave of the future, to just release it initially for Kindles and Nooks and the like.  And then, who knows, hopefully, maybe a publisher might want to step in and release it in hardcopy if there appeared to be enough interest.  So with that said, right now The Moroni Deception is available from Amazon for Kindles, at Barnes & Noble for their Nook, at the iBookstore for Ipad, as well as for Kobo, Copia, and soon supposedly for the Sony reader, as well at Gardners Books, Baker & Taylor, and e-BookPie. 

Anything else you’d like to tell my readers?
 

I guess just that if you’re a fan of thrillers like The Girl With The Dragon Tattooor The Da Vinci Code, or you’re one of those readers who likes to learn a little something along the way as you’re being entertained, then I think you’re really going enjoy my book.  As there is some sex, and quite a bit of violence, it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, and despite the fact that most 12-year-olds probably know more about life than I did when I was 20, I still wouldn’t recommend it for anybody under 17. Also, I wanted to thank you for the great questions. 

Thank you for the great interview, Jack, and best of luck with your book!

My interview originally appeared in Blogcritics, http://blogcritics.org/books/article/holdworking-div-tags-interview-with-jack/

 

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The next presidential election is getting near… and handsome, charismatic Senator Howard Stark wants to become president. There’s only one problem: He’s possessed by Sargatanas, a powerful demon who wants to unleash all evil on earth. To make things worse, Stark’s assistant happens to be a malevolent, highly-intelligent practitioner of the black arts, and she’ll stop at nothing to get what she wants. One by one, the other candidates begin to die, some of illness, others due to mysterious accidents.

Enter the good guys: occult investigator Quincey Morris and his partner, white witch Libby Chastain. Together, they risk their lives while trying to find a way to exorcise the senator, which isn’t easy. After all, how do you get past the U.S. Secret Service and the forces of hell itself?

Sympathy for the Devil is pure entertainment. I’ve read all of the books in the Morris and Chastain Investigation series and I have to say I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed them. Just like in the earlier installments, the story, told from multiple points of view, opens with a reader-grabbing scene and continues its quick, suspenseful pace until the end. Author Justin Gustainis raises the stakes high and makes the characters sympathetic, getting you to care for their predicament. He’s also great at making you hate the villain. The secondary characters are interesting, too — even some of the bad ones are likable.

Lots of action and dialogue propel the plot; Gustainis doesn’t spend much time on description. If you’re a fan of urban fantasy and supernatural, and political thrillers, you’ll relish this one. Also, Sympathy for the Devil stands alone perfectly, so don’t worry if you haven’t read the earlier novels. I certainly look forward to reading what Quincey and Libby are up to next.

Visit the author’s website.

Purchase from Amazon.

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Mark LaFlamme is an award-winning crime reporter and columnist at the Sun Journal in Lewiston, Maine. His weekly column, Street Talk, where he often compares editors to bats, spiders, extraterrestrial slugs, and "other beings too diabolical to describe", has been named Best in Maine and Best in New England. In 2006, LaFlamme was named Journalist of the Year by the Maine Press Association. In this interview, LaFlamme talks about his books, writing, and what's inside the mind of the horror author, among other things.

When did your fascination with the 'dark side' begin and when did you start writing horror?

What dark side? I'm a perfectly well adjusted young man who dreams of pink ponies and marmalade skies. I whistle while I walk. I stop and sniff flowers at roadside. I retreat only occasionally into the basement to devise new strategies to raise the dead.

If I have such a gloomy nature, it was certainly born in youth, which was often turbulent and marked by uncertainty. When I was six, I discovered my father dying on a roof, the victim of a brain aneurysm. I don't think I've viewed the end of life quite right since that experience.

What were some of your favorite horror books and/or movies as a teenager?

I started reading Poe when I was preteen. I didn't grasp all of it of course, but I quickly grew fond of his tone. I read a lot of S.E. Hinton, Rumblefish, The Outsiders and such. I discovered Stephen King soon enough. I watched almost exclusively horror movies. Halloween was my first big wow.

Tell us a little about your books, The Pink Room and Vegetation. What was your inspiration for them?

The Pink Room was my second novel and the first that was published. It's beginnings are prosaic at best. I had insomnia. Every night, I tried to play a mental movie in my head to lull me to sleep. I saw a man walking down a dark road in the middle of nowhere. Car pulls up, windows goes down, and a man inside says: "We know you've been inside the house. We want to talk to you about that." I'd been reading a lot about string theory at the time. And I'm always thinking about the irrevocable nature of death. The three concepts got together, had a party and wrote a novel.

Vegetation originated even more mundanely. I was in the backyard having a smoke when a little ivy tickled my ankle in the dark. I jumped and tried to flee and ran face-first into a lilac bush. Plants were everywhere and they were out to get me. I went inside and consoled myself with corn on the cob. It occurred to me that if you offend the kingdom of plants, brother, the whole world really is out to get you.

Having read these novels, I find The Pink Room very strong in atmospheric elements while Vegetation, though also dealing with the supernatural, is more focused on the protagonist's dark psyche. Which novel was more challenging to write?

I identified a great deal with the character Jonathan Cain from The Pink Room. He is a man mourning his dead love and willing to do anything to bring her back. I liked him and I enjoyed advancing his story. In Vegetation, the lead character was Bertram Luce, a pompous and wealthy man. I don't think I'll ever be either of those things and I despised him. Still, because of that, it was fun to set the world of plants after his butt night after night. Vegetation was challenging mostly because I knew nothing of flora going into the story. I had to learn from the ground up, so to speak.

Your latest book, Dirt: An American Campaign is more realistic in that it doesn't have the supernatural elements present in your previous works… though some would argue there's nothing more horrific than a presidential campaign. What compelled you to write this particular story and was it easier to write because of your newspaper reporting background?

My reporting background didn't help at all. I write crime and largely ignore the clamor of politics. That was a real problem when I decided to tackle an American run for the presidency.

I had this half-dream about a man digging up his dead wife in the middle of the night. There was nothing more elaborate about this dream. Just that image: a very determined man with a shovel, digging a square hole to his bride. I liked the image a lot and eventually asked myself what kind of chaos such an act would bring about. At the time, I was reluctantly getting into the Hillary vs. Obama fight and really enjoying the campaign strategies of both. I started studying political strategy, learned a ton, and decided to introduce my grave-robbing protagonist to the concept. The result were some really great characters, some that the reader will love, some that they will loath. I think that's the success of the book.

Dirt was just released, wasn't it? Was this a promotional move to coincide with the presidential election?

I was taking my sweet time getting Dirt to market. Richard Hoy from Splinter Press took a look at the manuscript and decided immediately what he wanted to do. Let's take the presidential candidate from the novel and start running him a real world campaign, he said. Suddenly, Frank Cotton was everywhere. He has his own website (www.cottonforpresident.com), his own lawn signs, bumper stickers, an entire staff. He even gets into fights with reporters. Sometimes I forget what is real and what is fiction. I should probably worry that with so much uncertainty among voters, Frank Cotton might get elected. If it happens, I'll let Mr. Hoy worry about it.

What do you struggle with the most when writing horror? What comes easier for you?

I don't always want to write horror. The struggle is to avoid elements of it when trying to writing something more mainstream. It's very difficult when you have become accustomed to going dark by default. I try to write a straightforward story about nice people doing nice things and suddenly, someone is dead and being eaten by dogs. Troubling.

What's inside the mind of the horror writer?

Mostly alcohol, I think. It seems to me that the horror writer understands him or herself more intimately than he should. He understands his most base impulses, his weaknesses, the dangerous parts of his insecurities. I really believe that horror writers – or anyone who is driven to just write and write and write – has become so self-aware, his only hope of escaping madness is to bleed it off; to apply all those frailties to characters on a page.

Are you a disciplined writer?

Extremely. Some of that was developed as a reporter, where there are deadlines and no chances to put off writing for a night. I come home at midnight each day and write at least 2,500 words whether I want to or not. Some of my best writing happens when I least want to do it.

Describe a regular day in your writing life.

I'll get up, drink a pot of coffee and write a column or feature story for the paper that's due the following day. Then I'll go into the newsroom and write three or four stories about breaking news. Breaking news is easy and a great way to develop a sharp and concise style. Brevity is, and all that.

I come home late at night, annoy my wife for an hour or so, and come into my writing room. I'll try to read what I wrote the night before and tweak it. Then I go at producing new material, stepping out for a smoke every half hour or so. I keep the TV on while I write but the volume down. I keep the window shades drawn because I don't want to look out there and see a pale face staring in from the dark.

Do you have any favorite horror books or movies you'd like to recommend?

My favorite horror novel is King's Salem's Lot. I just can't help myself. It's so sinister and so beautifully written. Almost poetic, even though necks are being sucked.

I'll recommend The Changeling, and 80's horror flick starring George C. Scott. It's infinitely creepy and few people have seen it.

What do you do on Halloween? Do you dress up?

I take the entire week off each year and do something crazy. I did Salem, Mass. a few times. It's like Mardi Gras on the big night. I recommend going a week earlier, instead. I've been to Poe's grave a couple Halloweens in a row, Sleepy Hollow, that kind of thing. I write scripts for "The Haunted Forest" in Williston, Vt. so I've been out there the past few years. It's amazing seeing one of your scripts acted out in the middle of the woods.
My ultimate Halloween destination is Transylvania. In the meantime, I have plans for the Winchester House in San Jose and Gettysburg. I may combine a trip to Gettysburg this year with the trip to Vermont. And oh yes, I dress up. Last year, I was a cannibal clown. The year before that, Andre Linoge from King's "Storm of the Century."

Is there anything else you'd like to tell our readers?

Please tell them I need to pay for an expensive medical procedure and to please buy my books. Or if you want to tell them something truthful, tell them that I would love to hear from anyone who reads my work, whether they love it or hate it. As a journalist, I've always remained extremely approachable, answering every call and every letter I get with enthusiasm. I'd like to be the same as a novelist. Also, I'm very lonely.

Interview by Mayra Calvani

Mayra Calvani is a multi-genre author and reviewer. Her paranormal books include Embraced by the Shadows (romantic horror/vampire) and Dark Lullaby (atmospheric horror). She is also the co-author of the nonfiction work, The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing.

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