Interview with novelist John Desjarlais

Today’s guest is novelist John Desjarlais to talk about his newest mystery, Viper, which released in July.

A former producer with Wisconsin Public Radio, John Desjarlais teaches journalism and English at Kishwaukee College in northern Illinois.

His first novel, The Throne of Tara (Crossway 1990, re-released 2000), was a Christianity Today Readers Choice Award nominee, and his medieval thriller, Relics (Thomas Nelson 1993, re-released 2009) was a Doubleday Book Club Selection. Bleeder and Viper (Sophia Institute Press, 2009 and 2011 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.

Welcome, John. Please tell us about your current release.
In Viper, Latina insurance agent Selena De La Cruz has a problem. Just before All Souls’ Day, someone enters the names of nine people in her Catholic church’s Book of the Dead, seeking prayers for their souls. But all nine are still alive. Until they start getting murdered one by one in the precise order their names are written in the Book of the Dead — and always right after a local visionary sees a mysterious woman known as The Blue Lady.

Is she Our Lady of Guadalupe warning the next victim, as many in the Mexican-American community believe? Or the Aztec goddess of death, come to claim another soul, as others say? Or someone less mystical, but deadly nonetheless?

Selena De La Cruz needs to find out. The last name on the list is hers.

What inspired you to write this book?
I’m a recent convert to the Catholic faith and therefore fascinated by Catholic customs and practice. I noticed around All Souls Day that my parish church had a leather-bound ledger on display called ‘The Book of the Dead’ where people recorded the names of relatives who had died during the year. Well, a mystery writer hears ‘Book of the Dead’ and sits up straight. Since the Mexican holiday ‘The Day of the Dead’ is celebrated about the same time, I knew that Selena, a strong-willed 30-something Mexican American minor character from Bleeder, ought to be the protagonist for the sequel, and that her name would be listed in her church’s ‘Book of the Dead.’

What exciting story are you working on next?
I’m working on the third book in the series wherein Selena investigates the mystery of her father’s sudden departure from PEMEX, the Mexican national oil company, to settle in Chicago with a job at the Mexican consulate where he dies shortly afterward (this happened when she was a kid). It’s taking a turn as a political thriller involving the Mexican government, big oil, emerging drug cartels, and the Vatican.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
In high school I wrote for the literary magazine and I was the newspaper editor. I knew then that I wanted to be a writer – though I had written spy novels in junior high (they were awful).

Do you write full-time? If so, what’s your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I teach college fulltime (literature and creative writing), and with a five-course load plus committee work and so on it is difficult to write during the semester. So I conduct research during the academic year and write in a focused way over summer and winter breaks. Viper, however, was a book I cranked on in Spring 2010 in order to deliver a manuscript to my editor by the end of May.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I found a Latina model’s images online in a photography website who I imagined looked like Selena. I printed (and paid for) several shots of this woman and they are posted around my desk. When I’m stuck, I glance at the photos and ask Selena what she would do. Thank goodness my wonderful wife doesn’t mind. You can see some of the photos at my web site.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A writer, believe it or not. In third grade I wrote a story with my dog as the main character and the teacher mimeographed it (I wonder if many of your readers recall ditto machines) and distributed copies – my first published work.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
I’m involved in retired racing Greyhound rescue. They are sweet, gentle companions and are rather easy to care for. I recommend that anyone who is considering adopting a dog visit websites that feature Greys and learn about these lovely creatures to see if they might be a good family fit. We adopted our latest, Murphy (track name: Sovereign Knight) this summer from REGAP of Illinois (Retired Greyhounds As Pets). So search for REGAP (they have chapters in many states) or browse

Thanks for letting me visit with your readers, Lisa!

And if anyone wants to connect, there’s my website, Facebook fan page, and Twitter.

Great having you join my blog, John. Thanks for the great interview.

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