7/25/22

Thought I'd share some of the more interesting interview questions I've been asked.

 

  1. What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?

I’m from Massachusetts, so I’ve made the pilgrimage to Concord to visit the homes of Thoreau, Emerson, and Hawthorne. I stood at Hawthorne’s stand-up desk—it folded up against the wall—and marveled that the bookshelves were easily removed in order to throw them out the nearby window in case of a housefire. The books were that valuable.

  1. What is the first book that made you cry?

Probably Black Beauty. I cannot bear cruelty to animals. It made writing “The Kill Floor” difficult, as it centers on the brutal slaughterhouse industry and the abusive Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations connected to them.

  1. Does writing energize or exhaust you?

Both. The process is so focused that it demands full concentration in a ‘zone’ requiring a dozen decisions per second, and when it goes well, it’s a rush. If I hit a block or write myself into a corner, it’s deflating. In either case, I run out of gas after two, three hours.

  4. What are common traps for aspiring writers?

The most common is feeling that one can write only when ‘inspired.’ Writing takes more perspiration than inspiration. You must put your seat in the seat on a regular basis. It needn’t be every day, but you must remember, in Woody Allen’s words, “80 percent of life is showing up.”

Perfectionism is another trap. It prevents writers from getting the whole story on paper, where it can later be shaped. You cannot keep going over and over the same word, sentence or scene.

  5. Does a big ego help or hurt writers?

A healthy ego helps writers and the work. By that, I mean the writer must summon enough self-confidence to believe the work is do-able and worth doing. A proper humility allows the writer to focus on the work and not himself. It’s all about the work.

  6. What is your writing Kryptonite?

Procrastination. It’s like exercise, really. I don’t like to do it, but I feel much better about myself afterwards—and I’ve improved myself. If I skip exercise for a few days, it’s harder to resume. Same with writing.

  7. Have you ever gotten reader’s block?

Only for books that don’t engage me. I’ve gotten better at shutting a book and saying, ‘this isn’t worth reading on.’ On some occasions, I stop and realize, “I’m not getting this.” So I slow down and make an extra effort.

  8. Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?

An author’s name is a ‘brand,’ and so if I decide to write something decidedly different from what readers expect when they see my name on it, I’d consider it. If a publisher insisted on it for marketing purposes, I probably wouldn’t object. But I won’t ever send out material under a pseudonym as a way to get under an agent’s radar. That’s deceptive and unethical.

  9. Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?

You must be yourself and use your own voice. On the other hand, certain commercial genres have built-in expectations and the writer must deliver or the seasoned reader will be disappointed. Take Hallmark Christmas movies, for example. They have predictable formulas on purpose, and viewers actually want them so, to be emotionally satisfied—much like going to a particular restaurant over and over for the same experience. The crime genre, however, is diversified enough to allow a writer to break from some conventions while keeping to others, such as “fair play” with clues in a puzzle-style mystery.

  10. Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?

Anyone who has gone through adolescence has felt emotions strongly.

 

(John's full blog can be found here.)

8/1/22

Here's a question I'm bound to be asked. May as well put it here.

What motivated you to write THE KILL FLOOR?

This will reveal how mystery writers think. On my rural Illinois commute to the college where I taught, I passed many farms and hog operations. In certain seasons, you could smell the liquified pig manure being sprayed onto the fields. One operation had a large manure lagoon visible from the road and I wondered what an interesting place to hide a body. Who would look there? Who would smell it as it decomposed? Like, no one. Then one begins to ponder, who would do such a thing and why? And who might the victim be? And you see, as soon as you begin to ponder victim, villain, and sleuth, you have a story. I thought Detective Gordon, who appears in my previous three mysteries as a minor character, ought to have a story of his own.

The research led me to learn about CAFOs, the huge Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations around the country. There are about 25,000 of them around the U.S. with over a billion animals raised in horrid conditions to feed Americans’ obsession with meat. The news reported some high-profile CAFO manure lagoon spills in North Carolina after hurricanes with disastrous environmental consequences. Such a spill might reveal a body and...well, the story can now begin.

12/28/2022

Here are more interesting interview questions I've been asked.

 

Q: Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

A: Both, really. Each of my books can stand alone. But the Irish historicals can be read in a sequence, and the mysteries, in particular, make more sense if read in sequence.

Q: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

A: Keep going. If you are writing and finishing work, you are succeeding. Read, read, read.

Q: How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

A: It just convinced me that a daily discipline, early in the day, was necessary to get the work done. I still write daily, in a journal at least. I'll try some poetry. But with a novel-in-progress I tend to work in concentrated spurts, not every day.

Q: What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?

A: Probably the conference fees for the first writer’s conference I attended where I landed my first agent. I felt like a professional at that point.

Q: What authors did you dislike at first but grew into?

A: Charles Dickens. As a younger man, I found the Victorian language laborious. The meandering plots, full of coincidences, were difficult to follow or to like. But in late midlife I came to appreciate his humor and colorful characters. I’ve read nearly the entire ‘canon.’

Q: What did you do with your first advance?

A: Banked it. Well, I think my wife and I went out to dinner to celebrate. But the rest—into the savings account. It was a very modest figure, really.

Q: What are the most important magazines for writers to subscribe to?

A: The popular trades are useful in learning the craft and the business of writing: The Writer and Writers Digest. For ‘literary’ writers, it’s Poets and Writers. But writers should also subscribe to a couple of literary journals both for inspiration and to support the industry they want to be a part of. I subscribe to a couple, and visit the library for others. Let’s support libraries, too, by the way. They’re under assault.

Q: What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?

A: I adore Watership Down and I wish more fantasy readers were acquainted with it.

Q: How do you balance making demands on the reader with taking care of the reader?

A: I don’t think about that much. I just try to be clear. Control point of view. Construct coherent scenes. Orient the reader to time and location. Subtlety is good, but clarity is everything.

Q: As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot?

A: The sloth.

 

1/22/23

Nice KILL FLOOR review from The Rockford Review:

"This is an extremely well-written whodunit by John Desjarlais. I'd try to stop reading, but told myself, just one more page ... and then another ... and another ... John's use of colorfuverbs enlivens every sentence. He uses the environs of the Illinoisl landscape in a nuanced manner, with descriptions scattered seamlessly throughout the dialogue and plot. I highly recommend this thriller -- and don't be surprised if you never eat pork again after reading 'The Kill Floor."'    - Sally Hewitt, Editor of The Rockford Review

2/2/23

Photo shoot yesterday for a my profile to appear in the March/April issue of "Bold Life," a regional arts magazine. My 15 minutes of fame, I suppose.

1/31/23

Working on my talk, "Why We Love Mysteries", to present at The Brandy Bar in Hendersonville, NC, March 8, at 7 pm.  Lotsa reasons, but it usually comes to acknowledging that traditional mystery novels are puzzles to be solved, a game played with a clever writer who "plays fair" with the rules.

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