Thanks so much for interviewing me, Patrick. About me: I have a fairly useless journalism/philosophy degree and neither of those things pay anymore. I’m the author of Self-help for Stoners and several short story collections and now the crime novel Bigger Than Jesus. Everything I write falls under the umbrella of suspense. I’ve won awards for my writing, mostly of little significance, but I cling to that, somewhat pathetically, to make me feel better about myself.
What do you think makes your genre special?
I like William Goldman’s books very much and emulate his style in that he takes readers to the point where they think they know what’s going to happen next. That’s when the sucker punch comes. I’m a big fan of unexpected, yet logical, plot twists. Notice that Stephen King always refers to what he does as suspense (as opposed to horror). I think suspense is a more inclusive genre. I also inject a lot of humor amid very trying situations. I had to undergo surgery once and I realized that I was never funnier as when I was terrified. I was cracking up the orderly and when I got into the OR, the nurses asked how I knew him. Crazy circumstances are ripe for fun so I always put my characters through the roaster.
What do you think makes a great story?
I love it when I’m writing a story and I discover something about the character or find a new plot twist I didn’t envision when I began. I value plot as well as characterization, so, though sensitive moments occur, the emotion is derived from the story and action follows of a consequence of that emotion. It’s economical in that nothing is wasted or superfluous. I need dynamic events to happen to people I care about. Too often I read books that err too far on either side of that distinction.
What is your latest book called and could you explain to us in 20 words what it is about?
Bigger Than Jesus is the foundation book for a series of crime thrillers. Twenty words or less? Jesus Diaz is a luckless hit man who wants to escape with his girlfriend and a stolen mafia fortune. That’s nineteen words. Laughs. That’s twenty.
Which kind of reader do you think will enjoy your book?
It’s tempting to say anyone who breathes and has a brain, isn’t it? Claude Bouchard described Bigger Than Jesus as “Wickedly real and violently funny” so I guess if you like Coen brothers’ movies, there’s something to that. I find a lot of comedy amongst the crime and hijinx. The comedy makes for some of the most real moments, like when my hit man and the mob under-boss have an argument about Star Wars trivia. That may sound strange – okay, of course that sounds strange -- but it’s made relevant to the plot.
Is it a Standalone, or part of the series? If it the latter, how long do you think will it go on?
The character of Jesus Diaz started out as a hit man from a short story in Self-help for Stoners. He’s a much older and more experienced hit man in that story, but still subject to Murphy’s Law. As soon as I started writing The Hit Man Series, I knew I had at least five books to come and maybe more. Eventually, I’d like a bunch of my characters to meet in one book, too. That’s long term. Right now I want them to explore their own worlds, but for real fans of my books, there’s already a lot of cross-pollination, so you get to meet certain characters again, sometimes even in different incarnations.
What influenced or inspired you writing it?
I watched documentaries and read a lot about the mob. It’s all fiction, of course, but I drew on several real life experiences with injuries and general mayhem to contribute to the book. I’m fascinated with Dali, so he’s in there briefly. Yes, I know it’s strange to have Salvador Dali in a crime thriller that’s not at all about art theft, but a crucial plot point turns on him. I also consulted friends, an ex-military buddy and a friend who trains SWAT for a bunch of other details. It’s those sorts of technical details that give the context you need to achieve verisimilitude. Everything that’s in my head gets dumped in if I can use it intelligently. I’m one of those weirdos who can get lost in a dictionary or Wikipedia for hours.
Why did you choose especially this title? Was it your first choice?
I wanted a title that would grab attention and when John Lennon used the phrase Bigger Than Jesus about the Beatles, it got a lot of attention. My character is Cuban, though, so it’s pronounced “Hay-soose.” I expect at some point a Christian will object, but I think that’s a worry for people whose faith is already awfully shaky. It’s more likely that by using Bigger Than Jesus, the remaining Beatles won’t do another album, which is terribly upsetting.
What was the hardest part for you working on your book?
There wasn’t a hard part writing it. The hard part is everything that has to do with not writing. Procrastination. Marketing. Trying to get on the radar. I do enjoy interviews because I get to talk about my favorite subject. I’m also a huge narcissist, but you must have guessed that already. I think all writers must be, to think they will write and also be read.
Was there a scene that you didn’t add or remove in your finished work?
When I started Bigger Than Jesus, I knew the opening scene and the last line. I basically wrote a chapter a day with a day or two off sometimes to think. I end each chapter with a cliffhanger and when I shut down the computer each night, I often didn’t know how I was going to dig Jesus out of the hole I’d written for him. I use a mind technique to achieve the hypnogogic state. Basically, I ask a question as I fall asleep and as I wake up, I have the answer as to how to proceed. Sounds weird. Works for me.
Do you already know what to do next?
I’m already writing the next installment in The Hit Man Series: Higher Than Jesus. No spoilers. Let’s just say, the answer to that question is always, “Write the next book.”
Where can we find more about you and your books?
My author site is AllThatChazz.com. I’m podcasting Bigger Than Jesus one chapter at a time, one week at a time. By the time that’s done, I’ll be podcasting Higher Than Jesus, I suppose. My work is always available on Amazon here: http://amzn.to/Nm6xj4. I also write about writing at ChazzWrites.com and that seems to have taken off enough that I’m preparing a book of the best of the blog for writers. That will be called Crack the Indie Author Code: Aspire to Inspire. That should be out this fall in two parts.
Any last words?
I think one of the things that’s caught some readers’ attention is that Bigger Than Jesus is told in second person, present tense. I loved Jay MacInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City and thought it was time someone revisit the second-person as a viable point of view, at least once every twenty-seven years or so, anyway.
Some writers even say no one should ever write that way, which made me want to write like that all the more. I’m kind of a contrarian and I thought that if I could make it work, I’d get extra points from the doubters. Some people object to second-person point of view as a statement of religious faith. They’re against it but I doubt they’ve tried it out.
I wrote it that way for a reason, however. It’s not revealed until very late in Bigger Than Jesus why it makes sense, so readers will just have to trust me that there is a reason and it is revealed. I play coy about it in the first book and get right into it with the second book. Second-person present also had the benefit of making the action immediate and brings the reader closer to the danger, so there’s that. I’m not writing experimental fiction here. It’s a thriller and it’s going to be a very successful series of thrillers. If I sound a bit defiant about that, it’s because I am. I was a bit pissed when I read someone pontificating about POV saying, “Don’t expect me to read” second-person narrative. I’m on a mission to overcome prejudice against my chosen POV and guys named Jesus. And hit men. They aren’t all bad, at least if you grade them on a curve.
Bigger Than Jesus
Jesus Diaz is a hit man caught in the gears of The Machine. He craves the simple things: to escape New York with stolen mob money and to marry the lovely Lily. Not getting shot would be good, too. Fast-paced and full of twists and deception, this is the crime novel that reads like a Coen brothers' movie: the wide and easy road out of town turns deadly. Murphy's Law will bring Jesus down long before the NYPD get a chance.