Monday, August 01, 2011

Interview with John Desjarlais, Author of Viper

Yay! Tomorrow, I'm heading off to the Catholic Writers Conference Online. One of the many fantastic people I'll meet there is John Desjarlais, who writes awesome mysteries with Catholic characters. His latest, VIPER, came out July 15. I'll have a review up on the 8th, but here's an interview of him. Enjoy!

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. Today, we're talking with him about his latest book, Viper, out from Sophia Institute Press.

Where did you get the idea for the murderer putting her name in the Book of the Dead?

I’m a relatively new Catholic, and so I’m very excited to observe the many customs, traditions and practices I never knew about in my many years as a devout Protestant. Soon after I finished BLEEDER, my first mystery, I was considering a sequel and on the lookout for a story idea when around All Souls’ Day I noticed an announcement in my parish’s bulletin reminding people to write the names of departed relatives in “The Book of the Dead” so they could be remembered and prayed for. To a mystery writer, a phrase like “Book of the Dead” sounds like a premise and a title! The wheels began to turn: what if there were names in the Book of people who weren’t dead yet? What if they were being killed in the order in which they were listed? Who would they be, and who would kill them, and why? And what if the last name in the list was one of my characters? It had to be Selena De La Cruz, especially since this observance has a close connection to the Mexican festival in November called “The Day of the Dead,” which became my working title along with “The Book of the Deceased.” (It ended up being “VIPER” to match the two-syllable title “BLEEDER” and to refer to the snake-themes in the story: the drug dealer named “The Snake,” the snake handling, the Aztec interest in snakes, and Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose name in the native Nuahtl language means ‘she who crushes the snake’).

Did you have fun looking up women's footwear for Selena?

I learned early on in the research that Latinas dig the zapatos. At the elaborate coming-of-age celebration for fifteen-year-old girls called a Quiceañera, one custom calls for the father to give his daughter her first pair of high heels as a symbol of her womanhood. For Selena, the stylish shoes are a sign of her Latin identity, her social class and her empowerment as a woman in a man’s world – besides handing a P226 SIG Sauer and racing a muscle car! I found all I needed in Latina magazine and, and my Latina reader/translator had some suggestions. I have no particular attraction to women’s footwear, lest anyone wonder about that. And I’ve never actually tried wearing them to get an idea of their balance. My research only takes me so far. The aim was to make Selena both unique and authentically Latina.

What was your favorite part to write?

The climax, the final showdown, is always a gratifying part to write since it is the dramatic pay-off that you’ve been setting up for a long time. Apart from that, I enjoyed all the ‘flashbacks’ and brief remembrances of Selena’s upbringing and family life. These intimate interactions made the character come alive for me and absolutely real for readers. I didn’t include all these parts in the novel; one must be judicious with backstory. I’ve saved them and I might use them in my blog ( when Selena writes there as a ‘guest.’

What's next for you?

I’m brewing ideas for the third mystery in the series to address a few unresolved issues left over from VIPER. Insofar as VIPER considered Selena’s relationship with her mother (an immensely important figure in Mexican families), the next story will examine her troubled past with her father. This has always affected her relationships with men, and until she deals with this she cannot move ahead in her relationship with Reed Stubblefield. So I’ll have Selena investigate the mysterious circumstances of her father’s early death, which is somehow connected to his former position as an executive with PEMEX, the Mexican national oil company, and his sudden transfer to the Mexican Consulate in Chicago.

Thanks for letting me visit with you, Karina! Your readers can stay in touch with me at jjdesjarlais(at) Visit my web site,

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