An Interview With
There is a type of dreaming that is never brought to consciousness. Sleep scientists call such dreaming "non-REM dreaming." In "non-REM dreaming," no one knows what really occurs. But this much is true: everyone has a dream life they cannot recall. That said, here's the premise: what if there was a technique for recalling your "non-REM" dreams? And what if those dreams revealed your future, or fate?
A story like that would make a good thriller.
"Wake Up Dead," is that book. It's a new mystery novel written by Stillwater author Christopher Bonn Jonnes, and published by Salvo Press. The reviews of "Wake Up Dead" are "thumbs up" from both Amazon.com and Barnes&Noble.com. The result is that it looks like this mystery-cum-sci-fi novel will sell enough copies to earn a second printing.
"Wake Up Dead" is the story of Paul Fontana, an underemployed car salesman, who is mysteriously summoned to the home of a famous experimental psychologist, Mason Brooks, whose research specialty is the workings of the human mind while dreaming. Mason Brooks has made discoveries about "non-REM dreaming," the kind of dreaming we don't remember.
Seems Mr. Brooks has developed a method--with monitors and feedback machines--for recalling non-REM dreams. And non-REM dreams in Jonnes' novel are dreams that predict the future. So what does Brooks do? He does what every normal person would, given the clairvoyance--he goes to the racetrack and bets on the horses. Brooks is soon rolling in cash. But Brooks experiences other premonitions. He sees his own murder at the hands of protagonist, Paul Fontana.
Since Brooks can prevent what lies ahead in the future by warding off the occurrence, Mr. Brooks hires Fontana to help ward off Brooks' fate. Add to this brew Mason Brooks' wife, the beautiful Monica Westfield, and you've got a classic detective mystery with a sci-fi twist.
Author of "Wake Up Dead," Christopher Bonn Jonnes, is the chief operating officer of American Polywater, a Stillwater-based company that supplies water-based lubricants to companies laying power lines. American Polywater, judging from Jonnes' elegant log home in Grant Township--complete with show horses loping in their corrals, two Harley-Davidson motorcycles, and two oversized trucks for pulling horse trailers--is a very successful company.
But in his heart, Jonnes always wanted to be a writer, and though he never attended college, he nevertheless harbored the dream of writing a book. "I started working at Polywater before I graduated from high school," said Chris. "My father formed the company, and I worked for him. For years I hadn't given writing a thought. But I got serious about it ten years ago."
Jonnes, 42 years old, is a handsome man with the sinewy build of a runner. His hair and beard are neatly trimmed. Jonnes looks and walks rather stiffly, like a man who keeps himself under control. It is a certain tighness and reserve that men of property often have. Jonnes is a runner, a motorcyclist, and assists his wife Susan (who is a serious equestrian) with her horses, traveling with her to horse shows and competitions. Compound all that activity with the responsibilities of raising three children, and you would wonder where Jonnes got the time to write "Wake Up Dead."
"I started writing late at night," says Jonnes, "after everyone had gone to bed. I found I could get in one or two hours of writing every night. And I didn't talk about it to anyone. I didn't want anyone to know I was writing a novel."
Jonnes is a writer who actually enjoys the process of writing. He especially likes the solitude it offers. "Writing is the only thing I do that I can do alone. And I look forward to writing, finding out where a story is headed. Right now, with promoting the novel, I haven't had time to write as much as I want. But that will change soon."
Jonnes says he doesn't plan his novels chapter by chapter. "You don't need to know everything that happens to start in. The writing itself is what discovers what happens in a story."
Jonnes taught himself to write with the help of "how-to" books, like Strunk and White's "Elements of Style," and others. And of course he read a lot of the classics--Hemingway, Dickens, Poe, etc. His mother, Beverly Bonn Jonnes (it's pronounced exactly like "Jones"), instilled in him from an early age a love for literature, and a hunger for knowledge and wisdom.
"I had written a novel before 'Wake Up Dead,'" said Chris. "But frankly, it wasn't good enough to sell to a publisher. But one night I actually dreamed the plot to 'Wake Up Dead.'" I made some notes about it the next morning.And when I finally did finish 'Wake Up Dead' I sent a copy of it to my mother, who liked it very much. Sure, I know everyone's mother is going to like what their son wrote. But my mother is a knowedgeable reader. She's a poet too. And I trusted her judgment when she said I should try to find an agent."
"I told Chris not to give up," said former school teacher, Beverly Bonn Jonnes, Chris' mother. "In fact, it's something my husband and I have always encouraged in our kids--that if they want something, they should go for it."
Ms. Jonnes said that Chris had always loved to write. "He used to carry a journal. And he loved to read. Both my husband and I are readers, and I believe that the love of reading and literature rubbed off on him."
But Beverly Jonnes insists on taking no credit for Chris's having written a book. "It takes the person himself to actually do the work. You can show your children things. Influence them. But Chris is the one who did it. He had gotten a little down about his initial rejections by publishers. But the book is very good. The plot has a wonderful premise. So I encouraged him not to give up."
It's one thing to actually write a book; another matter entirely to get the book published and sold. Without connections in the literary world, Chris Jonnes initially sent his manuscript "cold" to thirty publishers who responded with form-letter rejections. At that point Jonnes switched gears. "I read in 'Writers Market' that writers should have an agent. So I started sending the book to agents."
He got a response. Chris signed with an agent who promised to promote 'Wake Up Dead.'"
Jonnes waited an entire year for the agent to start. The agent did exactly nothing. "So I broke off my agreement with him," said Chris. "And at that point I kind of gave up on the book. But I read of a mystery novel publisher who was looking for new writers."
Salvo Press, a small publisher in Oregon, sponsored a mystery novel competition, with the winner earning publication by the publisher. In storybook fashion, the phone rang at the Jonnes's; it was Salvo's editor, Scott Schmidt, who called to say how much he liked the book. "Schmidt said his problem was that my novel didn't fit his genre, which is straight mystery writing. And I don't write to fit a genre--I write the kind of book I want to read. Anyway, he said, because of my book's sci-fi twist, that he couldn't award me the prize. But he liked 'Wake Up Dead' so much that he offered to publish it anyway."
Getting "Wake Up Dead" published took seven years. "I was ready to give up, or do another rewrite. So when Scott called with the news ... well I was shocked. I mean, it was like getting a call from Ed McMahon, or finding out that your wife is going to have a child. It was one of life's greatest moments."
Chris was thrilled at the accomplishment of getting a novel to press. But Salvo is a small publisher, hardly a publishing empire that could give the novel the promotion it deserved. So Jonnes has had to do much of the promoting himself. Though he's appeared at numerous local book signings, his main promotional device has been via the Internet, where "Wake Up Dead" has it's own website.
"I've had a lot of online reviews," said Jonnes. "And just about all of them have been excellent. I got a five-star review from both Amazon.com and Barnes&Noble.com."
But there is also the matter of personal appearances. Bookstores will often refuse to sell a new writer without a personal appearance to boost its sales. And Chris Bonn Jonnes isn't exacty the "show-biz" type of guy. "Promoting the book has been an effort for me. I'm not an extrovert. So book signings can be a chore. Sometimes a bookstore will sign you up for an appearance, then do nothing to promote you or your book. It can get discouraging going to a book signing and reading an excerpt to a row of empty folding chairs. Some stores, like 'Once Upon A Crime,' I did real well in. And I do have my business experience to help me promote it. I understand marketing. And I've been busting my hump trying to push up sales. The promotional part of it I don't enjoy. But that's all part of being a writer these days."
There have been a few inquiries about "Wake Up Dead" from Hollywood. Though a movie deal would make a breakthrough in book sales, not to mention the profits from selling the rights to make it a film, Chris seems skeptical about "Wake Up Dead" becoming a film. "Trying to get it sold to Hollywood is not my focus. If it happens, that's good. But I'm not counting on anything."
Jonnes said he hopes to sell enough to keep "Wake Up Dead" in print. And, naturally, he'd love to keep writing. "I know this sounds egotistical, but I wouldn't want to be so widely read that I couldn't go anywhere without people recognizing me. I couldn't think of anything worse. What I prefer is to sell enough books to make a little money, enough to encourage me to keep writing. Just to be able to write is the real reward." --Bill Stieger