An Interview With
We recently had the pleasure of interviewing C.B. Jonnes, who is the author of the suspense novel, Wake Up Dead. And ... well, you'll just have to read the interview. And trust us, you'll love the answers!BOOK-RELATED QUESTIONS
Q. Could you please summarize "Wake Up Dead" in your own words?
A. What if we could dream the near future and control it? What if two people with the same ability, but opposing goals, dueled over control of their mutual destiny? Wake Up Dead probes these questions. The antagonist, Mason Brook, discovers he has this ability, using it to get rich and attract a beautiful young lady, Monica Westfield. But then the future he sees includes his own death. Knowing what's to come, he's able to avoid it, but the dreams persist. Death appears imminent, unavoidable. Each dream includes the presence of a stranger, protagonist, Paul Fontana. Mason, Monica, and Paul are thrown together in an exciting and thought-provoking maze of lust, love, and deadly fate.
Q. Where on earth (or similar planet) did you conjure up the idea for this novel?
A. The irony is that this book about dreams actually came to me in a dream. I jumped out of bed and jotted down some notes on it, which formed the basis for the book I started a year later. Approximately 70% of it came from the dream. I had to make up the rest. This may be proof that I have better dreams than talent. I often dream about spaceships and aliens (and being forced to mate with their females). I don't know what planet they're from. They're not coneheads, so I know it's not France. I read John Gray's "Men Are From Mars" book, and I do like to watch TV while the wife is trying to discuss the drapes, so the origin may be Mars, But I don't know. I'll ask next time I'm onboard.
Q. Out of all the characters in your novel, with whom do you identify the most, and why?
A. The book is by no means autobiographical, but of course I identify with the protagonist, Paul Fontana. He has a witty, irreverent sense of humor. That's me. I've been told I'm good at writing comedy (but I was trying a love scene). I have trouble taking anything seriously, which can be good. Laughing is the key to a long and happy life--except in juvenile court or when your wife asks how her new haircut looks. Paul's dialogue was an outlet for the stupid immature things I like to say. Paul is also young, good-looking, and gets the girl. These are the simple things in life all men strive for.
Q. Do you believe the ability to dream the future is actually possible?
A. No. This is fiction. I'm weird, but no weirdo. As a kid I loved Superman and Batman, but that doesn't mean I believed they were real. Wake Up Dead is simply good entertainment. On the other hand, I do maintain an open mind. Who knows? There are infinite examples throughout history of destiny seemingly at work. If things are preordained to some extent, why shouldn't it be possible to foresee some of it somehow? It's a great topic.
Q. We have read some of your other interviews, which seem to cover a lot, so we would like to present a different twist on the whole interview format. We would like you to interview your main character with a couple of your own questions.
Jonnes: Paul, many readers have described your character as juvenile, unscrupulous, and relentlessly fixated on sex and money. How do you feel about that?
Fontana: Like I just left the Clinton White House. Hey, people forget that I didn't choose to be dragged into this mess. I was just a used car salesman, minding my own business. Yeah, I like to make a buck and grab a little nookie. Can I say that here? But so what? I was single. Nobody was getting hurt. In fact, where in "unscrupulous" does it say I should risk my life by taking on some crazed Brainiac to save a damsel in distress? I thought I was down-to-earth. Hello, don't these virtue-mongers know by now that even Thomas Jefferson had a private life? Give me a break. I could tell you how I feel about what they say, but my words would never get past the censors.
Jonnes: The way Wake Up Dead ended seems to leave open the possibility of a sequel. What's your thought on that?
Fontana: I knew you were going to say that. Get it? Anyway, sure. Why not? I mean, the story ended with the chance that I might develop my own dream-the-future ability, just like Mason, but without needing all that machinery he had to hook up to every night. Like I told Monica in my first book, "I wouldn't be cheating the gods, I'd be a god." Just think of the storyline possibilities that offers. I could win even more money than was in Mason's wallet. I could avoid danger, just like Brooks, and live a long life doing all kinds of fantastic and exciting things. But would it affect my relationship with Monica? She sure didn't appreciate Mason using those powers on her. Oh, and there is that suppressed superego side-effect thing. Even Mason couldn't handle it. How would I avoid falling prey to that? Cripes, it sounds so good, I might have to get the book and take up reading myself.
Q. In your opinion, what is the single most compelling reason for our readers to read your novel?
A. It's a great story. You can debate its literary worth, quality of prose, locker room humor, depth of supporting research, and blah, blah, blah. But the plot is fresh, intriguing, fast-paced, and totally complete. I'm shocked by the number of glowing comments I've received from readers. I've posted over 200 on my website, but have many more; I couldn't keep up with them all. Authors get feedback, but this is fairly unprecedented for a virtual nobody. It's a fun book.
Q. Would you ever like to see this story up on the silver screen? Who would you pick as stars for your characters?
A. The book is under consideration by several production companies (and sold to one) But I'm not holding my breath. Hollywood has a long history of fickleness and foot-dragging. I'll believe it when I see it. But yes, I'd love to see it on the screen. That would mean lots of money, improved book sales, and ten years worth of bragging rights at the dinner table. The characters that come to mind are Anthony Hopkins for Mason Brooks, Catherine Zita-Jones for Monica, and a buffed-out Nicholas Cage (or younger Mel Gibson) for Paul Fontana.
Q. Is there another novel in the works? If so, can you share any juicy tidbits?
A. There is, and I can. Global warming has created a little-known threat to mankind: the possibility that an Antarctic ice shelf the size of Texas and several miles thick could slide off the continent some time in the next two hundred years, displacing enough water to raise oceans levels sixteen feet. This would submerge every coastal city in the world: New York, Los Angeles, Miami, San Francisco, Tokyo, London, etc. This destruction and the relocation of three billion or so people would have nasty consequences on economies, agriculture, and governments. It would be a bad thing. Our unlikely hero, Seth Peterson, a meteorologist with the National Ice Center, has studied the ice for likely break points, thinking in terms of prediction and prevention. But the bad guys are thinking location and implementation--for some very bizarre purposes. Will Seth succeed in foiling their attempt to steal the research, permanently silence him, and fulfill their interpretation of a dark and mysterious prophecy? This completed and recently sold manuscript is called Big Ice. Coming soon to bookstore near you.
Q. Could you please tell us about your background?
A. I was a naughty child. I told a lot of lies, but despite getting pretty good at it, I kept getting caught. I learned the hard way that one lie leads to another, until you've got a house of cards that inevitably comes crashing down. Now I get paid to tell lies. It's called fiction. In high school I joined my father's start-up manufacturing firm and eventually, like all good liars, advanced to the level of senior management. I'm still there.
Q. What fueled your interest in writing?
A. Baked beans. No, actually it was reading that lead to writing. Books were important objects in the home I grew up in. Reading was a mature and lofty activity. Memorable early books were the Hardy Boys mysteries, The Swiss Family Robinson, Lloyd Alexander's High King series, and of course, the Ring Trilogy. I can't remember a time that I didn't dream of being a writer. There's no goal I've ever aspired to that meant more to me than publishing a book with my name on it.
Q. Who were most influential in your development as a writer?
A. I dedicated my book to my parents, who were in charge of that home I grew up in. I also had an English teacher in high school who encouraged me. The rest was internal drive. With no higher education or formal training in writing, I committed myself to self-study with how-to books like How To Write A Damn Good Novel, On Writing, Writers Digest, Writers Market, Strunk & White's, Roget's Thesaurus, and so on.
Q. Now that your first novel has been published, how would you encourage other writers in their quest to be published for the first time?
A. I believe there's a big difference between most published and unpublished writers: polish. The worst mistake a writer can make is to get into the oh-I-only-write-for-my-own-enjoyment trap. This is largely a lie we tell ourselves to salve the fear of rejection. The problem is that it's only in fighting desperately for publication--and making the umpteenth million rewrite required--that we finally achieve the ultimate polish on our prose. There's a stigma attached to being an unpublished writer. To avoid it, we deny we are one, or that we care about what others think. Unfortunately, there's an enormous industry out there that's a lot better at gauging the quality of work than most beginners like to admit. You must submit to the scrutiny. It's important to acknowledge, at least internally, one's desire for publication, and then begin to act toward that goal. Those acts lead to an evolutionary cycle common to all writers: reading, writing, rewriting, rejection, repeat. This may be controversial, but I think the main problem with the proliferation of electronic publishing, which offers the promise of publication to virtually any writer, is that it allows the elimination of the last two or three elements of this time-tested cycle. Editors and critics have fallen from grace, and that is tragic. The number of readers is finite. With three million books in print and another half million vying for publication each year, there needs to be a filtering process. Most of us do not make objective filters for our own material.
Q. Now that all of the critics have offered their reviews, would you change anything in the book if given the chance?
A. Yes, four things. First I'd have waited to name the characters until after Clinton was done fooling around in the White House. His brunette Monica stole the thunder from mine. By the time his news was worldwide, it was too late to rename Monica Westfield, another victim of the Clinton Legacy. Second, like many writers, I'm one for whom the rewriting process never ends. There's always more research and another rewrite to be done. But there comes a time when you must pull the plug and say I can do no more; it's as good as it's going to get. How to know when that point is reached? My guess is experience. In the case of Wake Up Dead, I wish I had known it would get published. I'd have thrown in one or two more rewrites, which leads to the third thing. As a research shortcut, I created a ficticious city for the story's location. While this is a common and viable technique, I unwittingly passed up the marketing opportunity to place the story in my own locale (Twin Cities) as John Sandford, Vince Flynn, Steve Thayer, and Chuck Logan have done so effectively. People like to read stories about their home towns by local writers. In this way you also get to write what you know, which is Writing 101. Finally, the story is short. It could have been expanded by including action scenes depicting Mason's near-death experiences early in the story, rather than having him merely explain them to Paul. This is how I envision a screenplay handling the story.
Q. Oh, speaking of book critics, just what is your opinion of them, anyway?
A. The ones who praised Wake Up Dead are some of the finest individuals on this earth.
Q. When you're not working on novels, what other activities do you enjoy?
A. Motorcycles, guitars, playing with the youngun, running, softball, volleyball, crossword puzzles, horseshoes, reading, movies, horseback riding, bicycling, rollerblading, walking in the woods, beer drinkin', and mating with alien females in my sleep.
Q. Now that you're a published author, will you be getting a library card soon?
A. Hey, you did read my other interviews! Actually, I'm thinking about it. It would be so helpful in researching my next book. But I've forgotten the Dewey Decimal System, and I'm kind of shy. What if I have to ask for help?
Q. Are you a Mac user (we are Mac fans)
A. My day job is in the business world where PCs rule. I've never even touched a Mac. But since you like'em, I like 'em.
Q. If we're ever in Minnesota, can we stay at your house?
A. As long as you don't mind hair balls, frozen pizza, and bad-ass bikers. Those are the big things here. My wife is like Dr. Dolittle. One of our three cats has gran mal seizures. One of our two boxers has "emotional issues." There are horse chores. And sombody barfs up something virtually every day. There's not much time for cooking. Thus the frozen pizzas. You do know it gets cold here? Minnesota ain't for wussies. It may be known for spineless football teams and weenie politicians, but our women can whup the average Texas cowpoke. Hell, they give birth standing up and then go out and shovel the driveway. And the men? Why, two years ago I rode my rigid-mount Fat Boy® 1400 miles in four days in April with two friends, and it never got above 45°F--even when it stopped raining. We call that fun.
Q. Are John Grisham and Stephen King a couple of punks?
A. :>) Nah, they're good guys. They could write circles around me. King, especially, has paid his dues, working the craft from the bottom to the top. Grisham's story is more Cinderella-ish, but that doesn't diminish his talent or personality. I have a lot of respect (and envy) for both. They deserve everything they have. I only wish publishers, stores, and the reading public weren't so fixated on them to the detriment of all other struggling writers. That's the source of my, "How 'bout we give someone else a chance?" statement. I say, look past the front tables and bestseller lists once in a while.
Q. Finally, the question that ALL of our readers are dying to know the answer to: are we ever going to see "Chris Jonnes -- The First Six Years" come to fruition? And is Macaulay Culkin available for the film version?
A. You guys are funny. I see great things ahead for pipeworksonline.com. I've already made it my startpage, as all other rational Earthlings should do. I hope this silly little interview, which was thrown together in an hour with the help of only one large Caribou mocha and two homemade cocktails, helps in some small measure to launch you to fame and riches. You know, I kid about a lot of stuff, but the "First Six Years" thing is absolutely true. Losing that notebook is one of the great tragedies in my life. It may have been the best thing I'll ever write. As for Macaulay, I don't think he'd be suitable. He's a great kid with dysfunctional parents. It was the other way around in my case.--PipeWorks Editor