Exclusive Q&A with John Derhak, author of The Bones of Lazarus

The new novel by John Derhak, author of
Tales From the moe.Republic

The Bones of Lazarus

“An evil man seeketh only rebellion: therefore a cruel messenger shall be sent against him.”

A 2,000-year-old legend – Political Intrigue and Conspiracy – Mystery, Betrayal, Murder…

…The immortal Lazarus – man, myth or the original Frankenstein Monster?

John Derhak’s new imaginative, darkly funny, supernatural thriller. An engaging, purely pulp, genuine page-turner.

For more info about John Derhak and to purchase a copy of The Bones of Lazarus or any of his other works, please visit www.moerepublic.org

Interview conducted by Tim Coffey exclusively for Brotherly Love Productions

My initial meeting with author John Derhak, writer of three novels and brother of moe. bassist Rob Derhak, was a display of  synchronicity. Days after reading his first novel and Pulitzer prize nominee, Tales From the moe.Republic, I happened upon the clever author at a local pub in Jupiter, FL. Much to my enjoyment, we spent a few hours talking books, sports and the mysteries of the platypus. It became apparent to me that, not only had this man written one hell of a book, but he had much more to say.

This May 2012, John excitedly releases his third novel, The Bones of Lazarus. Taking place on the Caribbean island of St. George, readers are swept away by a tale of mystery that acts as much as historical fiction as it does classical fiction. His ability to blend genres and endear his characters to the reader prompted me to begin to take notes as I read Bones. This is a far cry from my usual ‘fall asleep with the book on my chest’ routine. John was brave enough to allow BLP to transform those notes into a probing interview. I was pleased to discover that I was right, the Maine resident unquestionably still has a lot to say, and this is one hell of a book.

Brotherly Love Productions: First off, let’s lead with informing the public that this book is a massive overhaul of a short story from your book Chill Your Cockles. Is it difficult to expand a story to this magnitude?

John Derhak: True. A much shorter version of The Bones of Lazarus appeared in Chill Your Cockles. Cockles is a set of ghostly or supernatural short stories that jumped a storyline about a Halloween storytellers contest in my first book. When I finished the original shorter version of Lazarus, I thought it was a solid, fast-paced story. Yet, I also felt that there was more to the story. About a year after the publication of Cockles, in the winter of 2009-2010, I started expanding Lazarus. It was more difficult than I thought it would be. Characters I had only mentioned or alluded to in the original took on a “life” of their own. Their stories had to come full circle, written into the book, made sense of. On this side, I’m glad I did what I did, in expanding Lazarus. I think people will find it a good entertaining read.

BLP: Your other job has you traveling quite a bit and meeting some…interesting people. Does this schedule assist your creative process in any way, specifically character development?

JD: You mean hawking merch for moe.? Believe me, you meet a lot of interesting characters on both sides of the stage, and it’s a lot of fun. I think everyone I meet has the potential to influence the creative process on some level, but not specifically. That comes within the context of the story.

BLP: In a way, this is quite a far removal from your first work, Tales From The moe. Republic. Where Tales had its dramatic aspects, it is far more whimsical than Lazarus. Was it hard for the “author” John to make the adjustment or did the “guy” John help him through it?

JD: Well, the “author” John and the “guy” John are one in the same, which could mean, after reading this book, I’ll be tagged as one warped SOB. As dark a story as Lazarus is, and there’s a very serious side, there are also times it is darkly funny, or I’d like to think so. I do use humor, in varying levels, to tell this story.

BLP: Much like Tales this book seems to have a historical fiction feel to it. Are you a big fan of history in general or just a nut for details?

JD: I’m a nut for details… but I also am a fan and a historian by trade. I worked in the field for years. I used to do research and authentication of historical documents for collectors. Every document had a story behind it, and my job was to investigate it, and then write the story or interpret it.

BLP: Such as…

JD: One time, I had a brief note written by Abraham Lincoln concerning a Confederate P.O.W. by name. Lincoln instructed for the man to be released if he pledged to lay down his arms and take an oath to uphold the Constitution. Lincoln wrote thousands of these notes toward the end of the war with similar instructions. Many still exist, but this was the only one I ever saw that specifically mentioned a Confederate’s soldier’s name. It turned out the prisoner was an Irish immigrant from New Orleans who was pressed into a Louisiana regiment to fight for the Confederate cause. He survived the war and returned to the Big Easy where he disappeared into history. That was a good story to research and write. Another time I “discovered” Billie Holiday’s contract for her last performance. It was found amongst a stack of other artist contracts a collector had acquired back in the 1960s. The collector had no idea of its historical importance. Her last show was at a small theater in Greenwich Village in 1959. She was a mess, in a drug induced stupor and lasted three songs before being pulled from the stage. She was hospitalized a few days later and died a month or so after. I think the gig paid out $300, and she agreed to provide her own pianist. That was a sad story, but a very interesting one to write.

BLP: The religious tones inherent in the novel not only add a mythological aura to the book but seriously add to the historical aspect. Why the story of Lazarus?

JD: If you’re gonna write a story about Lazarus, then it’s gonna have religious tones and admittedly, there is much in the book. To begin with, I was always aware of the story of Lazarus of Bethany growing up. It’s the stuff of legend. But so is the historical Lazarus. He was the younger brother of Mary Magdalene and a good friend of Jesus. He and his sisters did have to flee for their lives after the crucifixion. Lazarus went to Cyprus and was a leader in the early Christian movement there. That, I found out in the course of writing the book. Everything I wrote about Lazarus in Cyprus is based upon the historical record, scarce as that is. Secondly, within the context of the story, I introduced quotes attributed to Solomon from the Book of Proverbs—very heady, philosophical stuff—as guide posts, as it were. I did that because Solomon’s Proverbs would have been relevant in Lazarus’s time, and my character Lazarus is kind of a philosophical creature of Judgment. Finally, I thought it was important for the storyline to bring it to the point of Lazarus’s resurrection by Jesus—to lay out who he had become, what he had to do and the reckoning thereof. Some people may find the interactions between Lazarus and his friend and literal savior, Jesus, a little presumptuous. I hope not. It was not my intention. Now, regarding the second part of your question, why Lazarus? I was well into writing the story before the thought of Lazarus came into play. I still wasn’t sure what kind of “creature” would fill the part of Lazarus. I wanted something more than a vampire or werewolf. I can thank my nephew Eddie for that. He was 9 at the time, and we were talking about songs by moe. one afternoon, one of which was “Lazarus,” when he changed subjects in mid-stream and jumped into an oratory on the immortality of mythical creatures and monsters. That’s when the idea clicked in my head—what if Lazarus never died— instead became an immortal. From that point on, I wrote the story around that premise, and it flowed. Also, speaking of the song, I’m very grateful that my brother and moe., renamed it after the title of my book on their new album, What Happened to the LA LAs. It was a very nice surprise.

BLP: Like your other works, you spend a fair amount of time helping the reader get to know a myriad of different characters. While the book’s protagonist is the voice of good, why do you find it so important to give other less rigid characters like Anton such a powerful voice?

JD: That’s a tough question. Presumably, when you say “less rigid” you’re talking about moral ambiguity or why you should like a character such as Anton so much. When it comes to characters and their development, my general philosophy in writing is let the characters speak for themselves, through their words and actions, and then build the story around what they do and say. I leave it to the reader to decide whose actions are good or bad, and thusly, who they should like or dislike.

BLP: A funny note I wrote down is that during one of your hilarious rants you speak of the devil and you refer to the dark lord as “her.” I assume no explanation needed?

JD: Never assume. Whether deity or demon, hero or villain, I believe in gender equality.

BLP: As the reader, we are slowly filled in to the causes for social unrest on the Island of Saint George and you make a quick but powerful reference to the roles of embassies and consulates outside our borders. How much of this theme do you think mirrors our actions here in the US.

JD: I’m not sure what “reference” you mean, but I was referring to, in a generic sense, wherever there is social unrest, in any given country, when it turns violent, a good portion of the embassies in that country, either out of safety or protest or both, will evacuate most of their diplomats and staff…and close. Or they may leave behind a skeletal staff to serve their citizens who remain there for whatever reason and/or to maintain a diplomatic presence.  In Saint George, in the book, the embassies were closed because of the violence, and the consulates were conducting the diplomatic affairs of state.

BLP: Choreographed terror is a thought you repeat in the novel. The difference of targets vs. results is the thought I got. Please explain.

JD: I don’t want to give away one of the subplots of the story. Thusly, suffice it to say, on a base level most terrorist attacks are targeted to achieve maximum results, that being, to impose terror upon society as a means to an end, whatever that end may be. That said, I coined the phrase “choreographed terror” less to emphasize the selective nature of terrorist targets but more to demonstrate how a word or phrase is used for its entertainment value by the media to create a spin that sells advertising on cable news.

BLP: How big of a problem do you see with the reporting of opinions vs. facts in American media?

JD:  I think it’s a big problem. Less in newspapers, which places opinion on its op-ed pages, or network news, which has time limitations in its broadcast. The big problem is cable news which churns 24-7. People on cable news spend hours interpreting the news rather than reporting it. They focus on a few limited topics, mostly for their entertainment value – i.e. something involving violent death, race, sex or scandal – and ignore the rest of what is happening in America or around the planet. They’ll spin a story for days and weeks if it sells advertising. Beautiful TV anchors “host” cable news shows, sitting on couches around a coffee table like it’s the Ellen Show. I often wonder how people can take this seriously. They’re just as far removed from what’s happening as the viewers are…and about as qualified to discuss it.

BLP: One of my favorite messages in the book deals with the intricate problem of “who is to blame.” In the book, I see a trifecta of fingers being pointed between terrorism, corporate influenced governing and the press. That’s a hard line to walk yet you balance it well. What was your muse in managing this idea?

JD: I guess I wasn’t really thinking in terms of “who to blame” for the woes in our world but drawing attention to how self-interests screw up the lives of everyone around the globe. Small, resource-rich, developing nations are vulnerable to human greed and exploitation – as we all are – by their own leaders and outside influences such as the World Bank or Big Energy or Big Media. One of the best books I ever read on the subject was Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins. It explores how vulnerable and easily exploited these small resource-rich nations are to outside influences, i.e. ‘lawyers, guns and money.’ In the end, it’s to the great detriment of the people who live there, in many cases spurring acts of violence and terrorism. I had this in mind in the creation of the island of Saint George.

BLP: A thought you provoked in me – one I thought I had figured out – is how inherent violence is in human nature and does it interfere with our advancement or promote it? The whole notion of: “if it were not for evil there would be no good” thing. To what degree does good need evil?

JD: To answer your last question first, as I wrote in Lazarus, good and evil are there for the choosing. I understand that there are many variables attached to the exercising of that decision. A “rational” person may act impulsively. An imbecile may know no boundaries. In many instances, it’s a very fine line. But someone at some moment in time has to choose between right and wrong, good and evil, in regards to what direction they move in their life. Secondly, I don’t know if it’s human nature to be violent or simply part of being human. But I’ll tell you this: many years ago, in my days as a student, I took a class in political philosophy. One of the books I was assigned to read was the 17th century tome Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes. I discovered a couple things about human nature in that class and from that book. First, regarding the latter, without the rule of law and order, mankind would live in a “state of nature,” and life would be “nasty, brutish, and short.” I believe that to be true. Secondly, in regards to the former, Cliff Notes is your friend, especially when attempting to bore through a book on political philosophy in old English. But the reality is that we live in a world where violent acts occur regularly and often, from barroom fisticuffs to all-out armed conflicts between nations. It’s condemned yet condoned. By nature, nurture or manipulation, people fight. Either in blind ignorance, for personal gain or in a desperate defense of their beliefs, and/or kith and kindred—they fight. Nevertheless, it’s seen and accepted as a way to get things done. Now, whether or not violence interferes with the advancement of humanity or promotes it—the question is moot. Violence happens, humanity moves onward, and the cycles are repeated. In the classical example of the American experience it was the Civil War but there are an endless number of examples in the vastness of the human epoch over the past 5,000 years. With recent archeological discoveries of the advanced civilizations at Puma Punku in Bolivia and Göbekli Tepe in Turkey which date to 12,000 years ago, humanity may have had a lot more practice than we know of.

BLP: What plans are there for Lazarus? As I read this I definitely saw anime either in the form of graphic novel of feature film. Any plans to push for that?

JD: My immediate plans are to push the book…to push sales. I’d like people to read it, and I’d like to hear what they have to say. I’m hoping people will be entertained by the story, that they won’t think I’m too deranged or over-the-top. Overall, I just hope people enjoy the story. As for future plans, when I was writing the book, I was trying to give a “pulp detective” feel to it. I think that lends itself well to a graphic novel or the cinema. Believe me, I would entertain any reasonable discussion or offer. I’m all for it.

The Bones of Lazarus began shipping this month and can be ordered from John’s web site www.moerepublic.org

John Derhak is a writer, storyteller and historian who spends his time near the Atlantic Ocean.

His general interests include but are not limited to: History of plumbing. The feel of a new pen. The aurora borealis. Popular uprisings. Baseball. A bottle of good red wine. Fine cigars. Sons. Family. Friends. The beach. Imagination. Purple. A cure for porphyrophobia. Astral projection. Common Sense. Maine. A stand of pines. Moose. Gnarly Barley Ale. Prime numbers. Pooches. The Red Sox nation. The Patriots. A pint of Guiness. Czech Pilsners. Aureolas. Curves. Mountains. Wilderness. The urban jungle. moe., jazz, bluegrass, the standards, and rock ‘n roll. South Florida as a dystopian paradigm. The higher stages of the barbarian culture. P.T. Barnum as philosopher-king. Grilled Asparagus. The buzz with onomatopoeia.

The Bones of Lazarus (The Novel), his third work of fiction, is a very dark comedy and supernatural thriller (2012). Chill Your Cockles (2009), a collection of haunting tales, is his second work of fiction. Tales  From the moe.Republic, his first novel and Pulitzer Prize contender for fiction, was released in 2007.

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