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Three Re-emerged Rock Gods, One Adventurous Author: The Making of Mr. Mojo Risin

At one point or another, rock music fans have asked themselves, “What if Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix or Elvis Presley had lived? Where would they have taken their vast musical talent? What would they have done with their lives? What would they be like today?”

Southern California author and musician Scott Tatum tackles those questions head-on in Mr. Mojo Risin, a satirical and oft-hilarious romp that pulls the equally mysterious worlds of the CIA, FBI, Mafia and Yakuza together — along with the White House, Pentagon, Las Vegas police, and a traveling club of retirees. Amidst these elements, set in the late 1990s, he drops in Jim, Jimi and Elvis by bringing them back to life in a conceivingly plausible way: by ghosting them in a secretive CIA program. This ends abruptly when an invisible Jimi walks away… only to soon find himself with Jim and Elvis on a cross-country trip.

From there, all hell breaks loose — often — as we follow the three resurrected legends, now somewhat ordinary people that the author masterfully presents in their most day-to-day human selves (besides Jimi, who remains invisible). He deftly overrides the images of the tortured rock gods whose songs we’ll forever listen to. The relationship between Morrison and Sparkle (Think The Doors’ classic song “Love Street” manifesting in the flesh), Elvis’ indifference to his own look-alike contests, and the various adventures feed an ever-building plot that culminates in the group’s attempt, along with the elite SEAL Team 13, to prevent a U.S. takeover of Jamaica.

Like all good novels with satirical streaks, Mr. Mojo Risin’ offers a quite serious undercurrent to this book: the government, run by a President well over his head, surrounded by corruption and self-serving politicians and military leaders.

Mr. Mojo Risin’ is a true send-up, the kind of sweeping novel into which we all love to escape. It is also the first of four planned novels by Tatum, who also is a songwriter, musical and short story author. As he sat down with us, a mischievous twinkle in his eye, he broke down one of the more original novels to cross our desk in years. You can find more on the book, including entertaining back stories on characters — and a few select song lists — by going to http://www.mrmojorisinbook.com.

WORD JOURNEYS: Mr. Mojo Risin has more twists and turns than a Grand Prix course in a hall of mirrors — and each is equally farcical, hilarious, informative, and cautionary in its own way. Can you briefly take us through the story?

SCOTT TATUM: You can get a lot of mileage if you cast three back-from-the-dead rock icons as your protagonists, especially if one of them chats with God and another is invisible. But that will only take you so far. Conflict drives stories. In Mr. Mojo Risin, Morrison and company have many worthy adversaries: a bumbling President, his vainly incompetent Chief of Staff, a ruthlessly ambitious four-star General, a sleazy Mafia hitman and a seductive Yakuza assassin — and that’s before tossing the CIA, the FBI, homicide detectives, and a Navy SEAL team into the mix.

WJ: Jim, Jimi and Elvis are together again – in a way no one will expect. What gave you the idea to come up with a novel about the three as members of a ghost CIA program? 

ST: When I settled on Morrison, Elvis and Hendrix as my protagonists, I had to come up with a shared experience to account for their deaths. The CIA ruse worked because it gave an almost plausible way to account for their public disappearances and subsequent resurrections.

WJ: How did this story come together? What prompted you to write this book, and the eventual series? 

ST: Like all stories, this started with a couple questions. The first: If Jim Morrison (and eventually Elvis Presley and Jimi Hendrix) didn’t die, what really happened and what would they be up to now?

The second question reared its ugly head during a TV piece about the legalization of marijuana. Watching a demagogue wax poetically about the dangers of pot as a gateway drug, I wondered, ‘What if marijuana provided a strategically important advantage to the military?’

WJ: What were character aspects you embraced as you imagined Morrison, Hendrix and Presley still kicking around some 25-30 years after their demises? 

ST: In Mr. Mojo Risin, Elvis references his earlier “resurrection” (starting with his 1968 TV special) as a cautionary tale, warning Morrison that if he’d hung on any longer, he’d have wound up fat, fringed and strung out in Vegas doing two shows a night. Morrison, who makes several references to his extended adolescence, understands that being away from his old life as a rock god gave him the space to grow up. Morrison, Elvis and Jimi are painfully aware of where they came from and hopeful of where they’re headed.

WJ: The story is a real send-up, and in many ways, parallel to some of the dysfunction we see in the White House today. Yet, you draw out something quite serious: what happens to a country when someone takes charge who is way over his head. Can you talk about that sub-theme? 

ST: Sadly, those lessons are either self-evident or they’re not. Most people understand there’s an astounding level of dysfunction in Washington in general and in the White House in particular. The rest appear pathologically incapable of figuring it out.

The Trump presidency has dramatically raised the bar on what’s out-of-bounds politically. In the book, the Hartley-Thibodeaux campaign platform had to be re-written because what I wrote in the original draft, though it seemed outrageous at the time, has become the new normal.

WJ: We’ve got corrupt politicians, resurrected rock legends, old girlfriends, renegade warriors, Mafia and Yakuza interests … How did these character choices factor into the way you wrote the book?

ST: Michelangelo said every block of stone had a statue inside, and the task of a sculptor was to uncover it. I try to create intense, wacky characters then get out of their way and let them tell their story. It probably contributes to the wild ride that I tend not to write linearly.

WJ: As you wrote the story, what surprised you most about how Jimi, Jim and/or Elvis changed?

ST: Actually, what surprised me most what was not how they changed but why. The book wrote itself. The story took some unexpected twists and turns that forced the characters to react and adapt.

WJ: You have a real talent for spotting the farcical in people, their lives and their situations. In what ways did that help you with the hilarious scenes and conversations that pepper this book? 

ST: I think that springs from a mix of my personal experiences and how I look at the world. When people asked, I used to answer, “I was a righter”. Along the way, part of my process was learning I can’t fix the world. We live in nonsensical times. All I’m doing is going with the flow and creating a read from my perspective.

WJ: Since Jim Morrison is one of the characters, you do something to show the heartful side of him – putting him with Sparkle. He was like this before, too, at times. Tell us about your love of The Doors, and why you chose to bring out the soft side of Morrison in the book. 

ST: Like I said, hopefully, eventually we all grow up. When I first met my wife, I realized she was too smart for me to fool very long. I had to become the person I pretended to be. For a guy set in his ways, that’s hard. Like Morrison when he meets Sparkle, I was so in love with her, I was willing to go through the process. I think it’s something most men can relate to. If you’re a man and can’t, either God bless you ‘cause you got it right the first time, or you’ve got a lot of work to do.

WJ: Another highlight is the fast-paced, tough-talking, colorful dialogue between the characters. That must’ve been a blast to hear all these colorful, crazy characters talking through your head while writing.

ST: One of the experiences I share with Jim Morrison, is as the son of acareer military officer, I moved around a lot as a kid. In the second grade, I went to four different schools. I was in the eighth grade before I went to the same school two years in a row. Learning how to fit in became an emotional survival skill. One of the chameleon-like abilities I unconsciously acquired was mimicking speech. Take the Mafia hitman in Mr. Mojo Risin, Many of the details of his life – Saint Rose’s of Lima in Flatbush, Newkirk Ave, the Cadillac dealership on Long Island – are familiar to me. His voice in my head rings distinctively Brooklyn. I hope it reads that way as well.

I always work dialogue out loud and standing up. I act out each scene as I edit. Several characters have catch phrases that help identify and define them, like Gladys Little’s “landsakes” or her husband Elmo’s “we better skidaddle before the blubbering starts.”

One quirk I didn’t catch until later, is that Morrison, Sparkle and Moby always say “going to” while the rest of the characters say “gonna”. Morrison and Sparkle were both English majors. Moby, as we find out in Agnew on Mt Rushmore, has his Ph.D. from Cambridge. I did that without realizing it just by keeping everyone in character.

When I first met my wife, I warned her anything she says or does is fair game for a book and she strongly influenced Sparkle. I frequently take notes whenever I hear or say something I think I can use. Sometimes I try out dialogue on her to see how she reacts. Little tricks like that keep each character’s speech authentic.

WJ: Tell us about the mother-daughter dynamic of Sparkle and Honey, and how that plays into both Morrison’s opening and the story itself. 

ST: As a man, writing from a woman’s perspective is hard. I didn’t grow up with a sister. My grandfather was one of thirteen children and had two sons of his own. His only sister died before he was born. When my parents got married, he presented them a bottle of Napoleon brandy to toast the first female addition to the family line in over half a century. But my mom and dad had sons. My brother has two sons. Another half a century later, after I had three sons, my wife and I found out she was pregnant with a little girl.

Not surprisingly, I relied heavily on the relationship between my wife and our now teenage daughter in crafting Sparkle and Honey’s characters. Because Sparkle was a teenage mom herself, they grew up almost like sisters. It’s hard, particularly with a mother and daughter so close in age, to be friends and still set boundaries. That dynamic is a telling part of their story.

WJ: Mr. Mojo Risin’ is the first book in a series you are planning. Tell us briefly about the stories to follow.

ST: You can get a lot of mileage if you cast three back-from-the-dead rock icons as your protagonists, especially if one of them chats with God and another is invisible. But that will only take you so far. Conflict drives stories.

In the second book, Agnew on Mt. Rushmore, Morrison and company confront a thermonuclear weapons designer who rolls into Vegas with a trunk full of suitcase nukes and a plan to extort billions from Uncle Sam. Along with his co-conspirators, a deranged U.S. Senator from Mississippi and the Prince of Darkness (Satan’s spent the last two decades moonlighting as a Vegas lounge singer), he’s threatening to turn southern Nevada, including some very expensive casino real estate, into ground zero.

In the third book, The Boys From Pahrump, lingering questions surrounding JFK’s death are answered when our heroes match wits with the love child of Marilyn Monroe and Adolf Hitler. Neither the Cubans, Kremlin, Mafia nor CIA were involved in the assassination. There was no sinister conspiracy. In my story, JFK got caught up in a good, old-fashioned love triangle, cuckolding a sociopath with a silly moustache.  Meanwhile, Adolf and Marilyn’s son is poised to fulfill his father’s dream of world domination. He’s smuggled thousands of vials of frozen Fuhrer sperm from a super-secret CIA vault, the first step in his master plan to breed an army of baby Hitlers and create the Fourth Reich.

I’m thinking about writing the fourth book (working title Erebus ex Machina) from Gladys Little’s point-of-view. That way I can shamelessly steal Vonnegut’s opening line from Cat’s Cradle (that he shamelessly stole from Moby Dick):

Call me Mother. My parents did, or nearly did. They called me Gladys.

I’m only a hundred pages in, and the story’s still writing itself, but I will tell you it ends with a burning Viking ship sendoff in the Bellagio Fountains.

I hope readers enjoy reading my books as much as I enjoy writing them.

 

 

 

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Why Thrillers Are Fun to Write, and #1 to Read: William Thompson Ong Interview

After he retired from a long career in the advertising industry, William Thompson Ong knew he wanted to return to his other love – 41z1MhGnReL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_writing – but didn’t know where to start. Like other writers, he wanted to draw plenty of fun and enjoyment from his daily sessions. However, he also wanted to write books that would find large audiences.

Ong did some research, and it brought him back to one of the favorite genres he read as a youth and young man: action thrillers with plenty of mystery. Bingo! He transformed into a typing thoroughbred, and burst out of the gates. In just a few years, he has written seven novels and a popular thriller series. In the second part of this exclusive interview, Ong reflects on why thrillers are so much fun to write, why they are the #1 fiction genre for readers (just ahead of the other ingredient in his books, romance), and how the stars have aligned ideally in the persona of Kate Conway, his protagonists for the novel series The Mounting Storm, The Deadly Buddha, and The Fashionista Murders, all available on Amazon.com.

WORDJOURNEYS.COM: What is it about the personalities and characteristics of investigative journalists that make them ideal protagonists for thrillers and mysteries? 

WILLIAM THOMPSON ONG: I’d like to answer with some comparisons between the detective and the newspaper guy or gal. Both appear to be dedicated to discovering breakthrough facts or evidence they can weave into a conclusive story or an indictment.  Aren’t they both in the same business, after all—fighting crime?

In Kate Conway’s case, the hurdles are set higher. The investigative reporter is in a class by herself at a newspaper or magazine journal, assigned to the really big and explosive stuff—stories and cases that go far beyond the murder story.  These are the bright, tenacious, and fearless guys and gals who won’t be home for Christmas—they’ll be spending it hiding in a basement in Teheran to escape a terrorist’s sword. These are the guys and gals whose names will appear on the stories that garner Pulitzer Prizes for their papers—(to say nothing of boosting circulation enough to keep today’s newspapers alive for another year.)  And in most cases they’ll be acting alone—not with the NYPD at their disposal.

Tom's jacket photo. Alicia #9 (preferred)WJ: You mentioned a disparity between typical education levels of an investigative journalist and detective, which creates major story problems in moving crime novels along because of the distrust with which one often views the other in real life. How did you get around that in your series?

TO: I made Kate’s father a gnarly ex-detective—(Paul Conway is a career dick from Brooklyn). When Kate needs help she whistles and Paul Conway appears, wise in the details of police procedure (which Kate and I choose not to be) and just dropping his name opens doors for Kate. Some may think I am cheating by supplying Kate with a crutch like this. But it allows Kate to cruise on a higher level and solve the really complicated crimes.

All of this explains why I lean away from the straight detective story in favor of the mystery-thriller. I’m still that stickler for detail.  But now I can keep a lot more balls in the air when it comes to plotting.

WJ: In The Fashionista Murders, and also The Mounting Storm, you give an expert’s touch to how you portray the high fashion industry and the high-end art world. Are these interests of yours, or just story drivers that you researched (well) and brought to life?

Like Kate Conway herself in The Fashionista Murders, I am totally turned off by fashion—which is why I attached the serial killer to the story. In The Mounting Storm, introducing Kate to Margaret Winship opened up the world of art and museums and society that heightened Kate’s search for the missing Monet she suspects belonged to her grandmother and triggered Kate’s unmasking the Nazi.

It also opened all of Kate’s subsequent novels to the swanky world of high finance and billionaires and celebrity society with its pretension and snobbery and deviousness—absolutely wonderful and trusty elements for layering your novel.  These elements are story drivers and not comfortable elements already present in my life—although at one time I seriously considered becoming an artist.

WJ: You had an interesting way of becoming a thriller writer after leaving the advertising industry:

TO: I did. My decision to write thrillers was based on some good old-fashioned seat-of-the-pants research.  I found thrillers to be the most popular genre. I also found there were more female readers than male readers, which helped lead me to inventing Kate Conway.  Discovering that romances were the second hottest genre convinced me to spread Kate’s adventures with hot and spicy romance.

WJ: Were you a big reader of mysteries, thrillers and crime fiction in your growing up years? Who were your favorite 41u0RCXXw7L._SY346_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_authors, and what influenced you most about their works, styles and/or voices?

TO: When I was 9, my father brought home The Five Orange Pips and lightning struck. I became a Sherlock Holmes fan forever, admiring his characters and atmosphere (who can resist The Hound of the Baskervilles for atmosphere?) as much as his sleuthing.  But as I grew older, my tastes gravitated to more intricate thrillers like The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Gorky Park, The Manchurian Candidate, and The Day of the Jackal.

By the time I reached college, writing style became important—the   grace and class of W. Somerset Maugham as well as the biting vividness of Hemingway and the magic of F. Scott Fitzgerald. (I have worn out several soft-cover editions of A Farewell to Arms and The Great Gatsby.)

WJ: Story structure and writing style definitely resonates in your books. We start off on one trail, only to be switched to another – then another –  always with entanglements of some kind involved. Is this a reflection of the way Kate keeps changing and running into surprises? Or the storycrafting style you’ve decided to run with?

TO: It’s both. The multi-layering of plot that I began in The Mounting Storm logically became a pattern for all of Kate’s novels.  In the beginning I had no thought of making the novel into a series.  It was to be a dark and brooding Citizen Kane type of story dramatizing the deviousness of Stirling Winship with Kate almost a minor figure. On the advice of an agent I cut some 90 pages and 30,000 words of background color on Stirling and turned it into a fast-paced thriller featuring Kate. But almost all the plots and subplots remained intact and we were off to the races with the Kate Conway series.

41WA0IPiSeL._SY346_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_WJ: Rather than go the traditional publishing route, you’ve partner-published with Charles Redner and RiPublishing. Could you elaborate on the advantages you’ve found to the path you’re taking?

TO: The advantages? I am getting to see my books in print, I’m getting strong reviews, and I’m selling enough books to encourage me to keep going. Plus, it’s happening right now. This sure beats waiting around while an editor fiddles and fusses with changes for a year and then spends another year wondering whether the publishing house bosses will give me the final green light.

Self-publishing no longer bears a stigma. It’s attracting big name authors as well as beginners.  If you can’t afford to wait, it’s the place to be. If your books have the necessary magic, they will almost certainly rise to the top.

Partnership-publishing is even better. In Charlie Redner, I have the advantage of a fellow author who acts as my publisher and also my agent when it comes to advice.  There’s a lot of advice you’ll need, especially if you’re like me and have a mind that was built to function in the old days before the computer and the internet—back when we spent our time thinking and doing things instead of walking around pressing buttons on gadgets. (But thank Heaven the word processor replaced my typewriter!)

WJ: Final question: In each of your books, what is the one scene, situation, or character shift that surprised you most when it came flying from your mind to pen or computer screen?

TO: What a terrific question for ending this interview!

In The Mounting Storm, it’s the scene where Kate’s having dinner as the guest of Winston Winship.  She has found the guy an obnoxious bore and lets us know it. But then he says something encouraging about her idea for a new magazine—and she warms to him. When he invites Kate to the party he’s throwing in the Hamptons, which she absolutely hates…

            Kate looked at him before answering, digesting all over again his         coolness, his incredible confidence, his mastery at what he does, his   extremely good looks. And his eyes, those wonderful gray eyes with      their look of sadness.

           “Yes, I’ll come,” she said. “I love the Hamptons.

In The Deadly Buddha, in the party scene at the Hollywood movie studio, Kate has no idea the handsome dude chatting her up—and from whom she reluctantly accepts a ride back to her hotel—is the Welsh movie star she’s been ordered to interview.  He stops at the Griffith Observatory and they find themselves having a ball as they recall from memory the lines James Dean and Natalie Wood exchanged in Rebel Without a Cause. This is how the scene ends:

             Kate didn’t lean over and kiss him, although she thought about it. They were too busy laughing. They laughed all the way back to the hotel. The doorman helped her out. She turned to wave goodbye, but he was already in the circle and heading toward the Wilshire exit, his hand waving carelessly in the air.

           That was the moment Kate realized she didn’t even know his name.

In The Fashionista Murders, we go through the thought process that keeps Kate from giving in to sex, this time in the apartment-studio and in the arms of the handsome photographer covering the fashion shows with her:

Maybe the shrink her friends had dragged her to was right—instead of shutting men out of her life she should loosen up when she felt her buttons being pushed and let things happen. Maybe she needs to change—not just Cam.

          “You are not only a sex maniac but a full-fledged, card-carrying, conniving bastard,” was the way she began the terms of her surrender.  

           She took a step back, grasping both his hands in hers while shaking her mane of Irish red hair. “And now that I have made it ridiculously clear, you may do what you want with me—so long as it’s not boring, distasteful, or so devious it will land us in jail.”

 I warned you how much fun it is writing thrillers, especially when you decide to stretch the boundaries a little. Thanks again for inviting me into your sanctuary.

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