Lister unleashes a personal apocalypse

Lister unleashes a personal apocalypse

by Tony Simmons

Inspired by the work of Cormac McCarthy, as well as a love of apocalyptic art in all its forms, local author Michael Lister has taken a break from his usual genre of murder mysteries to explore a personal response to the end of the world.

 

“Cataclysmos” is a serial thriller about a man — basically, Lister himself — trying to find his family members after a terrible disaster has destroyed civilization, disrupted the weather and turned his familiar world into a hellish nightmare.

“In a way, it’s the most autobiographical thing I’ve done,” Lister said. “I’m using myself, family and friends as characters to draw from who we really are.”

Lister will read from the book and discuss its origins during an event 7 p.m. Saturday at Gulf Coast State College’s Language and Literature department’s Sarzin Hall. The “Night of Murder and Music” will include readings and discussion by authors Steve King, Jayson Kretzer, Johnnie Putnam and Lynn Wallace, and musicians Aaron Beardon and Dave Lloyd.

Currently, the first “Cataclysmos” book is complete; five parts are available as ebooks, with Part 1 free on all digital platforms. Part 1 of Book 2 will be released next week.

“It’s the first time I’ve written anything serially, and I love that,” Lister said. “It’s very fulfilling. The popularity of ebooks has given serial storytelling a new life. To be able to release it almost as fast as it’sbeing written seems more dynamic, and readers feel a part of it — communicating about it between episodes.”

The story begins two months after “The End,” as the narrator reaches North Florida on a trek home from Atlanta — which is where he was when the disaster took place. Each book is like a season of television, and each part of the serial is like a TV episode, Lister explained.

“The most rewarding part of it is the creating — the making-it-up,” Lister said, adding that having himself as the main character allows him to write in a new way. “All of the main character’s thoughts, recollections and so on are pretty much as I experienced them. But it’s enabling me to reflect on life in ways I’ve not been able to do before this.”

Lister is probably best known for this two ongoing mystery series: the “Blood” series featuring modern prison chaplain John Jordan, and the 1940s noir Jimmy “Soldier” Riley series. He plans to return to them in the near future, perhaps between books 2 and 3 of “Cataclysmos.”

“Each world is so different. So are the characters who people them,” he said. “I have no trouble keeping them separate. But I also never work on more than one at a time. Each series and their characters exercise different writing muscles for me and each fulfills me as a writer in different ways.”

Stylistically, he said, “Cataclysmos” is closer to his award-winning novel “Double Exposure.”

“After ‘Double Exposure,’ I searched for a similar story to tell — a character isolated without the aid of technology or civilization,” he said. “And I always wanted to do a story like this, but I wanted it to be something different in the genre.”

Lister said the new series is allowing him to address global questions, such as why someone would remain in a war-torn region or how would regular people — not the cardboard superheroes of most apocalyptic fiction — realistically respond to a cataclysm.

“Can we hang onto our humanity in the most inhumane situations and circumstances?” he asked. “I’m also asking what we’re willing to do to survive and what we’re willing to do to save our loved ones.”

Cataclysmos is currently available only in ebook formats, but will be published in paperback and hardback editions later this summer.

 

 

 

Posted on May 7, 2016 .

Harry Bosch never has to deal with this

bosch.jpg

I woke up this morning to find the following email in my inbox:

“As a former chaplain in a senior home, I was drawn to your mysteries. However, in the third book of short stories featuring John Jordan, I became very disappointed in your portrayal of a Christian chaplain with low morals in relation to women. His sexual prowess is certainly not in keeping with a follower of Jesus who seeks to emanate the life of Christ in every area of life. Therefore, I will not continue reading your books and will not recommend them to friends.”

            I realize this reader’s reaction says far more about him than John Jordan, but it got me thinking.

During nearly twenty years of writing about John Jordan, I’ve been hearing versions of this same complaint—the kind of complaint I seriously doubt Michael Connelly ever receives.

            Nobody complains when Harry Bosch has sex. Nor should they.

            Me, I’m happy when Harry gets some.

            And I bet most readers are.

            So why not for John Jordan?

            Of course the reader above doesn’t represent all readers—or even most—but he does represent far too many.

            The irony of his criticism isn’t just that John is an extremely moral and honorable person who is careful and thoughtful in all areas of his life—including and especially his sexuality, but that the very person the reader claims to be disappointed on the behalf of was accused of the same thing. Jesus was accused of low morals in relation to women, even referred to as a whoremonger—something that hasn’t happened to John yet. But give me time.

            John Jordan is a detective in a hard-boiled mystery series. He’s a person of faith. He’s a chaplain. But first and foremost, and before he was any of those things, he’s a human being.

            And as humans go John Jordan isn’t just moral—I’d say he’s honorable. Perhaps even heroic. 

            In terms of his sex life in the books, I’d say if anything he has too little sex, not too much.

            In the ten books I’ve written about John Jordan so far, I’d say there are some six sex scenes. Not even one per book. Hell, I feel bad for the guy. And am doing something about it. It’s a good thing this reader stopped with book three because—Whoa Nelly!—book nine and ten might just cause him to pop an aneurism.

            Is the dichotomy and disingenuousness expressed by the reader a result of the Puritanical strain that continues to infect the DNA of our culture in the way the Pharisaical strain does so much of our religion? Would the reader approve (and recommend my series to his friends) if John Jordan was more like Arthur Dimmesdale, punishing himself for rather than enjoying his sexuality?    

            In addition to this disease of self-righteous Puritanism, perhaps it’s also the desire on the part of some not to see the humanity of those they want to prop up on pedestals and hero worship. They may acknowledge on an intellectual level that a spiritual leader is a human being, but they certainly don’t want to see it.

            Literature itself could bear some of the blame. If most clerics are portrayed as saintly or sinister, inhuman or inhumane then a reader might not be prepared for a character like John.

            As a character I’d say John Jordan is far more in the mold of what Raymond Chandler wrote about the detective than anything else. Chandler said, “Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. He is the hero; he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor—by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world.”

            And it’s not just readers who hold John to a false and ridiculous double standard. Reviewers do it too.

            Reviewers often refer to John Jordan as flawed. Nothing wrong with that, right? He is, after all, very flawed. But so is everyone else. Do reviewers continually point out how flawed Harry Bosch is? Of course not. Why would they? It’s an obvious remark not worth making. Is John more flawed than Harry? I don’t think so, but for the sake of argument, let’s say he is. Is he significantly more flawed—enough that it needs to be pointed out over and over?

            It’s okay for Bosch to be flawed in the same way it’s okay for him to have sex. It’s even okay for my other series detective Jimmy “Soldier” Riley. Just not John.

            I’m using Harry Bosch here because of my love and respect for him and his creator, but I could easily use Lee Child’s Jack Reacher or James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux—the latter of whom is not only a detective by a deeply religious man. But because he’s not a cleric, he’s not subjected to the double standard. 

            Harry Bosch is a cop. Jimmy Riley is a 1940s PI. But John? John is a man of the cloth.

            And thanks to the mentality of readers like the one mentioned above this man of the cloth often feels like he’s being choked by the collar around his neck.

            I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been tempted to have John Jordan transition out of prison chaplaincy and back into official law enforcement. It would make my and John’s life so much easier. It’s truly tempting. John could be far, far more flawed or immoral than he is now and I would never receive an email like the one above. But I truly believe the world needs John Jordan to be both a chaplain and a detective. Being a flawed person of faith who both thirsts for justice and minsters mercy is what makes John Jordan who he is—is what makes the series what it is. To me the difficulty of doing his two seemingly disparate callings—to investigate crime and to administer compassion—is what gives John Jordan and the series the kind of tension and conflict that provides genuine depth and richness. At least that is my hope.

            The truth is I don’t mind that religious Fundamentalists don’t read my books. From what I understand they’re not really supposed to be taking time away from their Bible reading anyway. What I do find far more frustrating is the number of readers who would really like the series and truly appreciate who and how John Jordan is but won’t even pick up the books because they (wrongly) believe that the character they encounter will be preachy or self-righteous or repressed—in short, the very things the reader who emailed me is disappointed he is not. 

Posted on November 15, 2015 .

Why I Refuse to Read Harper Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman”

This is not a draft.

Though most first novels aren’t first novels at all, but the first book a novelist finally got published, my first novel, “Power in the Blood” is truly a first novel—the first novel I ever wrote. But what it isn’t is a first draft of a first novel.

I don’t know of a single author who wouldn’t change things about his or her first novel—myself included—and that’s after it was rewritten and edited many, many times. Professionals don’t publish drafts. This little piece you’re reading right now, which is only a short opinion piece in a small-town newspaper, isn’t a draft. I wouldn’t dream of publishing a draft of something as simple as this—let alone a novel.

This is not a draft, but Harper Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman” is.

What it isn’t is a sequel to “To Kill a Mockingbird.” It’s just an earlier draft of that now iconic novel—a novel that isn’t just iconic, but canonical, perhaps the closest thing to the Great American novel we are likely to ever have.

As a novelist, I’d love to read Lee’s early draft. But as a novelist, I wouldn’t want anyone reading an early draft of any of my novels without my permission. As a novelist and as a person of principle, I can’t read an early draft of a book that has been out for decades now when I believe the author never wanted it published.

Supposedly the 89 year old author who had a stroke in 2007 had this to say: “I hadn’t realized it had survived, so was surprised and delighted when my dear friend and lawyer Tonja Carter discovered it.” But I remain unconvinced—and very suspicious of Carter, who put out the statement. Not only are there questions about the copyright, who discovered the manuscript—and when and where—but this has all happened after the death of Alice Lee, the author’s older sister who served as her counselor and caretaker for decades and when Harper herself is described by friends as 95 percent blind, profoundly deaf, with memory issues.

 I believe if Lee wanted this earlier draft of “To Kill a Mockingbird” published it would have happened decades ago. In fact, correspondence from back then suggests that when all the discussions about a second novel were happening following the incredible success of “Mockingbird,” “Watchmen” was never considered because it was never anything but a draft that became “Mockingbird.”

If I thought Nelle Harper Lee had all her faculties and truly wanted “Go Set a Watchman” published, I’d be the first to buy a copy. But I don’t. Back when she had all her faculties and trustworthy representation she didn’t publish it. I believe this is the greed of the many who will benefit at the expense of an elderly, infirmed, isolated lady, who is a national treasure and deserves far, far better. 

I could be wrong about all this, but until I become convinced otherwise, out of respect to the now vulnerable and compromised author and her peerless masterpiece, I have no intention of reading what amounts to film on the cutting room floor or the excess marble not used in the perfect statute that is “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Posted on July 16, 2015 .

Why I Won’t Read Harper Lee’s GO SET A WATCHMAN

From what I’ve been able to gather, “Go Set a Watchman” isn’t a sequel to “To Kill a Mockingbird.” It’s just an earlier draft of that now iconic novel.

As a novelist, I’d love to see what Lee’s editor first saw when she suggested that Lee rewrite the novel and set it twenty years earlier. But as a novelist and as a person of principle, I can’t read a book that isn’t a book at all, but an earlier draft of a book that has been out for decades now, and that the author never wanted published.

Supposedly the 89 year old author who had a stroke in 2007 had this to say: “I hadn’t realized it had survived, so was surprised and delighted when my dear friend and lawyer Tonja Carter discovered it.” But I remain unconvinced – and very suspicious of Carter, who put out the statement. Not only are there questions about the copyright, who discovered the manuscript – and when and where – but all this has all happened after the death of Alice Lee, the author’s older sister who served as her counselor and caretaker for decades and when Harper herself is described by friends as 95 percent blind, profoundly deaf, with memory issues.

 I believe if Lee wanted this earlier draft of “To Kill a Mockingbird” published it would have happened decades ago. In fact, correspondence from back then suggests that when all the discussions about a second novel were happening following the incredible success of “Mockingbird,” “Watchmen” was never considered because it was never anything but a draft that became “Mockingbird.”

I could be wrong about all this, but until I become convinced otherwise, out of respect to the now vulnerable and compromised author and her masterpiece, I have no intention of reading what amounts to film on the cutting room floor or the excess marble not used in the perfect statute that is “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Posted on July 14, 2015 .

God and Monsters -- PW Interviews Author Michael Lister

Lister’s series sleuth, clergyman John Jordan, reexamines the Atlanta Child Murders in Innocent Blood: A John Jordan Mystery.

What inspired you to make a clergyman a detective?

I wanted to write clerical detective mysteries from the moment I first happened upon Father Brown in a dusty old bookstore in Atlanta—the year I graduated from seminary school and was ordained. But as inspiring and influential as I found Father Brown, I was far more influenced by hard-boiled writers. I aimed to introduce a strong, tough, troubled clerical detective into the world of the hard-boiled detective novel. I had already conceived the idea for a prison chaplain clerical detective and had been making notes and sketching out scenes when I was offered a job as a prison chaplain with the Florida Department of Corrections. Part of the reason I took the job was to fully immerse myself in an environment and culture I really didn’t want to enter any other way.

How does John differ from other ecclesiastical detectives?

In addition to marrying the clerical and hard-boiled detective novels, I also wanted to create an almost nonreligious religious sleuth. Part of the tension and conflict of my own experience as a spiritual person has always been my lack of interest in formal or organized religion. By giving this same eccentricity to John, I was able to create a paradox––a conflicted chaplain, a religious leader uncomfortable with religion.

What about the Atlanta Child Murders fascinates you?

I was a child when the Atlanta Child Murders were happening. My friends resembled the victims. I think too many people, particularly Southerners, have forgotten. I never can. It will be nice if Innocent Blood reminds those who were alive at the time and introduces it to those who weren’t. The case is not solved and should not be filed away and forgotten. As I wrote in Innocent Blood, one of the greatest ironies in criminal history is that Wayne Williams, the “Atlanta Child Murderer” wasn’t arrested, charged with, or tried for killing a single child.

How much of John is you?

A lot. More as the series goes on––something I’ve heard other writers say about series characters. John and I have always had many similarities, but they have certainly increased over the past 20 years I’ve been writing about him. What John and I share more than anything is a similar worldview and sensibility. We both believe that the practice of compassion is the highest humanity is capable of, which is to say we believe in practicing love and justice––love as an action, not a feeling, not a sentiment. Love as an act of extending ourselves on the behalf of others and justice as the insistence on equality.

Posted on June 18, 2015 .

Atlanta Child Murders Re-imagined in Brilliant Crime Novel

 by Phil Jason

“Innocent Blood” by Michael Lister. Pulpwood Press. 264 pages. Hardcover, $26.99.

                Michael Lister’s seventh John Jordan Mystery takes an unusual step. Instead of moving readers forward on the path of John’s life, it takes them back to his very first case.

                In fact, this tale takes readers back in time twice.

                First, to 1980 when the Jordan family went on a vacation to Atlanta. John, 12 at the time, was fated to encounter the man who was later convicted of two murders (though not the murders or abduction of the many black boys who were thought to be his victims).

                John had seen and interacted with Wayne Williams, but he didn’t make the connection until many months later, when the print and television news was filled with the story of Mr. Williams’ arrest. The man he met was hawking opportunities for gullible youngsters to become professional entertainers. Of course, this was not at all the goal of the menacing Mr. Williams.

                The Atlanta Child Murders continued to occupy Atlanta police, and they continued to occupy space in young John’s imagination.

                Six years later, soon after graduation from high school, John Jordan returns to Atlanta. Having been torn between pursuing a career in law enforcement or one in the ministry, he opted to enroll in a new ministerial program at the Earl Paulk Institute. This decision was a difficult one that severed John’s relationship with his police chief father, who thought John was making a foolish mistake.

                While working for the institute and its parent church, John manages to attach himself to policemen who had worked on the Atlanta Child Murders, including the man in charge of the investigation. John’s obsessive interest and his obvious analytical skills lead them to allow him a role in the continuing investigation, which has been reignited by similar crimes. This is exactly what John has hoped for. There are just too many unclosed cases with similar details, and yet it seems unlikely that Mr. Williams could have been responsible for all of them.

                The community John has entered includes Safe Haven, a daycare and aftercare center run by Ida Williams (no relation to Wayne) near the church. Ida’s young son, LaMarcus, was murdered, but he was never put on the list headed Atlanta Child Murders — even though his death occurred during that time period. Like John at that time, LaMarcus was 12 years old.

                John now meets the beautiful Jordan Williams, Ida’s daughter, who becomes the new love of his life, but she is stuck in a bad marriage. Regularly beaten by her husband, a local policeman, she has her eyes on John, and she appreciates his tentative attentions.

                After establishing the key players, the author focuses on John’s exhausting attempt to balance his college studies, his work commitments that are in lieu of tuition and his unswerving pursuit of the unsolved murders. Still only a kid himself, John impresses people with his maturity, compassion and insight. He seems to know what questions need to be pursued. John is allowed to review evidence that has never added up to anything; remarkably, he often sees connections and possibilities that haven’t been noticed by the professionals.

                Mr. Lister hooks the reader with his compelling portrait of community life, his detailed handling of how John sharpens his investigatory skills, a series of menacing events revealing that his efforts are putting him and others in danger, John’s battle with alcoholism and his growing romance with Jordan (who playfully announces that if they marry, she will not be called Jordan Jordan).

                John also becomes a kind of big brother to some of the kids at Safe Haven, and the author makes these relationships sweetly appealing. Hey, just because a man wants to hang around with young boys doesn’t make him a pervert or murder suspect.

                “Innocent Blood” is a beautifully constructed story, cleanly and often poetically written. The carefully nuanced development of John’s moral sensibility and intellectual fortitude is highly appealing.

                Graced by an introduction from Michael Connelly that offers persuasive praise (and even includes a conversation between John and Mr. Connelly’s classic detective character Harry Bosch), this preamble to the John Jordan Mystery series is good news for mystery fans who appreciate fine writing and creative risk taking. Michael Lister doesn’t play it safe. — Phil Jason

Posted on May 7, 2015 .

Tampa Bay Times Article on INNOCENT BLOOD by Colette Bancroft

          A once-infamous real-life murder case and a famous fictional detective have significant roles in Florida author Michael Lister's latest novel.
            Innocent Blood is a prequel to Lister's previous six mysteries about former cop turned prison chaplain John Jordan. The new book recounts the first case Jordan ever investigated, back when he was 18 years old: the Atlanta child murders in 1979-81.
            The fictional detective is Harry Bosch, the protagonist of 19 novels (the most recent is The Burning Room) by internationally bestselling author Michael Connelly, and of the Amazon Prime series based on the books. Bosch makes a crucial cameo appearance in Innocent Blood, advising the young Jordan.
            On May 14, Lister and Connelly, who lives in Tampa, will appear together in conversation at Genaro Coffee Company in St. Petersburg to talk about "music, movies, television, other writers and books that have been important to us. We'll talk about the two characters a lot," Lister said in a phone interview.
            The Atlanta child murders are largely forgotten today, but, the author says, they have haunted him for years. Lister, 47, was born in Tallahassee and has lived for most of his life in the tiny northwest Florida town of Wewahitchka. In his youth he also lived in Atlanta and remembers the murders dominating the news at a time that he was about the same age as some of the victims.
            Between 1979 and 1981, at least 29 African-Americans, most of them male children and teenagers, were abducted and murdered in the Atlanta metro area in cases that investigators considered linked. In 1981, Wayne Williams, a 23-year-old black man, was arrested; he was charged with and convicted of the murders of only two of the victims (both men in their 20s). Williams is serving two life terms.
            Lister doesn't think Williams' arrest solved all the murders. "If you look at the infamous list (of victims), it's obvious there's no way a single person could have committed all those murders. It was a quick and easy way to close all those cases."
            When he began writing about his John Jordan character 20 years ago, Lister said, "I just knew this case would be part of his backstory. There are a lot of places where my life and experience and Jordan's and that case intersect."
            One of those intersections is the decade Lister spent serving as a chaplain in the Florida prison system, Jordan's occupation in the previous novels. But in Innocent Blood Jordan is just out of high school, a sheriff's son trying to decide whether to follow in his father's footsteps or pursue a yearning to become a minister.
            Jordan heads to Atlanta to study and work at Chapel Hill Harvester Church in Decatur, Ga., one of the first megachurches. It's a real church, and Lister also includes two of its real-life pastors, Earl Paulk Jr. and his son, Don Paulk, as characters. Earl Paulk received a series of phone calls from a man claiming to be the killer, and Lister, who knows the Paulk family, makes that incident part of his story. While writing the novel, Lister said, "I talked to them to get their perspective, to be sure I was remembering things correctly."
            He also let Connelly know he wanted to include Bosch in his story and sent him a copy of the book. "He actually gave me some really good notes about the book in general and some specific things about Bosch," Lister said.
            The two have known each other for some time. Lister's publisher sent his fourth Jordan book, The Body and the Blood, to Connelly for a blurb. "He wrote a great blurb, and he wrote to me personally to tell me how much he liked it. Then we got to know each other at conferences and conventions."
            Connelly was asked for another blurb for Lister's bestselling book, Double Exposure. "He was a real fan of that one. He said there had only been three times he had read a book straight through, and that was one." For Innocent Blood, Connelly wrote a glowing introduction.
            The regard is mutual, Lister said. "I've always been a fan of his work. I have so much admiration and respect for him, and he's been so important to me. So I wanted Bosch to be important to John Jordan."

Posted on May 7, 2015 .

VISIT JOHN JORDAN'S PAST!

Every great character has a past.

Few are as entertaining, as thrilling, or as tragic as that of ex-cop turned prison chaplain John Jordan.

When he was twelve years old he came face to face with the man who would be convicted of the Atlanta Child Murders.

Six years later, John returned to Atlanta determined to discover who was truly responsible for all the slaughtered innocents.

But first he must ascertain whether or not LaMarcus Williams belongs on the infamous list of missing and murdered children.

The questions in the case are many, the answers few.

Who Killed LaMarcus Williams? How was he abducted from his own backyard while his mom and sister watched him? Is he a victim of the Atlanta Child Murderer that didn’t make the list or is his killer still out there, still operating with impunity?

Experience the events that shaped one of the most unique characters in all of crime fiction.

Accompany John during his first spiritual awakenings, his first battles with alcoholism, his first forays and fallings into love, and his very first murder investigation.

Get answers and gain insight into the investigator, the minister, the man.

See how John Jordan took his first faltering steps toward becoming the man he is today.

Every great character has a past, but it’s not often you’re allowed to witness it the way you will John Jordan’s in the portrait of a detective as a young man that is Innocent Blood.

Posted on April 1, 2015 .

VISIT JOHN JORDAN'S PAST!

Every great character has a past.

Few are as entertaining, as thrilling, or as tragic as that of ex-cop turned prison chaplain John Jordan.

When he was twelve years old he came face to face with the man who would be convicted of the Atlanta Child Murders.

Six years later, John returned to Atlanta determined to discover who was truly responsible for all the slaughtered innocents.

But first he must ascertain whether or not LaMarcus Williams belongs on the infamous list of missing and murdered children.

The questions in the case are many, the answers few.

Who Killed LaMarcus Williams? How was he abducted from his own backyard while his mom and sister watched him? Is he a victim of the Atlanta Child Murderer that didn’t make the list or is his killer still out there, still operating with impunity?

Experience the events that shaped one of the most unique characters in all of crime fiction.

Accompany John during his first spiritual awakenings, his first battles with alcoholism, his first forays and fallings into love, and his very first murder investigation.

Get answers and gain insight into the investigator, the minister, the man.

See how John Jordan took his first faltering steps toward becoming the man he is today.

Every great character has a past, but it’s not often you’re allowed to witness it the way you will John Jordan’s in the portrait of a detective as a young man that is Innocent Blood.

Posted on April 1, 2015 .