Jamaica Moon Interview
A Conversation with Robert
1. What prompted you to write Jamaica Moon?
This novel, Jamaica Moon and the series its characters sustain, comes from a poem, as if out of the blue. One day I saw a TV commercial depicting a woman standing out in front of a two-story home, postcard-sized white paper falling from the sky like giant confetti; I don’t even remember what the commercial was selling! I immediately envisioned a poem titled love letters from the sky. I wrote the long-line poem of just over seventy lines and 500 words. In that poem was born one of the plot lines for Jamaica Moon (the singed and smoke-smelling bundle of love letters that fall from the sky) which continues to resolution in Judas Oracle. From that poem came to mind characters who wrote their way across Dallas, to Jamaica and back. Jamaica Moon’s action takes place primarily in Texas, in and around Dallas. Texans, Dallasites and those familiar with Dallas will recognize many of the settings and locales.
2. When you began writing, did you have a larger idea of the story you wanted to tell?
When I began writing The Alternate Contention, the manuscript’s working title for what became Jamaica Moon, a story had already begun to spin in my mind like a movie. It ran continuously even when I was not writing—so the story was constantly pulling me back to the computer to try to catch up with where the ‘movie’ was in my head. Overall, I have only wanted to keep up with the story. Obviously having just finished the sixth book in the series and already six chapters into the seventh, I have an ongoing bigger story to tell. In essence that was what I realized after writing love letters from the sky I had created a much larger story that needed telling.
3. Violence and abuse against women are in nearly every part of Jamaica Moon. Do you see violence or violence against women as an issue within the contemporary society?
As a civil society we have formulated laws against human abuses and those laws must be enforced and perpetrators brought to justice. As individuals we must act to stop abuse when it is observed and to speak out against abuse in all its forms and lift up the ideals of positive behavior between individuals. The word victim has itself become contentious in that it is often portrayed as a psychological metaphor and has come to connote ‘accomplice’ or ‘facilitator’ in the public psyche and by extension in the mind of the ‘abused’.
It is not victims that predators, like the fox, are looking for when they enter the hen house; there are no accomplices or facilitators in that hen house. Like hens are the prey–the targets of the fox’s hunger—abused persons are the prey of their predatory abusers. It is true that the hen is the victim of the fox’s predatory behavior and there may be pathology to victimization, to adaptive facilitation and codependency, however it should be remembered it is the predator who acts and who creates it— not the “prey”.
We should be proactive in condemning familial abuse, seeking intervention as soon as it is discovered so as to prohibit the continuation of the behavior by the perpetrator. I urge all family members to refuse to accept the condition of living with abuse or an abuser.
Much like a circle feeds on itself, to maintain its cohesion; any sustained break resolves that form into a simple arc. If abuse is happening to you or around you, get out and do not let it continue. Seek help, to break the cycle of abuse. If you know of someone being abused; get them help! Besides your local police, clergy, credentialed counselors and other social agencies you can also contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233; Website: www.ndvh.org.
Though this fictional story uses suicide as a plot point, in the real world suicide is no answer. The character’s lack of perception of hope is not life’s reality, for as long as there is life, there is possibility and where there is possibility, there can be hope.
It is the author’s observation that individuals can (though it may be difficult) break the cycle of abuse, can get help, can sustain that break and can experience trust, love, and happiness.
4. For which character do you feel the most affection and why?
As a novelist, I am telling a story. In this case, a series of stories in which many of the characters function in the daily life of the story or reappear in the future. Novelists are creators of inanimate characters, who come to life, virtually, in the mind of the reader. When you create virtual life, those characters, for example, become virtual children… you can’t choose between them. Therefore, I don’t feel more affection for any one character over the rest.
On the other hand as a reader, I hope you will choose characters you like and want to read more about them while hoping that the ones you do not like sustain some literary recompense on some future page that you the reader find satisfying.
5. With which character do you most identify?
It would sound perhaps hypocritical to say I do not identify with Michael Grant— he was a cop, a poet and is a PI. I was a cop and am a poet and a PI. But in truth I do not identify with MG, mainly because he is not me. Not an alter ego, nor a better or worse version of me. Michael Grant is a character fully alive in his own skin, psyche, and investigatory pedagogy. I created him as a character to fulfill the mission of tracking down the clues to the love letters from the sky.
It has been said that good advice about story telling (and novel writing) is to write about something you know. I know about cops, PI’s, and bad guys, etc. Once the characters are set down on the metaphorical stage of the novel’s manuscript they begin acting out their story. I’m just trying as hard as I can to keep up with the story they are telling.
6. Michael Grant’s emotions are locked down, inaccessible. Yet, he is a very sympathetic character. What saves him for the reader?
The character that is Michael Grant has an essential goodness about him. He feels he no longer has to prove his worth and is therefore unrestrained in doing what he thinks is best. He’s a great guy, you gotta love him. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a dark side. He’s very complex and I can see how you might perceive his emotions as ‘locked down, inaccessible.’ I suggest his emotions are very accessible to him and since he no longer has a life partner he sees no need to display emotions to anyone who might think that he ought to share some with them. Additionally, MG has the force of will to segment and compartmentalize his thoughts and emotions when necessary, yet he is growing and changing. You will no doubt, as you travel with him through the series of upcoming novels, gain deeper insights into his emotional being.
Suffice to say, he is a man who acknowledges ghosts, personal ghosts, lots of them and regrets some of his actions and understandably husband’s those regrets as a guide to being, perhaps, a better person.
As for ‘what saves’ Michael Grant ‘for the reader?’ I don’t know. I guess that is for the reader to decide. I would say my hope is that readers will find the character of Michael Grant compelling enough to want to see how he fares as he faces the bad guys and the specter of his demons, both real and imagined. I hope readers will want to know what happens next… on the next page, the next chapter, the next book. Ultimately if I accomplish that, the reader will be ‘what saves’ Michael Grant.
7. Speaking of characters, in rereading the novel, I was struck by the character of Deke. Most of what he says and does is disagreeable, yet in some ways he, also, is sympathetic. He could be read as a victim of emotional arrest. Would you agree with that assessment?
David E. Kingsley, aka Deke, in Jamaica Moon, was written to facilitate the need for a bad guy. As one reader said, he’s “pure evil”. I suppose you can take the view that evil just is and so Deke was always evil, or you can take the view that evil is a corrupting influence and it worked its dark spell on Deke.
Deke was not always bad, but he is almost always bad (make that evil) in Jamaica Moon. His one redeeming characteristic is his love for his sister, but even that is corrupted by other forces which feed his psychosis. He even has a moment of ‘do-goodness’ toward the end of the story to memorialize his sister and ostensibly help others in her situation. But then, even as he writes his will, he is planning and shortly commits murder in her name. So in effect he has negated his one redeeming feature and remains true to his established nature, “pure evil.” As a corrupted person, Deke is victimizer not a victim, unless you count him as a victim of Evil.
8. How does the novel’s structure of journal entries serve Michael’s character and as a novelist, what did this technique provide you?
The subtitle to Jamaica Moon (and the others in the series) is “from the Black Book Investigations of Michael Grant & Associates.” Prior to the proliferation of computers a private investigator, a police investigator, or a detective’s best friend was his notebook. In MG’s case he wrote all of his ongoing case notes and daily investigative activity in a Wilson Jones Corporate Record/Minute Book. It was an 8½” x 11″ black, imitation-leather binder with a short-pull locking mechanism. Essentially it was a loose-leaf notebook with blank pages that allowed him to keep about three months worth of activity at his fingertips.Investigation reports were generated from these “black book” notes. These case notes and then later the cases themselves became euphemistically referred to as the Black Book Investigations.
With the advent of putting everything on the computer, he still referred to his case notes and the cases as the Black Book Investigations of Michael Grant & Associates.
As for the time line structure, which essentially creates the novel’s scene breaks at the beginning of various paragraphs, it was developed from the idea of log or activity entries in MG’s Black Book, but became more a device to orient the reader as to the where and the when of the action they are about to read.
The ability to telegraph to the reader where and when succeeding action is going to take place provides the continuity to move forward or backward in story-time or make it easier to understand that action is taking place in the same time but in a different space. Such as a telephone conversation that is initiated in Dallas at 1p.m. with a party in Canada whose local time is 2p.m. and discussing something in Paris where at that same moment it is 7p.m. of the same day.
In the end, the time lines are there to keep the reader oriented within the story.
9. It’s striking that all of the characters have deeply flawed relationships with their significant others. Why is that?
I’m not sure that is factual. But let me entertain that perception this way. If the story were all about grey it would get pretty boring. It is after all, not just about telling a story but making the story compelling, i.e. there are stark whites and deep blacks to the characters.
Author’s Note: I was a boyhood fan of the writer Zane Grey. And as an artist I often used the color considered a mixture of black and white and spelled by many g-r-a-y; the O.E.D. will say: see g-r-e-y. In any event, I choose to spell grey the Zane way!
10. Was it hard to write Laurie’s death in the end? Were you aware of having to consciously make the choice or did it emerge naturally from the character?
Spoiler Alert 1: In, Jamaica Moon, Laurie does not die. You must be thinking of Sara. In answer to your question “was it hard to write (her) death in the end,” no, rather than hard, it was surprising! I had not plotted her to die, not at that moment or in that way, but her death came out of my fingers before I realized it. I thought Michael had found his true love and everything would be great, he’d have a whole new vibrant relationship that would enhance the future of the series. At the time I was astonished, saddened and even shouted, “No!” out loud. That is one of the mysteries of writing, I have encountered, that characters acting within their own imbued self-interest can jump up and do the unexpected.
I remember reading Daniele Steele novels in the 80′s. I enjoyed her characters and was amazed by two things— how quickly I came to care about the characters and how quickly she killed them off. I said when I started writing novels that I would not capriciously be killing off my characters. Maybe Ms. Steele was not intentionally offing her literary offspring, rather they were acting on the own. If that was the case, I understand it now.
11. I have always felt that the ending derives its power from Michael’s ambiguity. Do you see him as ambiguous?
No, but I have a much larger grasp of who Michael Grant is and who he may become. He may indeed be ambiguous to the readers at this point, since they can only know him through the four hundred odd pages of Jamaica Moon. However he lives on in Judas Oracle; And Never Again…; Innocent And Guilty; Cry… Walk, Run!; Murder Fever; and BOXMAN.
To me the ending derives its power from the resolution of some plot lines (Laurie reading the poem which doesn’t answer all the questions) and the realization that there is more story to tell. Maybe that’s just me.
12. There is a lot of tragedy in this book, yet it’s not tragic. Why?
As I told someone the other day, when it comes to getting attention, no matter how much we applaud Good… Evil only has to snap its fingers. That is born out in the book— bad people are doing bad things to good people. At the heart of the story, as author, you ask the reader to suspend their disbelief and go along with what the characters do. Not because that’s the way it should be, but because the readers are interested parties without the ability to change the outcome.
Finally, why is a book filled with tragedy not tragic? As Michael Grant would say: “To imagine Evil triumphant you have to imagine Good defeated—I can’t quite go there.”
13. What role does memory play in the novel?
Good question. Memory does play a central role. It allows characters to have had a life. History does not start with their birth on page whatever of the novel. Memory allows for the enhancement of character arcs, to foreshadow future action based on past actions, that sort of thing. Memory is a magical thing. As far as I know, giraffes can’t remember what they had for dinner much less their names. On the other hand my characters, as a little higher order of being, can do both, most of the time.
14. Whose story is Jamaica Moon: Michael’s, Deke’s, Laurie’s?
I haven’t postulated whose story it might be. Hmmm? If I had to be pinned down, I would say it is Michael’s story since he is the main character and much of the action revolves around him or is initiated by him. Having said that, I have tried hard to allow each character to speak for themselves and speak to the reader through their thoughts as well as their actions.
15. Will we meet Michael Grant again? What is in his future?
Spoiler Alert 2: I already gave this away in my answer to question eleven. But yes, I just finished the sixth Michael Grant novel in the series, Murder Fever, which develops the strong female character of Helen Atkins, Assistant District Attorney. I think readers will enjoy the relationship between Michael and Helen as well as Helen’s political ascendancy; you’ll see what I mean in BOXMAN, the seventh book. The four novels between Jamaica Moon and Murder Fever are already written.
Bottom line, the public future of Michael Grant depends on the fan base/readership his stories produce. Shameless plug: Long live Michael Grant, buy a copy of Jamaica Moon (and the rest of the books in the series) today, buy some for gifts and tell your friends to buy copies for themselves and others.
Thank you Sunny. This was a lot of fun.
Solana D’Lámant holds MFAs from Texas Christian University (Dance) and Vermont College (Creative Writing-Poetry). She has three books of poems published by WordSculptor Press, Flowers For The Living, You Get It By Breathing and Dancing on One Leg While the Other One Sings. She studied as a PhD student in literature at the University of Texas At Dallas.
Unfortunately, Sunny (my gifted friend for 18 years) passed away December 31, 2016 from inoperable brain tumor.
Blog Cover Photo by rjs: Solana D’Lámant, aka: Sunny