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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Interview with JC Marino, Author of Dante's Journey




JC Marino is the author of Dante's Journey. Mihir Wanchoo was able to conduct an interview with this new debut author.

Fantasy Book Critic would like to thank JC Marino for his time.

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For the benefit of readers, could you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit than what's given in your bio?

Something that’s NOT in the bio? Well, I was raised in a typical Boston, Italian-American Catholic family through the sixties and seventies. Typical in some ways… not so typical in others. We were sort of like the Sopranos, without the guns… mostly!

I joined the Air Force as soon as I was of age, dropped out of school, and left. Fast forward six months… I’m walking around an F-111 in Mt Home AFB, Idaho at 2:00 AM, and realizing what I now have to do… GO BACK TO SCHOOL.

From that point on, I went to school to learn what ever I could. I eventually left the service, became a Software Engineer specializing in Artificial Intelligence, got a job with DEC, and moved to LA.

In LA, I learned something from an admin person I met at work. Everywhere else in the country, an admin person who wants to write is an admin person who wants to write. In LA, he’s a writer who’s temporarily working as an admin person. In Hollywood, you’re not defined by what you do for work; you’re defined by your dreams.

This admin person got me hooked on to continuing my education, but not in software engineering… rather in where my dreams were: writing. So I continued my education at UCLA in creative writing and story-telling. That’s why, today, I’m not an out-of-work AI Software Engineer… I’m a NOVELIST.

How did you get started in writing? Could you share with us your experience of getting published?

I have to confess, I really don’t remember “how” I started writing. As long as I can remember, I was always trying to tell a story… either in drawings, verbally or writing. It wasn’t until I moved to LA that I actually took classes in it and realized that writing is as much a “craft” as it is an “art”.

As for publishing experiences… I first started out writing screenplays on spec. After writing over a dozen or so screenplays, pitching to wanna-be agents and producers, I realized that I was more suited for novels.

Screenplays limit the writer to the movie-going experience. Plus, the writer is only part of an ensemble (which includes director, actors, producer, etc). All these people have a say in what you write, and rightfully so, as all these people are looking at different aspects of the movie (not the screenplay).

In novels, the writer has more of a say in what happens in the story and what happens to/with the characters. So, I switched to novels and found the publishing industry just as tough to get noticed. I’ve discovered one thing in my time as a screenwriter. In order to get noticed, you basically have to show the world that you’re determined to do it with or without them.

I did some research and found smaller, independent publishers who could help me in accomplishing my publishing goals. I picked about five publishers out of about sixty, asked many many questions, and selected the one whose answers were best for what I needed (ex, contract, how to handle book returns, etc).

I found Star Publish LLC and am very happy with my choice, as happy as I hope Star is for having me.

What was the spark of inspiration which lead to the genesis of "Dante's Journey"?

Being raised as a Roman Catholic, in Boston, by nuns, for eight years of Catholic school, you learn about as much of God’s wrath as you do His love. I knew nothing about any other religion or faith until I joined the service and left Boston. Until then, to me, the whole world was Roman Catholic.

I got a rude awakening when I met a whole bunch of different kinds of people with a whole lot of different kinds of beliefs. For a time, in the military, I worked in the armory. People would leave books from previous shifts. One mid-night shift, bored to tears, I picked up a book titled “The Worm that Never Dies.”

The book was about what Hell was like and it, basically, scared the hell out of me. But, I was also captivated. I bought books upon books about religion (world and Christian), faith, God and Hell.

I found “The Divine Comedy” fascinating. Until then, I thought that Hell was an evil kingdom led by Lucifer where his demons tortured human souls for mere pleasure. The difference between “torture” and “torment” also fascinated me, as did the thought of Satan and the demons having their own torment to deal with.

Growing up, I learned a lot about the word of God, but didn’t learn (or at least didn’t listen) about the spirit of the word. I realized that the quest for spiritual truth is a never-ending journey. I think Dante Alighieri knew this as well, as the original Divine Comedy is more a journey than a destination.

What were you aiming for with this book?

To me, story-telling always comes back to the theme. What is the moral of the story?

In Dante’s Hell, there is nothing worse than the sin of betrayal (which is why it is at the bottom of the inferno). In reality, all sins are rooted from some sort of betrayal. Murder, fraud, adultery, even a simple lie… somewhere down the line, someone is being betrayed (a friend, enemy, family member, yourself, or even God).

Dante’s Journey” has a simple theme… In the end, the betrayer hurts himself more than the betrayed.

What’s next for you in terms of other new projects & can you give us a glimpse into your next book/s as well?

I always go back to what Billy Crystal said in “Throw Mama from the Train”… “A writer writes.” To elaborate, it’s not a goal of a writer to become famous or make money. A writer simply writes to tell a story.

I have several projects in the queue. My next one is complete and going through the publishing process now.

I saw a movie a while back, titled “Memento”. To me, movies like this are what story-telling is all about. It gets the audience involved by telling the story backwards, showing them what it’s like to have short term memory loss.

I was inspired to write a story about a rare medical condition and tell it through the eyes of the protagonist. My next novel, “Everything but the Face” is about a gallery owner who’s attacked and left with a rare condition called Prosopagnosia, or face-blindness.

To her, everyone has the same horrific empty, expressionless face. In other words, everyone looks the same. She has to solve the murder of her boyfriend, stay one step ahead of the killer, keep her paranoia of the suspicious police at bay, and confront her inner demons.

As “Dante’s Journey”, the story is told in the first person (through the eyes of the protagonist). It was necessary in order to get the reader to feel what it’s like to have this disorienting condition.

Who is she talking to in any given chapter? We don’t know. We only know who they say they are. So, who can a woman with trust-issues trust when everyone looks exactly the same?

Who would you say have been you biggest literary influences and what book have you read in the recent past which has struck a chord within you?

Growing up, I was more of a movie buff than a reader. I would watch anything listed as science fiction. Two movies I loved were “The Day the Earth Stood Still” and “The Thing” (the originals – not the remakes).

TV show-wise, “Outer Limits” and “The Twilight Zone” were big with me (again, the originals – not the remakes). It wasn’t until I got hooked on “Combat!” that I realized it wasn’t so much the scifi aspect that I found fascinating, but the human condition.

Outsmarting Nazis in WWII or outsmarting aliens on Mars… there’s really not much of a difference, writing-wise. That’s just setting. It’s the human reactions and interactions where the real writing comes in.

So, as far as literary influences go in story-telling (as opposed to novel-writing), I’d have to list Rod Sterling in the top five. As for more recently, I’ve grown a great appreciation for graphic novels. I really enjoyed Sin City and Watchmen.

I’ve started working on one myself, and let me tell you, it’s not easy. Who says what in what panel, doing what action for what reason… it’s a whole other way to tell a story.

The book blurb, I felt, doesn't do full justice to the plot encased within (as I observed in my review) can you gives us an elevator pitch about your book for the new readers?

I love stories that are updated classics. Movies like “The Ten Things I Hate about You” (updated from “Taming of the Shrew”), and “West-Side Story” (updated from Romeo and Juliet) can be really fun to watch. Plus, I’m very impressed with mix-genre stories (like “Bladerunner”)

Dante's Journey is an updated version of the original Divine Comedy (kind of like Smallville is to the Superboy story). Most of the characters are contemporary versions of the originals (Dante is a detective, Beatrice is his wife, Argenti is a drug dealer, Minos, Hector, Socrates, etc).

Think Sam Spade chasing after his family’s killer in Dante’s Inferno. However, people are in Hell for not only their sins, but their secrets. And each secret reveal throws the storyline in a totally different direction.

As the original, there are strong statements revolving around religion, politics and the arts (Dante Alighieri’s triad of society). It also addresses such topics as the nature of sin, man's inhumanity to man, God's plan and Satan's mission.

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