International Thriller Writers: The Big Thrill by J.N. Duncan
I’d like to welcome one of this month’s ITW’s release authors, Glenn Kleier, whose novel, The Knowledge of Good & Evil, hits the shelves on July 19th. This is Glenn’s second novel, after his acclaimed debut, The Last Day, which is also an epic, theological thriller. So, let’s get right to the fun stuff.
Okay, Glenn, the first thing that obviously pops to mind is the fact that The Last Day, your first novel, was published in 1997. It came out with a pretty big push by the publisher, especially for a debut. And yet…fourteen years until Good & Evil. I find this intriguing.
Not exactly prolific, am I? I actually started this book (along with two companion novels) shortly after The Last Day, and was well into one when a family situation arose. It required a good deal of attention and pushed the writing aside for an extended period. I finally got back into things about six years ago, focusing on The Knowledge of Good & Evil. It took me that long to complete it.
Let’s hear a bit about who you are, what you do writing and/or otherwise, and anything else you would like to tell us about yourself.
I’m a Kentucky son, born and raised. Got exposed to great fiction early on, and it gave me a passion for writing. I picked up an English degree at the University of Cincinnati, intent on a career as a novelist, and landed a job with a publisher to be close to the action. But there I saw countless manuscripts flood in over the transom, not a one making it to print, and it disillusioned me. So I turned to another form of fiction—advertising—eventually co-founding what grew to be a national firm. Yet I never lost my first love. I worked on the side seven years to produce The Last Day, a suspense thriller/religious send-up. Warner Books bought world rights, Columbia/Tri Star the film rights, and that enabled me to write full time.
So guess what I tell my sons about following their dreams?
Give me your 25 word or less elevator pitch for Good & Evil.
A defrocked priest embarks on a perilous odyssey through this world and the next, seeking answers to life’s Ultimate Questions. And learns more than he bargained for.
Your book incorporates a fairly unique aspect for this genre in that you have some picture/images throughout. Tell us a little about that, why you wanted to do it, and/or how it came about with your pub, and what you hoped to gain with their inclusion?
Part of the story involves the intricate paintings of medieval artist, Hieronymus Bosch, whose pictures are worth ten-thousand words. Featuring those pictures saved me some pages. Also the plot centers around real people, places and events—an intentional device to ground the fiction in fact and blur the lines between reality and surreality. I felt photos of the people and places would abet that, and MacMillan publisher Tom Doherty and senior editor Bob Gleason got what I was trying to do and supported me. It took time and expense to chase down usage rights across the globe, but I trust it was worth it.
Now, I’m particularly intrigued with your notion of “discovering” what the afterlife is really all about. Great conflict here, or potentially so. What led you to want to explore this?
If you ask people where their mental images of the afterlife come from (assuming they have any), most point to the bible. Truth is, while heaven and hell are cited often in the bible, neither Old nor New Testament offers much in the way of description or details. And yet many people have rich and cherished beliefs about heaven, and fierce dread about hell. They might be surprised to learn where those beliefs spring from: primitive myths and folklore; pagan religions; pseudo-scripture; medieval theology; the literature of Dante, Marlowe and Milton; the paintings of Bruegel, Doré and Mr. Bosch—to mention just a few.
My intent was to give a little historical context to the subjects of heaven and hell, draw some correlations, and offer a different perspective on this much-misunderstood topic. And then push things a bit further.
What kind of theological research did you have to do while exploring this aspect? Did you learn anything completely unexpected here?
The research took years. I began with the oldest recorded inklings of a Great Beyond, seen in ancient Samaria and Mesopotamia cultures, and worked forward in time. Early Egyptian beliefs in an afterlife, Greco-Roman, Judeo-Christian, Islamic, et. al. On to the Doctors of the Church—Augustine, Jerome, Gregory, Aquinas. And finally, modern theological scholars—Karl Barth, Salomon Reinach, Homer Smith and more. What emerged was a huge and convoluted mosaic that I attempt to make sense of.
And yes, along the way I came across something that amazed me, and continues to. Compelling evidence of an “interpolation” that occurs in the New Testament gospel of Matthew. What amounts to a scriptural bombshell the Church has effectively suppressed from its earliest days. This point emerges near the end of the story, and has caught the attention of early reviewers on the religious right, earning me flack. For those interested in a closer look at the evidence, the book offers a bibliography.
What, for you, makes this book stand out relative to other thrillers out there?
Hopefully more than just the subject matter, which is intended not as salacious fantasy or horror, but as allegory. The story has a spiritual component, raising a few theological questions that readers might not otherwise encounter or give much thought to. Maybe these questions will encourage a fresh look at some commonly held beliefs.
What was the most challenging aspect for you in writing this book?
Drafting the chapter that reveals “The Ultimate Reality.” If I may draw an analogy: There’s a branch of science that’s spent a century trying to uncover something called “The Grand Unified Field Theory”—an equation to marry all the critical forces of the universe. If found, it would be the “answer to everything.” Einstein himself spent the last years of his life searching for it, in vain, and it eludes science still.
The protagonist in the story is a fallen priest who searches for the spiritual equivalent. A divine wisdom lost by Man long ago that would unite all religions, uplift Humanity, end wars and heal the age-old animosities between races, cultures and creeds. It was indeed a challenge creating “The Ultimate Reality.”
Just for fun, what would you hope (or not) to find on the other side?
In addition to 72 virgins? How about an environment free of ideological entanglements, self-righteous sanctimony, and intolerance. That would be heavenly.
Finally, any parting words for your readers?
I suppose I’d ask them to read The Knowledge of Good & Evil with an open mind, realizing that little of what they’ve ever heard about The Other Side has substance—scriptural or otherwise. Who’s to know what’s fiction and what isn’t?