by M.J. Rose
Published by MIRA Books
464 pages, 2007
To say that M.J. Rose is becoming something of a legend in the publishing industry sounds like it skates on the edge of overstatement, and yet it’s not far from the truth. Part of this legend stems from the fact that, like Wonder Woman, M.J. Rose possesses superhuman abilities, especially, it seems, the ability to be in more than one place at any given time.
For starters, Rose is a fabulous storyteller. Over the last decade, she’s written nine novels. They are very different in tone and texture. Rose is not a writer who chooses to repeat herself.
She is also the co-author of two works of non-fiction; How to Publish and Promote Online (with Angela Adair) and Buzz Your Book (with Doug Clegg). Rose helms three successful blogs: a book promotion blog called Buzz, Balls and Hype; a blog called Backstory that deals, basically, with the place where authors get their ideas and, most recently, a blog on reincarnation that Rose launched in support of her most recent novel, The Reincarnationist, new in hardcover this week. Rose was one of the founding members of International Thriller Writers, an organization she continues to be very proud of and work with closely and a few years ago -- presumably because she had a spare half hour and the desire for something that didn’t exist -- Rose started AuthorBuzz, a marketing company for authors.
At first glance, this seems like too long a list for one person, and then you realize there’s a connection to it all. A sort of organic cohesion, if you will. All of that buzzing grows from an author with a strong background in advertising who one day found herself marketing a book pretty much on her own. Reasoning that there must be other authors dealing with the same challenges, Rose set about filling the holes she saw along her path -- an organization here, a marketing company there, a blog where she felt one ought to be.
It’s this willingness to fill in the holes that have not only gotten Rose this far, they’ve set entire aspects of her career in motion. For instance, back in 1998, Rose found herself in a position both enviable and desperate. While she had a very good agent who believed in her work, that agent had been unable to place Rose’s first novel. Both Rose and her agent were confident that the book in question was very good but editors kept telling her agent that, according to Rose, "there was no way to market my kind of fiction. Since my background is in advertising, I told her I was going to self-publish a few copies, and market them online and then she could show the publishers how to market my kind of fiction. I had no doubt I could figure out how to market the book."
It’s not the sort of move Rose would advise a would-be author but, through the author’s experience, perseverance and sheer hard work, her gamble paid off. Less than a year after Lip Service’s debut as a self-published book, Rose sold the novel to a major publishing house. She hasn’t looked back and, though her success with the Lip Service experiment has led to her becoming an icon and shining beacon of hope to self-published authors everywhere, Rose says that, for her, self publishing was intended to be a means to an end: not the end itself. "I didn’t do it as a career move," says Rose. "I never intended to stay self-published. It was an experiment." And it worked.
The Reincarnationist is Rose’s ninth novel and it seems like the perfect gauge of just how far this author has come. A high concept tale that resonates on a deeply human level, the novel moves between ancient Rome, and 19th century and contemporary Rome and New York.
In The Reincarnationist, a photojournalist has survived a bombing in modern day Italy only to find himself haunted by memories that couldn’t possibly be his own. He remembers violence and fear in another time. And more than anything, he remembers Sabina, the vestal virgin with whom he recalls having a torrid affair.
Though the memories are convincing, he feels sure he must be losing his mind until he connects with the Phoenix Foundation, a New York-based research facility that documents past life experiences. While working with the foundation, he finds himself trying to unravel the mystery of his own past lives as well as several present day murders with a connection to his past and a handful of ancient stones with powers that are practically magical. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly reported that the story came together "to reveal a Da Vinci Code-esque tale of intrigue that’s more believably plotted and better meets its ambitions than Dan Brown’s ubiquitous book." ’Nuff said.
Rose lives in Connecticut with the composer Doug Scofield and "a very spoiled" dog named Winka. The author is currently at work on the next book in the Reincarnationist series, The Memoirist.
Linda L. Richards: I really enjoyed The Reincarnationist. It’s just as sharp and stylish as I expected, yet at the same time, it’s a departure for you. Tell our readers a bit about the book.
M.J. Rose: It’s set in the present in New York and Rome and in the fourth century in Rome and New York City in the 1800s.
Josh Ryder is a photojournalist who starts having flashbacks that simply can’t be explained any other way except as possible reincarnation memories. But he’s a skeptic -- very much like I imagine many readers will be. To understand what’s happening to him he goes to New York to study with Dr. Malachai Samuels -- a scientist and reincarnationist who works with children helping them deal with past life memories.
You are an incredibly busy person. I know you have been pivotal in both launching and driving ITW. You helm several very active blogs. You write these incredible books with amazing regularity. I’ve told you this before, but, I get tired just thinking about all the stuff you do. How do you squeeze it all in? Is there a secret and, if so, what’s yours?
I think the secrets are: I don’t have kids and I don’t sleep more than six hours at a stretch. The biggest secret is that very little of what I do feels like work. I love coming up with ideas and I do it if I need to or not. I must admit the last year I’ve been doing too much and I’m going to be cutting back on some of the extra things I do this fall.
What do you do with the spare time that you have? That is, I guess, what does this hard working, hard marketing novelist do in her (ahem) spare time. (Other than, you know, starting marketing companies and helping to launch international organizations.)
At heart I wanted to be a painter and I am addicted to going to museums and art galleries and doing horrible watercolors and drawings. When I have the time I take a class -- some kind of art class. Also I’m a movie junkie and haven’t given that up. But I never seem to see anything until its on DVD. And in the last two years I’ve missed too many movies. I also love traveling and don’t do enough of that either. And reading. I read about 50 novels a year. Plus any research I’m doing for my own books but that’s not leftover time.
Yeah, I dunno about that. I get the feeling -- have always had the feeling -- that you thrive on this pace; on this level of connection. And it’s a fabulous life. It certainly looks like it from where I’m standing. But just to change tracks slightly, at what point did you realize you wanted to be a novelist?
Writing obviously won. At what point did you know that? Or does the tussle continue?
Whoa, I can’t even tell you how much I relate to that, MJ. I love to paint, as well. I have all the stuff and I know what to do with it. And occasionally I indulge myself: in watercolors, in acrylic. I know what I’m doing. And I know I’m not good. It doesn’t stop me, really, though you won’t ever see my work in public. (Even in public areas of my home!) But I think, right here, you’ve articulated it so much better than I ever have: that feeling of frustration that I can’t paint the things I see in my heart. That elegant articulation makes me think that those feelings are fulfilled by your writing. Would you say that? Or is it a different matter altogether?
For me they’re different. Both in the creating and the absorbing. The intellectual versus physical. Philosophical versus cerebral. Paintings, like music, move you without logic. Books require thinking, logic.
I love the movement of painting, the romance of the artist’s life. I like museums better than bookstores, art supply stores more than computer stores. I can stare at colors for hours, mix blues and greens into each other for no other reason than seeing them bleed together like the ocean. I love the smell of paint, the sting of the turpentine in your nose, the overwhelming scent of the linseed oil, the feel of brushes, buying new brushes and running one down your cheek and feeling that smooth silky touch of the sable. I love touching thick rich watercolor paper with its tiny indentations where the color pools. And I lust after the idea that when you paint you can create something in an hour or an afternoon and look at all of it at once. See the whole. Take in all of it all at the same time.
Your first book, Lip Service, was self-published. It was an amazing job. It was beautiful, well-edited, really professional from cover to cover. A lot of people are interested in self-publishing. Is the path you took one that you’d recommend?
In what way?
So much comes up for me around that answer, M.J. For one thing, did your mother have any idea about your spiritual history? That is, she believed you were reincarnated. Did she know who or where you’d been?
You’ve been afraid to write about reincarnation? And the woo woo weirdo stuff is fun. Are you saying you feared people would think you’d gone a little too Shirley MacLaine?
Well, OK: I’ll give you that. It’s not focused on sex. Yet there are sensuous elements, certainly. That tends to be true of your writing in general, I think. There is always a sensuous quality. And sex tends to be a subtext, even when it’s not right there in front of you. I’ve read a lot of your work and enjoyed it immensely. And I get the feeling that sex has a more important place in the lives of humans than some people would credit. Do you feel that’s true?
And that’s something else I’ve been wanting to ask you about. Something that has come up for me just about every time I’ve read a book by MJ Rose. You speak the language of psychology. No wait. That’s not quite right. Or maybe, it’s not enough. Let me try again. You seem to have a deeper than usual understanding of human emotion, human reaction and interaction. This reverberates through your writing. Would you say that’s so? And, even if you wouldn’t, do you know why that’s something I’d observe?
That seeking to understand what motivates us, what makes us do what we do is what interests me. I spent a long time wanting to be a therapist and have studied psychology for years. It’s curious to me is that even reincarnation is in a way the same search -- who we were and how it impacts who we are.
Why this book? Why now?
Tell us about the research. Was there a lot of it? And were you forced to go to Italy? (Poor you!)
Sure. I’m down with that. Let me know when and where and I’ll show up, past lives at the ready. As it were. What does it look like?
We’re doing a series of interviews at the blog, for writers and readers and everyone in-between. In fact, if your readers are interested in this topic, they can e-mail me in order to share interesting views or beliefs about reincarnation or even if they’d just like to talk about it.
My sense is that your Butterfield Institute series has been gaining readership with each outing. How do you feel your loyal fans will react to The Reincarnationist?
Are more Butterfield Institute novels planned?
Yes, but not for the next two years at least. The Reincarnationist is the first in a series of at least three novels and I’m committed to them right now.
Your first novel was published almost a decade ago. How do you feel your industry has changed in that time?
The worst part of the answer is that, in many ways, the industry is in worse shape than it was a decade ago and we all thought it was a mess then.
There are so many books published a year -- good news on the face of it -- but so few get the real honest to god marketing push needed to get them in front of readers. More books crash and burn than get noticed. I really write a lot about this on ongoing basis at Buzz, Balls & Hype, my marketing blog.
And forgive me. I know this is a loaded question with potential for acrimony and misunderstanding... but... what’s a thriller? Define it for me, please.
Joe Finder, thriller writer extraordinaire, came up with this. Or at least I’ve read it attributed to him and I can’t do better:
A mystery is a who dunnit. A thriller is a how dunnit.
That’s a good nutshell, MJ. I’ll have to remember that one.
Let’s talk about hand yelling. I know it’s a phrase you’ve coined. Please tell us about it and tell us which books have been getting the hand yell most recently.
Hah. It was a typo at first. But, like all typos and Freudian slips, in retrospect maybe it wasn’t such an accident.
I fell in love with a book called Prayers for the Assassin by Robert Ferrigno. Winter 2006. And I started telling everyone I could about it. And blogging about it. And buying the book for everyone. And I wrote to Robert and told him and I said: "I’m hand yelling your book," instead of "hand selling your book." I realized it was much better. Hand selling is tame for the kind of shout out I like to give a book when I really love it.
Where were you born?
New York City. Doctor’s Hospital. Which is now a high rise condo -- and across the street from where I grew up which is across the street from the Mayor’s house. I always thought that was such an odd name for a hospital. Like there is a hospital that’s not a doctor’s hospital?
Does everyone ask you this? If so, I guess I’ll just have to stand in that line: what does the “MJ” stand for? Or is that something you talk about?
My first name is Melisse which I love but all my life everyone has mispronounced it. Melisse rhymes with police but people say Mel-ice or Malice. I even used to get e-mails back saying: Dear Melissa -- how funny you misspelled your own first name in your note to me.
Then when I was getting ready to self publish my book [Lip Service] and put it on the Internet, I realized I needed to either get an unlisted phone number or use a pseudonym because the book has a lot to do with phone sex and it was going to be asking for trouble to have my name on the cover and my phone number easy to find.
In addition my background is in advertising and I know about stuff like name recognition and branding and it seemed that having a first name that no one had ever heard of before wasn’t great marketing. All these things combined to convince me to come up with a new name.
My mom had just died and her name began with a “J” and she was the only one who always believed I’d get published one day so I took the “M” from my name and the “J” from her name and came up with something much simpler and easier to remember. There’s always been something wonderful about knowing that, in a way, my mom would be part of the book even though she wasn’t here to see it.
When anyone knows anything about you at all, they hear something about Winka. Her little face pops up on Buzz, Balls & Hype and I’ve seen her name here and there over the years. So tell us about Winka. All the vital stats, please.
Winka is a Maltese, eight years old, eight pound female. She’s my second dog of the same breed. We lost our first Maltese and were lucky enough to find Winka a week later from a breeder who was going to keep her and show her except when he walked her she hopped too much. When our first died, I thought a week was too soon to get another. I was really in a deep depression. But Doug really wanted to start looking. I asked the vet if it was too soon and he said: Go meet the dog. If she makes you think of your dear departed dog, its too soon. But if she makes you happy, you’ll know in an instant it’s the right thing to do.
What are you working on now?
Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine. Her fourth novel, Death was the Other Woman, will be published early in 2008 by St. Martin’s Minotaur.
You can visit M.J. Rose on the Web.