The Reincarnationist by M.J. Rose


 The Reincarnationist by M.J. Rose

The Reincarnationist

by M.J. Rose

Published by MIRA Books

464 pages, 2007

Buy it online








The Reincarnationist by M.J. Rose

“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.”






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.

In the process Josh gets caught up in the search for ancient memory tools that may or may not physically enable people to reach back and discover who they were and who they are.

The book is a treasure hunt, a love story, and an adventure.

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.

Yikes, your question is making me tired!

Sorry! But onward we press. What does your day look like?

I get up around 6:30 and spend the first two hours with green tea and the Internet. Then I’m supposed to go swimming at the gym. This happens less than I’d like because sometimes I get too caught up in the Internet. If it does happen I’m home before noon. Then its one to two hours for busy work, phone calls, ITW, and lunch.

At one p.m. or thereabouts I sit down to write. And other than a dog walk to break up the time, its writing until six or so.

Then the phone with friends. Then dinner. Then more days than I’m happy to admit, lately, from 8:30 until after midnight its more work. Either or the blog, or teaching or working on a novel.

You might think this is an interview, Linda but I think its turning into proof of how boring I am and a wake up call that I have to get a life!

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?

It seems I’ve answered this question different ways at different times which makes me think I don’t really know. I kept writing and then doing art and then writing and then doing advertising and then writing. I wanted to write always but I wanted to do other things too.

Writing obviously won. At what point did you know that? Or does the tussle continue?

Writing won when I went to college -- majored in art -- and found out what a truly bad artist I was. And yet, I’m forever going back to painting, thinking one day I’ll get better. That day has not yet come. And for some, just doing it would be worth it, but for me what I see in my mind is so far from what I can create with my hands that its more of a frustration than a joy.

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?

No. Not for fiction, no.

It was a different time in 1998. There weren’t many self published books at the time, and now there are over 100,000 a year. Plus I didn’t do it as a career move. I never intended to stay self-published. It was an experiment.

I did it because my agent had real interest in the novel but everyone kept telling her 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.

That’s a very different reason to do what I did than so many people now who do it now.

In what way?

So many self published authors tell me they’ve self published after being rejected by one or two agents and/or one or two publishers who have criticized the quality of their work. Said it wasn’t well written, or original or needed more work. Those are the last writers who should be self publishing. When I ask them how they know their books are ready to be published, they say because their friends love their work, or their family.

I think no one who can’t get a quality agent should publish on their own. Agents are always looking for new authors and I believe if the book can’t interest an agent, the author would be better served working on his or her craft for a while longer. I had written three horrible novels before I got an agent with a fourth novel. And then Lip Service was my fifth.

My advice hasn’t changed for the last eight years. Self-publishing fiction is a last step. It’s only an option when you’ve tried the traditional route and rewritten the book a dozen times.

I say this because even wonderful writers published with top houses can’t break out. So much is published now and book marketing is so difficult. How much hope is there really for an average or less than quality book that's got no support behind it? Stores don’t want to give the self published books a chance, most reviewers don't want to to either. It’s not an uphill climb anymore: it’s a Mt. Everest climb times 100,000.

Speaking of marketing and publishing with top houses, I really enjoyed your new book, The Reincarnationist. Tell me about the book, please and what’s most important about it to you.

This is the book of my heart. Based on quite a few things I did as a kid, my mother -- who was a very sane logical woman -- came to believe I was reincarnated and it was an idea I grew up with. We both read about it and talked about it and shared it as an interest.

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?

I don’t even know who I was or where I’ve been. I have a few ideas though. I’ve gone to a reincarnationist and explored a few possible lives.

And actually my mother did have an idea of who I might have been once. That’s how all this started. When I was only three, or so the family story goes, I told my great-grandfather things about his childhood in Russia that there was no way I could know, or that anyone in the family knew. He was convinced I had been reincarnated. He was also a Jewish scholar, and reincarnation is very much part of the Kabala. So it was a natural connection for him to make and explain to my mother.

I’ve been afraid to write about it for years, though I did write a screenplay in the early 1990s about it. But as a novelist I kept it hidden. Afraid if I did write it about it the way I wanted to people would think I was a "woo woo weirdo."

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?

I don’t know. I’ve written psychological suspense -- erotic psychological suspense at that -- and have gotten a lot of respect for the fearlessness with which I approach my subject matter. I just didn’t want people to start treating me like a nut job.

While it’s not woo woo -- or even weird, for that matter -- The Reincarnationist is certainly different than anything you’ve done. Do you feel that way?

Yes. It is different. It’s much bigger story than I ever tried to tell. So big in fact I was very scared to tackle it. My editor, Margaret Marbury, really pushed me to write this book with this scope. I never would have had the guts to try it without her. Oh, its also different because it has so little to do with sex.

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?

I’ve studied psychology my whole life and I know that you can’t understand a person -- no less create one on paper if you don’t explore who that person is in every way -- and sexuality is part of who we are. A very important part -- even if someone is a-sexual - that’s still a revelation in terms of personality. If you try to ignore one part of someone’s psychology you do them a disservice. Even a fictional someone.

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?

Well it’s not now, not really. I started the book about nine years ago, after my mother died. But then there were other books demanding to be written and this one stayed on a back burner. Meanwhile I kept doing research for it knowing one day I’d get to it.

It seems to me that the theme involving the meshing of these modern and ancient lifetimes is central in The Reincarnationist. Do you feel that lifetime connections of this type are possible?

Absofuckinglutely. And I have no doubt I have had them and that I have them now. There is a logic to reincarnation. It makes sense out of things that otherwise seem too fantastic and arbitrary to me.

Which character in The Reincarnationist did you find yourself identifying with most strongly.

You know, I don’t do that with my novels. I write to entertain myself and don’t want me to be in there.

Tell us about the research. Was there a lot of it? And were you forced to go to Italy? (Poor you!)

I’ve read over 55 books on reincarnation and related subjects. I’ve been to a reincarnationist six times over a period of six months. And, yes, I did go to Rome and you’re right: Poor me! I’m still doing research though. Partly for the next book and partly because I’m entrenched in the subject.

I know you’ve started a blog for The Reincarnationist. It doesn’t deal with the book, per se, but with the topic in general. Has the forum provided any surprises so far?

Yes, I keep discovering more about the subject that I didn’t know.

What are you hoping happens with The Reincarnationist blog? That is, what would be the perfect result?

I want to keep it growing and growing. I was just really lucky and got to interview 20 authors about their reincarnation views for the blog and for Powell’s blog which will run this September. Deepak Chopra, Doug Preston, AJ Jacobs and lots more. How about you, Linda?

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?

Well, I’m the same writer even though it’s a different book, so I’m hoping they’ll be happy. (Unless they were reading the Butterfield books for the sex scenes? There are only two tiny sex scenes in 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.

I know that a movie is in the works. Tell us about that.

I wish I could. If publishing is a strange land, Hollywood is another planet. I’m keeping my fingers and toes crossed. There’s a lot of interest.

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.

One of the things that comes up for me again and again is that, for a creative industry with so many wonderful minds involved, I’m surprised and saddened that we know so little and are so uncreative when it comes to marketing books and selling books and cultivating readers.

The best part of the answer is that there are so many great writers writing and so many wonderful books being written and more willingness now than ten years ago for publishers to cross genres. That’s very heartening.

You do a lot of work with aspiring authors. What do you think is the most important thing a would-be author should know?

Write because you love to write, because you have to write, because you are burning to write and want to get better and want to learn and have passion for books. Only half of one per cent of all writers make it on the first book. Don’t go into this if you are looking for a quick hit.

That’s lots, M.J. But I have your attention here and I feel the need to take advantage of it. And people will want to know... What’s the second most important thing?

Put as much of your advance into marketing your book as you can, even if it means keeping your day job. Your first novel sets the stage for your career.

You’ve been one of the driving forces behind ITW since its inception in 2004. What’s been the most satisfying aspect of your involvement with that organization?

We’re the first organization for writers making a real and concerted effort to get our authors books in front of readers and to focus on building recognition for books. We’re not all inward directed; we’re very outward bound.

What’s your highest hope, your biggest dream for ITW?

I think it’s amazing that, after only a single year of letting people know about it, the ITW newsletter -- The Big Thrill,  a newsletter for readers and fans of the genre and the first of its kind -- thas 10,000 subscribers. But I want to see it reach 100,000.

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.

There are quite a few I’ve yelled recently. Dominic Smith’s Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre is one of the biggest hand yells I’ve given. And Grammercy Park by Paula Cohn. What great books.

Which authors do you feel have most influenced your work?

John O’Hara for dialog. Ayn Rand for theme and scope and for her ideas on creativity/individuality. Daphne DuMaurier for flawless psychological suspense. John Gardner for teaching me about writing via his books.

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?

Where do you live?

Connecticut but I still say I’m from NYC because I’m still only thirty five minutes away.

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.

Doug knew in an instant. I knew in two. It was love at first sight. Or as a reincarnationist would say, we were destined to all find each other again.

Your partner, Doug, is a musician, isn’t he?

That’s right. Doug Scofield. He’s a very brilliant singer/songwriter. His album -- Mortals Point of View will be released in the fall. Surprisingly or not, the album and my book have a number of things in common. The album features superstar drummer Liberty DeVitto. And there’s a song on the album and on my Web site that Doug wrote just for my book.

What are you working on now?

The next book in The Reincarnationist series. The Memoirist. | September 2007


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.