By J. N. Duncan
I’d like to welcome Don Stansberry to the ITW list of authors with his debut thriller, SECRET BLOOD, a supremely intriguing story about the cloning of Christ and the unfortunate priest caught up in the conspiracy, danger, and intrigue when technology goes beyond the imaginable. Don is the author of two YA novels as well as an award-nominated children’s book. A native West Virginian, Jon has worked in the public school system for three decades. Welcome, Don! Let’s get to the good stuff.
First off, why don’t you give us the Twitter summary, a one sentence blurb of your story, SECRET BLOOD.
Jesus has been cloned and you are the only living person who knows.
For me, religion always provides very intriguing elements for plots. What inspired you to come up with the fascinating idea of cloning Christ?
I’ve always thought it would be interesting to put historic figures in modern life. Would Ben Franklin be a great statesman in today’s culture? Would Hitler have been able to grab the power he did? So Jesus was a logical choice, the cloning was a means to an end. His presence also allowed for some powerful images. At one point in the story he asks to receive Communion. That’s irony on a whole new level.
Many thrillers involve a main character involved with law enforcement in some way, especially when you have big plots involving government level conspiracies, but your hero is an average priest drawn into something way over his head. Tell us a bit about your hero and why you chose to go with the “average” guy.
I wanted a character that kind of bumbled his way through as if he would never be able to carry this burden without divine intervention. He was not doing well in his role as leader in the church and was losing faith in himself when this information falls into his lap. As a priest he faces a huge moral decision; turn the information over to the police, the church, or bury it. Someone in law enforcement would have a chain of command to follow. He had to rely on his faith and TV shows like MANNIX.
This is your debut thriller novel, but you have published three books for younger audiences. What prompted the switch?
I don’t want to come off as over dramatic or a nut but odd things happened to me when I would think about the book. I jog after dark and streetlights would go out as I passed under them. Lights on buildings shut off. No one in my family believed me at first. I thought that someone was telling me to run with the idea. It hasn’t happened since I finished it.
What authors provide you with writing inspiration? Is there one in particular that always makes you say, “I want to be that good”?
Robert B Parker. He could say so much by stating the mundane. The characters are so colorful, humorous, and likeable. I miss them all.
I always find the process of publishing fascinating, frustrating, and rewarding. How has the process with this book been for you? Is it different than writing in the young adult market?
I pitched the idea to my publisher, Headline Books, and she was very interested with the premise. A couple of years later I gave her the rough draft, she had some of her people read it and everybody was very positive. The process was very different from my first book when I called continually and bugged everyone to death.
There is a difference, for me at least, in the YA market. I think the successful books there have to be trendy and very focused on current coolness.
We all have favorite parts of the stories we write. What was your favorite part of SECRET BLOOD? Do you have a favorite quote or line from the story?
There are several parts that extend the story and are humorous. One is where Emmanuel( the Jesus clone) visits a fraudulent evangelical minister and turns his fake Noah’s Ark animals into live creatures. Another part is where an autistic boy is interviewed by Matt Lauer.
My favorite line also comes from the autistic boy where several characters are talking about the end of the story. Someone says ”I didn’t think it would end like this.” The boy says ,”It ended better than last time.”
Writing good villains is an art as much as creating a great protagonist in a thriller. Your blurb doesn’t speak much of the villains in your story. How about giving us a little hint of what your hero is up against?
Once the Father gives the information to the President’s Chief of Staff the politics begin. No one wants the county to know that the cloning was done by a government agency. Then in the face of an escalating global crisis the priest wants the presence of Jesus to be known. The President and his various committees are more than reluctant to hand the reins of power over to the clone.
If SECRET BLOOD was made into a movie, who would you cast in the main character’s roles?
Emmanuel (the Jesus clone) – Jonny Depp
Father Kinnsey – Ed Norton
Simon – A young Chris Tucker
Shine – Tyrese Grbson
The Presidents Chief of staff – John Turturro
Cleo – Morgan Freeman
Thrillers cover such a broad swath of the reading landscape. What do you feel SECRET BLOOD brings to the table that readers may not have found elsewhere?
Like you stated earlier religion brings an added set of emotions to the table. I hope it is a good solid thriller with the religious aspect added. Wouldn’t it be a blast to hang out with these guys?
As writers, we are always learning more about writing and publishing with each book. If you were to give any bits of advice to those still struggling to achieve their dreams, what would you like to tell them?
Take the things that you enjoy and decide what it is about them that you like. Break that down. I think Harry Potter was huge because J.K. Rowling made us want to be at Hogwarts. I was in my 40’s and I wanted to go to school there. It was the same with Pirates. I wanted to be on the Pearl with Jack Sparrow. Decide what it is that you love, and hopefully the story will come with it.
If your book were to be shelved with similar titles, who would you like to see your book sitting with?
What would you like to say to readers who may be pondering picking up your book right now?
I have had people read the book jacket and then nearly drop the book as if it were going to burn their hands. If you feel this way the book is probably not for you. On the other hand most people have gotten a quizzical smile that grows the more they read. If the concept intrigues you, I think you will enjoy the ride.
Thank you, Don, for taking the time to answer my questions. Being a fan of plots with big scope, I’m intrigued and will be checking out your book. Best of luck to you!
Don is a native West Virginian and has spent thirty years in the public school system. He is the author of two YA books, INKY AND THE MISSING GOLD and INKY, OGLEBEE AND THE WITCHES, and a picture book CRUSTY, was named a finalist in the USA Best Book Awards.
To learn more about Don, please visit his website.