Thursday, June 13, 2013

Interview with Jon Steele, author of The Watcher and Angel City - June 13, 2013

Please welcome Jon Steele to The Qwillery. Angel City, the second novel in Jon's Angelus Trilogy was published on June 4th. It's an engrossing page burner with a very shocking ending (as mentioned in the book description).

TQ:  Welcome to The Qwillery.

Jon:  Thanks very much, I’m rather stunned to be answering your questions.  You sure it’s me you want to talk to?

TQ:  When and why did you start writing? How has you career as a journalist influenced your writing?

Jon:  I started when was a kid.  But the writing was in my head then, not on paper.  My best days were those when I was on my own, in my bedroom or outside, taking part in the exciting adventures I’d make up as I went along.  I played all the characters and provided the narrative as well.  Needless to say, my parents were concerned.

I never studied writing,  I barely got through High School.  It was working as a television news cameraman (ITN London, 1982-2003), travelling the world to film and edit stories, that I learned to write.  In international news, before the communications revolution made everyone with an iPhone a news cameraman, the only way to cover a story was to go there yourself.  I’d be dropped into a faraway place and under pressure to get a story back to London HQ.  I had to look for two things PDQ: an opening shot and a closing shot.  Those shots defined and shaped the story, then I went about filling in the middle bit with the most visual images I could find; images that would fill the viewer with a sense of ‘being there.’  I used that same ‘method’ in writing War Junkie, a non-fiction account of one year in the life of a frontline cameraman, published in 2001.  When I started writing fiction, I used the same method again because it’s the only method I knew.

TQ:  What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Jon:  Getting started, knowing there are scenes in my stories that will be drawn from the darker corners of my psyche.  I carry a lot of baggage from my days as a news cameraman.  Thousands of innocent men, women and children suffered and died in my camera lens.  They are ever present ghosts sitting on my shoulder as I write.  Writing The Angelus Trilogy requires that I spend long hours alone with those ghosts.

TQAngel City is the second novel in The Angelus Trilogy, after The Watchers. What sorts of research have you done for the novels?

Jon:  Much of The Watchers takes place in Lausanne Cathedral.  A nine hundred year old runt of a cathedral where each night the last ‘watcher’ in the world (le guet in French) calls the hour from the heights of the belfry at the ringing of the bells.  Once upon a time all cathedrals had such a fellow in the belfry to call the hour and watch for danger through the night, but Lausanne is the only place where the tradition continues.  It is an amazing sight to behold.  A man in black floppy hat and black cape, rounding the belfry balconies, holding his lantern into the dark and calling as the bells fade, ‘C’est le guet! Il a sonne l’heure! Il a sonne l’heure!’ (This is the Watcher! The hour has rung! The hour has rung!).  The first time I saw it, I knew I wanted to write The Angelus Trilogy.  So I took up daily residence in the cathedral for the next three months, letting the cathedral grow on my till it became a living, breathing presence.  Many evenings I spent up in the belfry, in the little room between the bells where the watcher sleeps.  We’d drink wine and I’d listen to him talk about the cathedral.  Some nights, after enough wine, I was allowed to put on the black hat and light the lantern, then I’d round the tower and call the hour over Lausanne, myself.  That was about the most fun I’ve ever had.

For a crucial scene in Angel City, I needed to explore the network of tunnels and quarries that run for hundreds of kilometers, twenty to thirty meters below the streets of Paris.  They’re called les carrières. There is a two kilometer section known as The Catacombs open to tourists; very neat, very well lit, very safe.  But I needed to get to the forbidden tunnels; forbidden because they’re dark and dangerous.  The only way to get down there was to hook up with a cataphile, one of the mad, rare breed of Parisians who spend their weekends deep underground.  It was actually someone in the French Government who put me in contact with the best cataphile in Paris.  My government contact (who knew I was writing a novel) said, ‘If you are crazy enough to go down there to write, then we don’t wish to read that you have been forever lost.’  I made four, fifteen hour expeditions through les carrières.  It was about the most horrifyingly claustrophobic experience of my life.

TQ:  Which character in Angel City and The Watchers has surprised you the most?

Jon:  Given my method of not writing the first sentence till I know the last sentence, my characters are consigned to a fate from which there is no way of escape.   But along the way I let the characters do as they want, say what they want.  And as my stories are dialogue driven, the words that sometimes erupt from the characters’ mouths, knock me for a loop.  So, in fact, they all surprise me.   And the most surprising thing is their sense of humor in the bleakest of situations.  Having been in a few live-fire events where I didn’t know I’d get out alive, I find my characters now repeating long ago words I muttered to myself, or words a colleague muttered to me.

TQ:   So far in the Trilogy, who has been the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Jon:  The easiest character to write, so far, was Marc Rochat, le guet de Lausanne in The Watchers.  On many levels, he was me as a boy.  Growing up, I was considered somewhat slow, talented when it came to acting the fool, and prone to episodes of drifting off into trances and mumbling to himself by the good nuns and priests of St Gerard’s School in Great Falls, Montana.  Today, I’d be diagnosed as a child with ADHD and dyslexia…which is, still, a word I cannot write without looking up and rechecking it two or three times.  In The Watchers, Rochat is brain injured at birth, physically awkward.  He’s a gentle soul, trapped by fate, forced to live in a world of wild imaginations to survive.  Rochat felt very familiar to me, that made him easy to write.

The most difficult character(s) to write?  All the characters Marc Rochat, Katherine Taylor and Jay Harper cross paths with.  Those mysterious, minor players who seem to appear from nowhere and are the guardians of the story, always herding the principals along the trail of a predestined fate.

TQ:  Tell us something about Angel City that is not in the book description

Jon:  I admire Sam Shepard’s play of the same name.  I love his alternate world within the world motif, where dreams become reality and reality becomes dreams.  I adore the dialogue.  I titled Angel City as an acolyte’s nod to Master Shepard.  Gee, I hope he reads this.

TQ:  Without giving anything away, what is/are your favorite scene(s) in Angel City?

Jon:  Wow, tough question. I’m not sure I could name one particular scene.  It’s like asking me which of my cats were my favorite.  And I don’t know if I’m capable of talking about particular scenes without spilling the beans.  I suppose I can talk about the scenes in the tunnels (les carrières) beneath Paris, and why I like them so much.  As I said earlier, the tunnels are horribly claustrophobic.  Some of the tunnels I crawled through were less than a meter high and/or wide.  Some of those passages were where the tunnel had collapsed and could collapse again.  There was no way to back up once in those places.  Get stuck, you’re stuck for good.  And there are no lights down there without the flashlight strapped to your own head.  Even with that, you can only see a few meters on.  And when the lights go out, it isn't just dark, it’s the complete absence of light.  Once, my cataphile guide turned out both our flashlights so I could experience the depth of the darkness.  The sensation was what I imagine death to be in my worst nightmares, and I was bloody terrified.  Two chapters of Angel City are set in the tunnels. I think the words do a good job of dragging the reader down there to experience the same sensation.

TQ:  What's next?

Jon:  Next comes The Way Of Sorrows, book three of The Angelus Trilogy.  I can’t say much about it, other than it picks up where Angel City stops. I can also tell you the title is the translation of Via Dolorosa, the way Jesus walked to his crucifixion, and that I lived in Jerusalem for five years and have just returned from there on a recon trip.  That’s it.

TQ:   Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Jon:  Thank you.  I’m a big fan.

About The Angelus Trilogy

Angel City
The Angelus Trilogy 2
Blue Rider Press, June 4, 2013
Hardcover and eBook, 528 pages

It's been almost three years since we left Detective Jay Harper and high-priced escort Katherine Taylor on the esplanade of Lausanne Cathedral, bruised and battered from a biblical showdown with the Nephilim. Katherine has retreated to small-town life in the woods of Washington State with her son, Max and a close protection detail of heavily-armed, elite members of the Swiss Guard. Harper is living in Paris, haunted by voices in his head and bone-tired after what turns out to be two and a half million years on Earth.

Though Katherine and Harper have been prevented from remembering each other , baby Max has unwittingly stirred the interest of vengeful spirits and only a worldwide (and cosmic) effort to save his life will bring Harper and Katherine together again.

Meanwhile, from the shadows steps a defrocked priest named Astruc, whose face looks as if it has been clawed by some terrible beast and who hides his eyes behind blue lenses. He and his brilliant young ward, Goose, have discovered something unfathomable in the Catacombs under Paris, something that will confirm that the time of the prophecy is at hand. . . .

Electrifying from its explosive first scene to its unexpected and shocking conclusion, Angel City reunites the unforgettable characters from The Watchers to reveal more of the earthly and otherworldy mysteries of the Angelus trilogy.

The Watchers
The Angelus Trilogy 1
Signet, April 2, 2013
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 784 pages
Hardcover, Blue Rider Press, May 29, 2012

Every hour, childlike Marc Rochat circles the Lausanne cathedral as the watchmen have done for centuries. Then one day a beautiful woman draws him out of the shadows—the angel his mother once promised him would come.

But Katherine Taylor is no angel. She’s one of the toughest and most resourceful call girls in Lausanne. Until something unnatural seething beneath a new client’s request sends her fleeing to the sanctuary of an unlikely protector.

Into their refuge comes Jay Harper. The private detective has awakened in Lausanne with no memory of how he got there—and only one thing driving him forward: a series of unsettling murders he feels compelled to solve.

Pray for the three strangers. They have something in common they can’t begin to imagine.  

About Jon

Jon Steele is an award-winning journalist and author of The Watchers.  Born in Spokane, he moved to London to work as a cameraman for Independent Television News. After a twenty-year career there, he wrote the critically acclaimed War Junkie, a memoir about reporting in military zones in seventy-eight countries across six continents. He has also shot, written, and directed a number of major documentaries, including The Baker Boys: Inside the Surge, an inside look at an American combat unit in Iraq. He lives in Switzerland.

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