Interview: September 7, 2007
September 7, 2007
In this interview with Bookreporter.com's Joe Hartlaub, Rose describes the personal experiences that prompted her to write her newest book, THE REINCARNATIONIST, and explains her inspiration behind some of the fictional elements present in the novel. She also discusses the idea of reincarnation and its effect on both the individual and on traditional organized religion, shares her thoughts on the difficulties most authors --- and readers --- face as a result of marketing, and reveals how audiobooks have helped her rediscover her love for reading.
Bookreporter.com: As one might glean from the title, your new novel THE REINCARNATIONIST concerns reincarnation and the rediscovery of the Memory Stones, which are reputed to be of aid to an individual in rediscovering their past lives. A number of the primary and secondary characters in the book also experience flashbacks of past lives, which both help and hinder them in the quest to recover the stones. When did you become interested in reincarnation? Did your own experiences, if any, with past-life recall inform your work on THE REINCARNATIONIST?
M.J. Rose: When I was three years old, I told my great grandfather things about his childhood in Russia that there was simply no way I could have known. He became convinced I was a reincarnation of someone in his past. Over time, after more incidents, my mother --- a very sane and logical woman --- also came to believe it.
So, reincarnation was an idea I grew up with, that my mom and I talked about and researched together.
At some point, the idea to write a novel about the subject was just there, the way ideas seem to suddenly appear. And then for years, I flirted with the idea of writing a novel about someone like my mother, who started out skeptical but came to believe in reincarnation. But I kept putting it off, afraid that if I did people would think I was a “woo woo weirdo.”
A few years ago, on the exact anniversary of my mom’s death, my niece said some very provocative things to me about my mother --- things she really couldn’t have known. That's when the pestering idea to write this novel became an obsession.
BRC: THE REINCARNATIONIST is a very different book for you. It combines divergent elements --- mystery, suspense, erotica and the supernatural --- utilized in your other novels, but ultimately it is in a class all by itself. How far along were you in writing the book before you realized that it was quite different from your others?
MJR: I knew right away because at least a third of the book takes place in the past, in Rome in 391 AD and in New York City, 1884. I’d never done historical research before, so from the start, this book required different skills I had to learn and work with. It’s been an amazing journey.
BRC: The Phoenix Foundation --- a research facility documenting childhood cases of past-life experiences --- plays a prominent role in THE REINCARNATIONIST. Does a real-world “Phoenix Foundation” with the same or a similar mission exist, under that name or another? If so, are you a member? And did the Foundation assist you with your research while you were writing the book?
MJR: There’s nothing I’ve come across that’s exactly like the Phoenix Foundation. But I was inspired by Dr. Ian Stevenson, who founded The Division of Perceptual Studies as a research unit of the Department of Psychiatric Medicine in 1967, and went on to do past-life regressions with over 3,000 children in his lifetime. Sadly, I never got to meet him but have read papers he’s written and a lot that’s been written about him. I’ve read 60 books about reincarnation in preparation for this novel, and have about 1,500 pages of research. In the back of THE REINCARNATIONIST, there’s a bibliography for people who want to read more on the subject.
BRC: The concept of “memory tools” and specifically “memory stones” is extremely intriguing. Do you believe that such instruments exist? Assuming they do, what effect do you believe it would have on science and on religion?
MJR: The concept of “memory tools” and “memory stones” are my invention, but they’re based on how the process of past-life regression works.
The way to reach back and discover your past lives is through deep mediation or hypnosis. So, it seemed to me that an object that would help you go into a deep meditative state would have what might seem like “magical” regressive properties to ancient cultures and would be revered. If they were found today, they would be incredibly valuable both as ancient artifact as well as instruments to help us prove reincarnation.
I think we have proved reincarnation, over and over. When you do the research and read the studies, there are so many objective stories about people --- especially children --- who know things about distant past lives that we can validate. In India and China and other countries where reincarnation is part of the basic belief system, there is no doubt about it. Also, if you read books like Deepak Chopra’s LIFE AFTER DEATH, he makes some brilliant correlations between psychics and reincarnation.
The big effect, though, has to do with how much power reincarnation gives to each man and each woman and how much is taken away from the traditional church. If reincarnation is real, then it's not up to anyone else to absolve you, forgive you, or tell you that you're going to heaven or hell.
The idea of reincarnation is that it's up to you to live your best life, do the right thing, honor your karma. The power comes back to us.
BRC: Archaeology plays a key role in THE REINCARNATIONIST. Your description of the archaeological dig that resulted in the discovery of the memory stones had an air of authenticity to it. Do you have a background in archaeology? Did you participate, even peripherally, in a dig while preparing for your work on THE REINCARNATIONIST?
MJR: I wish, but I did not. I always wanted to be an archaeologist --- along with wanting to be a painter and a writer when I was a kid --- so I’ve been reading about the subject, watching documentaries and visiting archaeological sites whenever I could.
BRC: One of my favorite vignettes in THE REINCARNATIONIST took place in the crypt at the church of Santa Maria della Concezione. It was a relatively short scene, but breathtaking in its description. Did you visit Rome, and the church, in the course of writing THE REINCARNATIONIST? Or did perhaps a visit to Rome provide the inspiration, at least in part, for writing the book?
MJR: I’ve been to Rome several times and have been fascinated by that church ever since I first saw it. I think I’ve been back three or four times. I knew one day I’d use it in a book, just never knew which book, until I started THE REINCARNATIONIST.
BRC: What are you working on now?
MJR: The next book in the series, THE MEMORIST, which involves the discovery of another memory tool.
BRC: Earlier we had commented indirectly about the variety of your fiction. Are there genres you would like to write in that you haven’t as yet?
MJR: When I was growing up, there were either good books or not such good books --- I didn’t know about genres. And honestly, that’s all I’ve ever tried to do: write good books. I think one of the problems right now for readers is how segmented books are and how many terrific books aren’t exposed to the full spectrum of readers because of the marketing that’s being done. For instance, what’s REBECCA by Daphne Du Maurier? Suspense? Romantic suspense? Mystery? General fiction? It gives me a headache, and I’m in the biz. I can’t imagine how crazy it must be for the readers who don’t realize how manipulated the system is.
But to specifically answer your question, there are stories I still want to write that I haven’t written, but genre isn’t something on my mind.
BRC: What do you like to read for pleasure? We also have heard that you are listening to a number of audiobooks. What can you share with readers about that experience?
MJR: I try to read widely. As you might guess from my answer to the genre question, it's not a question of genre as much as it is of quality. I do love psychological suspense --- DuMaurier, Ruth Rendell and Robert Goddard, to name a few. I also gravitate to fiction with intelligent, curious characters and stories that involve the arts/architecture/archaeology/history.
I was a reader way before I was a writer, and I used to read three or four books a week. When I started writing, I found that it affected my reading. I was reading as a writer too often, unable to just delight in the book the way I used to. I was missing what I loved so much. But then I discovered audiobooks. For the last 10 years, I’ve listened to about 50 books a year, and I’m a huge fan of the format. First, I can listen in places I could never read: walking the dog, on the elliptical machine, driving. And I can listen without being a writer. Somehow, because this involves listening, there’s a welcome disconnect for me between what I’m listening to and my own work.
BRC: You are involved in a number of projects that assist other authors in the publishing and marketing of their novels. How do you balance writing with these endeavors? How do you divide your work schedule on a typical day?
MJR: I have a company called AuthorBuzz.com, the first marketing service for authors. We also now work with a lot of publishers, too. I literally split my day --- I write for four or five hours, then work on the marketing for another four or five hours. I’ve tried to just write fiction, but I find that even if I have nothing else going on, I can’t work on a book more than five hours a day.
BRC: Lastly, Josh Ryder in THE REINCARNATIONIST performs a small magic trick involving a matchbook and a quarter. Is it a real trick? Do you know how to perform it, or are you limited to admiring it?
MJR: Both Josh and Malachai Samuels perform that trick, and no, I don’t know how to do it. When I was a kid, someone did it to me and I was obsessed with it for years. I hope that readers will find a lot of magic in the book: that it will make them wonder, and ultimately entertain them.