John Carenen is the author of The Face on the Other Side. He’s a graduate of the prestigious University of Iowa Writers Workshop with an MFA in Fiction Writing. The Face on the Other Side is the third Thomas O’Shea mystery.
How The Face on the Other Side began
“I think sometimes writing suffers creatively when a novel is written to address an issue,” John said. “Of course, there are exceptions, one of the earliest being Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. But if one wants to write a book exposing the awfulness of slavery, it should be part of the story, as in the case of Jim, the slave who runs away with Huck Finn in Twain’s book, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Otherwise, it can sound preachy. So I try to avoid that. I just write about human corruption, sin if you will, that is pervasive in every civilization since the beginning of time. The only issue that I am addressing in this book, number three in the Thomas O’Shea series, The Face on the Other Side, is pure evil in the heart of a scary-evil antagonist. And yet, Thomas has to face some of the evil in his own heart in the process.”
When asked how he came up with the idea for the book, John said he wasn’t sure. “I wanted to create an evil character who was definitely a misogynistic psychopath, but one with redeeming qualities, one who is complex and interesting and not just bad. I wanted someone to threaten Thomas O’Shea and his girlfriend, the lovely and talented Liv Olson. And I wanted to see how Thomas and Liv would deal with the malevolent Andy Crown.”
Everyone’s a critic
Though he receives excellent reviews from readers, John says he suffers from corrosive self-doubt. “I think all writers do, no matter what. Writing is hard, but it also can be deeply satisfying. I find myself looking at my work sometimes and saying, ‘This stinks, or nobody will want to read this.’ Other times I look at my work and think, ‘Damn, that’s good!’ Sounds schizophrenic, right?”
He admitted that when readers find errors in his work, he feels a need to correct them.” A friend of mine from high school wrote me after he read Signs of Struggle, the first in the series, and asked me why this one secondary character had two names. I fixed that. Then a snake expert, college professor, pointed out that, in my second of the series, A Far Gone Night, there was a kind of snake that shows up that doesn’t exist in the country I was writing about. But, heck, the great Hemingway, in The Old Man and the Sea, had a specific constellation showing in the sky one night that the old man saw from his fishing boat off the coast of Cuba. But the problem was that that particular constellation was not visible in that place at that time of the year. And so it goes. Everyone’s a critic.”
Researching for accuracy
Knowing that readers are always on the watch for those types of little details, John likes to do his research so he gets his facts correct. “I did research to understand what happens when an Indian casino comes to town, and how that both benefits and damages the area and the people living there.”
He also wanted to be sure he could accurately describe how his protagonist could defend himself when necessary. I researched some krav maga defense tactics so my protagonist could accurately repel a knife attack. The history behind that particular self-defense approach was very interesting.”
HIs research paid off when one day after church, a man approached him and said, “I’m never gonna mess with you, man.” When he asked what the man was referring to, he said, “Dude, you punch out eyeballs and throw people off bridges!”
“I had to explain to him that it was fiction,” John said. “Of course, it might have been fun to shrug and agree. But I have a sense of humor even though I write about murder and blood and gore and elements of horror. If you can’t have humor and homicide together in a story, then it would be one-dimensional, right? Also, I do have a deep faith in Christ, which my protagonist has as well, even though his faith is challenged in the very first book in the series, when his wife and two teenage daughters are killed by a drunk driver.”
John does admit to “going crazy” during college football season, shouting at the TV when he’s watching the Iowa Hawkeyes. “My wife says, ‘John, they can’t hear you,’ but I’m not so sure. When I tell them to ”Get that guy,’ they usually do.
Learn more about John Carenen at johncarenenwrites.com.