Monday, February 22, 2016

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Shannon DeConinck, Author

Shannon DeConinck, Author
Shannon DeConinck brings us a unique paranormal story, THE IDIOT MESSIAH, described by one reviewer as “LA drug dealers meet Hindu mysticism.” He defines paranormal as perhaps a sixth sense that our normal senses just don’t happen to pick up--events that can't be explained by science or logic. He uses his experiences as a world-wide traveller to drive his plot from Los Angeles to London and South East England, then to Delhi and the Himalayan foothills.

DeConinck did not know what he planned to write when he started his novel—he just let the story "take over." He is currently working on a new unrelated novel titled “Seven More Interesting Ways To Die Than Cancer,” with  a planned release for late 2016.

Don’t miss the excerpt from THE IDIOT MESSIAH at the end of the interview.

Q:  How did you conceive of the concept for THE IDIOT MESSIAH described by one reviewer as “LA drug dealers meet Hindu mysticism” and another as a book that would make “a great Tarantino movie”? Was this a story you have long wanted to tell? Did it come to you in a dream?

Shannon DeConinck: To tell the truth, I didn’t conceive of the concept! I started writing the story with very little idea of where it would lead. I wrote the opening scene, and followed the thread, holding the reins very lightly and letting it build its own momentum.

To me, the true magic of writing fiction happens when the story takes over, and the author is almost a tool for it to be expressed. This may sound strange, but the story becomes a living entity in its own right. The most rewarding moments are when I don’t really know what’s going to happen next, but the words that appear on the page surprise and delight me.  These are the moments of pure fluidity; other times it requires more effort, and this is when some structure is necessary, but I try to keep it as loose and open as possible.

Of course the content of the story, the settings and characters are drawn from my own experience and from subjects that interest me, but I must confess, when I started I had no real idea of where it would take me. In this way writing is much like life!

Q: Why do readers care what happens to your protagonist Carlos? Is he based on you or anyone you know?

Shannon DeConinck: Well, I hope that Carlos is someone who people can identify with, that he’s real and human enough to build a relationship with.  I deliberately introduce him as someone who is not easy to like, certainly not a ‘Good Guy’, not evil, but a bit of an idiot.

One of the major themes of the book is his evolution from a self-obsessed, egotistic hedonist, to a person of greater awareness and compassion. This transformation comes about slowly through the terrible suffering and severe beating that life serves up for him, along with the guidance of a cosmic guardian, or seraph, who has taken a particular, and somewhat vested, interest in him.

During the unfolding of the plot the reader is slowly introduced to the inner workings of the protagonist: his insecurities, his hopes and his fears, and the reasons that he has became the person he is.  “Is he based on anyone I know?” Carlos is entirely fictional, though I must admit there could be autobiographical elements involved!

Q How important is the concept of villain versus hero to your story? Would you consider your protagonist, Carlos, to be a hero? What makes an effective villain?

Shannon DeConinck: Carlos is very much the antihero, especially in the first chapters, he shows no heroic attributes, to the contrary he’s cowardly and self-serving.

The theme to which the story is set is definitely the struggle of light and dark forces, in which Carlos has unwittingly become a major player, and despite his own foolishness, becomes a force for the light. The role of villain is played by a character who is introduced as a being of light; a seraph, or cosmic guardian, who is drawn to the dark and uses the powers with which it is endowed for destruction and the promotion of chaos and suffering.

‘What makes an effective villain?’ I think unpredictability in the characters of both villain and hero is important, to step outside the usual boundaries of these stereotypes, to surprise the reader.

Q: Reviewers describe THE IDIOT MESSIAH as a page turner. How do you create suspense?

Shannon DeConinck: The story picks up momentum as the unfortunate protagonist stumbles from one appalling misfortune to the next. The reader is sucked into the vortex of Carlos’s life, and into sharing the experience of his tribulations, which are relieved, fortunately, by their comically dark portrayal.  It’s a fast-paced roller coaster of a story, which keeps readers on the edge of their seat, whilst unexpected twists in the plot and hidden motives keep their attention.  

Q:  How do you create credibility for your paranormal story?  What will make fans of the genre stop reading?

Shannon DeConinck: A good question: how can the paranormal be made credible? First of all, this is not a story about teenage vampires or werewolves! By the paranormal I mean events that exist outside of normal experience or scientific explanation. The idea is introduced early in the book that there is a lot going on in the universe which we are not privy to, things that our five physical senses are unequipped to pick up, or our minds accustomed to dealing with, as one of my characters; a mysterious LA taxi driver points out:

“What I mean is all we got is these five senses, these lil’ old five senses, it ain’t a lot, but it’s all we got to tell us what’s going on. Well, just suppose there’s a whole lot going on that these five senses don’t pick up, you know when people talk about the sixth sense, maybe that’s just a glimpse of the rest of the world.”

So in this sense I’m happy to extrapolate that what is known as “the paranormal” can credibly exist, if we accept that our perception of the universe is limited, in fact would it not be egotistic and small-minded to presume that it doesn’t?  

Q: Reviewers also say THE IDIOT MESSIAH is entertaining and that it contains “some very thought provoking passages.” Besides writing to entertain, did you embed any key messages for your readers to take away?

Shannon DeConinck: I certainly didn’t set out with the intention of conveying any message, or influencing the opinions of the reader in any way. My primary intention as an author is to entertain, but if the story is found to be thought provoking, I have no argument with that. There is undeniably an esoteric aspect to the book, which has more to do with the subjects I find interesting, rather than promoting a certain idea or philosophy.  The questions of what we are doing here, what happens when you die, and is there any reason for it all, have always fascinated me, and of course, we write about what we find fascinating. The notion that I am in a position to enlighten, instruct or somehow influence the reader is not part of my agenda as a writer of fiction, though anyone is free to read whatever they want into it!

Q: Did you use setting to help drive the plot of your story? How?

Shannon DeConinck: The story starts in Los Angeles California then continues in London and South East England, before moving on to Delhi and the Himalayan foothills. These are all places in which I have spent enough time to get to know, and to a point, understand. I think the ability to describe a setting from first hand experience is important, not only physically and geographically, but to imbibe the feeling or the ‘vibe’ of a location. This can give much more authenticity than just having read or heard about it. There’s nothing like personal experience to make a place, situation or character come alive.

Q:  Without “spoiling” your plot, can you explain the title THE IDIOT MESSIAH? Does this refer to your protagonist, Carlos?

Shannon DeConinck: Oh yes, Carlos Delgado is every part the Idiot Messiah. He is the unlikely and unwitting redeemer of all that we know and value. To say any more would be giving the plot away!

Q:  What’s next?

Shannon DeConinck: I am currently working on a completely unrelated novel called Seven More Interesting Ways To Die Than Cancer. This is due to be released later this year.

About Shannon DeConinck

Shannon DeConinck was born in Singapore, quite a long time ago, grew up in Brighton, England and started travelling at age sixteen. For the next fifteen years he lived in the USA, Australia, India and Europe. A curious nature and a love of adventure provided the impetus to keep seeking new environments and stimuli. During this time he worked on a fishing trawler in Massachusetts, as a motorcycle courier in Australia and as a surfing instructor in Spain. He also spent some years in India where amongst other things he lived on an ashram and travelled with the holy men of the Himalayas. In his thirties he returned to England and studied Environmental and Third World studies, graduating with BA hons, after which he worked with an environmental NGO in North India. Since then he has lived mostly on the Atlantic coast of Andalucia, or on a boat somewhere. THE IDIOT MESSIAH is his first novel, and he is currently working on his second.

Carlos Delgado suspects he is dead, or is it that he is going insane? Since recovering from a near-fatal accident in Los Angeles, his life is no longer governed by the norms of reality. Trying to resume his life as a small-time crook, he is visited by long dead relatives and plagued by supernatural phenomena, pushing him to the edge of a breakdown. Desperate to escape the spectre of his own regrettable past and regain his sanity, he is coerced into a disastrous drug run which takes him from his native California to the UK.

Unbeknown to Carlos, he is the subject of a wager between two Seraphim, and is in fact the chosen one, on whose shoulders rests the fate of the human race. Carlos, who is neither religious nor conscientious, but who has a dogmatic ability for denial, finds himself on the run from both the law and his criminal past in an ever more volatile world. After being shot at point-blank range and run over by a truck, both of which he survives unscathed, he is sectioned in a mental institution where he is subjected to a horrific trial at the hands of the seraph Lucifractophones.

He escapes from the institution, and crosses England on foot, eventually finding sanctuary in Brixton with the benevolent seraph Meselophones, who is masquerading as a Rastafarian. These experiences cause a psychological and moral shift in Carlos, who under the guidance of the Rastafarian, begins to question the nature of life and reality. During his stay in Brixton he is tracked down by his former associates; a pair of vicious LA gangsters, whose attempt to kill him backfires, but encourages him to leave for India.

In Delhi he befriends some street children, who rescue him when he is held captive by African drug dealers. Guided by his intuition and the covert influence of the seraphim, he finds himself on a pilgrimage through the foothills of the Himalayas.  Staying at ashrams and temples, travelling with holy men and mystics, this outer journey reflects an inner process of self-discovery.

When taken to see an old blind woman, who is a powerful oracle, he gains some insight into the powers controlling his destiny. He is deeply humbled by her wisdom and for the first time is able to step beyond the limits of his own arrogance and pride, preparing him for the ultimate test.

At Gangotri, the source of the river Ganga, Carlos is caught in the showdown between light and dark forces, represented by the two seraphim. He is forced to face his guilt over his teenage affair with his half sibling and her resulting death, and unearths the truth about his relationship with his parents. Will he be courageous enough to face his inner demons, overcome the spectre of his past, and in doing so find redemption, not only for himself, but for all of humanity? 


          Throughout the evening Carlos remained silent, staring into the fire, conscious only of his condition of ignorance in comparison to those he traveled with: The Chosen Ones, the mala bearers, they were all here because of their merit. They had all been prepared or undergone years of training in spiritual or esoteric matters to earn their positions. Who was he? A small time criminal, a self serving egotistic fool, a spiritual hitch-hiker hoping to be shown the answers, at the best a freeloader. His sense of inadequacy opened up within him like a dark cold cave and he sat peering into its depths.
          After some time Carlos was shaken from his bleak reverie by the sensation of a hand on his shoulder, he looked up to see the face of the old woman close to his, her marble white eyes staring blindly, but somehow piercingly into his own.
          ‘Carlos, dear brother.’ Her voice was quiet, cracked with age but brimming with a tenderness in total contrast with her prior aloofness.
          ‘You are our most honored guest, it is you who have brought us all here together. We are all companions on this mysterious journey, none higher nor lower than the other.’ He felt, without doubt, the compassion the old woman held for him, the gentle presence of her hand on his arm transmitted reassurance.
          ‘I see that you are far from the world you know, I sense your confusion and your pain, we must all help each other, we must all help the world.’
          Her face was close to his, framed by a tangle of grizzled gray hair, haggard and wizened almost to the point of grotesqueness, but luminous with a subtle light. Looking into her blind and toothless face and beholding such intense inner beauty, something cracked within Carlos’s breast. He remembered his own mother, and how alone he had felt as a child, he thought of the scathing sarcasm of his father, of the criticism, the secrets and unspoken shame of his family life. From within the dark hole inside him came forth a wracking sob. It was as if all the pain and shame of his life was at last splitting him open, his body was no longer capable of containing it, and another sob burst from deep within him. Hot tears slid down his cheeks, and he let himself cry, he cried like a child, with no sense of shame for those around him. His face was buried in the musty blanket and tangled hair of the old woman, her boney arm around his shoulders, and he wept until the emptiness and darkness within him were gone.
         When eventually the storm of his grief had passed, he wiped his eyes and blew his nose, someone pressed a cup of warm chai into his hand, and he took a sip. He felt relieved, still in the embrace of Maha Tara, he felt, he realized, like a happy child, perhaps for the first time, unburdened, innocent and pure. Shyly he looked around at his companions, half afraid to see their reactions to his outburst. But all he saw in their faces, illuminated by the flickering fire, was love, acceptance and compassion, and all he seemed capable of feeling was gratitude and peace.
          ‘Carlos brother, you have been cleansed,’ the old woman said gently, ‘peace be upon you, your soul has been purified.’
          Remaining quiet for the rest of the evening, he accepted his bowl of dhal with heartfelt gratitude and watched the other members of the party converse in low and earnest voices. Nobody commented on his outburst of tears, and he was treated with kindness, receiving more than his share of chapattis and a handful of wild berries.
          Unrolling his bedding and lying down, he watched the flames flicker and the sparks dance and spiral up into the night sky. Knowing that tomorrow was the end of their journey, and having no idea what to expect, he felt strangely unconcerned, the simplicity of the moment was enough, let tomorrow bring what it may. Shiv came over to where he lay, and produced a lump of jaggari: raw cane sugar, from a grubby cloth, and divided it between them. Not a word was spoken, but there was an easy and tangible companionship as he smiled his thanks. It dawned upon him that he now understood what it was to go on a pilgrimage, it was not the final destination, but the journey that counted. Inside, he felt empty, but not as if anything was missing, he felt empty but full of peace, somehow it was true; he had been purified. Carlos drifted into sleep to the gentle and mysterious sound of the chanting sadhus, the stars brilliant above, and the glow of the embers reflected in the faces of his companions. Perhaps for the first time, he felt unconditionally accepted for who he was, by those around him, and by himself.

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