Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Anita Lock is talking with John Prather, author of The Jesus Nut.
FQ: What inspired you to become a writer?
PRATHER: I’ve always loved stories, and wrote a few as a kid. I was always drawn to comedy. First, the brilliant comic characters created by Pat McMahon on Wallace & Ladmo (an Emmy-winning kids’ TV show in Phoenix) certainly informed my tastes. Then my high school Spanish teacher allowed me to create weird, funny dialogs rather than sticking to the ones in the textbook. I know there were many experiences that pushed me, but those are two which stand out.
FQ: Are there any particular writers who have inspired you to follow a humorous, sarcastic bent in your writing style?
PRATHER: Mark Twain stands out as an early model, as does Jonathan Swift (especially A Modest Proposal, which I think might be the most brilliant essay ever written). I read Catch-22 by Joseph Heller in a grad school humor class, and I think he had more impact than anyone. But even someone like Raymond Chandler, who didn’t write humor or satire—his descriptions and dialog both sparkle.
FQ: What would you say was your “Ah-ha!” moment that led you to create The Jesus Nut?
PRATHER: The novel began from the title, actually. I had no idea what I was going to do with it, but I thought it would make a magnificent title. Over a period of several years I pieced together the skeleton of a plot, but it wasn’t until recently when I finally realized how much I despised the hypocrisy of the evangelical right. That’s only a small part of the novel, but I think it was my spark (my “ferret,” to use David Morrell’s analogy).
FQ: While your main characters are, for the most part, “regular joes” with real human issues, they are also atypical to those pursuing an odd religious experience. Where did your ideas come from in creating Haley, Brian, and Jesse?
PRATHER: I thought my characters had to be misfits if they were to pursue such a bizarre quest. But, of course, they still needed to have something significant at stake. I tried to think of different permutations of “the Jesus nut” and, from that, the characters began to make some sense. But, to be honest, I really didn’t know them—I didn’t realize how each reflected some of my own issues, and I really didn’t like them—until I began to write them.
FQ: The concept of scholarly research findings on a rejected biblical text is brilliant—an ongoing theme in religious circles, as you mention in the prologue. What inspired you to go in that direction?
PRATHER: Thank you! It began from that idea of exploring different permutations or meanings of “the Jesus nut.” It was also a necessary set-up, I think, to some of the philosophical questions I tried to raise. But it was practical in another way, too. During a How to Write a Novel class, we were talking about someone’s chapter and the instructor asked, “Who doesn’t like a good secret society?” The Council at Nicaea was essentially a secret society as well, so I hope it worked to create a little intrigue as well as to allow for some ironic twists down the road.
FQ: What do you envision your readers to take away from The Jesus Nut?
PRATHER: This is a tough question without my answer being a spoiler, but I’ll try. I’d like them to examine their beliefs about religion or spirituality or faith, however they want to categorize it. How we treat others. Prejudgment. Hypocrisy. Pride. At the same time, though, I want them to enjoy the ride. I think I’ve written an insightful book which covertly poses important questions, but also a very funny book—so I want people to have a good time on the journey.
FQ: Who do you hope to be your target audience?
PRATHER: One of my early editors said, “This ragtag group of outcasts will no doubt resonate with a generation of readers (like me) who feel disillusioned and frustrated by the world today.” That’s awesome! However, I hope the appeal transcends young readers (I’m certainly not a young writer) and extends to people of all ages who desire a more empathetic world. And anyone who likes to laugh. And anyone who likes purple, because the cover is cool.
FQ: Do you foresee creating more stories with Haley, Brian, and Jesse as your principal characters?
PRATHER: I have nothing in mind yet, but considering how long this story simmered before I finally wrote it, maybe something will gel. Each of them definitely has a lot more living to do. I like the characters, so I’d be happy to hang out with them again.
FQ: Undoubtedly, your plot has movie potential. Have you given thought to move your storyline in that direction?
PRATHER: I am delighted you asked this question. One of the first comments from a beta reader was “This is so cinematic.” I have an MA in Radio-TV-Film with an emphasis in screenwriting, which means I instinctively see things through a cinematic lens, so to speak. Since I’m getting ankle fusion surgery on June 3, I’ll be spending a California summer stuck inside. While I’ll miss the beach, that’ll give me plenty of opportunity to write the screenplay. I still need interest from a director, or star, or production company, but I’d like to have a script in hand should that happen.
FQ: Do you see yourself continuing to write in this genre or moving in a different direction?
PRATHER: Depends how you identify my genre—whether you consider this satirical fiction or spirituality fiction or something else. If satire, though, definitely. I love the irony, the turn of phrase, the funny dialog with a more serious subtext. I doubt that I’ll have the same target as in The Jesus Nut, though. There are so many more people and institutions that need skewering!