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Saturday, June 4, 2011

J.D.: The Plot to Steal J.D. Salinger's Manuscripts

Book Review and Interview with Patricia Sierra and John Philpin

Book Review

J.D.: The Plot to Steal J.D. Salinger’s Manuscripts, by Sierra Philpin, is a tale of mystery, intrigue and the consequences of behaving badly. 

Publisher: Feather Tunnel Publishing Co. (February 9, 2009)

Leonard Wellington Worthy, a professor with a wife and a simple life, has a plan to finally win the race to the finish line. The goal is to be the first to publish a book on J.D. Salinger, and he’s going to do it by stealing the manuscripts he believes J.D. has been working on for decades in seclusion. But soon Leonard’s plan begins to unravel and he finds himself a suspect in a murder investigation.
In a mere thirty-six hours my world had been transformed from a stable, predictable tranquility into a Kafkaesque nightmare of flux and phantasm.
Sierra Philpin is the pen name of a team of two authors, Patricia Sierra (called Sierra by her friends) and John Philpin. The two have been working together for years but have never met in person.

I was surprised to learn that this book was written one chapter at a time with Sierra and John alternating chapters. Perhaps this is what helps to build the element of surprise, yet the story flows seamlessly from start to finish with appropriate foreshadowing. The chapters are alternately told from the perspective of the main protagonist, Leonard, and a woman named Daphne, whose life is coincidentally linked to Leonard’s. Daphne will become Leonard’s only ally as he works to discover the truth.

The characters in J.D. are rich with personality. Leonard and Daphne offer an interesting contrast. John Philpin weaves subtle and effective humour throughout the story, as he builds the main protagonist’s character. Leonard is a tenured professor at a university - he thinks and speaks like one at all times – and he is a gentleman. His naivety creates many opportunities for humour. Daphne is a no nonsense woman with a feisty personality, Sierra’s version of a heroine from a 1940s movie.
I raised my hands to place them on her shoulders—but in the process, collided with her breasts (which seemed to be everywhere). She moaned. I screamed.
J.D. is an engaging, quick read. There is so much to this story: mystery, humour and even a little romance. I highly recommend it.

J.D. The Plot to Steal J.D. Salinger's Manuscripts is currently just $0.99 at the Amazon Kindle store. NOTE: Prices are subject to change at any time. Always confirm the price before purchasing.

Interview with Patricia Sierra and John Philpin

Cookie’s Mom: Sierra and John, thank-you for speaking with me today!

Would you please describe your book J.D.: The Plot to Steal J.D. Salinger's Manuscripts?

Sierra: J.D. (which takes place before J.D. Salinger's death) is about a quirky professor's quest to steal the manuscripts Salinger is supposedly stockpiling at his New Hampshire home. Toss into the mix some intense academic rivalries, a dash of politics, a dab of blackmail, hidden identities, a little sex, and a murder or two and what you end up with is an old-fashioned farce. That, in a nutshell, is the book. Many people have commented that they see it unfolding like a movie as they read it. 

John: Plus. Imagine our quirky prof played by William H. Macy; had him in mind throughout. Another genre would have been less amenable to some of the more biting satire, but this worked well.

Cookie’s Mom: Why a mystery involving J.D. Salinger?

Sierra: I don't remember why Philpin and I decided to use Salinger in our book, but I do recall that we wrote J.D. because we felt like doing something lighthearted after all the blood 'n gore of our other books. Also, we're both fans of Salinger's work.

Cookie’s Mom: Leonard described a chance encounter with J.D., his ‘deity’ where they both reached for the same bottle of orange juice at the supermarket. John, I understand this incident in fact happened to you. Do you and Leonard share a special interest in J.D.?

John: I first read Catcher in the early 1960s. Holden resonated, so did Salinger, and I read Raise High the Roofbeam, Franny and Zooey, etc., as I could get my hands on them. Twenty years later, while grocery shopping in West Lebanon, NH, the OJ (not Simpson) incident happened. Additional detail: Salinger sneezed (really), and I caught a cold a day later (really). Can I swear it was JD’s cold? Nah. But I like to think so.

Cookie’s Mom: I loved the quirky Leonard. How did you come up with such a loveable and laughable character?

John: Honestly, I don’t remember. What I can recall is testing Sierra’s tolerance for the outlandish. I kept expecting her to say something like, “That just never would happen. We can’t use that.” Never happened. Usually she came back at me with a plot wrinkle even more far out than what I’d done.

Cookie’s Mom: I can see that happening. Sierra has a sharp wit about her that’s evident in her writing.

Sierra, can you please tell us a little about yourself? Or do you maintain what you shared with me in an email:
Mostly I'm a hermit. My life is no more interesting than this: I was born. I'm living. And I fully expect to die, but I hope it's not too soon. I've done little with my life except write. However, I did try to grow a garden once. It failed.
Sierra: That sounds exactly like the "me" I know. My friends, if I had any, would probably verify my story, too. It's just that there's not that much to say about me. I don't socialize. More hours per day than I'd like to admit are spent on the Internet or watching films streamed on Netflix. When I read, which is often, it's something on my Kindle. I don't watch television, but I do listen to NPR. If there's a mystery or a sensational crime in the news, you can be sure I'm following it. What pals I have tend to be other writers, though there are a couple of exceptions to that.

Cookie’s Mom: Is it a coincidence that you describe yourself in the same way that J.D. is often described - as a hermit?

Sierra: It's a total coincidence, as is my interest in Emily Dickinson (someone who's mistakenly called a recluse; she actually had a social life that would make Paris Hilton look like a wallflower).

Cookie’s Mom: John, will you tell us a little about yourself?

John: Oh my. Just a little? I’m a much better hermit than Sierra will ever be. I was a psychologist and law enforcement consultant for about 27 years, then retreated to my wee village in northern New England’s mountains. I love reading, and my cats. Sometimes I read to my cats. Sometimes they read to me.

Cookie’s Mom: Nice trick. My cat hasn’t read a thing to me. Something to work on.

How did you each come to the profession of writer? Did you always know that is who you are? What other careers have you tried on your way to becoming a writer?

Sierra: I knew as soon as I could operate a pencil that I would be a writer. No question about it, ever. Along the way I've had other jobs, but nothing for very long. For example, to assist me with my writing, I took a job as a private investigator. I worked a murder case. My boss understood that I was there just to learn what investigating was like. I also took college-level law enforcement courses so I could apply what I learned to my writing. My income throughout my life has come primarily from writing.

John: At a college interview when I was 18, I told the interviewers I intended to be a writer. What would I be, they wanted to know, if I didn’t make it as a writer. I insisted that I would write. And for all the years I did something else, I also wrote. I published an article in Boston after Dark in the late 60s, then didn’t see print again until the mid 90s, but I never stopped writing.

Cookie's Mom: What would you each say to an aspiring author about what it takes to be a writer? What thoughts or principles inspire you to keep writing?

Sierra: Aspiring authors don't need any advice from me. They all know what's necessary: sitting down and doing it. A true writer doesn't have any choice in the matter. They're born to write, so they do.

John: Before I say word one about writing, I have a few words about publishing. With the exception of the small, independent houses, publishers are less concerned with what's good, and more concerned with what sells (and they're most often wrong in their assumptions in the latter regard). If what you write can't be pigeon-holed, it probably won't see print.

I've taught writing and concluded that writing can't be taught. I've been a student of writing and decided that I can't learn about writing that way. I once tried writing according to a schedule and nearly drove myself 'round the bend. In a single sentence: If you think it, you can write it, if you feel like it.

Cookie’s Mom: Sierra, I know that you write across many genres including romance. When did you decide to begin writing about murder?

Sierra: I turned to murder as a topic when I teamed up with John Philpin. We have a mutual interest in true crime (he has written some books in that genre, and as a forensic psychologist he worked on cases with law enforcement). There was never a decision to write about murder; we just started writing and that's what it ended up being about. 

Cookie’s Mom: John, how did you come to be a writer of murders? Did your profession as a forensic psychologist naturally lead you to it?

John: Yes, the one followed from the other. Also, I was bothered by the psychological inaccuracies of both true crime and crime fiction. When we wrote Feathers and Tunnel, I insisted on an accurate psychological picture of John Wolf (and the other odd few who drifted in and out of our tales). This insistence made for a collision or two with our editor, but I was happy with the end product.

Cookie’s Mom: Is it true that you both wrote The Prettiest Feathers by telephone without ever meeting? When did you first begin writing together?

Sierra: We wrote that book and the sequel via faxes – back before people used email the way they do today. Today we use email when swapping chapters. We've never met in person.

John: I love to tell this story when I speak at public gatherings. We’d talked a great deal about a book that brought the reader inside the mind of a killer, and inside the mind of one of his victims. One morning I found the first Sarah chapter (The Prettiest Feathers) in my fax machine, and responded with the chapter that begins, “I’m not going to tell you about any of the others.”

Cookie’s Mom: What else have you worked on together that has been published, or that you intend to publish?

Sierra: In addition to The Prettiest Feathers, there's Tunnel of Night, J.D. The Plot to Steal J.D. Salinger's Manuscripts, and The God Wars.

Cookie’s Mom: Would you describe the process you followed in writing J.D.? It’s fascinating to me that two people who have never met could collaborate in the way that you did to write not just a novel, but a good novel that would subsequently be published.

Sierra: The process is really not too exciting. I could make up something that makes it sound better than it is -- but instead I'll tell the truth. One of us will write a chapter and hope to end it with something that'll stump the other one. It's then up to the other one to carry the story forward. We send a chapter and wait for one to be sent in reply. It's impossible to outline or plan a book that is written in that way because the two authors are constantly feeding off each other's chapters. Our whole purpose when we write together is to entertain ourselves. If we end up with a book at the end of it, fine. If not, that's fine, too. We have shelved several books we started after finding they got away from us or no longer interested us. [When writing J.D.,] we had no idea how it would end till it ended.

Cookie’s Mom: Well, in the case of J.D. it worked. Well done!

Sierra and John, readers often want to know who inspired the authors they enjoy. Are there certain books or authors who have influenced your writing? If you had to choose a favourite book, what would it be?

Sierra: I enjoy a wide range of writing styles. Off the top of my head? I gobbled up Joyce Carol Oates's early short stories along with some written by Tennessee Williams, Dickinson's poetry wowed me,  Paul Auster and Leonard Cohen make my heart go pitter-patter, I've enjoyed Scott Turow, Austin Wright struck me as an under-appreciated genius, and nobody beats Norman Mailer and Jack Olsen when it comes to true crime. My list could go on forever. But my very favorite author is John Philpin, of course.

John: Influences? Bob Dylan, Lenny Bruce, Muhammad Ali, John Lennon. Those are the constants; others come and go. Writers? Ken Kesey, Tom Robbins, Norman Mailer, Ian Rankin (John Rebus and I go way back).

Cookie’s Mom: My husband and Rebus go way back also. We have a large Ian Rankin collection in our physical library.

Finally, just for fun, will you both answer the desert island question? If you were somehow stranded on a desert island with a water-proof backpack (perhaps you floated on it from the shipwreck), what three things found in your backpack would you be grateful for having had the foresight to bring on your journey in the unlikely event of an emergency?

Sierra: Cell phone, GPS, and Kindle -- but only because George Clooney wouldn't fit in the backpack.

John: A self-inflating rubber raft.

Cookie’s Mom: I think that one goes to John, though I’d add a roll of waterproof tape just to be vigilant, and, like Sierra, I’d definitely bring my Kindle -- but only because Daniel Craig wouldn't fit in the backpack.

Thank-you, Sierra and John, for speaking with me today, and thanks for teaming up to write J.D.: The Plot to Steal J.D. Salinger's Manuscripts. It was a fun ride!

J.D. The Plot to Steal J.D. Salinger's Manuscripts is currently just $0.99 at the Amazon Kindle store. NOTE: Prices are subject to change at any time. Always confirm the price before purchasing.

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Patricia Sierra Biography - by special guest investigator, André Jute

"Of all the things Patricia Sierra denies as she reinvents her life, the one we surely can all understand is the serial killer who hooked up with the profiler who caught her, together to write a novel from "inside the experience". Her time may be served, but many people think such sentences should be for life, no remission, no redemption. And, now that the CIA is so unfashionable, the patriotic act by which Sierra earned redemption, the assassination of the misappropriator of American property, Salvador Allende, on behalf of unnamed American secret institutions and corporations, is perhaps best swept under the carpet. But why should Sierra deny that, in the more spacious years before she became a serial killer and a grandmother, she was Bob Dylan's "touring girlfriend"? Sierra, with her bright blue eyes and her spotless white tennis shoes, is an enigma to the end." — from André Jute's forthcoming Rolling Stones profile

Sierra says, “I don't mind Andre's other revelations about me, but I wish he hadn't mentioned my fling with Bob Dylan. My current boyfriend, Jon Hamm, is terribly jealous and will probably dump me now. I hope the Rolling Stone profile is no more damaging to my good name than this, but with Andre's ability to ferret out the truth, one can never get too comfortable with one's secrets.” 

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John Philpin Biography

"John Philpin is one of the first independent criminal profilers in the U.S. and is a retired psychologist with an international reputation as an expert on violent behavior. He has appeared on Unsolved Mysteries, America's Most Wanted, 20/20 Downtown, Inside Edition, and CBC's As It Happens, and has served as a guest commentator on Court TV's Prime Time Justice. His published nonfiction works include Shattered Justice (Harper Collins), about the murder of 12-year old Stephanie Crowe; Stalemate (Bantam), about a series of child abductions and murders in the San Francisco Bay area; and Beyond Murder (Onyx/Penguin Books), investigating the Gainesville student murders. He has also written five novels including The Murder Channel and Dreams in the Key of Blue.

"A recipient of numerous awards for contributions in murder investigations, Philpin's forensic work was featured in Philip E. Ginsburg's Shadow of Death, the investigation of a series of murders along interstate highway corridors of Vermont and New Hampshire in the 1980s. Philpin holds degrees in English, clinical psychology, and forensic psychology from Harvard and Goddard College." - GenPop Books: Retrieved, June 4, 2011 from http://www.genpopbooks.com/john-philpin/bad-dog.html

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Sierra's newest book, Sheet Music, is about more than just the sounds lovers make in the night. It's about the mix of harmony and discord that accompanies love. The main character is a pianist with a dying daughter, a distant wife, and a quirky young woman at the center of his attention as he tries to emerge from the depths of a lengthy depression. Will he make it? You'll have to read the book to find out.  

Sheet Music is available for Kindle and is just $0.99 at Amazon.com and Smashwords.com.

John Philpin's newest crime novel, Bad Dog, which is already being called “an anti-genre book”,  will be published  by GenPop Books in November 2011. You can read an excerpt from Bad Dog at the GenPop Books No Contest online magazine.

Other books by Patricia Sierra and John Philpin

The Prettiest Feathers is available for Kindle and in paperback at Amazon.com.

Tunnel of Night, the sequel to The Prettiest Feathers, is available for Kindle and in paperback from Amazon.com.

The God Wars is available for Kindle and is just $0.99 at Amazon.com.

J.D. The Plot to Steal J.D. Salinger's Manuscripts is available for Kindle and is just $0.99 at Amazon.com.

Sierra and John have also had their work featured in a collection of short stories, Twists and Turns - A Red Adept Reviews Collection.

Some other books by Patricia Sierra

Emily Dickinson: Beyond The Myth is available for Kindle and is just $0.99 at Amazon.com.

From the Writer Half of My Being: Poems and Short Stories in Search of a Reader is available for Kindle and is just $0.99 at Amazon.com.

The Absence of Color is available for Kindle and is just $0.99 at Amazon.com.

Some other books by John Philpin

Dreams in the Key of Blue is available in paperback and for the Kindle at Amazon.com.*

The Murder Channel is available in paperback and for the Kindle at Amazon.com.*

Stalemate is available in paperback and for the Kindle at Amazon.com.

Shattered Justice: A Savage Murder and the Death of Three Families' Innocence is available for the Kindle at Amazon.com.

*Dreams in the Key of Blue and The Murder Channel are books 3 and 4 in the series that began with The Prettiest Feathers and Tunnel of Night.

NOTE: Prices listed are subject to change. Always check the price before purchasing.

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Anonymous said...

Wow! What a great review and interview -- makes me want to read the book. I remember reading "The Catcher in the Rye" and feeling a bit let down because I had expected something different. However, my 16 year old (not a prolific reader, like I am, AT ALL), absolutely loved the book and thought it delivered on his expectations. I look forward to the possibility of reading this book involving the author of "Catcher".

Samantha from vB

Cookie’s Mom said...

Hi Samantha. Thanks for stopping by! Let me know your thoughts if you read J.D. While it's not a book about J.D. Salinger per se (though, as you say, the story involves him), I'm sure you will enjoy it!

Leslie said...

What a thourough and well thought out interview. The book sounds like fun as well. I am a new follower, I hope you get a chance to stop by and check me out at http://www.wrighton-time.blogspot.com. My book excerpt is located at http://wrightontime.wordpress.com.


Cookie’s Mom said...

Thank-you Leslie. Found you and followed you. Great blog you have there!

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