A Conversation with John David Bethel
Courtesy of John David Bethel
He has traveled to many places that most of us can only dream of going, and also had a 30 year career in politics, now John David Bethel is a published author. He has written his second book, Blood Moon which was released December 4, 2016.
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On a hot, steamy afternoon in Miami, Cuban-American businessman Recidio Suarez is brutally beaten and abducted. Handcuffed, shackled and blindfolded, he has no idea why he has been targeted. What he discovers is heart-stopping. What he endures during almost a month of captivity compares only to the most horrendous stories of prisoners of war. He is tortured, and under the threat of death, and worse – the rape of his wife and torture of his children – Suarez is forced to hand over his multi-million dollar holdings to his captors.
Suarez survives and then spends the next few months staying one step ahead of the murderous pack. During this time, he and his lawyer, Nolan Stevens – a former Special Agent in Charge of the Miami Office of the FBI – are having difficulties convincing the Miami-Dade Police Department that a crime has been committed. Their efforts are complicated by Steven’s difficult history with the head of the MDPD Special Investigations Division, who is not interested in pursuing the case.
JRR (Jessica’s Reading Room): Tell us a little about yourself.
Abridged version. I grew up overseas as my father was with the Foreign Service. After stops in Germany, Japan and Cuba (we also had six month stints stateside in Honolulu, Norfolk and New York City), we settled in Miami where I went to high school. Following graduation from Tulane University, I worked in Washington, DC for 30 years. I served as a speechwriter and press secretary to various members of Congress and the Senate. I also served in the same capacity for the Secretaries of Commerce and Education. After a stint as Associate Administrator with the U.S. General Services Administration, I retired and returned to Miami. I have written and had published two novels; Evil Town, a political thriller and Blood Moon, a suspense thriller based on a true crime.
JRR: That is quite a life you have lived so far! You had an interesting career before you became an author. Does your previous experience in politics influence what you write?
The years I spent in politics probably influenced how I write more than what I write about.
I learned to fully appreciate the power and consequences of words and language. Legislators and/or candidates often have one opportunity to represent themselves and their vision to constituents and voters. Without the correct words that opportunity could be squandered. With them, ideals can be explained, people inspired, and personalities defined.
JRR: That is very true! They must come up with the correct words or they may not get their point across or even have the changes they want see fruition. Now, did you always want to become an author?
I always enjoyed writing and that might have come from being an avid reader.
As noted, we spent a lot of time traveling, which meant I missed large chunks of formal education. Whenever I wasn’t in school, my parents insisted that I read. I was fascinated by the fact that no matter where I was – Europe, Japan, the Caribbean (or on an ocean liner or airplane between posts) – a book could transport me to a different place entirely. This fascination compelled me to try my hand at writing and I found that I enjoyed it…and it gave free reign to an active imagination.
JRR: What inspires you to write?
A story will come to me and gnaw away until I sit down and weave through it. I’m not sure if that qualifies as “inspiration” or is more akin to an “itch”.
JRR: Whether it is an inspiration or an itch, go for it and write! What does your writing process consist of? Do you research for your novels, do you handwriting or type, do you listen to music or not?
I have the kernel of a storyline which builds as I write. I don’t work from an outline nor do I have backstories for my characters. I have no idea where the story is going to take me, and the characters mature and develop with the storyline. Like the reader, I am drawn along as I write and am often surprised where the plot takes me.
I use a PC and if I listen to music, which is a “how do I feel today” kind of choice, it’s classical. Beethoven, Rachmaninoff and Bach are among my favorites.
JRR: Even if you outline and ‘plan’ what’s going to happen with your characters, sometimes they will ‘do what they want’ and take a ‘life of their own’ and change your plans! What kind of advice can you give to aspiring authors? The journey to become published and can be long and hard.
First and foremost one must have a compelling desire to write for no other reward than the product itself. “I write therefore I am” kind of thing. The prospect of publication should not be foremost in mind as, unfortunately, getting published today is very, very challenging.
Second, an aspiring writer must have the discipline to sit down every single day and spend hours over the keyboard. That can be the toughest part of the process…dedication to the task and the discipline to complete that task.
I also think writers must have healthy egos to endure the rejection that comes to all of us from publishers, agents, literary critics and readers. If one has a fragile sense of self, writing is definitely going to be a destructive career choice.
JRR: Great advice! Who was your favorite author as a child?
My father used to read to me from American folk tales. Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill are two I remember well. Those got me started and from there I’d read stories about other bigger than life figures like John Henry Johnson, Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone, Jim Bridger, and finally graduated to Mark Twain.
JRR: Who is your favorite author as an adult?
I have a few. The novels of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald entranced me and demonstrated how brilliantly-written fiction could gobble readers up and transport them to another place and time. The storytelling ability of Stephen King showed me that a good tale could pull the reader into the story, increase their heartbeat, cause them to perspire with fear and anticipation, and come out the other end invigorated. Also, the novels of Aldous Huxley and Sinclair Lewis taught me that fiction could have a social conscience while also being entertaining.
JRR: Which book have you always meant to get around to reading, but still not read?
The Magic Mountain and Finnegan’s Wake.
JRR: What’s the best advice you have ever received?
Though an aphorism more so than advice, I’ve benefited from knowing that: There’s no such thing as a free lunch.
JRR: I like that! Your newest book, Blood Moon is based off of a true story. What made you want to tell this story?
First a little background. The details of the story came to me from Ed DuBois. Ed runs a security firm, Investigators, Inc., and had been brought into the case by a mutual friend of Marc Schiller, the victim. Ed read my novel Evil Town and enjoyed it, and when he wanted to explore the possibilities of having a book written about the crime, he contacted me.
Initially, Ed wanted a true crime book written to counter the treatment the real story was getting in a movie that was being made of the crime, “Pain and Gain.” Ed was serving as a consultant on the movie and grew disenchanted with the “black comedy” slant being applied to the script. I wrote a treatment of the book but when it became apparent a true crime book could not be written and published in time to provide a balance to the movie, that project was abandoned.
I had become intrigued by the crime, especially by the courage of the victim, Marc Schiller, and Ed’s determination to get the “bad guys.” Schiller’s survival of 30 days in captivity during which he was brutally tortured, and had every single penny of his substantial estate extorted, was a story that was too compelling to ignore. My wheelhouse is fiction so I went to Ed and Marc and asked if they’d mind if I treated the story as fiction, hewing closely enough to the real events to convey the true horror of what Marc endured and how Ed worked skillfully to solve the crime.
JRR: I find that hard to believe that they gave the movie a ‘black comedy’ slant on something that actually happened to someone! Especially where someone survived 30 days of pure torture. How much research was involved in writing Blood Moon?
Blood Moon required a great deal of research. I studied hundreds of pages of trial transcripts to fully understand details of the crime and to get a “feel” for the perpetrators and their victims. I also studied police crime reports. The depositions conducted by attorneys for the defense and prosecution were another source of information. Most helpful were hours of discussions with the Ed and Marc.
JRR: How accurate is it to the ‘real life story’? It sounds truly terrifying.
Two passages from Marc Schiller’s Foreword to the novel answer this question best:
After reading this novel, most readers will be hard-pressed to accept that anything as written in these pages could happen. That assumption would be very wrong. I know because I am the one who experienced and survived many of the traumatic events described in Bloodmoon.
My month long stay in what I called “Hotel Hell” – which the author of Bloodmoon captures with chilling accuracy – was filled with physical and mental torture, humiliation and starvation.
JRR: He must have been a strong person to survive his ordeal. It had to have changed him as well.
If you could have dinner with three people (living or dead) who would they be and why?
- My late father so we could discuss my novels.
- Ernest Hemingway for the same reason. Presumptuous I know, but I’d love to get his critique, and also pick his brain on writing.
- Beethoven because he is a fascinating personality as well as a genius in his field.
JRR: Those are some good choices!
**Thank you for your time with this interview!
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