Title: Chasing Prophecy
Author: James Moser
Publisher: Skookum Trail Books
Release date: 3rd January 2014
Blurb from Goodreads:
Chasing Prophecy is the story of Mo, a shy teen who is just trying to survive high school.
He has secretly fallen in love with a girl named Prophecy who lives with a group that some call a commune and others call a cult.
When she disappears, Mo must find the courage to face the monster that her family has become.
"A stellar read for teens and adults, full of hilarious growing pains, tenderness and a few surprises. Moser’s debut is an unflinching young-adult novel that sees a group of friends tested by bigotry and the illegal machinations of a religious cult. In Boulder Creek, Wash., Maurice “Mo” Kirkland is a teenage runt with everything to prove. Bullies want to dunk his head in a toilet—and could do it daily if not for the intervention of Mo’s best friends, Max and Kazzy. The three stick together in a school that loves to mock Mo for being short and having two moms and Kazzy for being a member of the nature-worshipping Bethlehem cult (in which she’s called Prophecy). As the trio proceeds through high school, Mo realizes he’s deeply in love with Kazzy; she, meanwhile, learns that the government wants her and the 60-plus members of the Bethlehem “family” to pay decades’ worth of property taxes or have their ranch confiscated. Everyone hopes that a series of “vision quests” will help to resolve their dilemma. Toward that end, Max and Mo hike into the mountains with a young man named Clean. Instead of finding spiritual enlightenment, however, the two boys are coerced by Clean into smuggling crystal meth down from Canada. Now the pair must cope with breaking the law—and possibly ruining Boulder Creek as the drugs are sold—to keep Kazzy in their lives. Debut author Moser serves up an irresistibly wisecracking narrator in Mo. Every page ripples with a controlled cleverness that seasoned writers might envy; Mo says of his height, “If I’d shown up at school wearing a leash and chewing a Frisbee, no one would have noticed.” There’s also a rawness to this tale similar to that which many teens face in the real world. Words like “cracker” and “faggot” appear frequently. Moser can wax rhapsodic about young love, but he shows that he knows how to raise the tension in the second half of the novel as the Bethlehem group trades tolerance for violence.
A stellar read for teens and adults, full of hilarious growing pains, tenderness and a few surprises."
Author Spotlight: James Moser, on Chasing Prophecy
I have always wanted to build a story around someone or something like Boo Radley, my all-time favorite literary character. I love how he dominates that book while remaining largely off-stage. I looked around the Seattle area and the closest thing I could think of was our local legend of Bigfoot. Once I had my own version of Nathan Arthur Radley in place, I started thinking a lot about monsters, especially monsters we make bigger in our imagination. I also thought about Boo living in society without being a part of it, which made me think of different separatist groups turned into cults. My young characters are based on bits and pieces of hundreds of former students.
The setting of Boulder Creek, Washington, like everything else in the book, is based on bits and pieces of lots of things. There is no town called that. Boulder Creek is where my wife and I hiked for our first date, in the foothills of the north Cascade Mountains. The mountains in my book look like the ones around Darrington, in Snohomish County. The main street is like Arlington (where I had my first teaching job). The log bridge is something I remember from a family trip to Yellowstone National Park, 1,000 miles away. People who have read Twilight will think Boulder Creek feels like Forks, which it does, because that’s what every small town in Washington feels like. The Bethlehem compound is the Boy Scout camp I attended in northern Idaho, complete with the same wood carvings on the fireplace.
My mission in writing this is to entertain adults and inspire young adults. Teenagers inspire the heck out of me, which is why I’ve been a high school teacher for so long. I wanted characters who transform themselves to overcome obstacles, which is what I watch them do, every day!
The author works with high school students because young adults inspire him. As such, he wanted to write about teenagers transforming themselves to overcome obstacles, which is what he watches them do every day. This book's mission is to entertain adults while inspiring teens. The result is "Chasing Prophecy," a story about love, loss, redemption, and monsters.
Boo Radley is the author's all-time favorite literary character, which is how the Seattle-area legend of Bigfoot entered "Chasing Prophecy".
Moser has a B.A. in English and a M.Ed. in Secondary English Education. The author lives in Seattle with his beautiful wife and lively eight year old son. When he's not reading and writing, or talking about reading and writing, he's watching too much television and snacking on frozen treats from Trader Joe's. Man, those things are good!
When did you start writing?
The first story I wrote was in 2nd grade. It was called “The Vampire in that Room with the Furnace in It”. My little sister, Kathy, who’d been stealing my Halloween candy, enters the furnace room. A scary voice said, and this is the one line I actually remember and who knows where I stole it from: “Who dares defile my sleep?” Then a vampire I drew on the cover, who looked just like Count Chocula, drank Kathy’s blood and the rest of the family lived happily ever after.
Growing up, my mom would drive us around in a lime green Pontiac station wagon with a broken radio. On long car trips, my siblings would ask me to make up stories to entertain them. I’d look around and just start talking. “The dead guy’s dead body was found in the K-Mart parking lot. He was for-sure dead because he was bloody and not breathing. Maybe the vampire who lives in our furnace room got him. Maybe this dead guy stole his big brother’s Halloween candy. Any questions so far from the back seat?” Another story started something like “Once upon a time, a mom pulled over and stopped at Denny’s so her kids could have 99 cent grand slams.”
What makes you want to write?
“Funny” is the word that has come up in every review, so far. I wish I could take credit. The truth is that there is something about being a teenager which just makes people plain smarter and funnier than adults. Maybe it’s because this is when we’re looking around really hard, thinking really hard about who we are, what we want to be, and what inspires us. Great humor is in the details, and no one notices the details more than teenagers.
The stuff people find funniest in the book is mostly just straight out of my journals. I like to write down some of the great things they say. I once asked my juniors to write an essay comparing an author to someone noteworthy. One student turned in a paper he called:
“Hemingway and my Noteworthy Uncle Thad--What a Couple of Drunks”
Later in that same school year, a student turned in something she called,
“Some articles who think Huck Finn is gay”
These might be the 8 funniest words ever written. It’s amazing how many things are communicated in those eight words. It’s a title that says “Mr. Moser, I am more bored by this assignment than any assignment anyone has ever given me. In the history of education, the boredom I’m feeling right now is unsurpassed at any time, on any continent. Please, next time you’re thinking about assigning something this boring, just don’t. Rather, pick up something heavy and hit me in the head. Please.”
While reading Lord of the Flies, one of my all time favorite kids told me, “If William Golding were a dinosaur, he would be a Boring-o-saurus.” Then his friend across the room one-ups him, by saying, “No, this book is so bad, William Golding would be a Boring-o-saurus REX—the apex predator of all other Boring-o-saurs.”
OK, so I’m a writer, I try to be clever and all that, right? I have NEVER written anything that funny in my life. Even if I’m able to pull off my dream of making Chasing Prophecy a best-seller, I can never stop teaching because I would run out of material for dialogue. When you’re loving the way my characters talk to each other, I’ll take credit for the punctuation and that’s about it.
I’ve spent the last few years working with high school students who have mild to moderate reading disabilities. I’ve been really inspired by how hard these kids fight to improve their reading. For struggling learners it’s really important to have an interesting story—even more important than it is for adults. There’s so much extra work that goes into reading for some kids that they have a much lower threshold for boredom. One of my main tasks was to make this interesting enough for adults, but easy enough for struggling readers. So far, people think I pulled it off.
I’ve talked about monsters a lot while promoting this book and people think I’m just talking about the bad guys or Bigfoot. Really, what I’m talking about are obstacles for teens to overcome. Sometimes these monsters are reading disabilities. Sometimes the monsters are abusive home lives. Sometimes the monsters are their own fears, self-doubts, and insecurities. Sometimes these monsters are drug addiction or alcohol. I’ve been so inspired by watching kids stare down all kinds of beasts. I wanted to create characters as strong and courageous as my own students.
Beyond the symbolic, I’ve always been fascinated by plain old scary monsters with big teeth. I’m especially into the ones we only see in glimpses and therefore make bigger in our imaginations. So of course my all time fave book character is Boo Radley from To Kill a Mockingbird. My Boo Radley is our own Seattle-area legend of Sasquatch. I can’t say much more about that without spoiling the best scenes in the book. I’ll just say that my own experience with him is through two of my students who went looking for him for a class project. They either found him, or they found something that looked, sounded, and smelled like him, because they came back shaking and pale and quickly grew tired of talking about it. They did not attend the senior picnic, even in broad daylight and with 200 classmates, because it was held in the same part of the Mount Baker wilderness. These were popular boys—not the type to shy away from attention or make up stories in order to draw attention. Real or not, Sasquatch is real to them--and that makes him real to me.
So that’s the pot of stew that makes my book. Boo Radley lives in society but doesn’t want to be a part of it. So do many hippie communities. I made a harmless group of hippies turn into a monster (cult). The kids are based on every student I’ve ever had, in some way. The story is about a funny group of friends who have each other’s backs no matter what. They must change to survive. The monster they fear saves them, while the real monsters turn out to be people they’ve known all their lives. This book is by, about, and for legit teens, and also for those of us who are older and wish we could go back for just one day-- to see and hear as perfectly—to feel as deeply—as we did when we were seventeen.
Cherish the past, embrace the present, race into the future. This is Chasing Prophecy.
How did you choose the names for Chasing Prophecy?
I love YA books but I sometimes don’t make it past page 10 when I realize the characters are named Justin, Dakota, Madison, Sierra, and MacKenna (again . . . .). Same old names I believe communicates to readers that they’re in for a same-old story.
So I just started with wanting interesting names as a general concept. That’s how I came up with Mo & Max as the two main guys.
Regarding the last name “Bethlehem” I liked it as an innocent sounding word where something big BEGINS. I wanted them to be innocent-seeming before they became bad. When I was little we had a ceramic manger scene we’d put out on the coffee table at Christmas time. The base of the stand said “little town of Bethlehem.” So I’ve always thought of that as being about innocence & I thought what better name to turn into something bad. I’m twisted like that. I almost named them “the Innocents” but one of my early readers thought that sounded dumb & that I should name them after a place.
When I was growing up in Spokane there was a group of peaceful hippies with interesting names who lived on a big piece of land north of town. That was the first time I’d heard of communal living. During later summers, we’d stay with my dad in Marin County, just north of San Francisco. There were a couple groups who lived in communal fashion near the base of Mount Tamalpais. A guy named Love worked at the coffee shop in Fairfax. His sister, a teen named Present, once babysat for us. She said her name meant “gift” and also “now” –like live in the present. Ten years later I took a teaching job north of Seattle, where I met another great group of people with interesting and meaningful names. Many of them were students in my class.
I named the main character Prophecy because I wanted people to think about the future when they thought of her. Chasing her is kind of like chasing the future, the way everyone needs her in some way to help with their own goals.
I was trying to be ironic in a spooky way when I named the bad guys Clean (dirty) and Able (to be evil). I liked the idea of someone named Love dying in the first 10 pages because then it’s like ‘where did love go—why are things getting so bad’, although this briefly-mentioned character of Love has nothing to do with the nice guy in Fairfax who made awesome blueberry muffins. None of my characters are real people. They represent ideas, not real human beings I’ve met.
How do you cope with writer's block and what is your writing process?
You know, I have never had writer’s block and I just don’t understand it. That doesn’t mean I write 5 hours a day like Stephen King. I’ll sometimes go days or weeks at a time without writing a word, but I’m not doing it in agony. I’m just waiting to feel inspired for the next project. When I have a project I start with a couple scenes, then do an outline. Then I usually just stop for a month & read a lot in that genre. Then I come back & get rolling. I went from concept to outline to 300 pages of Chasing Prophecy in about 4 months. Of course those 300 pages were a mess, so I took a couple months off, then came back to it w/ peer-feedback in mind & started again for a couple quality hours per day. I did a lot more cutting than adding in the 2nd stage, ended up with about 200 pages, then went plus/minus/tweak/take a break, plus/minus/tweak/take a break, for about another year, and here I am. I know there are lot of writing guru-types out there who kind of make people feel like losers if they’re not writing 2,000 words a day. When I’ve tried to do that, I’ve written a lot of pure crap that did nothing to develop my talent or stories. Maybe for some people that works, but not me. NFL football players practice their craft 6 months a year and spend the other 6 fine-tuning their bodies or pursing other interests so they can come back fresh. I think the creative impulse is kind of the same. I do not get people who freak out about writer’s block. That’s your brain telling you to chill out, go read in the genre, paint the garage, whatever. Why do we writers like to beat ourselves up so much? If I don’t know where a story goes next, then I need to re-outline or get feedback, or just toss it in the recycling & start w/ a new concept.
I thank god for the director Spike Lee, the first big-time artist I’ve ever heard quoted as saying that his writing process is about 2 incredibly productive hours per day, and to have the will to STOP with plenty still left in the tank. With that, when I sit down, I am relentless & there is no sighing or looking off into space. I always come back ready to go & new ideas have appeared in the ensuing 24 hours. With the exception of editing/revising (when I sometimes will go 5+ hours at a time), I have never “created” for more than about 2-3 hours at a time, max. Anyway, that’s just me.
Do you have any works in progress?
1) I’m not done w/ teens and bigfoot. I’ve been kicking around a modern epic quest trilogy-type thing in the same story world. Not sure if I’m feeling it yet but I’ll know soon.
2) A collection of short story/essays about sucking at sports in high school, called “5th Quarter” like what David Sedaris would write if he had YA in mind.
Who is your favourite character in Chasing Prophecy?
Max because he’s a funny smartass.
Where did you get the idea for Chasing Prophecy?
Kind of started w/ the character names (see above). I’m interested in what makes good people turn bad, so I started with a sweet group of hippies, turned them into a cult, and went from there. The cult angle I got from David Koresh in Waco, Tx (burned up himself + his followers rather than surrender to the FBI). How do people get to that state of mind. Bigfoot is my tribute to Boo Radley, my all time fave character from my all-time fave book, To Kill a Mockingbird.
Who is your favourite author?
Can’t pick just one. The people most influential on my own work are Stephen King, Harper Lee, John Steinbeck, William Golding with a bit of Stephanie Meyer and Sherman Alexie mixed in. The one where I found him and just had to read everything he’d ever written in a month would be David Sedaris. He is so funny and says so much with not that many words. He is the most honest, real writer I’ve ever come across. John Green has been a big influence lately. I’ve gone from not hearing of him to reading all of it in about a year.
What is your favourite book?
What are you currently reading?
The 2nd Hunger Games
Amish Vampires in Space
The new David Sedaris
What are your hobbies?
Hanging with my eight year old, Zachary and getting into whatever he’s into. Reading & writing of course. Gave up snowboarding after 15 years so I could ski same runs with my family. Falling a lot. Learning. Loving my wife, Laura.
Chocolate or ice cream? Chocolate
Paperback or ebook? Ebook
Dogs or cats? Dogs
Go out or stay in? Stay in
Summer or winter? Summer (it lasts about 6 weeks in Seattle J)