Wednesday, May 2, 2012

From Limbo with Love

Today's guest blogger, Jon Jefferson, is the “Jefferson” half of the crime fiction duo Jefferson Bass. Working in collaboration with Dr. Bill Bass, the forensic anthropologist who founded the Body Farm at the University of Tennessee, Jon writes the bestselling series of Body Farm novels. The latest, The Inquisitor's Key, comes out May 8. 

Jon Jefferson (left) and Dr. Bill Bass at the gate of the Body Farm. (Photo by Erik Bledsoe.)
by Jon Jefferson
A few years ago I complained to a friend – an old, wise friend – that I felt myself at a crossroads, unsure which direction to head. I was utterly in limbo, I told him – and I really hated the limbo. He listened, then he was quiet for a minute; finally he said, “You’re in the place of not-knowing, and you need to hang out there for awhile.”

I said, “But I want to know where I’m going; what the next point on the journey is.” He smiled and said something about trusting my intuition to guide me there, even if I didn’t know where “there” was until I arrived.

I’m reminded of this as I look back on The Inquisitor’s Key: a book whose seeds were planted in my mind in the 1990s, although I didn’t notice them sprouting out my ears until a year and a half ago.

The year was 1998. I’d recently started writing and producing television documentaries (a career for which I’d had approximately thirty seconds of training), and I’d just finishing shooting for a week in Rome and at the Vatican, for a two-hour Arts & Entertainment Special called “The Vatican Revealed.” (Several bits of trivia: That show—which A&E trotted out and rebroadcast for years, every Easter, and every time Pope John Paul II looked likely to die—is still available for purchase on Amazon; one Amazon customer has grumbled that the show is obviously the work of a brainwashed Vatican mouthpiece; another has complained that it was clearly made by someone with a deep bias against the Vatican… But I digress.) On the way home from shooting in Italy, we made a two-day detour, almost as an afterthought, to Avignon, France, a small city in Provence where a series of French popes reigned in the 1300s.

When I arrived in Avignon – a small-town boy from Protestant-prone Alabama – I was blown away. The city itself was lovely, a medieval jewel-box tucked into a loop of the Rhone River, but the most astonishing thing was the Palace of the Popes – an immense, impregnable fortress, protected by massive towers and soaring battlements. This would make a cool location for a movie, I thought vaguely. But that vague thought was as far as my thinking went … or so I thought.

 Fast-forward to the fall of 2010, when I was casting about for ideas for a crime novel I’d need to research and write in 2011. Avignon bubbled to the surface: a modern-day crime novel, set in a city that seemed to retain much of its medieval mystery and majesty. I began researching Avignon’s past, in far more detail than I had back in 1998. The more I learned, the more fascinating – and haunting – I found Avignon’s past to be. Here was a city that, seven centuries ago, was a village of a few thousand people. When a French pope was elected, and decided Rome posed too many dangers, he decided to relocate the papal court to Avignon. That move turned Avignon into Europe’s biggest boomtown… and into the continent’s crossroads of money and power. The population grew more than ten-fold, to 50,000. Twenty cardinals’ palaces were built in and around Avignon. Artists, musicians, and writers flocked to the papal court, which made that of the king of France look small and shabby by comparison. There were scandals (the writer Petrarch called Avignon “the whore of Babylon,” charging members of the papal court with orgies and incest), power-plays, and mysteries. Chief among the mysteries was the disappearance of Meister Johannes Eckhart, a prominent theologian and preacher who came to Avignon to defend himself against charges of heresy and was never seen again.

Before long I found myself writing two stories about Avignon – a 21st-century murder and a 13th-century mystery – linked by old bones and by timeless evil: the lust for power, masquerading as piety and religious fervor.

When I finished writing The Inquisitor’s Key, I grieved. The time I spent hanging out in Avignon – Avignon on the Rhone, and Avignon in my mind – was the richest, most intense period of writerly immersion I’ve ever had. I miss the place, and I especially miss the medieval characters – the mooning and self-righteous Petrarch, his beloved and unattainable Laura, the earthy painter Simone Martini, even the heretic-obsessed inquisitor, Jacques Fournier.

What’s next, now that this one’s done? I wish I knew. I’m at a crossroads, hanging out, unsure which direction to head. I’m utterly in limbo, and I really hate being in ...



Did I mention that I love the journey?


For more on Jefferson Bass, LIKE them on Facebook, read their blog, follow them on Twitter, and visit their website. Also available: a 99-cent e-story prequel to The Inquisitor’s Key entitled Madonna & Corpse.


Nancy Adams said...

I can't wait to read the book. I love mysteries with international settings and visited Avignon with my husband several years ago. It is a gorgeous city.

Best wishes for success!

Karen Christensen Free said...

I'm at a crossroads at the moment, as well. "Limbo" also describes my current situation. Will reading THE INQUISITOR'S KEY inspire my next step? I'm looking for "signs" that will lead me to the next chapter of my life. At the very least, I know I'll enjoy the ride! Sounds like you have provided a juicy mystery set in a fascinating place. I will be touring parts of Germany and Italy this summer and will possibly take a weekend trip to Paris. Avignon is not on the agenda for this adventure, but I'm sure I'll want to add it to my list for the future! Can't wait to read your book!

Misti Adams Barnes said...

Reading and feeling the novels and stories I love help to push past my barriers. Being a paranormal author and winding forensics into a plot I couldn't quite find satisfaction with seems to become easier with each book I delve into. I love Madonna and Corpse, and the excitement I get from reading this story pushed me through my latest block. Best of all things to you both! I hope to get the chance to meet you someday!

Jon Jefferson said...

Avignon IS a gorgeous city! Karen, if for some reason the train tracks to Paris are pulled up this summer, you couldn't go wrong by swimming up the Rhone - you're a strong swimmer, right? ;) - to the City of the Popes for a weekend! Misti, thanks - so glad to have been of some help!

Last but not least, many thanks and an absinthe-sweetened kiss to POE'S DEADLY DAUGHTERS for hosting the guest blog! Jon

KaYe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
KaYe said...

I think we all have a period of limbo in our journey through life. I believe the limbo is a place to evaluate the possiblities that make the journey even more exciting! It is also a time of reflection to take in the adventures you have already ensnared.
In reading the Jefferson Bass novels, I have been able to experience the twists and turns of each adventure. My heart races at the thrilling moments, I find myself laughing out loud at humorous and witty narratives, and even tearing up in the heartfelt dramatizations of these novels. I love how you feel as if you are part of the story. That is what makes the Jefferson Bass Novels so unique and gripping.
We have all been waiting in limbo for the release of "The Inquisitor's Key" and we have enjoyed "Madonna and Corpse" as a prequel pacifier. It will be a great new journey that comes with a new set of emotions and a coveted new adventure!

Jon Jefferson said...

BTW, if you're coveting a FREE COPY of the new adventure in THE INQUISITOR'S KEY, go to Jon's blog site (by clicking on his hyperlinked name) and check out the giveaway contest!

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