Monday, October 01, 2007

An Interview with Creston Mapes

Creston Mapes returns to Kittens Come From Eggs to talk about his new powerhouse book, Nobody. This book has one of the clearest spiritual messages I’ve ever come across in fiction. Rich in subtly, this story isn’t preachy, it’s inspiring. You’ll walk away from this read, examining your own life and how you impact others. Now, let’s hear what Creston has to say about his latest book. (And stay tuned to the end for a chance to win a copy.)

Hey, Creston, great to have you back! Nobody just released. Can you tell us a little about the story?

Thanks for having me back, Dineen.

Nobody is the story of Las Vegas newspaper reporter Hudson Ambrose, who hears a report on the police scanner about an injured person at a bus stop along The Strip in Las Vegas. When Hudson goes to check it out in the pre-dawn hours, he finds a murdered homeless man with a safe-deposit box key and bankbook in his pocket worth close to $1 million. Because the police are slow to respond, Hudson is faced with a question—whether to wait for the cops and have the story get caught up in red tape, or swipe the key and bankbook, and run. Soon, Hudson finds himself on a deadly, suspense-filled investigation into the death the homeless man, Chester Holte. Who was this man? Was he really rich? Why was he living on the streets of Las Vegas? And why did the entire homeless community believe he was an angel in disguise?

Did you have to do a lot of research into Las Vegas and the homeless there for this story? Any of it on location?

Yes. My publisher sent me to Las Vegas for a number of days. I toured the city with a great guy named Brian Brooks with the Nevada Health Centers. Brian took me to several of the free clinics where the homeless of Las Vegas go for everything from chronic colds to spider bites. I interviewed doctors and nurses. We drove by the encampments and dry dessert wash beds where the homeless live, as well as the soup kitchens and other homeless hangouts. Of course, I visited the casinos and clubs while there as well.

There are some 10,000 homeless people in Las Vegas. Many suffer from drug addiction, depression, and mental illness. Some 6,000-8,000 people move to Las Vegas each month, many looking to “start over.” However, many of those same people end up homeless.

Las Vegas is the most visited tourist spot in the U.S., with 40 million visitors a year…more than tour the White House each year.

Chester Holte is a powerful character in this story. Amazingly, he’d dead before the story even opens, yet his presence is as strong as any of the other characters. What was that like, to write a character like that?

At times it was difficult. The book is done in the multiple first person point of view. So, the reader is hearing, first-hand, from a number of different characters. I love writing in the first-person and my editor helped my really work at making each character sound unique.

Chester is the only character in the novel we don’t hear from, first-hand. However, because Hudson is investigating his murder, we “see” flashbacks from Chester’s life that give the reader a very real and immediate sense of what he was like.

I enjoy writing from different and unique perspectives.

You credit your father for giving you the “seed” for this story? How did that come about and is Chester like your father? Who or what was your inspiration for this phenomenal and Jesus-like character?

My dad, Bernie, who passed away 10 months ago, was with me at a park in St. Augustine, Florida, when we saw a homeless man sitting on a park bench. The man was ripping chunks from a loaf of bread he was clutching. He threw a bunch to the black birds scattered all around him, and he ate some. My dad leaned near and said, “That would be a good idea for a book, Cres.” And so, when I heard my publisher was sending me to Las Vegas, that seed had been planted and I brought that idea to life by touring the homeless community and getting a good feel for what it’s like to be homeless in Las Vegas.

My dad was not the inspiration for Chester’s character (although Dad was a very generous man). I don’t know, I just envisioned this caring, compassionate homeless man who didn’t care about money, but cared about people. The more I wrote the book, the more Chester grew and formed into this almost angel-like character….but not so angel-like that he was unrealistic. He reminds me of the text when Jesus said to be kind to strangers, because we may be entertaining an angel in disguise.

Have you ever met a Chester Holte in the real world?

I wish I could say I have, but no, not yet. I do know several people who blow me away with their thoughtfulness, unselfishness, and generosity. I wish I could be more like them.

What journey did this story take you on personally?

Well, the journey to Las Vegas, for one. Also, when I was in Vegas, I met with Pastor Jud Wilhite of Central Christian Church, one of the country’s fastest-growing churches. Jud’s church’s mission is to “reach those who are far from God.” He shared a poem with me, written by the late Samuel Shoemaker, one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. When I read this poem, I knew it would become the theme for NOBODY. It’s all about becoming so deeply involved inside the church, that we forget about people outside the doors. I had done this once in my life, so it was very emotional for me to tell it again, through Chester’s life, on a much more dramatic scale, of course.

If you like, I’ll end with that poem here, which runs at the beginning of the novel. My hope is that readers will refer back to it often and reflect upon it as they read the novel:

I Stand By The Door

I stand by the door.
I neither go too far in nor stay too far out.
The door is the most important door in the world.
It is the door through which men walk when they find God.
There's no use in my going way inside and staying there
When so many are still outside and they, as much as I, crave to know where the door is
And all that so many ever find is only the wall where a door ought to be.
They creep along the wall like blind men with outstretched, groping hands
Feeling for a door, knowing there must be a door, yet they never find it.
So I stand by the door.

The most tremendous thing in the world is for men to find that door -
The door to God.
The most important thing any man can do
Is to take hold of one of those blind, groping hands and put it on the latch -
The latch that only clicks and opens to the man's own touch.
Men die outside that door
As starving beggars die on cold nights in cruel cities in the dead of winter
Die for want of what is within their grasp
They live on the other side of it, live because they have found it
Nothing else matters compared to helping them find it
And open it and walk in and find Him.
So I stand by the door.

Go in great saints, go all the way in
Go way down in the cavernous cellars and way into the spacious attics
It is a vast roomy house, this house where God is.
Go into the deepest of hidden casements of withdrawal, of silence, of sainthood
Some must inhabit those inner rooms,
And know the depths and heights of God
And call outside to the rest of us how wonderful it is
Sometimes I take a deeper look in, sometimes venture in a little farther
But my place seems close to the opening
So I stand by the door.

There is another reason why I stand there -
Some people get part way in and become afraid
Lest God in the zeal of His house devour them
For God is so very great and asks all of us.
And these people feel a cosmic claustrophobia and they want to get out
"Let me out!" they cry, and the people way inside terrify them more.
Somebody must be by the door to tell them that they are spoiled for the old life
They have seen too much.
Once taste God and nothing but God will do anymore.
Somebody must be watching for the frightened
Who seek to sneak out just where they came in
To tell them how much better it is inside.
The people too far in do not see how near these are to leaving
Preoccupied with the wonder of it all
Somebody must watch for those who have entered the door but would like to run away
So for them too, I stand by the door.
I admire the people who go way in,

But I wish they would not forget how it was before they got in
Then they would be able to help the people who have not yet even found the door
Or the people who want to run away from God again
You can go in too deeply and stay in too long and forget the people outside the door
As for me, I shall take my old accustomed place
Near enough to God to hear Him and know He is there
But not far from men as to not hear them and remember that they are there too.
Where? Outside the door.
Thousands of them, millions of them
But more important for me, one of them, two of them, ten of them
Whose hands I am intended to put on the latch
So I shall stand by the door and wait for those who seek it.
I had rather be a doorkeeper, so I stand by the door.

Stand By the Door: The Life of Sam Shoemaker, by Helen Smith Shoemaker, Word Books, 1967

Thanks again, Dineen. Keep writing for Him.

Thanks, Creston! Will do. Now you readers out there, here's your bonus. Whoever can tell me what kind of shoes Chester Holte wears gets a signed copy of this awesome book!

1 comment:

ChristyJan said...

black Converse high tops?