Friday, March 6, 2020

Interview With Novelist Jason Z. Morris


Jason Morris, Ph.D., Professor and Chair, Department of Natural Sciences at Fordham University  recently debuted as a novelist with the publication of Thicker Than Mud.  Below is an interview with Jason, who by the way is a friend: 

1.      Jason, what inspired you to pen your debut novel, Thicker Than Mud? 
I didn’t quite realize it until later, but this book had its beginning at my grandfather’s burial.  In Jewish tradition, the mourners help bury the dead.  It’s the last thing in this world that we can do for the person we loved.  It’s an expression of chesed, caritas, love—because a kindness to the dead can never be repaid. 

I was very close to my grandfather. I remember very clearly how reluctant I was to hand the shovel to the next mourner.  I’m not a greedy person, but that was something I found very difficult to share. I was surprised by that, because it did mean a lot to me that so many other people loved my grandfather, too. I thought about my first emotional response afterwards— for years. 

I felt that I wanted to try to tell the story of someone who couldn’t take that next step of sharing that shovel, so to speak—someone we could sympathize with and understand but who couldn’t mourn in community.  Adam's conflict with Danny, who also had such strong ties to the grandfather in the book, flowed from my thinking about that. All the other events and relationships in the novel, in fact: Adam’s relationships with his mentor and his student and his department chair, his friendships with Steven and Todd, his eventual involvement with the police, the romance in the book—all flowed from the building of a world in which Adam’s character, the character of a man who needs to retain exclusive claim to his grandfather, makes sense and could develop. 

2.      What is it about?
The book’s protagonist is Adam Drascher, a Jewish archaeology professor at a small Jesuit college in the Bronx.  When the book begins, Adam is at a standstill.  He is in love with his former mentor, though he knows that relationship has no future. Though Adam’s tenure decision is approaching, he has little to show for his efforts studying the cult of the dead in ancient Israel. Everything changes for Adam when he discovers a tablet that sheds light on the Healers, shadowy underworld figures in Canaanite myth and in the Bible, on the same day that he loses his grandfather, the man who raised him. As Adam mourns for his grandfather and labors to interpret the text of the tablet, he unearths family secrets that test his loyalties and entangle him in the police investigation of Danny, an old family friend.

3. Is it more about loss and healing or Biblical history and archaeology?
At its core, the novel is a family story, though it’s also a romance with a bit of a detective story in the mix. But Jewish learning and archaeology and religion and music academic politics are central, too. They help form the prism through which Adam experiences and understands his world.

4. Kirkus Reviews said your book “blends intriguing civilization history and personal drama.” What do you hope your book will leave readers feeling or thinking?
I hope the characters stay with people. I've been very gratified to hear from many readers that these characters felt real: that people think about them for a long time after reading the book and want to know what happens to them after the book concludes.  I was really touched to hear from a number of people that reading the book made them feel that they wanted to draw closer to people in their own lives--that after reading the book, they wanted to reach out to a parent or a sibling or an old friend and talk about it.

5. Does your book have movie potential?
I sure think so! The book picks up pace pretty steadily, and I think some of the characters would play very well on screen. And music plays such a prominent role that I already have a pretty good idea of what the soundtrack would be.

6. Which authors do you emulate? Why?
I love Laurence Sterne (Tristram Shandy and Sentimental Journey) and John Steinbeck (especially Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday) because they have such great affection even for their deeply flawed characters. I felt that for my characters, and I hope it comes through in the writing.  I also loved their humor.  I thought Umberto Eco (Name of the Rose) did a great job of writing suspensefully about pretty arcane subjects and keeping the reader engaged while teaching them something new.  I hope I achieved that.

7. What has the process of writing, researching, publishing, and marketing your book been like?
The writing was the hardest, longest, and possibly the most educational project I've ever undertaken. I'm glad I didn't know how difficult it was going to be before I started, or I might never have begun, and it was a wonderful experience. I'm an academic (genetics professor), so doing research is like breathing to me, and that was just a joy.  Finding a publisher was very difficult, and I got very lucky-- a colleague pointed out that Wipf and Stock publishes a lot of biblical archaeology, and since my protagonist is a biblical archaeologist, they would have a built in audience.  As for marketing, I haven't done enough. I do have a radio interview ( And I've done several book events, though I'd like to do more. But I have no training or experience in marketing, and with a full time job, it's been hard even to figure out what I need to learn.

8. What advice do you have for struggling writers?
When I was writing this, I thought about what I would need to achieve to feel like this was a worthwhile experience. I determined that if the world at large spent as many hours reading it as I spent writing it, then it wouldn't feel like a vanity project.  I've certainly achieved that, but in the interim I realized that as gratifying as if has been to see people appreciating the book, bringing it to the point where it was the best book I could write was really rewarding in itself.  It was well worth all those drafts and all those years of work.  But having said that: please read the book! 

If you want to learn more, please consult:


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Brian Feinblum’s insightful views, provocative opinions, and interesting ideas expressed in this terrific blog are his alone and not that of his employer or anyone else. You can – and should -- follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels much more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog ©2020. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s Independent.  This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. Also named by as a "best resource.” He recently hosted a panel on book publicity for Book Expo America.

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