Award-winning author J. W. Zarek is well known for his book, “Naughty or Nice – Whose List Are You On?” as well as, his bestselling book called, The Happiness Code, co-authored with Ray Brehm and others. Aside from helping catch naughty folk for the Government, J.W has turned his world-class talents to writing fiction and graphic novels. Now we are catching up with him as he tells us about his new epic fantasy novel called, “The Devil Pulls The Strings!” Continue reading for an exclusive interview.
Tell us about The Devil Pulls The Strings and what prompted you to write it?
I grew up reading epic fantasy adventures and listening to bedtime stories and fairy tales about Slavic mythology and Baba Yaga.
So, I wrote The Devil Pulls the Strings, to honor the hero’s journey and infuse Slavic mythology and all the many faces of the mother of all witches, Baba Yaga, in a modern setting, and address a rumor about Niccolò Paganini, born in 1782.
Paganini was the world’s first Rockstar of his day, known as the world’s greatest violinist who revolutionized violin technique. Rumor has it, his mother gave Paganini’s soul to the Devil so Paganini could be the world’s greatest violinist.
Imagine a world where that’s true. Then you’d be immersed in the world of The Devil Pulls the Strings, where time travel, twisted history, secret societies, Paganini’s music, and one haunted hero collide.
The Devil Pulls the Strings is the pulse-pounding first tale in the Archivist series, set in modern-day Wentzville, MO, New York City, and 1813 Genoa, Italy.
Twenty-two-year-old Boone Daniels has problems, debilitating panic attack, gut-wrenching guilt, a wendigo haunting him since age six, and now he almost killed his best friend in a joust. But when he fills in for his injured friend at a New York gig, he goes to meet the gig’s contact at his NYC brownstone. A body falls from the brownstone balcony and the place explodes with gunfire. Boone barely escapes but uncovers a sinister plot to perform a rare Paganini piece that summons the Devil to trap Baba Yaga and destroy modern-day New York City.
He then finds himself on a race through time, to capture the cursed melody. Along the way, a Romani immortal, steampunk vampires, and Baba Yaga set the stage for war, and Boone shall have to risk death for redemption. All Boone wants is to keep a promise to a friend. The same friend, he almost killed last Sunday during a joust.
Can a small-town Missouri musician outplay the supernatural and save NYC’s soul?
If you like when tortured heroes, epic battles, time travel, twisted history, and secret societies collide, then you’ll love this spectacular page-turner.
Was the main character, Boone inspired by a real person?
Not intentionally, but Boone Daniels could easily be the love child of Jim Morrison from The Doors and the fictitious character, Nick Rivers (Played by Val Kilmer), an America Rockstar in 1984 American action-comedy Top Secret!
What was your favorite part of writing this book?
Music and food rule Boone’s world, and readers see and experience this throughout the entire story.
Two of my favorite scenes show Boone seeing his love interest, Sapphire Anjou in a dress for the first time, and his encounter with an elite European university music professor at a table with finger foods made for the most fun writing. Excerpts are shown below:
Excerpt #1 From Chapter Ten – Play Me, Paganini
The scent of honeysuckle wafts through the air.
“So, what do you think?” Sapphire’s voice beams over my shoulder.
I turn. Tom Petty sings in my head “Free fallin”. A stunning red satin shoulder’s bare cocktail dress covers Sapphire’s curves perfectly.
“Earth to Boone, how do I look?” She slow-spins with one palm up. “It’s a Dolce and Gabbana.” She scans my face with fierce intensity. An obsessive musician’s stare. That familiar artist addict’s stare. A stare that states I’m ready for my next musical high. To absorb, to breathe in, to consume every note. To learn, to fidget, to fiddle, to fixate, to play, to sail with every nuance written in the bars. Yeah, it was that kind of a stare.
The same stare on my face when I see the perfect sandwich and know it’s mine.
“Wow. Your dress has a name?” I tug at my T-shirt collar. “Did they crank up the heat in this place? My palms are sweating.” I run my hands down the side of my jeans. “You in that red dress . . . gorgeous.” My gaze finds every
accentuated curve playing hide-and-seek in the folds of the fabric. “Double wow. Words-don’t-do-your-outfit-justice wow. It’s prettier than any tricked-out Schecter Hellraiser Extreme 4 bass guitar.”
“I don’t know about guitars, but I’ll take that as a compliment.” She shakes her head. “Come on, we might catch the end of Professor Wickhamby’s thirty-minute lecture on Paganini, and then the competition starts.”
Excerpt #2 From Chapter Eleven – Professor Wickhamby
I chew and swallow the remaining bits of cookie in my mouth. “So, the charity raises millions of dollars for a worthy cause, and Sinti’s guys come along with guns because he doesn’t want to share Paganini’s music with the world?” I cover my mouth to keep a burp and cookie crumbs from breaking free. I fail.
Out blasts, an ungodly uber-ogre belch Cookie Monster would be proud of, plus the crumbs, I rapid-fire wipe off my T-shirt and jeans.
Wickhamby breathes in deep. He exhales slow and long. “Do either of you believe in magic?”
“I guess.” Sapphire stretches for another macaroon but stops and pulls her hand back.
Best cookies ever. I can’t stop eating these if I wanted to. I snatch another cookie. “I can make two double cheeseburgers and a pint of beer disappear in
under two minutes. Does that count as magic?”
Wickhamby moves the plate of cookies just out of my reach. “Mr. Daniels, I’m not talking about your gastro-obscene style of magic.” His tone rises sharp.
“The Paganini piece is a secret song and powerful summoning spell hidden in three of his best compositions: 24 Caprices, Cantabile, and Le Streghe. Bring
all the music sheets together under the moonlight, and the actual piece meant to be played is revealed. And also, the summoning spell. It’s such a stroke of genius.”
Would you say there is an underlying message to The Devil Pulls The Strings?
Hope and faith.
As mentioned further above, Boone suffers from debilitating panic attacks because he lost his parents when he was six, during an attack from an evil spirit, a wendigo. The same wendigo that haunts Boone, and reappears every time he finds himself in dark, tight spaces or in the middle of a panic attack.
Worse, he almost killed his best friend, Flynn during a Ren Faire Joust. In the hospital, Flynn makes Boone promise to take his band’s NYC gig because Boone knows the band’s entire set.
But from the moment Boone arrives in NYC, he finds himself in the middle of a centuries-old war between secret societies, attempting to use Paganini’s music to summon the Devil in three days. And if Boone doesn’t stop the ceremony, NYC might be destroyed. But all Boone wants to do is keep his promise to his friend he almost killed in a Ren Faire Joust.
What kind of reader do you think will really enjoy this book?
Everyone who loves where time travel, twisted history, secret societies, Paganini’s music, and one haunted hero collide.
You are also the co-author of the bestselling non-fiction book, The Happiness Code. What made you make the switch to fiction?
There wasn’t a switch per se, because I have a goal to write one hundred books, and I write non-fiction, fiction, and children’s books. But bear with me, because my primary job is to catch naughty folk for the government, and I work 14-16+ hour days as a matter of routine.
Where can our readers learn more about you and your books?
You can learn more about me on my website https://www.jwzarek.com, or on Facebook, and other social media platforms. And The Devil Pulls the Strings and The Happiness Code are both found on Amazon.
Do you have any other books in the works you would like to tell us about?
Bestselling author Adam Hogue invited me to co-author his next book, by authors for authors, filled with stories, cautionary tales, step-by-step instructions, and more. This book’s launch date is TDB, so check my website for updates.
Bestselling author Brian Wright invited me to co-author his next book, The Best Lessons I Learned from My Dad. Brian intends to launch this book in November, and the best lesson I learned from my dad involves a football helmet and a pair of earmuffs.
And I’m currently on a research road trip interviewing entomologists in Kentucky, Tennessee, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona to infuse their data and facts about butterflies and moths into the children’s book, Bella and the Lost Locket.
It’s the pandemic, and eight-year-old Bella misses her Grandmother Yetta, a retired entomologist, who builds public and private butterfly gardens around the globe.
Bella’s grandmother contacts her because she’s lost her butterfly locket and needs Bella’s help to remember where on their butterfly adventures around the globe, she last saw the locket.
This book is fun, entertaining, educational, and shares with readers facts, myths, jokes, poems, and quotes about butterflies and moths.
After I finish writing Bella and the Lost Locket, I’ll write the second book in The Archivist Series.
And the fourth book in the Archivist Series shall be about the Domovoi and their nine clans, and their thousand-year treasure war.
In Slavic mythology, the domovoi is most similar to house-elves or brownies and protect homes and property. I expand on this concept and introduce the domovoi in The Devil Pulls the Strings, as guardians of the Lavender and Roses Society’s treasure and magical items found in the society’s caves, tunnels, and vaults.
And when anything is stolen, they transform into creatures similar to the monsters found in the movie Critters and track down the thieves to retrieve what’s stolen. In this state, Domovoi is relentless and similar to the piranha. When piranha are done with their prey, they leave bones. The domovoi do not.
I created nine clans of domovoi, and I’d love to see what misadventures and trouble this domovoi get into, and how their thousand-year treasure war fits perfectly in the Archivist Series.
Thank you for this interview.