Kasper Interviews Author Jay Cutts

Death by Haggis Book Cover Death by Haggis
Jay Cutts
Sci fi/fantasy humor detective mystery
December 4, 2013

An Amazon Breakthrough Novel Quarterfinalist, Death by Haggis is a tongue in cheek detective novel inspired by the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest for the "opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels."

Until the day Jane Hamchester walked into his squalid office, the highlight of Detective Sam Barlow's life had been a particularly good tuna sandwich. Now he is charged with trying to save the life of the only woman he ever, uhm, thought was really swell. His only problem is that there are no clues, other than the nonsensical utterances of a dying man.

Barlow's desperate search takes him first to Scotland and then to the Aegean. But time is running out. Not only for Jane but for the human race. Barlow's only possible hope lies at the bottom of an ancient cavern, a remnant from the time when a different kind of human populated the Earth, a kind of human that could have saved mankind. Alas, they are long extinct. Or are they?

JAY CUTTS AUTHOR BIO:

Jay Cutts author interview on the FSFNet (Fantasy and Science Fiction Network) website

I’ve been writing comedy, educational materials, and marketing materials over the past 45 years. My published works include the (hopefully) non-fiction Barron’s MCAT Prep Book (October 2011), and Barron’s LSAT Prep Book (August 2013).

I’ve performed publicly as Woody Allen on San Diego At Large with Larry Himmel (Television, San Diego, CA) and as various comic characters on The Humor Room (Television, Rochester, NY)

I’ve also been known to play haunting folk tunes on the accordion on the streets of Warsaw, Prague, Bratislava, Budapest, and various towns in Romania. Sometimes I get chased away. Sometimes people bring me food. Occasionally someone actually stops and listens, which makes me smile.

 

AUTHOR INTERVIEW QUESTIONS:

What other writing have you done?

I’m the lead author of the three test preparation projects for Barron’s Educational Publishing. Two are on the MCAT exam and one is for the LSAT (med school and law school respectively.) Hopefully, these works are non-fiction.

What makes your writing unique compared to others in the genre?

I tend to see the humor in the human condition and this comes out in my books. I certainly enjoy many non-humorous sci-fi and fantasy books, but my favorite authors – Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, Jasper Fford, Kage Baker, Connie Willis – leave me smiling because of the humor that flows from them.

What’s the story behind your book title?

Well, I had this nicely completed novel sitting in front of me without a name. Sort of like staring at your new-born baby and wondering what the heck you should call it. “Nigel” was out of the question, as was “Boy” or “Rex.”

Much of the narrative took place in Scotland. The story involved murder. “Some sort of murder via something Scottish” seemed a bit cumbersome, so I shortened it to “Death by Haggis.” Are you sorry you asked?

As for “Annie Gomez and the Gigantic Foot of Doom,” it was the only combination of words that had not yet been used as the title for a novel, as far as I could tell. From now on the rest of you will have to repeat already used titles. I would personally recommend “A Tale of Two Cities.” It has a particular ring to it and you have the choice of any two cities in the world. I’ve heard that Cleveland is particularly interested in being included.

What’s the basic plot of your book or series?

Death by Haggis – Girl in distress finds bumbling detective. Detective falls in love and risks everything to save girl from being murdered. “Everything” includes his regular supply of tuna sandwiches and possibly his life. His sleuthing takes him to Scotland, where he stumbles across the remnants of an ancient branch of humanity. Then he travels to Greece, where he teaches the natives to make blueberry “cakes of Pan.” Eventually, strange things happen.

Annie Gomez and the Gigantic Foot of Doom – A tenth-grade girl is being manipulated by two different alien races, one of which is intent on destroying humanity and the other of which is trying to prevent that. But how is she to tell which is which? She and her gang of friends travel to a different dimension and to a distant planet, meeting many friends, or possibly enemies. In the end, Annie alone must face the alien who is about to eliminate humanity. Against overwhelming odds, she is overwhelmed. Will help come? Will it be in time? Or will this book end with all the characters you came to love being brutally destroyed? I’m not going to give it away.

How do you develop your characters?

This is a fascinating process. The characters all seem to be based on aspects of myself, often ones that I have only become aware of through other people or through the actual process of writing the character. The characters are mythological creatures, archetypes, in the sense of the Greek gods, who, unlike the western God, are full of lovable and hatable quirks and flaws.

What are you working on now?

Lately, I’ve been writing many short stories. I love writing them. They are like making cookies, as opposed to preparing a banquet for a thousand people (which is how writing novels feels to me.) Many of my recent stories have a very serious or poignant side and humor would not be appropriate in them. Others are silly. But they are all things that I feel need to be expressed and shared.

Just to give a simple example, I recently remember my grandpa – who died at the age of 102 in 1986 – singing “It ain’t gonna rain no more no more. It ain’t gonna rain no more. How in the heck can I wash my neck if it ain’t gonna rain no more.”

From that wonderful memory, a story began to spin. It involved an old man living alone in a cabin in the country during a time when most of the water on Earth has disappeared and only the very wealthy have access to water. It hadn’t rained in years. His neck was probably quite dirty.

But what can one little old man with memories of better times do? He takes one last hike up to the only remaining reservoir to sit in the shade by the water, though the security guards there won’t even let him dip his feet in. And then …

How did you go about developing your cover artwork?

For Death by Haggis, I hired the daughter of my friend and co-author Terry Boothman. She has been a fantastic artist since she was two years old. For Annie Gomez, I used part of the same artwork to modify a Createspace template, along with some additional public domain images. Did that one myself in a couple hours and I think it works pretty nicely. Or maybe I’m being deluded.

Quick quiz:

Favourite food: Haggis (I greatly enjoy not eating it.)

Silliest saying: Eat a nectarine. It’s the best fruit ever made.

Best holiday spot: Poughkeepsie.

Favourite song at the moment: Sa mi canti cobzar batran ce va.

With writing, are you a plotter or (seat-of-your) pantser? Both actually.

Star Wars or Lord of the Rings: Star Wars.

Best superpower: I can leap really short buildings, though it may take me a couple bounds.

Number one thing to do on your bucket list: Meet Mel Brooks.

Interviewed by Kasper Beaumont, author of the Hunters of Reloria fantasy series. www.huntersofreloria.weebly.com

Hey folks, check these out before you leave.

JAY CUTT’S LINKS:

BOOK EXCERPTS

Death by Haggis

Genre: Sci fi/fantasy humor detective mystery

Synopsis

Death By Haggis is the story of Sam Barlow, a fumbling private eye with a spotty record but a golden heart. Until the day Jane Hamchester walked into his squalid office, the highlight of Detective Sam Barlow’s life had been a particularly good tuna sandwich. Now he is charged with trying to save the life of the only woman he ever, uhm, thought was really swell. His only problem is that there are no clues, other than the nonsensical utterances of a dying man.

Barlow’s desperate search takes him first to the Highlands of Scotland and then to the Aegean. But time is running out. Not only for Jane but for the human race. Barlow’s only possible hope lies at the bottom of an ancient cavern, a remnant from the time when a different kind of human populated the Earth, a kind of human that could have saved mankind. Alas, they are long extinct. Or are they?

Excerpt: A Tuna Sandwich, A Redhead, and a Magnum

Jay Cutts book on the FSFNet (Fantasy and Science Fiction Network) website

Click to view on Amazon

Sam Barlow, Private Eye, sat in his cluttered office, working tuna salad on Kimmelwick and cold coffee, and watching the light from his tiny window make French impressionist rhomboids on the desk when she walked in, sporting a body like a Japanese sneak attack, a face that could make him crawl all the way to Sandusky wearing nothing more than a rain hat and a two-dollar phony smile, and a trained parrot that said, “Touch her and I claw your eyes out.”

“Are you half the man they say you are?” she purred from the doorway. Barlow stopped in mid-bite. He had no time for beautiful, intelligent, sensitive dames who desperately needed his help. Ok, ok, he did have time. He just couldn’t quite make his  mouth work.

“Yeah, sure. No,” he mumbled. He pointed to the straight-backed wooden chair in the corner, half covered with old magazines. “Ya wanna sit down or something?” He wiped a dribble of mayo off his mouth with the back of his hand and then held his hand in the air while he looked in vain for something to wipe it with. He could tell she was looking at him. There was no place to hide.

“I … didn’t mean that you’re half a man …” Barlow managed to look up. Her face was starting to flush. God, she’s beautiful, he thought. And she’s almost as nervous as I am. “I just meant that they say you’re a swell detective and I didn’t mean that you’re short or …Ohhh.” Dabbing at her eyes with her left hand, she swept some magazines off the chair and collapsed into it. “Could you please look the other way? My stocking is driving me crazy.”

He couldn’t. He tried to move his head but his eyes were glued to her leg. Finally, he put his hand over his eyes. “Sorry. Neck problem. Go ahead.”

“Ok. You can look now.” Barlow put his hand down. He looked at her. She sat there, quietly, not talking, just looking at him, like … like … a dog, he thought. Yeah, like how a dog just looks at you like your it’s best friend and it’s happy just to wait there and look at you until you think of something to play…

“Say, do you happen to have any cookies, Mr. Barlow?”

“Cookies? Sure. Hey, just sit, ok? Stay.” He got up and walked over to the filing cabinet. He always kept a few snacks there but he never remembered if they were under S for snack or C for cookies. He found an oatmeal cookie that had been filed under F for no particular reason and brought it over to her.

“Thank you. I’m sorry,” she said. “I haven’t eaten much for days. Please, Mr. Barlow, I need help. I just found out that,” and she looked off as though watching a distant thunderstorm approaching on the horizon, “my world is collapsing,” she thought to herself. “But I can’t tell him that.”

Barlow followed her gaze off into the distance but he didn’t see anything. “I can’t help ya if you don’t talk to me,” he said. “I know it’s hard. I see dames like you all the time.” No, I don’t, he said to himself. I’ve never seen a dame like you. “What say me and you go downstairs to the Filthy Barrel and talk over a beer?”

“What say you and I go downstairs,” she intoned.

“Yeah, sure. That’s what I said.”

“No. You said ‘me and you’.”

“Ok. This conversation is getting crowded. Oh, and by the way, you do have a name, don’t ya?”

“Oh, Mr. Barlow. I’m sorry. It’s just that I’m so nervous. You can call me … Jane.”

“Jane, eh? Ok, ‘Jane’.” Barlow grabbed his coat off the back of the chair, grabbed his magnum from the desk and walked over to Jane. “You can call me Sam.” He stuck his hand out and she took it in both of hers and gave it a squeeze. Barlow froze. In his mind time rewound itself and he was suddenly on a playground in front of a swing set, waiting and waiting for a turn that never came until Susie Lonergan took his hand and gently led him over to the nearest swing and asked the kid there if he would let this little boy have a turn …

Time returned. They left the office. Barlow stopped to set the thirteen locks and five booby traps that kept every thug in town out of his records. They stepped into the elevator. The door closed and they found themselves pressed a little too closely together for either one’s comfort, but for different reasons. “Down, Pepe,” he half shouted.

They stopped on the 1st floor. He took Jane by the elbow and lurched into the lobby of the old Stansfield Building. They walked briskly to the magazine stand where Barlow dropped two bits for a copy of Modern Bride – he liked the pictures – then to the street.

“I have to tell you the truth,” Jane said as they walked in the light drizzle. “Sam, I think someone’s trying to kill me.”

Barlow grabbed her by the arm and yanked her out from under the shadow of the piano that was falling from five stories up. It crashed loudly on the street, playing the final chord from some Rachmaninov concerto, if there was such a thing.

“Why do you say that?”

“It’s just this creepy feeling. And this note.” She pulled a crumpled bit of paper from a hiding place in her blouse. It read, “Somebody’s trying to kill me, I think.”

Annie Gomez and the Gigantic Foot of Doom

Genre: YA sci-fi/fantasy humor

Synopsis

Jay Cutts book on the FSFNet (Fantasy and Science Fiction Network) website

Click to view on Amazon

Too smart, too tall, too cool to be popular, 10th grader Annie Gomez finds that her mind has become the battleground for two alien forces, one trying to destroy humanity and one trying to save it. Despite her desperate efforts, and those of her “coterie” of fellow outcasts, she can’t tell which is which. As the Gigantic Foot descends on humanity, Annie holds her world’s fate in her trembling hands.

Annie Gomez and the Gigantic Foot of Doom is aimed at young adult readers but will also appeal to the wide adult audience that enjoys imaginative sci-fi/fantasy with a humorous twist, a la Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching books. Annie Gomez stands out from other YA fantasy in that the heroine is a very competent, highly intelligent, multicultural, and yet socially unsure female. She has a widely multicultural gang of friends, including an Inuit/African American, a Romanian Rrom, a Jewish girl, an autistic genius, and a boy who is too small for his age but plays world-class jazz.

Excerpt

When a 10th grade girl who has flunked every quiz and test for the entire semester aces her biology final with a perfect score, there is only one explanation. What bothered Dr. Tripledoor, the biology teacher, more than the score itself, though, was the answer that Annie Gomez had put down for the extra credit essay question: What in your opinion most makes biology relevant to our lives? Instead of the ever popular, I love biology because it lets us eat and sleep or (giggle, giggle) Without biology there would be no reason for Saturday night dates, Annie had written:

The human race faces the very real and immediate danger of total extinction NOW.

She had also decorated each end of her sentence with a very neat but not biologically accurate picture of a flower, colored with pink highlighter.

The reason this answer caused Dr. Tripledoor undue anxiety was that he feared she was right. There was only one thing that would explain a 10th grade girl flunking every test and quiz and then achieving a perfect score and writing that essay. Alien intervention.

Dr. Tripledoor stroked his small, graying goatee and stared into space. He wasn’t musing or contemplating or wondering. He was purposely staring into space because that, he knew, was where the danger, and just possibly the solution, lay. And, truth be told (though Dr. Tripledoor may not have liked it to be told) he was gripped by a cold, hopeless fear. Compared to the immensity of space, he suddenly felt infinitely tiny. Compared to space, he was, in fact, infinitely tiny[1], but being a biologist and not an astronomer, he had never considered the fact before. To make things worse, he suddenly realized that, as it was five o’clock on Friday, he was probably the only person left in the school building. A shiver ran up his spine. He jumped up and began collecting the papers he still had to grade, along with his lunch bag, walking stick, sunglasses, and a freeze-dried scorpion that he planned to add to his “terrarium of death” (his favorite hobby) over the weekend.

Before he left the room, he wrote a small note to himself and stuck it in the middle of his desk. “Monday. Warn Annie.” Then, keeping his eyes down, he scurried (in a shuffling sort of way) out of the building, into his car, and away.

Annie Gomez was not the type of person who usually needed warning. She was also not the type of person who usually flunked quizzes and tests. She was, even by her own acknowledgment (though she never said so out loud) the brightest person in Highbotham High School. Something had to be terribly wrong for her to mess up so badly. Something far beyond the normal terribly wrong things that she had recently become aware of. Injustice, for example. It had been just at the beginning of the school year – only nine months ago now – that she had noticed that not only was injustice rampant but that its opposite – the supposedly noble justice – hardly seemed to exist at all.

How just was it, to take one random example, that she, the smartest kid in the school and the tallest girl in 10th grade, hardly had any friends? That most of the other students in her class couldn’t find anything even faintly interesting to talk about? That the girls were all obsessed with hair and makeup, whereas she was obsessed with justice, hair, and makeup? That boys could barely talk to her at all, except for cracking jokes that would strike a third grader as unsophisticated?[2]

Clearly, injustice was rampant and the main victim of it was her. But not only her! There were others as reviled and denigrated[3]. It had been her task to find these people and protect them. That was how Annie’s Coterie[4] had come into being at the beginning of the school year. The AC (as it was referred to by the members of the AC, as opposed to the Goatery, as it was referred to by those who were not members of the Goatery) currently comprised six fellow miscreants. Annie had carefully chosen students who were outsiders, who were radically different, and whom the mindless pack of normal kids instinctively shunned. And of course, her members all adored her. Who wouldn’t?

Her first recruit had been Andy Kanayurak. Andy’s father was Inuit (Eskimo, to the uninitiated). Andy’s mother was African-American. Nobody knew what to make of Andy. The round, cheery cheeks and almond-shaped eyes he inherited from his father twinkled like Arctic snow. The chocolate skin he inherited from his mother spoke of the African sun. His father’s genes had relaxed his hair just enough to make his abundant Afro cascade like a fountain. He seemed to transcend race and that scared a lot of kids. It’s also what made Andy incredibly cool. He would tell people, “Hey, race is a non-issue. If you went far enough back and figured out who your ancestors really were, everybody would seem like your cousin.” Andy had a fantastic sense of humor about identity. If a cop hassled him, he’d say, “Is this because I’m an Eskimo?” which usually left the officer with his mouth hanging open.

Andy was the second smartest person at Highbotham. According to Annie, there were a number of second smartest people but most of them were smart in one particular area. Andy was smart in everything. He was even a good cook. His best grades were in math[5]. However, his real passion was theatre. He loved becoming a new character and bringing that character to life. His portrayal of Anne Frank (in drag and with serious amounts of makeup) had brought tears to the eyes of, well, none of the students, since it is not at all cool to cry in high school, but to most of the faculty and parents in the audience. Even Keri Jenkins, reporter for the school newspaper, had admitted:

Andy Kanayurak’s performance as a Black Eskimo Anne Frank was the most unusual thing that this reporter has ever seen, and I’ve seen Sharon Anderson in a bikini (no offense, Sharon).

[1] 66.4 liters compared to 2 x 10 to the 33rd power cubic light-years. No one knows how many liters fit in a cubic light-year. The best estimate so far is “a heck of a lot, so don’t even think about trying to fill a cubic light-year with liters!”

[2] In third grade, Annie knew what unsophisticated meant. It had been her personal word of the day for October 16. She could also spell it and give its Latin derivation. None of the teachers knew whether she was correct.

[3] Words of the day for April 12 in 1st grade and December 7 in 6th grade, respectively.

[4] Coterie: Close-knit group of people with a similar purpose, often exclusive. From Middle French, meaning people sharing the same cot. Word of the day, November 9, 9th grade. Probably the Middle French would have just called Annie’s Coterie a gang. But then the Middle French didn’t get out much, being stuck between the Outside French and the Top and Bottom French.

[5] His 8th grade teacher was forced to give him an A+ even though his test average was only A- because Andy had developed a system of equations for calculating the amount of time contained in a black hole.

 

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