Message From The Author
M.J. ROSE CELEBRATES HER 10TH BOOK AND THE SECOND IN HER NEW SERIES
By Liz French
The Million-dollar question you want to ask M.J. Rose immediately after reading her second reincarnationist thriller, The Memorist (Nov., Mira), is if she believes.
"I don't not believe," she answers somewhat warily, then warms to the subject. "I pretty much believe, but I'm not goo-goo about it. I'm fascinated, but not goo-goo.
"Reincarnation has been part of almost every religion, except Islam," Rose says, adding that even Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam, contains reincarnation beliefs. "But almost every one has since written it out of their books."
The author writes it back in in her new series. She covered Christian reincarnation themes in The Reincarnationist ('07, Mira), and now explores Jewish/Kabbalistic ones in The Memorist. But she divulges that the third book, which she's working on now, takes a faith break: "It has no religion."
Rose's great-grandfather was a Kabbalist who "got very excited" when a 3-year-old Rose began to relate an incident from his childhood in Russia. Rose says that while he was thrilled, her "pragmatist" mother "was horrified."
"She was a psych major in college," continues Rose, who nevertheless began reading up on the subject. One book Rose's mother read was The Search for Bridey Murphy, a past-life regression narrative by Morey Bernstein. After this incident and others, her family would jokingly refer to Rose as "Bridey," she relates. Her niece has also exhibited similar behavior, Rose adds, telling her things about her mother "that only I would've known -- but I don't think my niece is my mother!"
Like her late mother, Rose, a former advertising exec, loves to read and research, and the writing process allows her "to pretend to be other people: Meer, her father, Malachi," she says, referring to characters in The Memorist. "I can believe desperately, act out, then when the book's over, I'm done."
But Rose isn't done with the series. She invented 12 "memory tools," which aid people in remembering their past lives -- good and bad. Each book follows one memory tool: In The Memorist, it's a magic flute, once held by Beethoven. Modern-day Meer Logan travels to Vienna and unwillingly recalls a past life as a Beethoven contemporary. The flute and its powers attract both past and present-day pursuers, including members of the Phoenix Foundation.
Rose based the Phoenix Foundation on the reincarnation research of Dr. Ian Stevenson, who headed the University of Virginia's Division of Perceptual Studies. He worked primarily with children, Rose says, because they were more "pure" and less apt to be influenced. "Of course this was pre-Internet days," she says, noting that Stevenson and his staff worked on 3,000 cases in his lifetime. (He died in 2007, but his work continues under the auspices of his colleague, Dr. Jim Tucker.)
Rose laughs when it's pointed out that she uses institutes frequently in her books -- the Phoenix Foundation in the new series, the Butterfield Institute in her previous one -- saying it's a convenient narrative device for furthering a series. "There's really only one true dramatic thing that can happen to a person in a book, unless they're a cop," she says. Rose adds that the Manhattan-based Lenox School, a small, private school she attended from ages 6 to 18, is another possible influence. "Originally, it was a family house and stable. It had nooks, crannies, corners ... maybe that small, sheltered space had a bigger impact on me than I realized."
Location figures prominently in the Reincarnationist stories too. The first book takes place in Rome, and The Memorist visits various locales in Vienna, including many places where Beethoven resided.
Rose has visited both cities with her husband, composer Doug Scofield. "Rome is so amazing when you're thinking about reincarnation, even if you don't believe. It's such a metaphor. The past is still alive, the idea of things coming back and repeating is so real," the author says. "These places really lend themselves to the stories."
In Vienna, the couple visited Beethoven's house, then Freud's. "You really feel like they're still alive," Rose muses. "Doug and I were walking and talking and he said, 'Why don't you write about cloning Beethoven; they have a lock of his hair ...' I wrote this crazy book about him being cloned -- it's a terrible book."
But Rose repurposed her research about Beethoven and Vienna and spun it into The Memorist, her 10th book. Book 11, the third in her Reincarnation series, is set in New York, so the Connecticut-based Rose won't have so far to travel for research. But she still sets the bar high for herself. "I want every book to be better than the last one," she says. "Hopefully you keep getting better."
ROSE'S REINCARNATION RECS - 3 movies and 2 books with reincarnation themes
1. CHANCES ARE (1989)
2. BIRTH (2004)
3. DEAD AGAIN (1991)
4. Deepak Chopra's LIFE AFTER DEATH (2006)
5. Jonathan Cott's THE SEARCH FOR OMM SETY (1987)
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