Democrat Jesus runs for President to stop war between Muslims and Christians! Get your copy of the new hit of the 2016 presidential campaign season today! “You will love it and be empowered by it!” says one Goodreads reader.
Yes, that’s right, Timothy Cooper’s new novel, “2020 or My Name is Jesus Christ and I’m Running for President” is a celestial comedy about the return of Christ to Earth. It paints a hilariously envisioned America caught up in the highest form of adult entertainment—U.S. presidential politics! But this time round, the two candidates heading their party tickets are not your usual party suspects, but rather the hugely popular Jesus and his equally magnanimous stepbrother Beelzebub! And you thought American politics was divisive before? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!
So the race is on! Across Iowa, New Hampshire, and the rest of America. Then onto the Democratic and Republican Conventions, which are guaranteed to be unlike any political conventions you’ve ever seen…
Who will win? Well, God only knows.
This interview is the first with Timothy Cooper author of “2020 or My Name is Jesus Christ and I’m Running For President“– a book that is currently chasing it’s way up the Amazon bestseller listings and collecting followers around the world. Steel yourself for the ride of a lifetime with the very talented Timothy Cooper.
What is your fascination with humorous fiction?
Mostly, it’s the fact that it’s not tragic, not dark. The opposite, in fact. The world’s drenched in a blight of dark dramas. They roll across the world like steamrollers. So humour provides a spectacular relief, a bubble of solace, a rainbow of what shall we say, transcendental… fun?
It steps us away from the teary miseries and the unbearable tensions and tosses us into pools of laughter, lightness. How great is that? It lets us float on clouds of mirth, lets in the dazzling light of levity. Most importantly, it permits us to not take ourselves oh-so-seriously. Plus, it makes life far more democratic. Politicians, the high and mighty, the exultant, they all stand before us on humour’s stage, characters in our happy comedy. Humour’s the ultimate equalizer… and we are its beneficiaries.
So that’s why I’m fascinated with humorous fiction. Of course, Mark Twain’s works were inculcated at an early age, too. Thank you, St. Albans School for Boys. And, of course, I utterly endorse Ernest Hemingway’s conclusion about Twain’s magnificent work, “Huckleberry Finn.” Don’t remember what he said? Well, I always have. He said that all American literature comes from one book. That book. The fact that it was a resoundingly humorous work of fiction, as well as yes, serious, tells you something very important about America. As a democracy, America enjoys a crucial safety value in public discourse, balances its mighty seriousness with relentless waves of high and low humour. The quality of American humour is extraordinarily high. That’s for sure. And it’s become a part of America’s soul. Politicians, preachers, movie stars, whomever, beware. All eyes in search of good humour are on you!
It’s far better than aspirin, whiskey or cocaine to smooth the pain. So much pain, so little humour. We need to start a global campaign for more humour, especially in places like North Korea, China… Oh, the list could go on and on.
If I were president of the world, I’d mandate that humour be inserted into our global constitution. It might not mitigate the effects of war, famine and disease, but it would go a long way to being a positive force for good. And good’s not half bad in a world fraught with civil wars and genocide and conflagration.
Did I mention ISIS? I read recently that one of the tools used by Middle East activists was to use comedy against them and their recruiting campaign. Now that says something important about humour’s true power. Humour can be a righteous sword, as well as a salve on humanity’s blistered soul.
Who is your intended audience, and why should they read your book?
This is a question every author is dying to answer because the answer is so obvious! My novel is obviously intended for EVERYONE! Ages 18-plus, of course. Not that it’s a bit like D.H. Lawrence’s “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” or John Cleland’s 18th century novel “Fanny Hill.” Actually, I guess those books would be considerably downright quaint in the Internet Age, but at least they sparkled the imagination in a way few things cyber can possibly do nowadays. Anyway, “2020 or My Name is Jesus Christ and I’m Running for President” is a novel has everything for everyone. Okay, well, maybe not absolutely everyone, but nearly so, at least as it exists in the frontiers of my imagination. But look, take me at my word: what other novel has as its lead characters Madonna, Bono, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nancy Pelosi, Jesse Jackson, JLo, Tom Cruise, Mel Gibson, Oprah and Martha Stewart? Plus a couple of Hells Angels. And I haven’t even mentioned the real stars of the novel— Jesus Christ Himself and his good-for-nothing stepbrother Beelzebub, or Lucifer, or the Devil—or whatever you want to call him. And the list goes on and on. My characters are a smorgasbord of first-tier celebrities. I’ve even thrown in some nice bits with members of our esteemed Supreme Court—Chief Justice Clarence Thomas, anyone?, as well as late night talk show hosts and infamous radio DJs. So what’s not to like?
It’s not only a novel for Christians—Episcopalians, Catholics and Baptists, and whatnot, but it’ll also work just fine for Republicans (including Tea Party members) and Democrats. Okay, so it might not be a top pick for Rick Santorum, but no novel can be everything to everyone! Also, it’s definitely a Hollywood kind of novel. I mean Hollywood’s got some seriously smart and creative types, so naturally it’s a good fit for a community of geniuses who fan American culture and turn lively characters into the sweet, entertaining stuff of cultural and cinematic myth. It’ll also work for Neo-Cons and Flaming Liberals, alike. Possibly Nancy Pelosi will give it a thumbs-up, too. Obama? Well, who knows? Does he even read fiction? Still, he’s got a stake in the outcome of this novel, too. So my recommendation would be for him to pick it up. Or rather download it off Amazon Kindle! Today, preferably.
So back to the question: why should they read it? Because it’s a literary blast, capable of shaking the bones of their existence, and then some. In any case, who doesn’t want to read a novel about the divine and in the case of Jesus’ stepbrother, the not-so-divine…
We’re talking serious conflict here, and very, very high humour. Something to tell your grandchildren about. Or at least your next-door neighbour.
Do you prefer to write series of books rather than standalone novels?
Standalone. Standalone. Definitely standalone. It would be too hard to cope with a string of successes! I’d much prefer stand-alone successes. One at a time, if you please. I’m not greedy about these things. On the other hand, if I were J.K. Rowling, I would change my mind. Take it all back. A seven-book series will certainly NOT be enough. There would be an eighth, a ninth… and possibly several dozen more.
What do you find to be the greatest aid a writer can have?
Time. The heavenly gift of time. It’s more valuable than gold bullion, a Phantom Rolls-Royce and a house on Lake Como. (But not necessarily a nice apartment on Ile St. Louis in Paris…) For most people, writing fiction is incredibly difficult, an insanely meticulous task—a brain drain—a spirit drain—a soul drain. And it requires a vast, if not for a time, a limitless mental space where one builds the house, the city, the country, the world, in which the sequence of events and birth and growth of characters take place. You can’t do that without time. To say nothing of all of the oceans of time necessarily required to make serious grammatical choices–like should I use a period or a semi-colon to create just the right emphasis, cadence, in any given sentence. Those choices are always a battlefield inside one’s self. And one side always loses. It’s a shame, but what can you do?
The next most important thing you need to have is true grit or the equivalent, like the characters in the old John Wayne movie. Because when you write nobody cares, nobody loves it (because it’s a million miles away from being done yet), and nobody gets it—not even you. So you’re pretty much in an intergalactic orbit of your own making. You’re a pioneer rocketing through your own skies, so you need to take on a space pilot’s sense of faith, of belief, that once you lift off you’ll eventually make a safe landing one day, and hopefully to the applause of at least your own NASA’s Mission Control Center, if not the New York Times Book Review, because that would be pretty nearly as great, too.
Which brings us to the central point, easily lost on everyone, most especially myself. To write is to write is to write. That one can control. The rest is left up to the true empowers of the writer—the reader. Maybe they love it, perhaps they like it, possibly neither of the above. You can’t control anything after you land. All you can ask yourself is this: Is it the best writing of your life? If it is, then it’s time to move on and get better in yet another galactic orbit that even you won’t understand—until you do. It’s then that the flight makes sense. It’s then that you’re rewarded, with your own prize of accomplishment. It’s as good as it gets—and that’s not too bad.
I think every devoted writer should get a prize, but the world absolutely doesn’t work that way; so you have to be prepared to present and accept your own reward–for your commitment, for your pursuit of excellence, for your achievement, whether the rest of the world or even your neighbourhood agrees. And who knows? Maybe someday the world will acknowledge your sentences, your pages, your e-book vision… Maybe. What was it that Jonathan Cape’s editor Dan Franklin said? “I’ve always believed that if someone is good enough, eventually they’ll get discovered. And I don’t think it’ll be in one’s lifetime, necessarily.”
We all know that it’s pretty much the equivalent of a writer’s Moon shot, but real accomplishment requires such fabled quests, like crossing the Silk Road in 200 AD. It necessitates astonishing risks. Perhaps not quite comparable to carrying bundles of silk on your back from China to the Mediterranean, but a different kind of fierce risk. There can be no transcendence without personal risk. The only question is: What’s an acceptable risk for you, because there’s plenty of risk that’s simply too risky, right? You have to ask yourself: How much risk is worth creating something of true and possibly lasting value (at least in your eyes), in art, in business, in life? But this is not such a humorous line of questioning, so let’s more on! It’s too risky.
Have you ever had problems killing characters off?
Yes, I do, because I think all my characters should live forever.
Have you ever hated one of your characters?
No, author as parent needs to love all of his or her characters. It goes with the territory. After all, no matter how despicable a character may be, any good writer will always endow even the evilest of characters with certain recognizable human attributes that mitigate the hate, at least somewhat. Take Germany’s Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, for instance. He loved his children, and they loved him. To write him best would be to include that side of him. Although, I must hasten to add that one truly has to gag at the thought of him poisoning his own six children with cyanide in Hitler’s bunker in Berlin as the Russians closed in. Pretty darn hard to find anything not to despise there, but nevertheless, the truth is he loved his kids. How terrifying is that? I think we should quickly return to the subject of humour, don’t you?
Are any of your characters based on the personalities of people you know?
Since I don’t personally know Jesus Christ or his evil stepbrother Beelzebub, the answer is an unequivocal, No. As for the panoply of stars and celebrities tripping throughout the novel, I must confess that I don’t know any of them either. (Who doesn’t want to do lunch with Madonna?) So what I write about them comes out of the public record and from my imagination. However, I do know Jesse Jackson and Nancy Pelosi, and respect them enormously. I’ve never met Terry McAuliffe, on which the character who exists in the frame for the novel is based, although I’ve observed him on the sidelines and know him to be a spectacular political fundraiser. (He was President’s main fundraiser for years.) Now he’s the Governor of Virginia, and a capable one it appears. One of his foremost abilities was, of course, making serious money—seas of it. Well, good for him. In any case, his character in the novel as head of the Democratic National Committee holds what I believe to be a distinguished place in the novel, and I thank him for his inspiration. That aside, the most important question is: Will he help me raise money to write my next novel?
How long does it take you to write a book?
“2020 or My Name is Jesus Christ and I’m Running for President” was started in 1990. Oh, my God. Really? Yes, really! The serious work on it took place after 2003, and it was finished after numerous drafts in about in May, 2010. In Bangkok, Thailand, of all places. Minor updates were completed in 2012. Between about 2005 and 2010, I wrote three drafts, each draft over 500 pages. So I like to say that it took about 10 years to get it to be the best I had to offer. That’s a consequential period of time. As a result, I’m all for the U.S. Congress passing legislation prohibiting authors from spending any more than 5—count ‘em—5 years on any one novel. I’d like to think it would pass. And if I were in the House or the Senate, I’d certainly cast a Yea vote in favour of it.
But look, F. Scott Fitzgerald spent five years writing “Tender is the Night,” a fact that I was astonished to learn at the end of reading it. I think he finished it in Zurich, Switzerland, if I recall correctly, which I thought was monumentally cool. My first reading of it was about forty years ago. When I saw that it took him five years, I almost fell over. An incomprehensible amount of time, it seemed to me then. Now I understand. Now I get it. More importantly, I understand that level of commitment to creation, that soaring devotion. Of course, F. Scott was and is a magnificent American writer. My only regret for him was that he died while trying to complete “The Last Tycoon.” To my mind, at least, it was a masterwork in the making. I was living in Laurel Canyon then—LA, so that the fact that he was writing about Hollywood in the 1930s coloured my affection for it, enough so that years later, I actually visited his gravesite in Rockville, Maryland and placed a bouquet of red roses on his grave. Carved on his granite slab is the ending to the “Great Gatsby”: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” And of course, now I get that his idea in a way that I could never have understood it back then. I certainly don’t write like him, but his writing, for me, was a seminal inspiration…
Scott’s and Ernest Hemingway’s. I loved his “Green Hills of Africa.” Prose so clear, so clean, so eloquently simple. His long, strung-on sentences read as fast and light as Swiss wind raking Lake Geneva. Love his cadences and silent rhythms. Always will.
Outside of writing—what are your hobbies?
I take everything too seriously to have hobbies. But I do compose and perform solo piano music and have released two CDs, with a third on the way. “Light on the Water” is one. “East Wind” is the other. A third is done but not yet released. It’s called “Global Skies.” And I’ve just produced a compilation CD of solo piano artists, from a group called Enlightened Piano Radio Artists, which is dedicated to the theme of world peace. A good theme in a world attacked by ISIS, et al. Not sure what we’ll call that one yet. I just recorded my contribution, a piece titled, “The Light After.” Begins with the sounds and heartaches of war; ends with sounds of joy in places of peace. Art should speak.
I also do serious fine arts photography, and have for decades. My chief works, “World Lights” and “World Walls,” are online. Hope to do a major exhibition at the very end of the Silk Road, so to speak. Photographic art is a gorgeous universe, and there’s so much resounding talent out there. My only regret is that in the Internet Age, most of the images that we see are thumbnails. Minute imitations of what they were mean to be. When in fact they should be showing up in towering museum walls!
Do you prefer a film of a book—or the book itself?
Well, the two mediums rarely go together like milk and honey. What I may like about the film I may not see in the novel and visa versa. But once in a while they each, in their own fashions, rise to the sublime. Take, for instance, the BBC’s original film version of John Le Carré’s novel, “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” and its sequel, “Smiley’s People,” starring Alec Guinness. The novels represent Le Carré at his best (well, the “Little Drummer Girl”—the novel— is pretty darn good, too.) But the BBC’s film versions, one directed by John Irvin, the other directed by Simon Langton, stay true to his novels, but also amplify the visual atmospherics and swim even deeper into his characters (How could they not with Alex Guinness playing George Smiley?) So that’s a good example of complimentary works—fiction and film succeeding equally. On the other hand, many of Graham Greene’s novels have been produced as films, “The Human Factor,” “Brighton Rock,” “The Quiet American,” “The End of the Affair,” “The Heart of the Matter,” “The Honorary Consul,” “Loser Takes All,” “Monsignor Quixote,” “Stamboul Train,” and the “Third Man,” for example, and I can’t think of one where I prefer the film over the novel. Of course, we’re talking Graham Greene here…
In general, I much prefer original screenplays to adaptation. But that’s not to say that “2020 or My Name is Jesus Christ and I’m Running for President” won’t make a stunning adaptation—in the right hands, of course. Naturally. Those hands would be mine….
Ok, dream on…
But look, I’d like to try to help give Johnny Depp’s career a friendly boost. So if he’d really, really like to play the role of Christ in “2020,” yes, please, I’d appreciate him contacting my agent.
What’s next for you?
Next is a state secret. Too hot to be announced. At least, today. Tomorrow, maybe. But suffice to say, it’ll be fraught with drama of the first instance, and swirling controversial, and likely challenge the unchallengeable, and succeed. Or so I think. Naturally, it will have astonishing risk and hopefully equal reward. Artistically speaking, of course. New frontiers, that’s what it’s all about. And much reading. Will plough through all of Dickens’ novels next, having almost finished a complete survey of Greene’s. I’ve become an addict to reading all of an author’s works at one time. Novels A-Z. One’s appreciation of the totality of their talent, their work, their visions of humanity, runneth over. I’d recommend that approach to everyone. These writers have seen and interpreted human nature as no one else ever has or ever will. There’s nothing like walking with the Greats to remind you of just how far you have to go. You can never be too humble in the face of the Greats.