Ain't No Messiah
Tales of the Blessed and Broken Book 1
by Mark Tullius Genre: Psychological Suspense
“God has chosen Joshua to bring forth his new kingdom on Earth.”
From the day he was born, Joshua has found himself the recipient of death-defying miracles. His earliest memories include his own father proclaiming him the second coming of Christ. However, Joshua has wrestled with serious doubts about the validity of this claim all his life. How could he not, having survived a childhood filled with physical and emotional abuse at the hands of his earthly father.
Now, one way or another, Joshua is going to show the world who he really is.
"A compelling, if sometimes-lurid, picture of a faith gone wrong." - Kirkus Reviews
"Ain’t No Messiah is a beautifully-written book about one man's effort to find himself - and maybe even a bit of happiness - in a world bitter enough to greet even a supposed Messiah with abuse and scapegoating." ~Catherine Langrehr for IndieReader
I was born mostly dead, my body purple, not a single breath or thump of my heart to be heard. Everyone figured I was already walking into Heaven, spying the Pearly Gates with closed eyes yet to see the mortal world. I guess that’s where all this Messiah stuff started. Mother was the only one who believed I wasn’t fully gone. She begged the Committee not to put me in the ground, but they’d made their decision.
Mother nearly tore off their skin trying to keep them from putting me in that tiny casket. Once they had restrained her, they started hammering nails. Father fell to his knees, looked to the darkening sky, and begged God to spare me. My parents had been trying to have a child for almost seven years. The Committee had told Mother she’d never conceive. I was a gift from Heaven, and God decided to take that gift back.
So Father offered a deal. He promised God I’d be a vessel for His will. I’d be His servant.
And that’s when my cry ripped through the night.
Mother tore off the top of the casket and pulled me from the earth just as the sun sank.
At least, that’s the way Father recounts it.
Just like all his other stories, it’s a mix of fact and fancy and no one will ever know how much of each. They’re simply tales to build my legend. He says belief is the only thing that matters, that we must do everything to preserve it, because without faith, there’s no reason to live.
Mark Tullius is the author of Unlocking the Cage: Exploring the Motivations of MMA Fighters and dark fiction which includes Ain't No Messiah, Twisted Reunion, 25 Perfect Days: Plus 5 More, Brightside, and the Try Not to Die series. An Ivy League graduate, Mark lists Chuck Palahniuk and Stephen King as the authors who most influence his own writing. He attests that attending Tom Spanbauer's Dangerous Writing workshop marked the turning point in his career. In addition to his writing, Mark is the host of the podcast Vicious Whispers.
Mark resides in Southern California with his wife and two children.
What is something unique/quirky about you?
The cover of a novel I may someday finish is tattooed across my entire back. Each of the characters in the book and tattoo were created with the help of my family, and I spent most of those 80 hours in the tattoo chair doing actual writing. Perhaps those pain-filled writing sessions have something to do with my novels being full of, profanity, death, and darkness.
Tell us something really interesting that's happened to you!
As a stay-at-home-dad of ten years, many might assume I live a pretty dull life. And they would be correct. Except for the time I got beat up by a UFC Heavyweight Champ for five minutes. And when I boxed with a broken hand. And the thousands of times I’ve been submitted in jiu jitsu.
The days of striking are behind me and my body is trying to make me give up grappling, but I’ll always have the stories. Until my memory goes thanks to the traumatic brain injuries.
What are some of your pet peeves?
I’ve always had a hard time determining my pet peeves, but only because I’m not sure what level of annoyance we’re talking about. I’d say I have tons of them. Answering this reminded me of my top three. Punctuation. Grammar. Rules.
Where were you born/grew up at?
I was born in Rosemead, California, a small city about 30 minutes east of Los Angeles.
If you knew you'd die tomorrow, how would you spend your last day?
Death is often on my mind, which is why my writing tends to get a little dark. When I do my daily breathing exercises, I try to break my record for holding my breath by pretending it’s the last breath I’ll ever take. Nearly every time I imagine those last moments being surrounded by my family, sung to by my children, such a peaceful and fulfilling way to go.
But then there was the one time where things got a little crazy and I imagined I was partying my ass off in Vegas buried in a mountain of coke and surrounded by a dozen women. But that was the time my buddy slipped me some Ecstasy, so I don’t think that one should count.
Who is your hero and why?
It’s hard to say who my hero is, but that’s because my mouth’s full. Never should have tried answering this question while scarfing down a tub of peanut butter. There’s too much in my mouth to swallow so I’m just letting it melt. It might take a while and I don’t have anything to wash it down with. Told you it was a bad idea.
If you’re okay with me simply typing out who my hero is, then that’s a different story. But it also has a sad and disappointing ending, seeing how I can’t remember how to spell the hero’s name and he means so much to me that I would never risk misspelling it.
My wife would say to check my email contact list and my daughter would tell me to Google it, but neither one of them is here right now, and I’m ready for the next question.
What kind of world ruler would you be?
But my name would be even cooler.
Not sure what it is, but it would have to be awesome. I mean, I’m the ruler of the entire world. All these people having to do what I say when I say.
My son’s favorite name is King of the Evil, but I don’t want to bite off him, plus I’m not discriminating on Good or Evil. I’m controlling everyone.
And King isn’t strong enough. Ruler is okay but makes me think of schools and nuns and punishment. But punishment for wrong doing wouldn’t be bad. And not listening to me would be doing wrong.
For my title I’d like to work in Supreme or Ultimate, maybe even Almighty, because, like I said, we’re talking the world. There’ll be no one to mess with me.
Okay, we’ll figure out the name thing later. First step is getting appointed. Remember you can count on me to be the kind of leader the world needs.
What are you passionate about these days?
I try not to be too passionate about anything outside my family, my writing, and my hobbies. I used to be passionate about certain laws, social issues, and things good grown-ups try to improve, but it brought too much anger along with it. Now I see things through a filter and use my writing to work out the things I’d like to change.
What do you do to unwind and relax?
For the last 31 years, Cannabis has been one of the tools I’ve used to help me unwind and relax. I also use yoga, breathing exercises, jiu jitsu, and playing guitar, often in conjunction with the first tool.
How to find time to write as a parent?
It isn’t as easy as I thought it was going to be when I signed up for the job. I carry manuscripts and my trusted notebook nearly everywhere I go so I can take advantage of any time that arises.
Describe yourself in 5 words or less!
Determined. Crude. Caring. Reliable. Nonconformist.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Believing in myself as a writer has been a very difficult process. As a perfectionist I’ve struggled with calling myself an author. Although I’d written close to a hundred short stories before I published my first novel, Brightside, it was the book’s favorable reviews that gave me confidence in accepting the role as a writer.
Do you have a favorite movie?
I don’t have a favorite movie although Gladiator, Braveheart, and 7 are in my top ten.
Which of your novels can you imagine made into a movie?
One of the most common responses I’ve had from readers is that Brightside needs to be made into a movie or television series. Now that the early reviews are coming in from Ain’t No Messiah, I’m beginning to hear the same thing. 25 Perfect Days: Plus 5 More would make for a great Sci-Fi series, and Twisted Reunion would be fit for a vehicle like American Horror Story. I’m currently developing an animated 3-minute clip for Try Not to Die: In Brightside and will be searching for the right agent who can help bring my work to people who love a good story but would rather not read.
What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
The only literary pilgrimage I went on was combined with my mixed martial arts project, so I didn’t feel like such a nerd. When I was working on my book Unlocking the Cage, I visited Maine as one of the 23 states I interviewed fighters. My first morning there I went on a guided Stephen King tour. King is one of my biggest influences so it was a real treat seeing the areas that sparked his stories and learning more about who he is as a person.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
A big cuddly teddy bear. With blood dripping down its razor-sharp teeth.
What inspired you to write this book?
I began Messiah nine years ago because I thought how terrible it would be, not only to question whether there was a god, but also whether you were a god.
What can we expect from you in the future?
I will never have a lack of ideas or projects to work on. In the next year I will release Try Not to Die: In Brightside, a full-length suspense/thriller short story collection. The following year will be Beyond Brightside, at least one more Try Not to Die, and the second book in the Tales of the Blessed and Broken series. I have ten different Try Not to Die’s in the works, and plan to release at least one a year.
In addition to the fiction, I am currently working on a nonfiction book that looks at traumatic brain injuries and whether we can fix the damage and rewire our brains. As a former pro fighter and collegiate football player who’s been knocked out at least eight times, brain damage is a real concern. I have received so many messages from friends that are dealing with brain issues that I felt the time researching this subject would be well worth it. I’m guessing that book will not be released until 2021.
Do you have any “side stories” about the characters?
Without giving away too much about the series, I can say one of the main characters will be the protagonist in Book 3 and two of the minor characters will be the protagonists in Book 4 and Book 5.
Depending on how I feel, I will probably do a Try Not to Die with one of the characters, most likely the Messiah.
Can you tell us a little bit about the characters in Ain’t No Messiah?
Joshua Campbell, the narrator of Ain’t No Messiah, is a simple man who seemingly cannot die. Since Joshua’s birth, his father has proclaimed him the Second Coming of Christ, a title even the most sophisticated child would have trouble living up to. Joshua means well and wants to do the right thing, but his abusive childhood leaves him ill-prepared for the world. Joshua’s tremendous physical strength is equal to his heart; he’s a loving man who’d do anything for his family.
How did you come up with the concept and characters for the book?
A conversation with my wife sparked the idea. I can’t remember her exact words, but she said something to the effect of the world will always need a Messiah, when the world needs a Messiah, one will appear. Joshua and his parents all came to me clearly from the start, but I struggled with Paul, Joshua’s brother. It wasn’t until my old editor read the first draft and offered suggestions that Paul began to take shape.
As for the pornstars, hookers, and strippers that found their way into the story, I assure you that they are 100% fictional.
Where did you come up with the names in the story?
Coming up with the names for this book was fairly easy. I wanted Joshua Campbell’s initials to be J.C. and many of the other names were taken from the Bible.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
The finale was a fun scene to write, but the flashbacks are usually my favorite. I love being able to pop back into a character’s life and show a moment that shaped them. Whether or not I use every flashback I develop, I think they are hugely important in helping me understand my characters and making them realistic.
Tell us about your main characters- what makes them tick?
Things that make Joshua tick – love, social media praise, porn.
Things that make his father, Charles, tick – fame, money, power
How did you come up with the title of your first novel?
The working title for Brightside was Average Joe. It wasn’t until I named the beautiful town that the telepaths are imprisoned in that I knew I found the title.
Who designed your book covers?
I generally draw my covers and then find a professional that can do them justice. The majority of my covers are done by June Ares, or at least the graphic design part of the covers. Jeff Campbell is my talented friend who did the illustrated cover for Ain’t No Messiah, the new Try Not to Die: At Grandma’s House, along with the rest of the series. He is also the man behind the animated trailer.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
I realize I took a lot of chances with Ain’t No Messiah and it will definitely be a hit or miss type book, but I wouldn’t change it. Perhaps when I’m working on the rest of the series I’ll wish I changed a few things, but as for the story, I believe I told it the way I wanted.
Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
Persistence. I began the book nine years ago, but put it down many times due to other projects. After Anthony, my old editor, made me realize I needed to completely redo what I thought was a finished version, I was tempted to leave it in my drawer. But all along I knew this was an important book for me to write, for myself, if no one else.
How did you come up with name of this book?
My 5-year-old son hates the double negative in the title, but I knew this had to be the title early on when the main character kept repeating it. I believe it will capture the interest of potential readers and the voice of the main character.
What is your favorite part of this book and why?
My favorite part of the book is the finale. It took such a long time to write the book, it was a relief to write the final scene. Plus it’s full of violence and that’s always fun.
If you could spend time with a character from your book whom would it be? And what would you do during that day?
Since I’m happily married I’m going to lie and say I’d want to hang out with Joshua. It’d be fun to train with him and see what kind of jiu jitsu skills he really has.
Are your characters based off real people or did they all come entirely from your imagination?
Most characters are created by combining elements of myself and various others. There were a couple places where I may have borrowed heavily from certain individuals, but I try to keep them as imaginary as possible so I don’t lose friends.
Do your characters seem to hijack the story or do you feel like you have the reigns of the story?
I usually start with an overall idea for a story but once I begin inserting characters it gets molded into something else. I’m always excited to come up with a new scene because I’m anxious to discover how my character will respond.
Convince us why you feel your book is a must read.
I wouldn’t classify Ain’t No Messiah as a must read. It’s been described as a dark, painful book to read and not for the squeamish. Although there is plenty of violence in this book, I believe the real pain comes from the reader understanding my characters and their limitations, that they are flawed but doing they best they could with what they were given.
So let’s say it’s a must read for people who like their fiction dark and dirty with plenty of flashbacks.
Have you written any other books that are not published?
I have written several books that are not published and never will be. Those were learning experiences, time well-spent with no visible reward. Last year I went through a couple of them to see if there were any ideas worth saving and reworking, but nothing sparked my interest and it’d be more rewarding coming up with something new.
If your book had a candle, what scent would it be?
The blood red cinnamon candle in the final scene.
What did you edit out of this book?
I edited out the entire first version. At first, I thought it wouldn’t be a big deal to make the changes my editor had suggested, but in doing so I rewrote the entire book. There was one scene that was hard to let go of, but I’m sure readers would appreciate my decision, considering it involved a dynamite-filled dildo.
What are your top 10 favorite books/authors?
I grew up on Stephen King and am a huge fan of Chuck Palahniuk. In the last year I’ve read mostly nonfiction, the majority being tied to my study on traumatic brain injuries.
What book do you think everyone should read?
The old me wants to slap the new me for even suggesting something so nerdy, but I believe everyone would benefit from reading Dr. Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep. It’s very well-written and with more than enough information to make me change the way I view sleep. I was one of those I’ll-sleep-when-I’m-dead kind of guys, but this book changed how I treat sleep for both myself and my family.
How long have you been writing?
In high school I realized I enjoyed writing stories but I didn’t pursue it until after I graduated from college. My first shot at a novel was police procedural and my short stories were either suspense or horror. It wasn’t until 2010 that I began take writing seriously and began Brightside, my debut novel.
Do the characters all come to you at the same time or do some of them come to you as you write?
Characters usually come to me one at a time. I’ll ask my main character about his family and friends and go with the answers that seem true. Minor characters are based off ideas, people I’ve come across in my travels.
What kind of research do you do before you begin writing a book?
I want my books to be as plausible as possible so I try to research things as they come up. With Ain’t No Messiah I began to worry someone might see my search history and wrongfully assume I was researching crucifix dildos for my own pleasure. Nope, just had to make sure they were a real item, meaning there is a real demand for them, thus making the appearance in the book plausible.
Do you see writing as a career?
I see writing as an act that brings me an incredible amount of joy. I love creating stories and always will, but I also view it as a career that I’m finally beginning to take more seriously.
Do you read yourself and if so what is your favorite genre?
I don’t read for pleasure very often, but when I do it will be something dark. Stephen King and Chuck Palahniuk are my two favorite authors so that’s where I generally turn.
Do you prefer to write in silence or with noise? Why?
I used to write with heavy metal music on until I realized how much it was affecting the story. Occasionally I’ll know the perfect band or song that fits a scene and I’ll play it low in the background, but for the day to day writing I have on binaural beats that are meant to increase focus and creativity.
Do you write one book at a time or do you have several going at a time?
I write several books but don’t recommend it. It is frustrating having multiple things to work on and a limited time to apply yourself to them, but it is nice knowing I’ll have a steady stream of books if I keep it up.
If you could have been the author of any book ever written, which book would you choose? Fight Club
Pen or type writer or computer?
Pen then computer. My friends make fun of me for carrying my yellow notepad everywhere I go, but it’s a habit I don’t think I will break.
What made you want to become an author and do you feel it was the right decision?
When I began writing, it felt like something I needed to do but I doubted I would be very good at it. I didn’t think I could ever be a real author, but I enjoyed creating stories and always felt better when I finished them. It wasn’t until I was much older that I began to realize how much of a catharsis writing is for me. It’s a place to purge my soul and spit out old fears. Even if no one were to ever read another word I wrote, I’d still tell these stories.
A day in the life of the author?
Fix breakfast and lunch for the kids.
Drive my daughter to school.
Go to yoga or jiujitsu.
Write for 2-3 hours.
Pick up my son from school and take the kids to jiujitsu and activities.
Dinner and family time.
After the kids are in bed write for another hour or two.
Advice they would give new authors?
Write what you want to read. Believe in yourself and embrace your distinct voice. Don’t stop.
Describe your writing style.
My writing has always been dark, but now it’s getting more efficient. I recently went through and reworked a selection of short stories, many of which had already been published. It was difficult reading my old prose, not because of the story, but in the way I told it. On average I cut 30% of the words, unimportant details I assumed the reader needed. So now, instead of it being like a slow bleed to death finale, I’m going for more of a blade being driven straight through your heart. With maybe a kiss to send you on your way because I’m kind and I care.
What makes a good story?
Real characters in shitty situations. It’s easy to make the right choice when there is one, but what do you do when both ways suck?
What are they currently reading? The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, M.D.
What is your writing process? For instance do you do an outline first? Do you do the chapters first?
I am a very visual person and start most of my ideas on a large piece of paper. I vomit everything I can onto that page and slowly scrub it into shape, creating a rough storyline and then developing chapters. Although I like having the outline, I add and delete scenes regularly and allow the book to follow the course it needs to.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
One of my biggest problems starting out was feeling that I need the first draft as clean as possible. That’s such a waste of time since many scenes, characters, and such may be deleted. Now I try to fly through the first draft and each subsequent pass I add to it and slowly polish it.
The belief that all you need to do is write and you’ll find an audience is another misconception with many young authors and another one of my downfalls. I still err on the side of writing instead of marketing, but I understand the importance of both and am working on finding the right balance.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Distractions. I need to block everyone out if I want to disappear in my imaginary world. If someone disturbs me while I’m in the middle of a scene it can be difficult easing back into it.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
I never worry about what the reader wants until after the book is finished and it’s time for reviews. I have no desire to write for the masses and only want to write the stories as they come to me. The thought of being a sellout and specifically writing a certain way to gain more readers is something I’d be ashamed of. I understand that individuals will do that and claim it is a smart business move, but to me it seems so disingenuous. I strive to be an artist and don’t believe that will ever change.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Embrace your voice and don’t doubt yourself. Pour everything you have into the writing and you’ll be rewarded.
What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
I’ve struggled with writing female characters because there are so many differences with our minds. Reading The Female Brain by Dr. Louann Brizendine helped me understand some of these things but whenever I write a female character I turn to my wife or female friends for their input. With my upcoming Try Not to Die: In Brightside I co-authored with my friend Dawna Gonzales because I knew she would be able to create a much more realistic 16-year-old female than I would on my own.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
I don’t believe I’ve ever written a book without several distractions along the way. Because I have so many projects going on, both fiction and nonfiction, and several coming up with co-authors, it is hard to stay on task and know exactly how long one book would take. I’m averaging about one book a year but I’m aiming to increase this number.
Do you believe in writer’s block?
I don’t believe in writer’s block. I believe in writer’s laziness, procrastination, and burnout. There are times where I’ll be spent and feel like I have very little creative energy, but that’s when I’ll switch hats and work on editing or another aspect of the game. I think writer’s block is an excuse for people that have trouble committing and become overwhelmed by taking on such a big project.
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