Interview: Joel Gordonson

Please welcome Joel Gordonson, author of The Atwelle Confession!

The Atwelle Confession_300dpiWhat’s your idea of a perfect day?
Sculling at dawn on calm water; quiet reflection and taking stock of life over a simple breakfast; checking the news and finding no violence or terrorism; writing/editing fiction in the morning; lunch with a friend; working with clients and colleagues in the afternoon; a walk on the beach to watch the sun set into the ocean before an evening of a late dinner with special people, reading a book worthy of admiration, or watching an escapist movie; no unanswered emails when I go to bed.
I’m lucky enough in life that I actually do have a fair number of these perfect days—except for the email part.

Do you have a signature phrase/expression?

“All men can be trusted, but not with the same things.”  John Barth—The Sotweed Factor
Which books/authors inspired or influenced you the most?
Dumas, Twain, Dickens, LeCarre, Heller –  all authors of fiction classics comprised of original, captivating, multi-faceted plots with a fitting message for our times as well as theirs.  I also greatly admire Beryl Markham’s West with the Night—extraordinary life experiences of a remarkable woman beautifully recounted in her first try at a book.
I am compelled to name Abraham Lincoln as well, though he may not be remembered foremost as an author. His collected letters and speeches contain some of the most elegant and inspiring phrases ever written about some of the most emotional and difficult burdens ever borne, along with courageous and instructive self-deprecating humor.  There’s an insightful analysis of his writing skills in Fred Kaplan’s Lincoln, The Biography of a Writer.

Do you listen to music when you write? 

I do, without fail.  I was raised on the greatest hits of the Seventeenth, Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries.  My mother was a piano teacher who served me a new classical piece with breakfast every morning.  Music, as a background to writing, allows me quick mental breaks from concentration and also inspiration from hearing how composers and performers follow, bend or break conventional forms.

What made you interested in writing The Atwelle Confession

The genesis of the book came from a dinner with a good friend, a medieval historian, who told me about her discovery of mysterious, rare gargoyles in a remote church in Norfolk, England.  After two hours of staring at the bedroom ceiling later that evening, I got up and wrote down the rough outline of the plot.  It was the kind of plot I like to read—lots of characters and scenes that seem unrelated at first and then come together to a surprising conclusion.  So I kept at it and had fun.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing? 

If I’m going to cook, I want the meal to have more nutrition than cotton candy.  If I am to go through all the effort of writing a manuscript and getting a book published, I want the plot to be not only entertaining, but also reflective of a worthwhile theme.   So when planning my plots, I have as cornerstones an engaging story with a surprise ending and a meaningful message.
My first novel, an historical fiction adventure story based in biblical times, focused on the themes of love, sacrifice and forgiveness, and commitment to friends, family and community.  I chose to attempt an original treatment of these themes because our society continues to be incapable of dealing with the increasing problems of violence, poverty and prejudice, while we as individuals feel increasingly powerless.   Yet the remarkable power of love, sacrifice and forgiveness by individuals can make a significant difference in families and communities where one can actually do something about those problems.
My most recent novel, The Atwelle Confession, is a “whodunit” that comments on the evils of greed and the power of hopeful perseverance.
Tell us about your main character.
The book involves two murder mysteries in which the same sequence of bizarre murders occurs in a medieval church about five hundred years apart, first during the church’s construction and again during the church’s restoration.  So there are a good number of main characters leading up to the single solution in the last chapter.
Without a “spoiler alert,” I can’t tell you much about my main characters because most of them are suspects at one time or another.    But I (along with one of my editors) am particularly fond of the 16th Century priest, Father Regis, who is brilliant, well educated, respected by all and yet riddled with self-doubt, and his friend and confidante Peter, the village idiot who is completely self-confident and happily accepting of his life without home or means.  Their friendship is improbable, but wonderfully loving and supportive of each other.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.

Sorry. No can do without a spoiler alert. Who’s the protagonist and who’s the antagonist?  There’s the rub of the plot.  

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?

Raymond Chandler, who, like Philip Marlowe, would become more interesting the more he drank.  Every time he said the word “like” during dinner, (“He was like…”; “She was like…”; “It was like…”) I’d be on the edge of my seat.   I look for that word in his novels; what follows usually blows me away.

J. K. Rowling, aka Robert Galbraith, to hear her unique story of rags to riches and all the accompanying emotions and issues.  She’s also very bright and attractive, which never hurts a dinner party.
Anthony Horowitz, because we both list Harry Flashman as our favorite rogue character in literature, he is an engaging conversationalist, and I’d like to hear his comparison of approaching novels versus screenplays.
Agatha Christie, of course.  But perhaps because she knows it all, has done it all, and consequently would want to talk about anything but mystery writing.
Elmore Leonard, who would call out people’s BS and make the conversation interestingly pointed.  However, I fear he would not accept my invitation since I continually violate some of  his rules of writing.
A new author, picked at random, to see what surprise ending might result.
What’s next for you?
My next (almost finished) manuscript involves Buddhist themes of present awareness, conscious action, self-actualization and self-forgiveness, all in the unlikely settings of LA gang violence and a remote Indian reservation. 

I also have a pile of plot outlines from spending too much time in airports and airplanes. Because they remain unwritten, they still seem like certain brilliant literary and commercial successes.  And I’m having great fun writing the book and lyrics for a musical with a dear friend who is a supremely talented jazz pianist.   Wine and cheese are often involved in our working sessions, so my lyrics occasionally rhyme.
Author Joel Gordonson publicity photosJoel Gordonson is the author of The Atwelle Confession and That Boy from Nazareth: The Coming of Age of Jesus of Nazareth. Along with being a novelist, he is a successful international attorney. With law degrees in the United States and from the University of Cambridge, he has published scholarly works in legal publications while writing fiction on the side. In addition to writing, he has done extensive public speaking including decades of appellate arguments, seminars, speeches, and media appearances. “Home” is divided between the Pacific Northwest and Southern California. For more information, please visit

5 thoughts on “Interview: Joel Gordonson”

  1. Welcome, Joel! Ooh, you’ve intrigued me with your characters and all the spoilery warnings. Adding to my TBR pile. Also, I want to attend that dinner party!


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