J.E. Jones, author of The Eternal Sphinxman, agreed to answer some questions for me. What are his feelings on fraternity hazing? How long did it take him to complete this novel?
Fraternity hazing is a huge part of this story. Why did you decide to have the crime center around this ritual?
When I was in college, and working for my college newspaper, it seemed like we were always reporting on Greek fraternities getting placed on suspension from hosting on-campus activities and membership intake for hazing, or hazing-related incidents. I mean literally, every semester! I can remember this one time a Greek organization was placed on probation for several years for beating one of their pledges so bad the victim sustained permanent hearing loss. Members of the fraternity were gathered in our newspaper office trying to defend their actions and I couldn’t help but be amazed at how they really tried to justify their actions (many of the things they said I used in this book). I guess that’s when the seeds were planted in my head for this book. I kept thinking to myself, “what if this victim decided to get revenge on these guys for what they did to him?” And from there, The Eternal Sphinxman was born.
Do you believe that hazing needs to be stopped? Why or why not?
Most definitely! The only problem is: I don’t think it can. Like the characters in my book say, any attempt to stop hazing will most likely send the rituals “underground” where there are no regulations or oversight and things can really get out of hand. When certain Greek organizations were temporarily suspended for some infraction (85 percent of the time was hazing related), the fraternity members would still conduct the membership intake process, but do it “underground” or under the radar of the university and the organization’s national chapter. I truly believe that hazing has gotten so out of hand that it has become an unstoppable monster you can only kill by cutting off its head, or rather, eradicating Greek organizations all together, which I think would be extreme given the historic contributions and community service efforts most of these organizations contribute to society.
Have you ever read And Then There Were None? What was your favorite thing about that story?
I LOVE And Then There Were None. It’s actually the first Agatha Christie novel I ever read. What I love so much about the story is the cat-and-mouse set up of the entire plot. How this mysterious stalker, who knew scandalous details about the characters, used that information to taunt them and later justify his murdering of them. I’ve always been a fan of revenge-murder storylines. I guess that’s why I love movies like “Scream,” “I Know What You Did Last Summer” and any other B-rated slasher flicks. I think most people fear and suspense the exposure of their deepest, darkest secrets. That’s the kind of fear that really writes itself.
How long did it take you to complete this novel?
About three months for the first draft and another three months of rewrites. The first draft is usually just me vomiting everything that’s in my head onto the page. The rewriting process is when I really massage the story into the gem I originally intend it to be when I plotted it out.