An Oral History: PW Talks with Jerry Jay Carroll
PW caught up with the indie author to talk about his transition from traditional publishing to self-publishing and his work as a reporter.Author and journalist Jerry Jay Carroll’s newest book, The Great Liars, is a historical thriller that explores conspiracy theories surrounding the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Publishers Weekly's reviewer gave the novel a starred review, calling it a "meticulously constructed...crowd-pleasing page-turner, replete with cultural criticism and refreshing honesty." We caught up with Carroll and asked him about his transition from traditional publishing to self-publishing and his work as a reporter.
PW has reviewed your traditionally published books in the past, but The Great Liars is your first self-published title. How has the experience been different?
It was a lot easier in days of yore. You wrote a book, hopefully a good one, and gained the interest of an agent, who saw to the rest. When I returned to books after a long lay off (life and work having eased up on me), it seemed one in ten Americans was writing a book, and many had a brother or sister considering a stab at it themselves. My agent had retired in the meantime; others I approached never failed to mention how many queries they got. It wasn’t Carl Sagan’s “billions and billions and billions,” but it sounded close. World War II is now as remote to most people as the Crusades, another strike against it. So I went the self-publishing route and learned the back-office stuff, including how to count beans. It is actually way more fun than writing.
The Great Liars takes a detailed look at Pearl Harbor, and presents something of a departure from your previous endeavors. What sparked the idea for it?
In journalism, you’re like the bee that sips from one flower and buzzes to the next, never tarrying long. Some would say horsefly and manure is a closer match, but that’s a discussion for another day. I picked World War II as my subject, and narrowed it down to the Pacific Theater of Operations. Once you wade into the Pearl Harbor attack, you soon realize the official narrative is false. There were too many warnings for it to come as a surprise. Then there is the mystery of the vital intelligence that suddenly stopped flowing to naval and military commanders at Pearl Harbor. I bought, read, and made thousands of notes on scores of books.
You were nominated for the Pulitzer for your journalism. Tell us a little about your experience as a reporter?One [Pulitzer nomination] was for the work a colleague, Keith Power, and I did to help clear the name of Iva Taguri, a Japanese-American unjustly convicted of treason for being the voice of Tokyo Rose. The San Francisco Chronicle was rich enough then to let people peel away for weeks investigating whatever (within reason) caught their fancy. I broke the Zebra serial killers story, had the door slammed in my face by Manson followers, was bloodied in a student riot, chased by dogs while looking into a rural cemetery association controversy over headstones, and otherwise had a high old time. A friend who played the key role in putting Nancy Pelosi and many others into office once told me, “Reporters know only 10 percent of what’s going on.” Pondering afterward, I decided that is on the high side.
The novel is written as an oral history. What inspired the decision do it in that form?
I had read a lot of oral histories of WWII veterans, and felt I needed a narrative that compressed the vast information I had into manageable form. That meant coming at it indirectly, making Lowell Brady a naval officer with political pull who blunders into a conspiracy, and Harriet Gallatin a skilled interviewer who pulls out the behind-the-scene details of great events. I love a chase, so I threw that in to give the story a thriller dimension. My other books were sci-fi/fantasy that addressed that timeless theme, good and evil. There was a lot of that in WWII.