My second novel is coming out in October. In honor of the book, called The Last Testament of Simon Peter, I thought you'd like to read a nice story a local writer did on my first novel. My latest book contains the life story of the Apostle Peter, who is waiting with Paul for the Romans to execute them both and decides to pen his biography. It captures the actual history of the time period, using real people and documented events.
By Mary Wentzel
Using his unusual one-fingered typing method, author Bill Lazarus entered the name of Nostradamus in the Google search engine. In less than a second, more than 4,590,000 entries were available. The 16th century French seer has never been more popular, now that his and other predictions of the coming end of the world in 2012 are circulating widely.
According to believers, Nostradamus foresaw a wide variety of world events, including Adolf Hitler, world wars, the approaching apocalypse and many more. One thing is certain, however, he never predicted Lazarus’ novel about him: The Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus.
“It’s unauthorized because Nostradamus not only doesn’t know about the book, but wouldn’t have approved of it if he did,” Lazarus joked.
The Daytona Beach resident was sitting by the computer in his home office. His book is among the millions of listings, such as Nostradamus 101, the Nostradamus Society of America and Nostradamus Repository.
They are all somber explorations of the famed seer’s life. Lazarus’ book, which has been nominated as Florida’s novel of the year, is anything but. It is filled with jokes, puns and comical scenes. “I really can’t be serious in my writing,” noted Lazarus, who teaches communication classes at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and is also a religious historian who teaches in the Stetson University Continuing Education Department. He regularly gives presentations on religious history topics at area organizations and Unitarian societies, all of which are laced with jokes and comedy bits.
That same humor flows through the novel. Nostradamus finds himself regularly in pickles and odd situations, including swapping saintly relics like baseball cards. In another episode, Nostradamus and Ernest meet a priest collecting autographs of famous people to sell in a fundraiser for the Church. The signatures are all Xs.
The comedy touched reviewers. “Few people write like this anymore, with details, emotion and, above all, humor,” wrote Lester Myles, a reviewer with the Richmond (Va.) News. “The book is filled with puns, plays on words and anecdotes that put Lazarus on par with some of the great comic writers of any generation.”
Of course, the book is not about jokes. Underpinning the humor are serious themes dealing with religious beliefs and the strength of illusions. Lazarus emphasized that aspect by using historical figures. The people that Nostradamus runs into – collides with might be a better description – are prominent in his era, including English King Henry VIII, Ann Boleyn, Cardinal Wolsey and many more.
In the process, Nostradamus becomes part of a conspiracy to kill Henry VIII, is mistaken for a false messiah of his day and later is caught in Munster, a city taken over by radical Protestants, and loses a healing contest with a witch there.
The events are based on history; Lazarus’ comic take on them is definitely his own creation.
“It’s the funny book I ever read,” said long-time local publisher Bev Hanson. She said she met Lazarus at a book fair and asked him directly where the idea for the novel came from.
“I told her that I don’t know,” Lazarus admitted.
A veteran newspaper and magazine writer whose stories have appeared in publications around the country for years, the native of Maine was working on a murder-mystery when Nostradamus popped into his head in the same way items about the seer appear instantly on the computer screen.
Lazarus immediately stopped working on the murder-mystery.
“It was just a much better idea,” he said. “Fortunately, my wife got her Master’s degree in medieval literature so she had some texts on that era lying around.” His library also had books of Nostradamus predictions as well as historical anecdotes from the Middle Ages. Every night for six months, Lazarus would retreat into the library to type. The first version had more than 1,000 pages.
That was chopped down to around 440 pages with whole chapters discarded. “I got rid of everything that would slow down the story,” Lazarus explained. Most of the jokes survived, although the manuscript barely did.
Nostradamus was originally produced on a typewriter. Copies were distributed to friends. The last copy went to a publisher, who declined to return it. Friends kept passing along copies until no one knew where it was.
“I was really sick,” Lazarus said. “I could never write anything like it again.” Finally, he found an original version and re-edited it. His mother, then in her 80s, volunteered to type the book into in a computer. After that, Lazarus started sending it out to literary agents electronically.
“It’s the best book I read in my career as a literary agent,” said Mark Sullivan, who is based in New York and agreed to represent Lazarus. “Years later, I still am dreaming about some of the scenes.”
However, publishers were initially reluctant to publish it.
“It didn’t fall into any genre,” Sullivan explained.
In 2009, however, Halifax County, a small Florida press, took a chance on it. “There’s simply never been a book like this one,” publisher Ron Howell pointed out. “Bill has an absolutely unique background. No one else could have written it.”
The book has already attracted an array of readers and praise. “Since the author is not well known, it will be hard for him to reach the audience this book richly deserves,” Myles wrote. “On the other hand, his publisher is planning to print a variety of his novels. In time, Lazarus may finally be recognized as one of this country’s finest writers. The Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus is proof of that already.”
“I’m working to getting the book on the top of the Google list,” Lazarus said. He laughed at the thought. “I doubt Nostradamus would have predicted that would happen either,” he said.
The Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus
Available on Amazon.com, www.halifaxcounty.com , Kindle and www.williamplazarus.com
Mary Wentzel is an author/illustrator who lives in Ormond Beach, Florida.