In 1973, ZZ Top released a song called “Jesus Just Left Chicago.” The Texas rockers had Jesus departing the Windy City, headed to New Orleans.
Jesus just left Chicago/
And he's bound for New Orleans/
Workin' from one end to the other and all points in between/
Took a jump through Mississippi/
Well, muddy water turned to wine/
Then out to California through the forests and the pines/
You might not see him in person/
But he'll see you just the same/
You don't have to worry 'cause takin' care of business is his name
Hey, they didn’t have GPS on smart phones yet.
But what if Jesus stopped in Houston on his long and winding road o the Crescent City, and hung out at Sam Houston Race Park, and became the greatest racetrack tout since that famous oddsmaker Plato the Greek? And, what if Jesus got involved with shady, colorful characters wrapped up in the dark world of gambling, poker, and Mafia mayhem?
That’s the premise of Fred Faour’s new novel, also called Jesus Just Left Chicago. It’s a wild ride, that’s for sure, with an ending that may have you thinking Faour’s mind is a spooky place. It's a an ingenious tale with twists and turns and a few parts that will have you holding onto your woobie for dear life.
Ken Hoffman: I've never heard of someone writing a book and naming it after a popular song. What captivated you about that song? Did you have to ask ZZ Top for permission to use the title?
Fred Faour: I have always thought writing had a pace and a cadence to it, like a song. There are music references throughout the novel. I thought it was a nice homage to a band I grew up with. I did not get permission because it is a different medium. I would hope they would appreciate it and maybe sell a few more songs because of it.
KH: You originally wrote this book more than 20 years, and picked it up in "fits and starts” before now. Most writers are taught, if it's not working, let it go. How come you never gave up on it?
FF: After I had the original deal fall through, I did drop it for a while. But I always believed it was a good story and it was always going to get written - if I didn't die first.
KH: Writers change, as people and authors, over the course of 20 years. How much rewriting did you have to do along those fits and starts?
FF: I changed the timeframe, and it made for a much better novel. I also cut out about half of it that had more details on some of the less interesting characters. If I found them boring, I assumed the reader would, so I just chose to focus on just a few. Having more experience in life and as a writer and having more influences really made a difference.
KH: Jesus Just Left Chicago deals with "gambling, the mafia, mysticism, and mythology." Is this a novel, or did you just publish your diary?
FF: There are some elements of myself and people I have known in every character. I think that is common in fiction. Some people who have read it think Louis is me but I am not that emotional or angsty. Yes, there are things from my life I incorporated, but I did it in hopes of making it authentic and feel more real.
KH: You're a sporting kind of fella. You've written a book called Acing Racing, a guide to betting on horses. What is it about gambling that fascinates you?
FF: It's like a puzzle to me. I love all the psychological aspects of poker in particular. Handicapping horse racing is like solving a puzzle. Those things have always appealed to me. Both are creative outlets, like writing or radio.
KH: Jesus Just Left Chicago is available as an audio book, with some of your ESPN 97.5 FM buddies doing the voices. Was it weird hearing your written words put to the spoken word?
FF: I got goosebumps the first time I listened. To hear such talented people take my work and interpret it was a special moment for me. Jermaine Every really embraced Louis, Holly Seymour did an amazing Mary, and John Granato is simply out of this world as Michael. It was cool to involve my son as well. And Cody Stoots did a masterful job producing it.
KH: How did you come up with the idea of Jesus as a track tout? You have said that this book was written in a "haze of alcohol and weed." Seriously?
FF: There is something spiritual about the racetrack. There is the old horseplayer's prayer: ‘God, let me break even today. I need the money.’ If somebody gets hot and hits a bunch of races, people will follow them around like disciples. So that is where the original thought came from. And the whole concept of savior or con man was appealing, because the track is full of con men. Louis' story is told under the influence, but the novel was not written that way. I tried writing a couple chapters stoned, but - shocker - they made no sense. So I tried to just write from that mindset throughout and tell the story in a way that someone who was drunk and stoned would tell it.
KH: Will fans of your radio show, the Blitz on ESPN 97.5, be surprised that their favorite talk host is the same guy who wrote this book?
FF: Not at all. I think most of them will love it. I write about things we talk about. We have a huge gambling following and I hope they will see some of themselves or people they know in the characters. All of them are very relatable for our audience. We have the best and most diverse listeners in the city, so it won't be for everyone. But I think the majority will read it and identify with it. I think some people have been kind of shocked by the Boudreaux's boat scene in particular, but the response so far has been amazing.
KH: John McClain, your buddy from your former life as Houston Chronicle sports editor, wrote the forward for your book. Do your best John McClain imitation and tell me who's going to win the Super Bowl?
FF: I think those Patriots are just too good and I can't wait to get Tom Brady into the Hall of Fame with my vote.
KH: Where does your writing career go from here?
FF: As long as people are interested, I have a lot more stories to tell. I wanted to be a novelist starting in college, and I'm finally in a place where I can put in the time to write them. I never had the stones to just give up my job and write. Now I don't have to. I am pretty far into the sequel. I think there is another, much different story to tell with some of the characters. I also wrote a novella on my old web site that I am expanding to full length. It's about a desperate gambler and witches. I have always been fascinated by witches. One of those will be out at the end of the year, and the other by summer of 2020.
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