This book kicked butt! Livia is a truly powerful character. I loved the way Barry Eisler switched between her origin story, training, and the present mission she's engaged in. The first chapter is one of the best I've read in a long time – immediately drawing me into the world of crime and intrigue, along with a strong awareness of the predatory nature of some people. It also provides a glimpse into the world of white supremacist hate groups and their high level of organization. The fact that I read this book in less than a week says it all.
Springtime makes me think about rebirth, and of the rebirth of my connection to the Virgin Islands through writing and publishing my upcoming book, Dark Paradise. I lived in St. Thomas during my formative years and I often revisit the locales, smells, and sounds of my youth in my mind. But youth has a different outlook on the world.
When my father passed in 1995, I had to return and live in St. Thomas on my own for one month. I dealt with urgent matters and family squabbles. It was a haze of legality and drama. Then I left for law school and managed things from afar for three years.
At the conclusion of my degree, I returned for several months. I drove a rickety brown Toyota that took fifteen minutes to warm-up every morning. I’d go down, start the car, then go back inside to eat breakfast. It was the first time I’d spent driving on the island as anything except a passenger, and that painted a different, adult picture of my homeland. The daily grind of making a living, dealing with estate matters, and hiring a lawyer changed my naïve perception of the surrounding tropical beauty and the realization that no matter where you go, people are similar in fundamental ways. They show hate, greed, and envy. They torment each other in myriad ways, which is something I explore in Dark Paradise.
They also show love. In St. Thomas, people smile a lot. I smile a lot. My wife believes it’s the result of growing up in that culture. It’s inclusive. People accept your faults and your values. They will take you into their homes. As a white boy in an Afro-Caribbean culture, I was always treated as one of the family. I never felt like an outsider as a child. I felt more like an outsider as an adult.
I know what it’s like to leave a place that feels like home, then return years later. When my mother and step-father moved to St. Croix in 1984, they had to drag me kicking and screaming. I loved St. Thomas with a fiery passion. I had no desire to leave. That love is what triggered my desire to revisit my home world through fiction.
By writing this book, I’ve taken the opportunity to gain a better understanding of the history of the islands that I never learned in my youth. Some of the places I explore in my book are no longer there and I wish they were. The West Indian Manner, a guesthouse I actually grew up in, was torn down and replaced with government offices. Other venues were haunts of mine and my family, while others are only known to me anecdotally or in passing. Between my recent knowledge and my personal experiences, I have learned a lot about a place I feel so connected to, but could not explain to others so well.
I hope to bring both knowledge and an emotional resonance to the reader in Dark Paradise. Despite the outward changes, the Virgins still feel the same for me on a dimensional level. It’s instinctive. It’s in my bones. It’s home.
Murder on the Lake of Fire by author Mikel J. Wilson follows the story of Emory Rome, a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agent, and a private detective named Jeff Woodard. Together they solve the murder of Brit, an ice skater from Barter Ridge, a small town near Knoxville Tennessee. Overall, the book has well-defined characters and relationships. I especially enjoyed the ending and the action throughout, as well as the banter between the main characters. Their flirtation and Emory's rigid nature made for an interesting relationship to follow. The murders were also fascinating, with the use of clever techniques to commit the crimes. Exciting and different!
All good stories have strong characters that are the driving force in the narrative. Without well-rounded characters who possess their own agendas, a story lacks the gravitational pull that pulls the reader in for more. My beta-readers for Dark Paradise all comment on the powerful, independent nature of the book’s female characters. Some men seem intimidated by women with intelligence and purpose, but I find that drive makes a character, male or female, all the more intriguing. Driven characters are the ones you want to see engage in a moral battle and come away victorious. In Dark Paradise, the primary female character, Dana, pushes the story and the main character forward. She is the leader with connections on the island that Boise leans on. Dana’s profound and painful history shapes her into a tough, driving reporter. She is the one who pushes Boise to be something more. Powerful women do that. They encourage those around them to rise higher. If Boise doesn't rise, Dana will rocket away, leaving him behind. Dana is inspired by several women I know, including my beautiful wife.
I've always sought out strong women as companions, colleagues, and friends. But more often than not, the strong women we come to know first in our lives are our mothers. In Dark Paradise, Auntie Glor possesses a maternal nature that is tainted by the loss of her grandson and her husband. Despite living through hardships, she endures and holds on to her faith in Jesus, believing that he helps those who walk the path. A different book that stands out to me as revealing what constraints society puts on women and the difficulties they must face is The Awakening, by Kate Chopin. I read it many years ago, but Edna's need to be a separate person from her husband, society, and children, struck me to the core. I wanted Dana and the other women in my novel to possess that same burning desire to be their own person. To realize their own purpose. To find their own place in the world.
On this International Women’s Day, I’m looking forward to engaging with authors in my community to talk about the importance of creating independent, complex, and well-rounded female characters that reflect real women in our society. I know that as a writer, I will continue to use my voice to have these characters shine through in my own writing. I hope that others will make the pledge to do the very same.
I share my success with the people who make it possible, especially my wife and my daughter. They are constantly inspiring me. They give me the room to be a writer and the things I learn from both of them come out in everything I write. I know it sounds cheesy, but getting the affirmation they give is the best part of achieving my successes. Anything after that is gravy, but they are the gist of my celebration. We might go for a nice meal and talk more about my writing, my wife may embarrass me, but also make me proud by bragging to friends and family about what I've achieved. Perhaps, I should come up with something else, but really there is nothing more I look forward to more than that first look and the hug of recognition they give. Nothing.
After some reflection, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite reads in 2017 and why I enjoyed them. Comment below if you’ve read these books, or with suggestions of your own favorite reads last year.
The Highway Kind: Tales of Fast Cars, Desperate Drivers, and Dark Roads: I love this anthology of short stories about crimes and cars by great writers like C.J. Box and Michael Connelly. Each story has its own feel and was written specifically for this anthology.
Tales of Falling and Flying by Ben Loory: This quirky writer caught my attention after doing a reading at the 2017 LA Lit Crawl and hearing his story about a man who swallows a rock then begins to love said rock. I know, it sounds mad. But perhaps that's what makes you want to read more. We all go a little mad sometimes. His stories remind me that madness can also make you laugh and see the world in a different way. Good for Kafka lovers!
The Secret History of Twin Peaks by Mark Frost: You have got to love the backstory of Twin Peaks. I learned about the history of the fictional town, which fascinates me in its American normalness. I also learned some real American history, such as the history of traitorous James Wilkinson, who may have killed Meriwether Lewis and conspired to bring down a young U.S. government.
The Guards by Ken Bruen: Short sentences, toss the pronouns in the trash. This Irish writer has a pithy style with many chapters shorter than a page. Ken Bruen depicts compelling characters and portrays what it is to be alcoholic and Irish.
Topic: How to rewire our brains to enjoy the submission process.
Response: And why not treat yourself to chocolate or something else you love for doing submissions? Mostly I get kind rejections and it does give a rush of dopamine or whatever makes you euphoric after sending out the query letter and/or manuscript. I like the treat idea, but I like the idea of doing something fun even more. Heck I'm going to treat myself for doing this blog hop! Keeping up with you bloggers is a feat. I think I'll go see Phantom Thread tonight.
I love the idea of piecing together a puzzle, first of all. Showing the thought processes of a detective or someone, even a regular person, must go through to solve a mystery/problem, creates a feeling of comradeship between the main character and the reader. I have felt this connection many times with various characters and most of the best stories have some aspect of mystery to them, even if the story itself is not classified as a mystery. It could be the character figuring out why their emotional make-up leads them down destructive paths, or why someone killed another person (usually because there's no other way to solve the conflict), or why they moved to a certain part of the world. The revelations of these decisions create amazing situations. There is something special about murder though. It's sinister, dangerous, final, and hopefully not part of everyday life for most people. A special circumstance that pushes people to pursue a solution that otherwise they might ignore or push off for another day. That's the crux of murder mysteries and cop stories, especially those of the homicide detective kind. The gravity inherent whenever someone is willing to kill another human being is undeniable. A page-turner of the highest order.