Behind the Scenes With Gene

A Deeper Look Into the Inspiration Behind Dark Paradise

  • What was the inspiration behind Boise Montague’s character?

Boise is a name I’ve only heard twice in my life. One was a man who worked for my father and the other was an acquaintance in Los Angeles. The man who worked for my father wound up dead on a beach. I liked him when I was a kid, so the name is an homage to that man and a nod to his untimely death in a mysterious and tragic manner. Boise’s evolution as a character begins when he returns home to “find his sea legs” so to speak. He needs to figure out his place in the world. How and if he does this is the crux of the story, so I’ll leave the reader to see how successful he is in evolving.

  • How has your childhood in St. Thomas influenced and inspired this noir novel?

St. Thomas has a great influence on me, even on my mannerisms, which are deeply ingrained in me. The ever-present smile and open attitude that island life instills in you is something that may not be imprinted on people who live in urban, fast-paced cities, abroad and in the U.S. Growing up on St. Thomas has made me feel comfortable in racially heterogeneous environments. I prefer the company of diverse communities and people of varied backgrounds. To be quite frank, I don’t like how distant my neighbors are in my Los Angeles community. St. Thomas also taught me to be very happy with very little. The electricity constantly went out and we sometimes had no running water. Daily life required you learn to live without amenities that we sometimes take for granted elsewhere.

  • What do you think about the influence that St. Thomas has on Boise and on Dana?

Boise needs the island as a salve and an escape. He’s avoiding constant reminders of his dead wife. For Dana, the island is a place where she can be free to be herself in terms of her sexual preferences, her boisterous attitude, and, of course, her drinking. My experience in St. Thomas was there’s less regulation the farther one gets away from the mainland. The thing that Boise and Dana have in common is their open contempt for incompetence and debauchery, yet they love St. Thomas. It is their true home.

  • What aspects of Dark Paradise make it a noir novel?

Noir has a lot to do with the setting. Most notably people associate American noir with Los Angeles in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s and with the authors Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. In the case of Dark Paradise, the Caribbean lent itself well to noir themes. Like Los Angeles, it’s glossy on the surface with sunshine and beauty. Beneath the gloss lurks hidden evils. The presence of alcohol and drugs in the Virgin Islands, the corrosive effects of money on relationships and people, and the anxieties about masculinity all lend themselves to the genre.

Spring & Rebirth

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.

  Picture of St. Thomas, courtesy of the St. Thomas Historical Trust.

Picture of St. Thomas, courtesy of the St. Thomas Historical Trust.

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.

  A brochure and picture of The West Indian Manner, a guesthouse I grew up in on St. Thomas, where Dark Paradise is set. 

A brochure and picture of The West Indian Manner, a guesthouse I grew up in on St. Thomas, where Dark Paradise is set. 

Why Complex Female Characters Make For Good Literature

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.

3 Favorite Reads of 2017

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 RoadsI 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.

Honorable Mention:

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.

Goodreads Review

Dark Paradise by Gene Desrochers | My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Very exciting look into the world of the Caribbean and the darkness beneath the cruise ships and surfers. This thriller explores a man's search for himself in his homeland, when that homeland has moved on and becomes almost unrecognizable. Boise brings us into the places we all inhabit, the loss of identity when we no longer are sure where we belong, then the struggle to use our gifts to create a new place to live and breathe. The characters aim to challenge and entertain us.

View all my reviews by visiting my Goodreads author page.