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.

Book Titles vs. Character Names

What's harder for you to come up with, book titles or character names?

For sure the book title is harder. It’s so immediate, so vital as a first impression, akin to the book cover. You can draw a reader in or shoo them away. The names of characters, while important are rarely deal-breakers as far as someone picking up the book or even continuing to read. Interesting and meaningful character names do not necessarily matter in many cases and analyzing why an author named a character yields few results except in obvious cases like Voldemort.

In fact, obscure or everyday names are chosen more often than not to no ill effect. I sometimes
choose names from the credits of a movie or by combining first and last names I’ve heard. Human names are easy to come by and many are unique and interesting or common and easy to remember. Titles that tell you something about the story are rare and give so much of a feel to the entire text, especially before you have a completed cover. It's hard to overstate the pressure I feel when choosing a book title.

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My 10 Favorite Books I Read After the Age of 40

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Yes, it’s embarrassing to say I didn’t read some of these at a younger age. I’d like to blame my schools, teachers, parents, and anyone except myself, but really, I have only myself to blame.

There is one I read when I was younger, but I’m putting it on the list because upon re-reading it at an older age, I gained a deeper understanding of how special it is. 

 

  1. CATCHER IN THE RYE (1945) by J.D. Salinger: What a novel. It felt like this man, Salinger, had taken up residence in my brain, even at the age of forty-three. Although the book is about Holden Caulfield, a high school student who is extremely jaded about all the people around him, the plot is secondary to Holden’s observations and feelings about life, which Holden sums up as “phony.”  
  2. COLORLESS TSUKURU TAZAKI AND HIS YEARS OF PILGRIMAGE (2014) by Haruki Murakami: I read this book on a recommendation from my tennis pal, Kate. I loved it, but after reading some other reviews, it seems his Kafka-esque repetitions are wearing thin. In my opinion, Murakami is a favorite for a Nobel sometime in the next ten years and based on this novel, I’d say he has an exceptional grasp of language and the ability to portray the loneliness and isolation we all experience. This was a favorite theme of Kafka too, so no surprise there. However, what I loved was the mystery aspect woven into this story that provided a substantial plot to go along with the meditations on Tsukuru’s colorless existence. Tsukuru wants to find out why he did not fit in with his classmates years ago. This backdrop drives him to explore his existence and makes for a thought-provoking read.
  3. ALL THE PRETTY HORSES (1992) by Cormac McCarthy: Exceptional story, but more of an exceptional exploration of the barren, lonely nature of the West as seen through the eyes of a linguistic genius. The book haunted me about a part of the world I've never really cared about that much. I plan to re-read this book sometime soon because there's so much emotional depth in the simple, powerful language.
  4. DRACULA (1897) by Bram Stoker: The first time I read it as a younger man, I hated the diary-entry style. On my second reading though, I loved the realism this style created. This book deserves its place among the classics. The confusion we would all feel upon confronting the people, superstition, and mystery associated with Count Dracula in his foreboding homeland and, what’s more, the fact that Dracula has decided to follow you back to your home in secret pursuit of a more sinister desire, is what makes Harker’s entries so eerily powerful.
  5. MYSTIC RIVER (2001) by Dennis Lehane: Dave Boyle, the loser who Sean Devine and Jimmy Marcus begrudgingly tolerate, gets taken by the worst kind of men. He survives, physically, but really, he’s a shell. He does not connect with others in the town, and with a push from the right place, Jimmy could believe whatever is necessary to solve the killing of his daughter, an event that coincides with Dave being covered in blood. Sean is the cop caught in the middle of this mystery. Did Dave kill Katie? If so, should it be Sean’s justice, or Jimmy’s? Riveting drama and a compelling examination of a parent’s worst fears realized.
  6. TALES OF FALLING AND FLYING (2017) by Ben Loory: A really fun and different book. When he says "short" story, Ben Loory means short. I could read almost every story in under five minutes. There are differing degrees of satisfaction with the conclusion, but the journey is always backwards and upside down. It’s well worth the time with memorable, fable-type tales that keep you guessing and wondering what these unusual characters will do next.
  7. TWO KINDS OF TRUTH (2017) by Michael Connelly: Harry Bosch investigates a double-homicide of a father and son who own a farmacia for the San Fernando P.D. He goes undercover then tries to help Elizabeth, a drug addict he meets with help from Cisco. The rest would give too much away, but know that this crime novel is one you can’t put down. 
  8. LIVIA LONE (2016) by Barry Eisler: I wrote about this book recently in a book review on this blog and it makes the list, although one caveat: it’s very violent and graphic. I loaned it to someone and they were shocked by some of the intense violence. If you can handle a strong woman who does whatever it takes to get the job done, this book is for you. Livia is a truly powerful character. I loved the way 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 rapists. It also provides a glimpse into the world of white supremacist hate groups and their high level of organization. 
  9. READY PLAYER ONE (2011) by Ernest Cline: If you enjoy 1980’s pop culture and thinking about reality and whether our reality is really the reality, then this novel is for you. The Matrix made me think about interdimensional realities more than I ever did before, as did Twin Peaks. This book deals with the question of reality in a more humorous, adolescent manner. Wade Watts is a kid with not much to live for in the “real world.” But, in the Oasis, he lives for the quest for Halliday’s Easter Egg, a promise of $240 billion and a controlling share of the company that owns the Oasis. What is the Oasis? A video-game reality that has taken over the world to the point where most folks spend more time plugged into that reality than in the actual world, which has degenerated into a dystopian future where everyone is stuck because of the global energy crisis. The story is teeming with pop culture references and fascinating puzzles. The characters are somewhat emotionally stunted, but Wade, the main character has a snarky voice and a way of explaining the tragic nature of life that is both philosophical and humorous. 
  10. THE GUARDS (2001) by Ken Bruen: This mystery focuses on the degenerative nature of alcoholism, a subject near and dear to my own heart. For the first fifty pages I disliked Bruen’s writing style, but then the brief, machine-gun barrage that lacked pronouns grew on me and began to have a bigger and bigger effect. Verbs have power. Short sentences, shorter chapters. Give it a chance.

Does Spring Make Me Write More?

I'm not much for seasons, times of day, or anything else for when I write. I don't have set times for writing. I write whenever I want to or need to write. The need could relate to completing a project on a deadline or be the release valve on an emotional explosion that needs to be defused. I've tried to write in a consistent manner all at the same time or about the things that I know best, but none of that matters much to me either. I write what strikes my fancy.

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Book Review: Livia Lone

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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.

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. 

Book Review: Murder on the Lake of Fire

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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!

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.