I was skeptical of the subject matter: a home-invasion gone wrong. I've seen a few bad movies and read some short stories with this premise that just fell flat mostly. In this case, I was very pleasantly surprised by Russo's story. It shot write (right) off the page from the moment the story opens. I needed two pages before I was fully committed just because at first I was not sure what was happening, but once the smoke cleared and I understood what was going on, the narrative held tight like cinching a plastic bag over a criminal's head. The story weaved and bobbed beautifully, taking us on both a captivating interior journey of a psychopath's thought process and the people around him who are trying to deal with his extremely unpredictable behavior that in the end always has one goal: to cause mayhem and get what he wants by any means necessary. No real caring existed in Skooley's mind, but you are curious where his manic psychosis will take you next and for that reason, it's a roller-coaster ride with many unexpected turns. Highly recommended for those who like crime novels and don't mind some graphic violence.
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.
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.
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.
I've received my first edits back from my amazing editor. Now the real work begins! Dark Paradise begins being reborn today.