telling tales of doing the impossible

Posts tagged ‘suspense’

Researching Drug Cartels and Illegal Border Crossings

Books need bad people. Bad people do bad things. But if you’re an author, and your bad people are doing things you don’t know much about, you have to do some research.

What poisons kill the quickest? How long does it take to die from a knife wound? How do you build a bomb?

I was researching the bomb thing for my book One of One, along with details about how well a commercial aircraft could withstand a blast, when I thought …. you know …. these internet searches could cause me some problems.

This is the second guest post in a series involving my asking other authors how apprehensive they are when they do the research to write about their bad guys’ behavior. In this case, I asked author Willard Thompson if researching drug cartels and illegal border crossings on the internet for his new book La Paloma caused him apprehension. Here is his fascinating answer:

Thanks, for asking one of the few pertinent questions of this VBT! Let me explain the story, it’s not exactly what you think, and it’s not exactly isn’t.

La Paloma is not a crime-heavy cartel story with lots of murders and bloody events. It is a story about Teresa Diaz facing the question of who she is, a daughter of Mexico’s proud history or a Latina trying to fit into American Culture? When the story opens, she is an AB540 scholarship student at UCLA, working for a degree in communications and dating a Caucasian boy.

When her father is deported in an ICE raid, Teri must go into Mexico to bring him home. She doesn’t have documentation, so it is a risk, but her family is falling apart and she feels compelled to go. Her journey into Mexico is like falling down a rabbit hole of mysterious events, but it also becomes a journey of self-realization that included a romance with the son of a cartel boss. In the end, many of her questions about her life are answered, some are left ambiguous and unanswered.

My interest, as it is in all my novels, is how a situation effects the people involved in it. In this case a 20-year-old Latina named Teresa Diaz. She is a young woman who has been brought up in many of the traditions of Mexico, living in a southern California community that is heavily Latino, trying to be an American girl. How can that possibly be good for her self-image?

I love Mexico. I’ve been there more than a dozen times, several on business. I know first-hand the beauty of the states of Michoacan and Guanajuato, and the country’s history. I spent 4 days working with the US Border Patrol as a journalist intercepting Mexican smugglers wading across the Rio Grande River from Juarez to El Paso. These were not dangerous men. They were middle age men trying to make a living to support their families.

I interviewed several of the smugglers we apprehended (that is a story for a different time because it was a cops and robbers comedy it you ever saw one) and one of them told me in Spanish, pointing at his running shoes that his daughters didn’t want to wear cheap shoes like he had on to school. They wanted Nikes and Adidas. That tells you a lot about the Mexican economy.

Some years back I became familiar with the fact that UCLA was giving free scholarships to undocumented aliens under a state law AB540. It led me to start thinking about the situation of a young Latina with no documentation trying to get an education in order to blend in to the American culture.

I didn’t do the trip with the Border Patrol to gather input for the novel, but it gave me all the input I needed when it came time to write it. This is not a gritty cartel crime story. In reality this is a coming of age story in which Teri must wrestle with and decide who she wants to be as an adult. In the next to last chapter she tells a new friend, “I just want to be proud of who I am.” The ending is ambiguous. Hopefully asking readers to think about what Teri will do; and maybe asking themselves what they would do.

More recently, our government has struggled with what to do about the DREAMers. The situation has been compounded by Congressional battle over immigration and building walls (we used to call then fences), and ICE raids that deport undocumented Mexicans, breaking up families. Finally, the situation with drug and crime cartels has come strongly into public awareness. So, all of this is great grist for a novelist.

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to write about my novel. Sure, it’s a suspense/romance with some gritty scenes but no cartel madness. I hope it might have some staying power in our current environment. Anything you can do to help that along I will greatly appreciate.

And I thank the author for such a well-thought-out and interesting response!

The Difficulties of Writing About Time Travel

These is no tougher logical problem for a speculative fiction writer than to send characters forward, or backward through time.

I recently featured author Richard Hacker and his fantasy thriller Vengeance of Grimbald on one of my other blogs and I asked him to share his thoughts about the difficulties of writing about time travel. Here is his response:

VENGEANCE OF GRIMBALD, the second book in the Alchimeia series is a fantasy sci-fi novel with a unique take on time travel and alternate time continuums. Some writers have used the supernatural to transport characters through time, like Scrooge’s encounters with the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future, in A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Another method allowing for time travel, especially in science fiction, involves space and time warps–usually a ship passing through a warp in the space time continuum or characters passing through portals from one time to the next. Stephen King employs the portal in 11.22.63. But the most common method to move characters through time requires a mechanism or machine. From H.G. Wells, THE TIME MACHINE to the much-loved DOCTOR WHO, these stories use some kind of machine to transport from one time to the next.

The Alchimeia series uses alchemy, a precursor to empirical chemistry, as the mechanism for movement through time. Combining an ink and an alloy in the nib, a fountain pen becomes the catalyst as inkers write themselves into past lives, leaving their bodies in the present. Unlike conventional time travel scenarios, the characters leave their bodies in the present—only their consciousness moves through time to inhabit a host. However, once an Inker is in a host’s body, time is not on their side. They are in danger of losing themselves to the mind of their host, becoming psychotic and then melding completely with the host, lost in time forever. In order to avoid such a fate, upon completion of the mission, they must die in order to break the link and return home.

Die Back allows me to blend genres of fantasy, science fiction, historical, and speculative fiction to tell a fast-paced, action filled story of characters struggling to save the time continuum and reality itself. As you might imagine, this mechanism for moving back through time also has its challenges. In a conventional time travel story, a character travels back in time. It’s fairly straight-forward keeping the character distinct from others in the scene. In the Alchimeia series, since the characters leave their bodies in the present and only their conscious minds go into the past, the most significant challenge is having a physical character, such as Franciso Pissaro but with the conscious mind of Addison Shaw. Rather than visiting the past as a foreign entity, the character becomes the past. You’ll notice the inking scenes shift to first person which I’ve done to make a distinction with the present and to create an immediacy. The reader experiences the inking scenes within the perspective of the inker.

I think technically one of the more difficult scenes involved a German soldier in a fox hole at the Battle of the Bulge. There were essentially two characters inside the mind of a third character. The German soldier, Grimbald, and Addision’s mother, Rebecca, who has been held captive by Grimbald. The dialogue needed to distinguish between the internal voices of Grimbald and Rebecca in the German soldiers head, as well as dialogue with the American soldier external to them. Here’s a little excerpt to give you a sense of what I’m talking about. We begin in Rebecca’s perspective.

I look to the boy soldier and our guard, but of course, they cannot hear our thoughts. “How could you force me to act against my son, Grimbald?” His real name is Cuthbert Grimbald, using the alias Kairos to keep him clear of League Inkers. “You promised if I helped you–”

I promised I wouldn’t take his consciousness. For all the good it did me.

“I could have killed him. My own son. Please, I’ll do anything you want, but please don’t ask me to hurt Addison.”

You sabotage me at every turn, Rebecca. If I didn’t need your knowledge of the League I would scatter your consciousness across time. By God, I’ll do it anyway!

“No! Please. I’m sorry. It’s just that when I saw him…it’s been so long. I–”

Think about it, Rebecca. Didn’t you see his eyes when he squeezed the trigger? The boy, knowing you were in Maya, blew out your brains! Trust me, you no longer hold a place in his heart.

“No! He still loves me, uh…. “

My mind…compresses…a fist closing around me to darkness.

“Please…stop.”

You continue to defy me?

“Please.”

I cannot breathe, I cannot think.

“Please…no…”

My mind goes to some dark corner. A desolate loneliness enfolds me. All senses closed off, no space, no time, no sensation. Nothing. Nothing. Noth…

He releases me. The world expands from a small, black hole, back to the Ardenne Forest. The boy still sits beside me in an almost fetal position. The icy cold air smells of pine and death.

For the full post, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out Vengeance of Grimbald.

Researching a Terrorist Plot

Books need bad people. Bad people do bad things. But if you’re an author, and your bad people are doing things you don’t know very much about, you have to do some research.

What poisons kill the quickest? How long does it take to die from a knife wound? How do you build a bomb?

I was researching the bomb thing for my book One of One, along with details about how well a commercial aircraft could withstand a blast, when I thought …. you know …. these internet searches could cause me some problems.

I recently featured author Bill Blodgett’s novel Love, Lies, and Bad Guys on one of my other blogs. His main characters are dealing with some serious terrorist threats to NYC and it got me curious. When he began writing his book, I suspected Mr. Blodgett didn’t know much more about how to blow up a subway system than I did about how to blow up a plane. How did he get his information?

Read on for his fascinating answer.

We’re you apprehensive when you did the research to write about terrorist threats?

At first I wasn’t. It seemed like researching any other book. I found out about the Native Americans, who were labeled Downwinders because they were exposed to nuclear fallout that was carried downwind after the tests of the atomic bombs in the 1940’s through the early 1960’s in Nevada. Many Downwinders developed various kinds of cancer due to the exposure. Then I contacted several leaders in the Native American community and asked for their input and they were very willing to share what information they had, especially after I told them my wife was part Native American. It was all very natural and a great learning experience.

Then I researched nuclear power plants near New York City, and it was again very natural. It’s then the research began to get serious. I researched the subway system of NYC looking for easy points of access. Then I looked into dirty bombs and what they were made from and how to make them. After that I researched how Homeland Security and other agencies monitored for possible terrorists. I had to create a world that would be believable to the reader, whether they were techno savvy or not. That led to the dark web and dark web browsers that would hide these would be terrorist’s identity and location. Then, of course, the research demanded that I look into Virtual Private Networks, VPN’s. VPN’s also hide your identity by masking where you are logged in from.

They say that curiosity killed the cat and I was beginning to be concerned that I was on that slippery slope, but I felt I needed to continue. I guessed the searches I was conduction on Google contained certain words that would be flagged by law enforcement and I was just waiting for Homeland Security to be at my doorstep any day! In a way it was kind of scary, even though I knew I wasn’t doing anything illegal, but I would have to explain and they’d probably seize my computer, freeze my bank accounts and put me on the “No Fly” list until the matter got settled in maybe five to ten years!!

I downloaded TOR, the most popular dark web browser, but didn’t bother to purchase a VPN from any of the popular venders that can be found online these days. The TOR browser is a dark web search engine much like Google, but it hides your identity and location by jumping for one “node” or location to another all around the world. This was all new to me. Interesting, but a little weird.

So after researching the use of TOR I went online and searched for random things and the lists of providers was immense and most were selling something illegal, from drugs to chat rooms about any subject you could ever dream of. At that point I figured that maybe I was in a gray area of legality and consorting with questionable characters from around the world. Yes, I was just lurking in those chatrooms, but I was still there! I knew I had enough knowledge about the Dark Web to write about it so I uninstalled TOR. Then I began to write Love, Lies, and Bad Guys!

For the full post about Love, Lies, and Bad Guys, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out Love, Lies, and Bad Guys.

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