Saturday, October 22, 2011


This time next week, I'll be north of the border for the first in what will likely be a proud line of annual conferences for Canadian crime fiction fans called QuébeCrime. My fellow panelists/speakers include Daniel Woodrell, Lawrence Block, Hilary Davidson, Denise Mina, Louise Penny, Ian Rankin and more.

Last night a journalist posed a couple of questions for a Canadian newspaper article to promote the event. One was about where the ideas come from.

My next novel, EL GAVILAN, comes out in December (please consider pre-ordering HERE...end of pitch). Technically, it's my fifth novel, at least in terms of publication sequence.

But the order in which my novels have appeared have been, at best, idiosyncratic...the blessing or maybe the curse of having so much written for so long and kind of culling a back catalogue for the next book to see the light of day.

In that sense, EL GAVILAN's pedigree is strange, even by the standards of my own rather unusual publication history.

In 2005, I was on a kind of epic writing tear. I completed three novels, and a second collection of author interviews, ROGUE MALES.

As to those novels...

I've always written to music, in fact drawing more story and setting inspiration from songs than from other books or from films.

During the winter of 2005, I was writing what would become my debut novel, HEAD GAMES, a Tex-Mex period piece inspired by the music of Tom Russell, a songwriter I regard as the finest we have in America presently. I was drawing plot points from Tom's songs and even writing in little winks to a lyric here or there that I figured nobody but me would ever realize was there.

One song in particular started speaking to me, a song Russell composed with the great Dave Alvin about a California border patrolman. A song called "California Snow."

As HEAD GAMES unfolds, its narrator, fiction novelist Hector Lassiter, is in the launch phase of his own newest novel, a novel set along the southwest borderlands...a story about a border patrol agent he calls THE LAND OF DREAD AND FEAR. Sometime, while still writing HEAD GAMES, I decided I really wanted to write Hector's novel about the border patrolman. EL GAVILAN began to take conception.

In 2005, times were still good and the flow of migrants across the Mexican border and up into even my pocket of Ohio was striking. The effects in terms of social services, school stresses and crime were profound. As a journalist, I was getting a ground-eye view of the results, even in my hometown.

When, I finished ROGUE MALES, and completed a final draft of HEAD GAMES, I set down to write my own version of Hector's land of dread and fear, EL GAVILAN. I wrote that novel in a burst over the course of a spring and long, hot summer, grabbing plot points from the headlines of papers I edited and from what I was observing around me.

In late summer, I called the book done and passed it over to my agent. Casting around for something to cool down with, I wrote a short story about Hector Lassiter prepping for a hurricane in a Key West bar. When I was done, the short story felt more like a first chapter. Between October 1 and Dec. 24 of 2005, I wrote the second Lassiter novel, TOROS & TORSOS. From there, a string of six other Lassiter books followed.

EL GAVILAN is the first of my novels to appear with a contemporary setting. It draws deeply on my own experiences and observations as a journalist and marks the first book set roughly where I live. It comes from life, but it also comes from a single song written by two fine songwriters. Check out Tom performing that tune with Michael Martin: