1) You’ve been a newspaper copy editor for almost ten years. When did you decide that you wanted to try your hand at writing fiction?
Actually, I was a fiction writer before I was a journalist, just an unpublished writer. I’d worked several jobs before my first journalism job at the Miami Herald; later on I went to the St. Petersburg Times. All the while, I wrote fiction. Short stories, three mainstream novels – just about every day I wrote – but during that time nothing was published, which is just as well because a lot of it wasn’t very good. I don’t think I knew what I wanted to write yet. Related to that issue of subject, of course, is voice. I think I was still searching for a voice I felt comfortable with, one that didn’t make me flinch, that sounded natural without being intrusive, a voice that somehow reflected the world as I experienced it, but from the viewpoint of characters. Journalism is all about facts, but the clarity and economy necessary for strong newspaper writing tightened my own fiction writing, led me to approach my stories with a directness and confidence. So, fiction came first, but journalism improved it.
2) Why crime writing?
The genre provides the writer with wealth of dramatic opportunities and subject matter. A criminal offense by itself can be thrilling, shocking, offensive, even redemptive, but invariably it prompts a question. Why? Why did he/she do it? This is rich territory for a writer, because now we’re getting into character, the mystery of character. What led to this person to this extreme act? Or: What kind of person would do such a thing? I always hear that one. Crime stories are ways to explore those questions. Also, crimes can give you a window into society, and novelists are in a sense sociologists. Our narratives can reveal a lot about the places in which we live. What kinds of acts are considered crimes? Who gets punished and who escapes punishment? Crime and socioeconomics are inextricably linked.
3) How has growing up in Belize influenced your writing?
Deeply, that’s how. English is the national language of Belize, but I grew speaking patois in the streets, or English Creole. It’s basically broken English with many words whose origins are a complete mystery to me. In school, we spoke English, and I was fortunate to have gone to good schools that placed a high value on writing the Queen’s English. So while one part of me attended to grammar and sentence structure and correct spelling, the other trafficked in the lingo and rhythm of the streets, which is really another way of thinking. It’s more direct, more earthy, perhaps coarser, but funnier, too. I didn’t realize until much later how profoundly my spoken English affected my written English. As soon as I started telling a story, my writing took a natural turn toward a sound I grew up hearing. It’s inescapable, really, and probably happens to every writer. It’s just the way you metabolize language. And then of course, there is Belize, the country itself. Interesting, frustrating, raw, poor, beautiful – I could go on and on, but maybe I should write about it instead.
4) Your first book was about an ex-boxer, Miles Young. Will we see him again?
I think I’ve got to visit Miles again, see what he’s been up to. Honestly, I didn’t plan on writing a series, but I found myself thinking about him, and then people who read In the Heat have said more or less the same thing: “More Miles.” I’m grateful for that. So Miles is a guest star in the novel I’m presently editing, and he keeps telling me he wants to be in a main event soon. I think I’ll have to listen to what he says.
5) What books, movies, writers are your influences?
My biggest influence is probably Hemingway. He’s the first writer whose work I consumed. I think I’ve read all his published short stories, and I’ve read a goodly number of his longer narratives. But, and I’ve heard this before, at some point you’ve got to grow beyond your influences, and I have. I still favor the unadorned beauty of his books, but I also appreciate Gabriel Garcia Marquez, George Pelecanos, Megan Abbott, Cormac McCarthy, Richard Price, James Salter and definitely, most definitely, Elmore Leonard. Two books that inspired me in my early attempts were Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and James W. Hall’s Under Cover of Daylight. As for movies, which I love, The Godfather will always be a classic to me, and just recently, Michael Clayton left me smiling contentedly with how well the story was told.