Hi Charlie, thanks for visiting us today. Can you tell us a little about your book and the inspiration behind it?
Desert Angel follows a fourteen year-old girl as she flees one step ahead of her mother’s murderer through the barren country around the Salton Sea in southern California. By chance she encounters the Mexican American illegal immigrant community and they shelter her while she searches for options.
My wife and I were driving though the country where the book was set, looking at the hardscrabble dwellings and the dry empty land and I began wondering what a girl’s life would be like if her mother followed a handsome but cruel man to such a place. I had worked with girls from similar backgrounds in county locked facilities and I knew how dangerous some of those situations are and how desperate a teenager trapped in such a place becomes.
You previously worked with at risk kids, can you tell us how much this influenced Desert Angel?
Angel is emblematic of several girls with whom I worked: tough, gritty, raw, energetic, and at their wits end. What can they do to change their lives and find a viable future? Most fear it’s hopeless. Their spirit collapses from time to time and they can become self-destructive (cutting) or suicidal, but with a little validation for their struggle and worth, they persist in searching for new resources and a solution.
Desert Angel provides a glimpse into a rural community that is both very closed and private, yet generous and warm to Angel. Did you do any research to make it so believable and realistic?
My daughter was partly raised by a marvelous Mexican family that spoke only Spanish in Oakland California. When she was two, my wife and I moved to Mexico for a year. I had worried we might not be safe. Turned out we were far safer in the Interior of that country than we were in the states and the strangers we met were unfailingly kind and especially sweet to children. During the book writing, I checked my colloquial Spanish (I’d taken the formal language in school) with a young woman who worked with illegal immigrants in southern California and she strengthened my impression of their altruism. Most of them help each other and easily identify with others who are oppressed. It saddens me that many in the United States are so angry at the illegal immigrant community, especially since, unless we’re Native American Indian, we’re all immigrants!
Yes. I was hoping this story would be hard to put down, once someone started reading. I wanted the pace and the prose to be fast, most of the time. But there were other reasons. Angel is shy, under-socialized, home-schooled. She has not had girl friends or confidants. Talking to adults, except for her mother, feels awkward. The men in her life have often flirted with her, making their conversation unwelcome. With the Mexican-American community, there can exist a bit of a language barrier so their English conversations tend to be less wordy.
I also thought Desert Angel would make a great film and could see it playing out in my mind. If Desert Angel were a movie, are there any actor’s you’d have in mind for the lead roles?
Angel needs to be fourteenish, blondish, gritty, tenacious, and almost terminally self-reliant. – Kristen Stewart (The Runaways)
Scotty, slick and venomous. (the killer) – John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone)
Rita, steadfast and perceptive. (the woman that takes Angel into her home) – Rosario Dawson (Unstoppable)
Vincente, a hard-working fun-loving hot-headed. (Rita’s husband) – Michael Peña (Tower Heist)
Momo, strong, good-looking, inexperienced but willing to risk. (the boy that tries to help Angel) – Victor Rasuk (Stop-Loss)
Ramon, kind, but tough and unflappable. (a leader in the immigrant community) – Edward James Olmos (Battlestar Galactica)
the Director, a person who can blend the combination of edgy thriller and the marvelous, impossible enigma of adolescent girls.
– Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight)
When you’re not writing what do you like to read? Which books would you recommend to those who enjoyed Desert Angel?
I love to read fiction books that that have rich believable characters, books that grab me from the first page and don’t let go.
I also read non-fiction books about Decision Making and other brain operations. I love that research is indicating human beings are not as reason-driven as we’d like to believe.
For Desert Angel readers, I’d recommend The Killer’s Cousin by Nancy Werlin – chilling, eerie relationship between a boy (murderer?) and his younger female cousin; Down the Rabbit Hole by Peter Abrahams – marvelous funny girl protagonist solves a crime; Peace Like a River – great characters, multi-layered story. And readers might like my previous book that won the 2011 Young Adult Edgar Award, The Interrogation of Gabriel James – a boy grilled by the police about his role in two killings resulting from his effort to help a shy girl with a bizarre home life.
Finally, do you have any tips for aspiring writers out there?
1) The better you examine and understand your own feelings, motivations, decisions, and those of people you encounter, the better and more realistically you’ll be able to
write. Characters are more important than plot to a story. Believable characters help a reader stay engaged and care about what is going to happen next.
2) Analyze what you like when you read and ask, how is the author capturing me? What makes the dialog effective? How are the characters described?
When you watch a movie or play, ask the same kind of questions: Why is this actress so convincing and another, not? How does the movie maker create mood and setting besides using music?
3) Write about things that intrigue you or trouble you. Turn your mind loose and see what ideas surface as you type away.