Author Interview: Charlie Price ( Desert Angel )

I recently read and reviewed the tense and terrifying thriller, Desert Angel, by Charlie Price ( Review HERE ) Charlie kindly agreed to answer a few questions about the book and writing in general…

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!

I thought Desert Angel was very tense and the dialogue in particular added to it. Was this intentional?

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.

Thanks for stopping by Charlie and taking the time to answer my questions.

Find out more about Charlie and his books : Website / Goodreads

Book review: Desert Angel by Charlie Price

Fourteen-year-old Angel has had a tough start to life. Dragged around by her mother as she moves from one abusive relationship to the other, they’ve never stayed anywhere for very long. But latest boyfriend Scotty is in a different league to the others and when Angel discovers her mother murdered one morning she becomes his next target.

Fleeing their trailer in the Californian desert, Angel embarks on a journey of survival. With no money, food or shelter and in harsh and unwelcoming surroundings she must escape Scotty before he finds her and kills her too. But he has an advantage, he’s an illegal hunter and Angel is the prey. Her only chance of survival is by enlisting the help of strangers, but by doing so she also brings danger on them. Angel can only see one way out…get Scottie before he gets her first.
You know when you pick a book up just to have a quick look, not intending to actually read it there and then, but suddenly find an afternoon gone and a couple of hundred pages covered? That’s what happened with Desert Angel. It only arrived that morning and I was tidying away when I took a peak and became hooked to the story. A couple of hours later and the whole book was finished. It’s a pretty fast paced read and one where you just have to know how it will end.
From the very first paragraph this book is hard-hitting and brutal, even shocking. Charlie Price doesn’t ease us in slowly to Angel’s bleak existence. It’s driven home from the very beginning and within the first chapter we’re given some violent and disturbing scenes of abuse and murder.
Angel’s a tough girl, who’s led a tough life very different to the one most of us will be accustomed to and so normal rules don’t apply. No one knows of her and her mother, nobody would miss her and having lived her life fleeing the system she’s fearful of it so it’s not where she turns. Her instinct is to do as she always has, take care of herself, and I thought Price portrays her plight perfectly. Scotty is awful and a very believable threat and the whole book had the feel of one of those movies where the villain keeps popping up suddenly making you jump. Actually, I can see this book making a great film.
The book is set in the Californian desert and the stark landscape makes a brilliant, eerie, backdrop for this game of cat and mouse.  Populated mainly by settlers from nearby Mexico, some illegally, Angel finds herself in the care of a reluctant Hispanic community. To begin they are suspicious of Angel, not wanting to be involved or draw the attention of the authorities themselves but under the tough love of Rita, she finds herself experiencing a family’s love for the first time. One of the strengths of this book is how believable the characters are, no matter how small a part they play.
The dialogue is particularly powerful, very blunt and authentic and certainly adds to the tension. However I think this may have been a bit of a downfall too. Because it’s so stark and brutal I felt I lacked connection with the characters, even Angel. There was something just keeping me distant from her, so I never fully connected or understood her despite my sympathy and respect for her, and it was the same with the other characters. I get why the book was written like this, it does make it very tense, but maybe seeing Angel open up just a little would have meant I could empathise and understand her more.
Desert Angel is a taut, fast paced psychological thriller that grabs your attention from the off. It’s a quick read at only 240 pages and one you’ll almost certainly want to finish in one sitting. With some graphic and shocking content including sexual abuse, guns and violence this isn’t a book for younger readers and I’d recommend it for ages fourteen and over. In the YA market this book certainly stands out as different with it’s bleak, no holes barred approach and genuinely jump out of your seat scary moments. If you fancy something a bit different, with real grittiness then I’m happy to recommend it. 

Published by Random House (UK) February 2012
Thanks to the publishers for providing a copy for review.