Jeremy, how did you come to have such a colorful career? Why did you choose the path you took?
It wasn’t really by design. Over the years I have tried to maintain a certain amount of ambition and career planning, but I’ve also tried to go with the flow and not be too rigid because plans invariably change. For example, I went to law school explicitly to go into federal law enforcement. At that time, I had no interest in practicing law, but in those days, if you had a Juris Doctorate, you were really attractive as an applicant for any Special Agent job. So, right out of law school, I was hired by the Secret Service in Los Angeles, but when I was six months into their Academy I blew out my right Anterior Cruciate Ligament. The injury required significant knee surgery, so rather than sit at the Secret Service office in LA answering their phones for six months while recuperating, (which would be typical for someone injured in the academy) I resigned so that I could use that time to take the California Bar Exam. I still had no interest in practicing law, but I have a hard time sitting still and it seemed like a better use of my time than answering the phones at the SAC office on the taxpayer’s dime. After I passed the exam, I re-applied with Secret Service and what at that time was the US Customs Service (and a few other agencies) and ultimately took a job as a Special Agent in San Diego with what had just become ICE (Now Homeland Security Investigations).
Way cool. You are somewhat shrouded in mystery. Tell me more about your back story.
“Shrouded in mystery” That is great! I assume that my entire life is an open book to anyone with an internet connection, but maybe not. I grew up in Tucson, AZ in a pretty classic American Immigrant family that made good. My great grandfather came over from Italy like so many of his countrymen did in the late 1800’s. He started as a coal miner back east and quit the day he watched a man next to him get killed in a cave in. He tried lots of different things, including starting a bar in Michigan before having to move the operation to Wisconsin when Michigan adopted prohibition in advance of the eighteenth amendment. (No guarantee of accuracy here, family lore being what it is.) He got very sick in the 1918 flu pandemic and was advised by his doctor to go to a drier climate for his health, so he moved his family to Tucson and was promptly killed in a car crash within the month!
Oh. That is horrible sad.
My grandfather, who was maybe twenty, had to take control of the family business which consisted of a small hotel across from the train station. He lived in one of the rooms there and was the manager. He prospered and ended up becoming an Arizona Supreme Court Judge and died in the mid nineteen eighties. To this day, people still refer to him as “The Judge”. The federal courthouse in Tucson is named after him. His children also became successful. My Uncle Dennis became a US Senator in Arizona and was, at one time, the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. He served three terms and retired. My dad ended up running the family real estate business that sprung up out of that little hotel, but being a child of the late fifties and early sixties, he was something of a proto-hippie, different from his more ambitious brothers and maybe a bit like Hunter Thompson with less drug use. He took us down to Mexico a lot when we were kids which really felt like the frontier of civilization to us. To my dad it was no big deal, he had been doing it since the sixties when you were really on your own down there.
He sounds like a very colorful man. Go on.
So I grew up with all of these strange influences, the classic Italian Immigrant Family, but out in the desert southwest in this dusty town where there were very few of us compared to, say, New York. (Famously, Joe Bonanno was one of our circle of Italian-Americans with whom we had a checkered history of disavowed friendship between him and my grandfather and a later prosecution by my uncle when he was County Attorney.) Growing up I had three brothers and we sort of became our own gang, not in a bad way, but we lived out in the sticks and we didn’t have a lot of neighbors, so we just sort of ran together looking for trouble as kids do. I went to Catholic high school then college at the University of Arizona, followed by law school at Pepperdine. That is the short version of the back story, now that I am past forty, I can look back and see how unique my upbringing really was.
I would say so. You have a childhood worthy of books. Why become an author? What inspired you?
I have always been a big reader. I love to read as much as I can. I look at a stack of books the way some people might look at a T-bone steak. I never realized it, but I was always writing as I grew up, from philosophy in college, exams in law school to case reports as a federal agent and briefs as a lawyer. It wasn’t sexy stuff, but I got used to exercising my brain that way. Currently, my professional life doesn’t really call for much writing, so my brain just took it upon itself to start creating a story from what I was reading about in both the newspapers and books.
Did some of your adventures play into your story?
Yes and no. My personal input into the book was certainly the law enforcement jargon and, for example, the experience of sitting on vehicle surveillance. That would be hard to write if I hadn’t actually lived it to a degree and the locations in the book are places that I have been many times. Also, I did live on a sailboat at one time like Ben’s friend Joe Lanahan, but I have had to tell more than a few people that I definitely did not kill anybody that I will admit to (just kidding) and I didn’t go to jail for manslaughter a la Ben Adams (or for any other reason). I wanted the story to be just believable enough for it to feel realistic, but a good enough story so that the reader wouldn’t want to put it down. It is funny how people who know me and have read the book seem to think that the story has more than a bit of truth to it, which has caused more than a few strange questions that usually start with “So…did you really do XYZ?”, where XYZ is something shocking from the book. The framework of the story is true enough, but the story itself is most certainly a work of fiction.
Is Ben a mirror image of the author or a creation of your imagination? He is a complex person. Do tell.
I think he and I share a wry sense of the universe that includes the ultimate futility in many things we do, but his attitude is much more exaggerated due to his familial and professional disillusionment and obviously it makes a better story. We also became Feds through law school. The other thing we share is a love of surfing. I know it is a well-trodden path pontificating about the joys of surfing, but I have been at it well over twenty years now and it has yet to lose any of its luster. It is much more than a sport. It’s more like a religion, or a disease maybe. I love to travel and participate in all sorts of adventures but I always want to get back to the ocean. Surfing gets into you and changes your life, largely for the better, but, that is not to say that it doesn’t come without personal or professional costs.
I think it looks like fun and I am always up for a new sport, but I am sure I would be swallowed up by some wave into the mouth of a great white shark. My luck, you know. Anyway, tell me more.
Back to Ben, Ultimately I think he is a bit of a cliché, and maybe if we overlap that means I am as well, but I mean that in the best possible way. There is a literary archetype in the pulp fiction style of writing of the burned out ex-cop or ex-military guy who gets into crazy adventures. I like to think that I am adding to that tradition in a way that is respectful of it but also somewhat new. Ben has a bad attitude and the skills to match, but he is also funny, sarcastic, sometimes clumsy and a bit hard to read. It is not really clear what his real motivations are. We will get to know him a bit better as he and his story develop in the next two books, which leads us nicely into the next question.
I can't wait. I like how you incorporated a multi-faceted story line which is up to date with today's events and public concerns. What is next? Will you have a series?
I am about halfway through the next book with the same character. Camino Del Diablo was my first book and it included issues that were currently relevant as I was writing it. I rushed a bit to get it published for this reason. I wanted people reading it to feel like it was happening as they read it, and I was pretty close. I published it in September, just a few months after Jade Helm and the Governor’s decree about cutting water usage due to the drought in California. The next book won’t be quite as acutely topical since I want to take a little more time on it, but hopefully it will be a much better book and a wilder ride! I think I have enough imagination and material to make a three book set for Ben Adams, and since they are short, I will design the trilogy to be read as one if someone really wanted to plow through them.
Hmm. Interesting. How did you develop your villains? Were they taken from reality? Or did the characters develop as you wrote?
I wanted many of the characters, even the peripheral ones, to be products of their time and experiences and I think the US wars of the last 15 years have had a profound effect on the people of the United States. I see it more so living in a military town (San Diego) but I think at this point there are very few people in this country who haven’t been impacted in some way by the wars. So the bad guy military contractors are, to me, an inevitable consequence of the many worldwide conflicts that are now fought partially by mercenaries. You have an entire generation of people (military and contractor) whose dominant skill set includes killing. Now, I know and am friends with people who work in the military and as military contractors and I am certainly not trying to paint an entire industry with a bad brush, but I wanted to show in an entertaining way that when there is lots of money to be made, otherwise good people can do some terrible things and lose sight of themselves. My ultimate bad guy in the book, Alan the CEO, thought that by donating to environmental causes and going to black tie fundraisers that he could otherwise do whatever he wanted in the pursuit of business and have a clean conscience, and he died not realizing what a psycho he was.
He was a very evil man. Too bad his plans did not work out for him. No more spoilers for anyone who has not read your book yet. Any advice for budding writers?
Just start writing, the hardest part is to just put things to paper. I don’t think Camino Del Diablo is ever going to win The Pulitzer Prize, but if I was overly concerned with perfection, it would never have gotten written, so my advice would be to go for it, sooner than later! It is way too early in my career to know if I will have any commercial success, but the technological advancements in publishing have made it so that an author can focus on the writing and not worry as much about trying to sell the thing to a publisher. You still have to do the work and try to put something together that you think someone would want to read, but the barriers to entry have never been lower, which means that there is more good material out there than ever, but also much more terrible stuff, which can be fun in its own way in the vein of the “Bad Hemmingway Contest” and things like that. There is a blog dedicated to horrible e-book titles and covers and there are hours of entertainment there, which I think if you are on that list is still a success of sorts. I am not sure if I have the guts or not, but I have been trying to figure out a way to use “It was a dark and stormy night” in one of my books. Maybe I will spare the reading public. It might be too cruel.
Ha. That is funny. We had a veteran cop who always started his reports with the weather and particularly loved, "It was a dark and stormy night." He put our sergeant into fits. Anything you would like to add that I haven't asked you?
Thanks very much for reading my book! It was a pleasure to write it and I am very happy that you enjoyed it and gave me such a nice review, I appreciate it immensely! Look for the next book in the series in Summer 2016.
Absolutely no problem! I enjoyed it. You know what else? You need to talk someone into getting a Starbucks on this beach. Do you know how far of a drive it is into San Diego for a refill of my coffee? Geesh. I will be looking forward to the next Ben Adams adventure. Thanks for taking the time out for this great Q & A. Surf's up!
You can check out Camino Del Diablo online at Amazon.com. The link is provided for you as is the book review. So much fun that Jeremy is! I wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors!