Tuesday, April 6, 2010

David Corbett's Central American Insights

RHYS: Today Jungle Red Writers is pleased to welcome one of my favorite guys--fellow Bay Area writer David Corbett. In a world of few characters these days, David stands out. He's loud, passionate about life, and writes books that will rip your soul apart. His last book was nominated for the Edgar Award. David and I did a lot of books signings a couple of years ago when his last Central American thriller, Blood of Paradise came out. We had great fun, especially at the nudist resort, but that's another story.

So welcome David.Tell us about your new book, Do they Know I'm Running?:

DAVID: DO THEY KNOW I'M RUNNING? is the story of a Salvadoran-American family facing two crises at once: the return of a son badly wounded from the Iraq War, and the arrest and deportation of the family breadwinner. The young men of the family decide to retrieve their deported uncle from El Salvador, and the task of going to down to get him and ensure he returns safely falls on the youngest male, Roque, who is something of a golden son: he is a gifted guitarist, referred to by some as the next Carlos Santana. His brothers, who are a bit rougher around he edges, tell him it's time to "man up" and show the family he's willing to sacrifice for the good of the whole. The story then tracks Roque's journey, not just from America to El Salvador through Guatemala and Mexico back to the US border, but from a young man to an old
soul. He learns a great deal about his family, his heritage, America, and
his own heart.

He also learns, once he gets to El Salvador, that bringing his uncle home requires a pact with the devil: organized crime and the gangs now control all the smuggling routes for all illicit contraband -- including people --through the region to the US. And Roque is told by the gang members who control his fate that he will not have just his uncle on board as he journeys north. He will also be transporting a Palestinian Iraqi hoping for asylum in the US (or that's his story), and a young singer who has been promised to a Mexican crime lord. If she isn't delivered as agreed upon, no one else gets across the border. Roque realizes this is essentially a death sentence, and must decide what to do.

RHYS: Wow, powerful stuff, David. You began to explore Central American themes in Blood of Paradise. Why this fascination with Hispanic/border stories? Do you have Hispanic background or connections?

DAVID: A little over a year after my wife died, I met a Salvadoran woman and we began a two year relationship that remains a very close friendship. I became very close to her friends and family, and visited her mother, aunts, uncles and brothers, as well as her wider circle of friends, both in El Salvador and here. I came to know and love them;more importantly, I came to understand the tenuous status of the so-called illegal immigrant, came to understand how hard they work, how deeply they hope for a better future for their children, and how frightened they are that that hope can be stolen away with one stroke of bad luck.

RHYS: Do you go south of the border to do your research? Any great stories you
can share?

DAVID: I've gone to both El Salvador and Guatemala, but relied on knowledgeable friends for Mexico. (I hope to visit there this year.) The best story from Guatemala involved my misunderstanding the border process between Guatemala and Mexico. I wanted to stroll across the bridge spanning the river that divides the two countries, only to learn that, once I was in Mexico, I had to go all the way to Tapachula and take the bus back. This stranded my driver back in Guatemala, and would take at least a day to accomplish. It turned out there was a "helper" working on the bridge, a Mayan young man who'd worked construction in the bay area where I live. (He's been deported after running a stop sign, and couldn't apply for a visa to return for ten years.We hit it off, and he told me who to bribe and what to pay.

RHYS: In real life you're an ex P.I. Has this helped you in the writing of

DAVID:What PI worked taught me is how to read between the lines of media stories.
I worked a number of headline cases -- the DeLorean trial, the first Michael Jackson molestation case, the People's Temple Trial, the Cotton Club Murder Case, the Lincoln Savings & Loan Scandal, among others -- and I quickly learned how much of a case never reached the general public. This taught me an instinct for what to imagine when I did my research, filling in the blank spaces, as it were. I could envision the witnesses who remained nameless or undiscovered, the information one side or the other -- or both -- never wanted brought to light. It's sometimes said: Don't write what you know, but what you don't know about what you know. PI work gave me the confidence to do this with authority.

RHYS:So what's next for you?
DAVID: I'm working on a few film treatments, a graphic novel, a collaboration with
Luis Alberto Urrea, a new novel about a town much like my own -- bankrupt, with a diminishing police department and rising crime -- and a couple of stories about real PI work, not the kind you find in PI novels. I'm also writing a text book based on the courses on character I've taught at UCLA and Book Passage.

RHYS: Oh, so you're goofing off as usual, huh? Seriously we wish you every success with the new book and with all your other projects. You can visit David at his website www.davidcorbett.com


  1. Hi David,
    That's quite a to-do list..when do you sleep?
    Curious about something that's come up on JR recently - Do you ever have any concerns about touching on such potentially controversial issues in your books?

  2. ANyway, David, welcome.

    I love what you said about noticing all that's left out. My husband is a criminal defense attorney, and right now in the midst of a big murder trial. When I read the coverage in the newspaper, it's almost disturbing to see what isn't there.

    And of course, some of it can't be there.

    (Yes, I'm a reporter. But TV coverage can't usually be as in depth as a newspaper could.)andeca

  3. Wow, I get tired just reading about your plot and your plans! Good luck with the new book David.

    Rhys, I'm with Hank. You must spill about the nudist colony...

  4. Okay: nudish colony expose!
    David, Cara Black and I were doing a presentation called Murder in Foreign Lands. We got asked to repeat this everywhere (to the extent that we could do each other's spiels perfectly). We were asked to a "naturist resort". Of the three of us David (who braves Central American gangs etc) was most concerned. He said he was going to hold up his book and read.
    As it happened it was a very cold night. Most people were clothed--but not all, including one large man who wore... a tiny backpack.. and kept walking right in front of us as we were talking. Ah, the things we do for our art!