Today's exclusive interview is with Mystery Thriller Week 2017 participant and author Christina Hoag, Christina lives in Los Angeles the setitng of her most recent novel, Skin of Tattoos, a Noir thriller which was published in ebook and paperback formats in
August of 2016.
Here's a blurb about the book:
Los Angeles homeboy Magdaleno is paroled from prison after serving time on a gun possession frameup by a rival, Rico, who takes over as gang shotcaller in Mags’s absence. Mags promises himself and his Salvadoran immigrant family a fresh start, but he can’t find either the decent job or the respect he craves from his parents and his firefighter brother, who look at him as a disappointment. Moreover, Rico, under pressure to earn money to free the Cyco Lokos’ jailed top leader and eager to exert his authority over his rival-turned-underling, isn’t about to let Mags get out of his reach. Ultimately, Mags’s desire for revenge and respect pushes him to make a decision that ensnares him in a world seeded with deceit and betrayal, where the only escape from rules that carry a heavy price for transgression is sacrifice of everything – and everyone - he loves.
Tell us something about the book that the blurb doesn’t reveal:
There’s a coming-of-age theme in a key subplot involving Mags’s fractured relationship with his family, which also colors his personality and motivations. Mags is resentful of his over achieving older brother Frank, he’s desperate for his distant alcoholic dad’s approval and his mother’s attention, and he’s very protective of his younger sisters. I loved writing about his family life, and it was very satisfying to see Mags grow and resolve his conflicted feelings toward his family at the end.
What was your favorite review about the book? Why?
“None of the characters seem hastily constructed or come off as clichés. Their pressures and motivations are clearly stated and genuinely felt, and readers will quickly become invested in Mags and his confrontation with an uncertain future” -- Kirkus Reviews. I really felt validated with this part of the review because I put enormous time into sculpting these characters and I fell in love with all of them, even Rico, the baddie. I really felt them so I was enormously glad that came through.
If given a chance, which author (living or dead) would you like to meet (have met) and why?
I think it would be William Shakespeare. I’m a Shakespeare nut. Last summer I saw eight of his plays! I find it astounding how many of our expressions in English come from his works. I’d love to ask him about his creative process, his philosophy of life and human nature, and try to figure out the source of his marvellous, timeless wisdom, plus if he’s surprised how his works have endured for 400 years.
If your book was made into a movie, who would you cast as which characters?
For Rico, I like an actor named Richard Cabral (American Crime Story), who was an L.A. gang member in real life so he’s already tatted up; he has a very intense, edgy look. I’d cast either Benicio del Toro or Demian Bichir as Pops, Mags’ father, and wholesome-looking Benito Martinez as the parole officer, Angel. I’m not sure who would play Mags. The actor has to have the right balance of wholesomeness and edginess. I’d shoot the movie on location in Los Angeles. Maybe Kurt Sutter, who created the hit FX motorcycle gang show “Sons of Anarchy” would like to direct.
When and why did you decide to become a writer:
I won a prize for “writing interesting stories” when I was six years old so I guess writing was always there. It came out as soon as I literally learned how to put pen to paper. I also was a total bookworm as a kid and I wanted to write books when I grew up. When I discovered journalism in high school, I knew that’s what I wanted to do because it was a writing career. I’ve written fiction on and off my whole life.
What gave you the idea to write this book?
I was sent to El Salvador back in 2000 to do a magazine story on gang members deported from Los Angeles to San Salvador, which most of them really didn’t know because their families had emigrated when they were infants. It was a classic “fish out of water” story. They neither belonged in El Salvador or in the United States. Some barely spoke Spanish. It’s really a strange take on the immigrant experience. Their story resonated with me. I could relate to them because I had moved around the world as a child, so I also feel I don’t really belong anywhere. Although my novel is not about deported gang members; it’s the tale of rival homeboys in L.A., the book was inspired by those interviews in El Salvador.
What is your favorite quote from the book and why?
I have a few but here’s one of them: “Fighting’s the only time when I really feel something, you know, the pain. When I hurt, I know I’m really alive. Feel me?” One of the homies, Tweety, says this in response to Mags asking him why he likes boxing so much. It shows that in the gang world there’s a lot of emotional trauma that drives gang members, pain that they manage by numbing themselves like zombies. Tweety is so inured to his emotional hurt that the only way he can break out of his automaton state is by getting physically hurt. It’s a warped mentality in a bleak existence.
Are you traditionally published or self-published and why?
I prefer to go with a traditional publisher because it’s third-party validation of my work. It means somebody has read my book and deemed it worthy of publication. That says something right there. On the other hand, anyone can self-publish anything, which means a lot of subpar stuff is out there. That makes it that much harder for self-pubbed books to get noticed, especially if you’re a debut author. However, for authors with an established following, I think self-publishing is a very attractive option. You keep all your profits, all your rights and all your control! It does mean you have to handle a lot more of the business side, though.
Do you belong to any writer’s groups? Which ones and how have they helped you?
I’ve found Sisters in Crime to be the best of the bunch. SinC has regional meetings and events, which are great to meet other writers, as well as several very active listservs where you can post any kind of query. They have groups for new writers where you can find a critique group. They also promote members’ individual works through tweets and newsletters. There’s a real spirit of camaraderie. Last but not least, their dues are modest. I highly recommend this group, which men can join, too, by the way!
What advice do you have for other writers based on your experience?
Believe in yourself and that you have something to say. That’s the greatest gift you can give yourself. No matter how many rejections you get, as long as you believe in yourself, you’ll have the strength to keep going.
Where can readers find you?
Christina was kind enough to share an excerpt of her novel, Skin of Tattoos, below. Warning: Mature Language
“Ay yo, homes!” A familiar voice sliced through the bustle. “Mags!”
I twirled faster than a ballet dancer, my stomach clenching. Fuck. It was him. Rico. Slashing across the street aiming the shopping bag in his hand at me. His baggy shorts slung so low the waistband of his boxers showed. Socks, white as fluorescent light, pulled neatly to his knees. Ink flowing out of the arms and neck of his plaid shirt. Exactly how he looked the last time I saw him.
The memory of that day bore down on me. We were kicking it at a street corner, and Rico was bragging about how he shot a trey-eight into the ceiling of a liquor store he was jacking, and the storeowner pissed his pants. As he was talking, he took the .38 out of his waistband in a live re-enactment, and I just had to take the piece, feeling its cold weight in my hand for just a second or two before handing it back to Rico. That second or two cost me twenty-six months of my freedom.
Rico threw his arm around me. A thick gold chain shone around his neck. I had a cord with an orange arrow slung around mine.
“Ese.” My voice had as much life as a three-day-old soda.
I never knew if he dropped that thirty-eight by accident, as he said, or if he saw his chance to set me up. I kinda figured the latter. Someday, somehow, I’d get him to admit the truth to me.
“I thought that was you. But I said to myself, ‘Mags, in that fuckin pendejada? Couldn’t be.’ But I looked again and simón, it was. Whatup with this shit?” He flicked the red nose ball. I caught his wrist in midair and stared him down in his swamp eyes. “Easy, fool,” he said.
I dropped his wrist. “Just making a few bones.”
“I heard you was back. We been waiting for you at the garaje, but you ain’t showed up.” Rico drilled my eyes. “You avoiding your homies or what?”
The ball was itching my nose like an oversized mosquito bite. “I got parole and all that. I just wanted to get set up first.”
“I figured you needed a couple days to get readjusted, get some pussy.” He shook his head. “But damn, this shit?” He shook his head. “You ready to get crazy again?”
“Keeping it lo pro, Rico.”
Rico studied me. I suddenly glimpsed myself in his eyes—I had become a small brown man.
He brightened up. “Hey, I just had a kid. A boy. I’m buying some bottles and blankets and shit right now.”
“With Maribel. But I got my side action, feel me?”
“You were always real slick with the jainas.” I knew a little flattery would soften the rough edges of the meet. He smiled big.
“Tell you what, loco, I’ll give you some lessons, make you real smooth.”
“Yeah, I’m out of practice now.” I tried to laugh.
“A lot of changes gone down in the barrio. We need to catch you up.” His arm hooked my neck in a chokehold. “You our firme homeboy, man, you’ll always be part of la familia. We need you, fool.” He squeezed a little too hard. “You come by the garaje. We got a jump in day after tomorrow. We’ll be waiting. We’ll hook you up again, then you can dump this shit.” He pointed his forefinger at me with a barbed wire smile. “Missed you, Mags.”
I watched him vanish into the crowd of shoppers, and spat on the ground to get rid of the bad taste that had flooded my mouth.
Copyright 2016 Christina Hoag. Reprinted with permission.