Frequently Asked Questions

1. Where do you get your ideas?

I’m always on the lookout for ideas in newspapers, magazines, the Internet and whenever I visit Colombia or anywhere else for that matter. All the books are inspired by events that I’ve read or heard about. The visa scam described in White Tombs is based on an actual case (though it occurred in another state) and was the genesis for the first novel.

2. Why did you decide to write crime stories?

It’s a genre in which I can explore themes that interest me such as violence and revenge using a character I enjoy writing about.

3. Is your main character, John Santana, based on someone you know? How much of him is based on you and your experiences?

John Santana is not based on one specific person. He shares some of my tastes and my politics. Both of us are realists. But our differences are more significant. For example, I have never killed anyone, nor did my mother die a violent death. Experiences such as these, as well as his profession, shape Santana’s dark view of the world. I hope to continue exploring elements of my own life through Santana. I’m certain I’ll learn more about his character as I continue writing about him.

4. Do you have a personal connection to Colombia?

My personal connection to Colombia is my wife, Martha. She was born and raised in Manizales, Colombia. Much of what I know about the country and its people, I learned from her and from our visits there. 

5. Do you speak fluent Spanish?

I continue to study and learn it, but I’m not fluent. Fortunately, I can rely on my wife to check my Spanish. And if I decide to write anything in French, she can help me with that as well.

6. How much research do you do?

I want the story to be as real and as accurate as possible when writing a police procedural even though I’m writing fiction. It helps that I honestly enjoy researching and gathering information, so I do quite a bit of it. I also consult experts in the field whenever possible. I’m fortunate to have some excellent connections at the St. Paul Police Department and the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department. Police officers have a very difficult job. I respect them for what they do and the day-to-day pressures they face. Most criminals are caught because of a detective’s intelligence and relentless pursuit.

7. Are the places in your novel real or imagined?

Although I’ve taken liberties with some of the places and locations in the novels, most are described as they are. Click the Photo Gallery link to see photos of places and locations described in the books. You can also access the photo gallery from my Home page.

8. What is your writing routine?

I usually write in the morning. I exercise, answer e-mail, write something for my blog, or do research in the afternoon. Sometimes I’ll write in the evening as well. My goal is two pages a day, which gives me a complete draft in six months. Some days I write more pages. Some days I struggle to produce two. As Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Hemingway also advised writers to “leave something in the deep part of the well and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.” I follow that philosophy.

9. How much of the story do you have planned in your head before you begin writing?

I have a general idea or premise in mind and work from a rough outline. I’ve learned to trust my imagination and let the story and characters guide me. E.L. Doctorow said, “Writing is like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

10. Which book is your favorite?

All the books are my favorites, but for different reasons. For example, I like White Tombs because it was my first published novel, and it introduced the character of John Santana. I like The Black Minute because it dealt with the Hmong culture, which I find fascinating. I like Bad Weeds Never Die because it tells more about Santana’s childhood and his relationship with his sister. I like Bone Shadows because PTSD and memory research are important issues that affect so many returning vets.