Janice Bane cranked it up.  Neil Diamond.  The Solitary Man.  Anybody who had a problem with that could go fuck themselves.

“I’ve had it to here, being where love’s a small word.”  Janice gripped the steering wheel and belted out the lyrics. “Part time thing.” She hit the gas and passed the Range Rover. “Paper ring.”   L.A. traffic was getting to be unbearable.

“I know it’s been done having one girl who loves you.”  She swerved around a man puttering along on a powder blue Vespa Scooter.   “Right or wrong.”   HONKKKK.  What kind of man would chose to drive a Vespa?  “Weak or strong.”

She picked up some speed on the straightaway.

For the last year and a half I have been obsessed with the violence in Mexico and the cartel-fueled drug wars.  There is a character in my new novel named Violeta.  She lives in the midst of the blood drenched chaos and I felt I had to be familiar with the horror of her day-to-day life so that as I could write her story.  I have spent a lot of time down on the border, interviewed people whose lives have been affected, visited the sites of savage brutality.  I start each morning with the Mexican blogs where I read about unspeakable atrocities and look at gory photos.  Mass graves keep popping up all over the country in which 20, 30, 70 tortured bodies are discovered.  At first I was able to keep my boundary intact.  The crimes committed against innocent people in Mexico were upsetting but they were happening in a foreign country—not here in my life.  I was safe.  But slowly the reality of Violeta’s life started to color the way I looked at the world.  Everyday I viewed pictures of headless bodies and crying families.  I read accounts of barbarous torture and saw that the cartels were engaged in a monstrous competition, each group trying to  out do the other in order to prove that they were most fierce and therefore most powerful.   I got depressed.  Was this the end of western civilization, as we know it?  Had human nature devolved to such a level that we were slaughtering each other over drugs and money?  I decided to take a look at history in order to put things in perspective.

Last week I got my first true hate letter.It was anonymous and opened with: “You are a self-involved ass fuck.”The writer loathed my new book Point Dume.Hated my characters.Mocked my writing and intelligence.Despised me, really despised me. It was bad.Of course I know that one shouldn’t take these kinds of attacks seriously—this person is clearly deranged.But I found it very hard to ignore the enormity of his/her venomous rage.

Mexico is pretty much the only thing I think about these days.In my last novel, Point Dume, I had a character named Felix Duarte who came across the border to grow marijuana in the hills of Malibu for a Mexican drug cartel.Felix did not live to see the end of that book and frankly his death broke my heart.It also broke the heart of his girlfriend Violeta, his mother, sisters and brothers, and all of his friends.They never found out about the fire that killed him.He was used and discarded by an organization that does not value human life.His loved ones didn’t even know where Felix was when he died.He left home one morning and disappeared from their lives forever.The story of Felix’s life and death is a very common one.Mexico is in a state of complete chaos and the reality of day-to-day life for the average person is hard to comprehend.

I think marijuana should be legalized.It is not a gateway drug and it offers a variety of important medicinal benefits. It’s a total no-brainer as far as I’m concerned.People should have the right to choose. But there is another very important reason that pot should be legal, one that I’ve not seen addressed much in the media.

I love doing research for my novels, especially if it involves jumping on an airplane or saddling up the car and heading out into the great unknown.A good portion of my life is spent wandering around.I love the details of other people’s lives, new subjects, thorny issues.I like the coffee makers in motel rooms and cheap bars of soap.There’s nothing better than sleeping under the stars on a warm night out in the middle of the desert—just me and my taser.I love talking to strangers about intense situations and high drama.I notice that I often adapt a slight southern drawl when ordering my breakfast at truck stops.I like to arrive in a new town, read the local paper and dive right in. There’s nothing better than jumping into the middle of a crisis, transforming myself into a character, and finding out how all the elements will impact my developing story.It’s the particulars of a situation that make the moment real for me; the way things look or taste or feel, are what allow my people to breathe and function.Usually I wear cowboy boots and jeans when I’m doing research–sometimes a big belt buckle.It helps.

Here’s the truth: if your characters engage in any type of sexual activity, if they even have a vaguely sexual thought, your readers are going to think it all comes directly from your own personal experience.  And there is absolutely nothing you can do about it.

When I finished my new novel POINT DUME I asked all my characters to collect their things and head to the guest quarters in the back of my mind where they’d be living for the rest of their lives.There isn’t room for them in the main house anymore.Luckily, my people were very cooperative.We hugged and kissed and said our goodbyes.I won’t lie, there were tears but I’d warned them, right from the start, that our time together was limited.They knew that once I told their story they would have to move out to make room for my next group.

Ellis Gardner climbed into her beat-to-shit truck and started the engine.  There was a crack in the windshield, on the passenger side, that had branched and was crawling towards her.  Another few days and that crack would cut right through her line of vision.  How did it happen?  Ellis had no idea, it just appeared, but she needed to get it fixed.  Soon.  Along with the passenger door and the tailgate.   And the engine.  And the rear brake light.  And definitely the suspension.  What she really needed was a new truck.  Whatever.