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Stuff I Wish I’d Written … Paul Heatley on Don Winslow’s The Power of the Dog and The Cartel

Hi, Paul. Which book are we talking about?

Hey, Jason! Well, the book I most wish I’d written is The Cartel by Don Winslow – however, I feel you can’t talk about that without also talking about the first in the series, The Power Of The Dog. So, two books! Two very, very good books.

Mexican cartels, high-end prostitutes, American foreign policy – these books sound grand, epic, maybe polemical. Are they also personal?

Oh, absolutely. Art Keller is a family man. So too is Adán Barrera. Family plays a big part in the lives of most, if not all, of the characters, whether that be husbands, wives and children, or brothers and sisters. It shapes them, in some cases it motivates them. But it’s also a case of finding family that isn’t blood – Nora and Juan Parada spring to mind. But also of friendships, and what a broken or destroyed friendship can do to drive a person forward.

The growth of Art particularly is central to both books. He’s on a bleak path, and it gets bleaker the further along it he goes. Is he going to come out with his soul intact? Well…

Where does Art’s downward spiral, if that’s the right term, start from?

So, in book one he starts off as very much the good guy – he’s going to do things by the book. About halfway through, things are starting to get him down. He’s turning dark. Politics are holding him back, not to mention that most of them are on the take. It’s dawning on him he needs to turn to the dark side, to fight fire with fire. The turning point is when he gets into bed with the Mafia to rip off Adán’s cartel. After that, he’s struggling to save his soul as much as he is to bring down Adán. At the end of the book, he’s successful at both. In book two… Well, he’s a different kind of player after years spent in hiding, separated from his family. He’s dark, and he’s staying dark. Now he knows how to play the game, he won’t make the same mistakes, and he doesn’t trust anybody.

Don Winslow

What’s Adán Barrera’s motivation as a cartel boss? Is he in it to safeguard his family’s fortune? Did he fall into this life through circumstance? Is he just bad, and enjoys being bad?

Much like Art, he starts off with decent intentions – well, semi-decent in Adán’s case – but turns bad far sooner, to the point of becoming irredeemable once he’s ordering mass executions and the murder of families. Whatever his motivations starting out, he soon becomes far more obsessed with the notions of power and control than anything else. I think Adán does enjoy being bad, although he doesn’t see himself that way. He’s the hero of his own narrative.

It makes me think of Ellroy’s American Tabloid in its scale. Does Winslow use a matter-of-fact style of prose?

Ellroy is one of my favourite authors, too. I admire authors who write such big, epic, labyrinthine novels and make it look so easy! One of the things I admire so much about the Cartel novels is their sheer ambition. It’s one of the things that really motivates me in my own work – to get better, to plot and write bigger, ambitious works.

To answer your question, yes. The style is direct, it’s straight to the point. I understand Winslow spent something like six years researching the first book, so much like American Tabloid it has some basis in fact. Scary, terrifying fact. One thing I’ll say about Winslow’s writing in particular – no one writes an action scene like him. Absolutely no one. You feel like you’re there, in it, like the bullets are whizzing past your head and you’ve got one chance to make the shot that’ll save your life. I held my breath at parts.

And the shocks! Jesus Christ, he really pulls the rug out from under you with some of the reveals, particularly in The Cartel. These are epic fucking books. I can feel myself fanboying talking about them, remembering key scenes, insisting to other people that they read it for themselves.

What is Winslow saying about the Drug War?

That it’s endless, that it’s an abyss of corruption, violence and death. That no matter who the figurehead of a particular cartel is, it’s a hydra – if you chop off one head, there’ll be another, there’ll be more, to take its place. I believe this last one particularly is going to be the theme of the forthcoming third and final part of the trilogy, The Border, out in February.

Do the novels explore possible solutions to the drug war?

It’s been a while since I read them both last, and I don’t remember if the possibility of a solution presents itself. What I remember most is the sheer nihilistic hopelessness of it all. Winslow’s quite active on Twitter, he talks about the drug war and the cartels a lot there, so perhaps he has personal solutions, but I don’t recall them in the books. Like I said, what I remember most is the never-ending bloodshed and the sense that it’s going to go on and on and somehow just keep getting worse.

How do Art and Adán, once friends, separate into opposite sides of the law?

I think there was always an understanding that they would end up on opposite sides of the law. The familial pull was too strong for Adán, and after he gives in to that, he wants the power. Then of course he dupes Art to his own ends, he kills his partner, there are threats upon his life, upon his family – things really escalate…

Is Art the protagonist and Adàn the antagonist, or is it more complex than that?

It starts out like it could go either way. Adán could be an anti-hero, but it doesn’t take long before he’s sucked into the kind of actions that make him a total villain. Whilst he does perform altruistic acts such as funding schools etc, it’s quite clear this is all a sham to curry himself some good favour with the people he’s actually exploiting.

Art on the other hand is much more complex. As I said earlier, his journey becomes darker. He starts out clean-cut, and by the end he’s got a lot of blood on his hands – not as much as Adán, but still more than plenty to give him some sleepless nights. He’s a pure anti-hero, very much driven to get his man any way he can.

The ending of The Power Of The Dog leads to some redemption for Art, and it is an absolutely perfect ending. So much so in fact that when I learnt of the sequel I was concerned that it would undo what had been accomplished. You know what? The ending of The Cartel manages to build upon the first’s and is still deeply satisfying. The two compliment each other very, very well to the point it’s hard to choose one as being better over the other.

Do you think there’ll be a sequel? [This is where I had a brain fart, as Paul had already talked about the sequel in an earlier question – I’ll get my coat] If you wrote it, what dark alleys would you go down?

There IS a sequel! The Border is coming in February 2019. Needless to say I’m very excited about it, and curious what’s going to happen after the ending of The Cartel.

I can’t even begin to imagine how I’d handle it. Winslow is a master and I’m nowhere near his level. I’m fully prepared to strap in and enjoy the ride!

You’ve written quite a few books now – how far are you from Winslow?

I’m still a ways off! If we go off my paperbacks, I’ve written seven books with another two coming next year, and I think he’s at nineteen? Something like that. So I’ve still got a way to go. And in terms of quality? Oh man! Most of my books, with the exception of Violent By Design, are quite short, too. This goes back to what I was saying earlier about writing being ambitious – after I wrap up work on a few shorter works, it’s time for me to get more ambitious in what I’m producing.

I outline each chapter when I write, with a brief overview of the whole thing. What do you do?

Same! I keep a reasonably detailed plan before I start – a character list, and an outline chapter by chapter. I like to have it planned out otherwise I’m liable to lose the way and end up writing myself into a corner with a Gordian knot I have no idea how to cut through. So many of my early projects stalled because I didn’t have a plan for them, because I hadn’t properly thought them out beforehand. Obviously sometimes things change on the fly, and that’s fine. You can change your plan on the go and make it work around your new ideas.

So where’s your ambition going to take you? What elements do you want to dive into for the longer form?

I have some ideas for what I’m planning to do with a longer form, but I don’t like to discuss things in great detail until they’re done. Firstly I have to make sure my talent can match up to my ambition. Either way, it’s going to be a case of writing and working through it and keeping at it until that tenacity pays off and I’m able to come out with something I can be proud of.

Your books have been very highly rated. Is your worry about the longer form more one of needing to do meticulous research than your storytelling chops?

I guess that would be part of it, yeah. The good thing about novellas is they’re quite fast to write, I usually have one written in a fortnight (obviously the editing takes a lot longer), and usually they require a small amount of research. Something bigger like I’m planning is going to require a deeper level of research and planning, but it’s been an ongoing process of books and YouTube videos now! I believe it took Winslow twenty-one years to research and write the complete Border trilogy, and I mean, man, that’s a daunting thought.

I expect yours to come out before 2039. It sounds like you’ve made a start. Is the hardest part of research not just the research, but how to implement it in your story with a light touch?

That’s exactly it! It’s easy to get pages and pages of research that you want to put into your story, it’s harder to do so in a way that isn’t heavy-handed and is going to keep people’s attention, because the things that interest you aren’t necessarily the things that interest your readers. When a person comes away having learnt something, without realising they were in the process of learning something, that’s a success.

The Power of the Dog and The Cartel: films or TV series?

It’s my understanding that some movies are going to be made, I believe either produced or directed by Ridley Scott. That’s pretty exciting. It’ll be interesting to see who’s cast to fill out the roles. Personally, no-one springs instantly to mind as to who would play Art, Adán et al.

The books however are so epic they would maybe work better as a TV series, but I think in the right hands a movie will be more than adequate. And also, in the wrong hands a TV version could suffer.

Paul, you’ve been a top guest. Any final words?

Thanks! I hope people check out Winslow’s Cartel books and see why I rate them so highly, I really don’t think I can do them justice, you just have to read them yourself! Also, for my own news, keep an eye out for two new books from me in the first half of 2019 – Bad Bastards with Fahrenheit 13, and Guillotine with All Due Respect. Guillotine actually releases the week before the final part of the Cartel trilogy comes out in February. That’s a literary battle I’ve already lost! Haha.

***

Paul Heatley writes hard-hitting noir, including An Eye for an Eye, Fatboy, and Violent by Design. If you go on Goodreads and check out the reviews you’ll see how highly regarded he is.

He lives in northeast England and you can find his short form work smeared across websites such as Shotgun Honey, Close to the Bone, Spelk Fiction, and The Flash Fiction Offensive.

You can buy Paul’s books HERE.

His website is HERE.

You can buy Don Winslow’s books HERE.


50% off all my books through December – click the links below to buy.

City of Forts

“A brilliant read that explores society and all its cracks. Jason Beech expertly balances the nostalgia of childhood adventures with the brutality of life in a very grown-up and dark town. City of Forts deserves to sit equal with the greats as a piece of entertainment and a study of modern life’s struggle”

– Aidan Thorn, author of When the Music’s Over from Fahrenheit 13 Press.

Moorlands

“This book has some serious grip. It sinks its teeth into the reader fast and hangs on. Solid throughout, visceral. Thoroughly enjoyed it.”

– D.S. Atkinson

Bullets, Teeth, & Fists

“A great collection of shorts from an author with a stellar writing style! The first and last tales are the most entertaining, serving as perfect book ends to house the others in-between. There is a lot of depth to each story, which is difficult to accomplish considering their brevity. I will be investing more of my time on Mr. Beech.”

– Shervin Jamali, author of Remember.

Bullets, Teeth, & Fists 2

“… keeps you turning the pages from beginning to the end.”

– Amazon Reader

You Have the Right to Remain Silent … Paul D. Brazill

With a mutual nod Paul D. Brazill and I pulled nylons – really nice and soft on the skin – over our faces and charged into the bank. I jammed the doors while Paul fired a shot at the ceiling. Plaster sprinkled my head and Brazill ducked, all nonchalant, at the strip light’s un-moored swing.

“Everybody on the floor and don’t move a damn muscle,” I shouted.

Customers screamed and the staff raised their hands as instructed. Brazill supervised the transfer of beautiful pound notes into our holdalls and told the old cashier she had nothing to worry about, “You’ll see out your retirement – just finish the job.”

My smile expanded at how Brazill would answer my questions now I’d agreed to help slip a few illegal notes into our pockets …

But the nylon must have strapped Brazill’s grin tight because he seemed a little unsure. Aye, we’d not yet finished the job, but … life’s sunrise glowed just beneath the horizon’s rim and I would get my answers. He pulled the nylon above his mouth and sucked air through his teeth.

“What?” I said.

I raised my weapon at the cashier who raised his head an inch too high off the floor.

Brazill put a hand on his hip and rubbed his chin with the gun-hand. “What we’re doing, it’s just not right.”

“It’s not what?”

“I mean, come on … look at these fine people …”

I surveyed these fine people. They were laying in puddles of their own sweat and piss. A man with a tattoo of a tear beneath his right eye drowned that tear in real salt.

“I mean, it’s a lovely day, these fine people are just out enjoying their day, and us pointing a gun in their faces – it’s bound to put a dampener on your day, don’t you think?”

“If you’re on the receiving end, yeah.”

Staff paused, the Queen in their hands raised an eyebrow above the bags where they should continue to dump her.

“This was your idea,” I said.

“I know, I know. The money, the money. But it’s a sin.”

I pursed my lips. I shot the high roof as a man shuffled close to the door. He quivered and yelped and said he only needed a breath of fresh air.

“You want to go and get a bottle of gin?” I said to Brazill.

“Would you mind? I can’t sin without gin.”

“And you’ll come back …” I bit my lip, “and answer my questions?”

He offered me a cheeky smile and crept out to head for the offy. I craned my neck to check his whereabouts while I controlled my crowd. They’d sensed the heart had left this operation, and it almost had when the sirens flashed their blue through the windows. The game had to be up. A policeman told me through a megaphone that they had the bank surrounded, that I should come out with my hands up, or release the prisoners.

“Brazill, you bastard, I want my answers.”

A big old burp came from above and Brazill rappelled down a zipline with a bottle of gin clamped by his armpit and a hand out.

“What about the money?” I shouted above the megaphone outside, the crying inside, and the whirr of the helicopter upside.

“All this … ” he waved a hand across the scene, “I was just messin’ with your head, fella. Let’s grab a pint and you can ask me those questions.”

We zoomed up the line and smashed through the glass ceiling, dodged and weaved to escape the helicopter’s gaze, until we managed to park our arses on a bar stool at The Peacock Inn where Brazill raised a pint of John Smiths.

“What did you want to ask?”


Paul D. Brazill has written a bottomless well-worth of short stories, diamonds scattered across a ton of anthologies and online magazines. His highly rated novellas include A Case of Noir, The Guns of Brixton, Too Many Crooks, and Big City Blues. They’re action-packed and very funny.

A friend of mine doesn’t read fiction, paraphrasing Frank Skinner about it all being made-up and he has no time for any of that. What words do you have for such a philistine?

Paul D. Brazill (PDB): That’s a pity. Life’s short – and ultimately futile. Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think.

What must a protagonist have to make you read on?

PDB: Personality. Personality goes a long way. Especially something with bumps and nodules. And spikes. Spikes are good.

Do you need a likeable protagonist?

PDB: Preferably not. I don’t even need likeable people, truth be told.

Name a great antagonist, in a novel or movie, and what they do for you.

PDB: Brighton Rock by Graham Greene.

“Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him” From its brilliant opening line, Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock (1938) grabs you by the throat and almost strangles you with its intensity. The lives of rich and diverse characters, such as big hearted Ida Arnold who investigates Hale’s murder, and Pinkie, the psychotic young gangster, intertwine in a gripping novel that is well-deserved of its classic status. The seaside town of Brighton itself is also one of the book’s strongest characters, as the glitz and grit collide.

What makes you throw a book out the window?

PDB: Nothing. If I don’t enjoy something I stop doing it. See question 1.

What gets you writing? A great novel, maybe? Something you saw on the street or on the TV? Something else?

PDB: I just start writing and see what comes out but it’s more likely to be something from life. Something ridiculous. Or sometimes a title TWOCed from a song I like.

What did you learn about writing from the last book you wrote?

PDB: Absolutely nothing, I expect. I don’t have much of a character arc.

What’s your next book, in 30 words or less?

PDB: Last Year’s Man is a seaside noir. An ageing hit man returns to his home town for a life of peace and quiet but he can’t escape his violent past.

Where can readers connect with you?

Here’s the bio: Paul D. Brazill is the author of A Case Of Noir, Guns Of Brixton, Last Year’s Man, and Kill Me Quick! He was born in England and lives in Poland. His writing has been translated into Italian, Polish, Finnish, German and Slovene. He has had his writing published in various magazines and anthologies, including The Mammoth Books of Best British Crime. His blog is here.

You can buy his books from HERE.

It’s only beneath the bar, in a drunken haze, that I saw the money bags in Brazill’s hands as he stood in the pub’s doorway. He offered me a grin and a wink and a sorry shrug of the shoulders as he blended into the mist and the crowd outside the pub. I reached out with a groan as cops with guns replaced him in the pub’s entrance.

Ah well, I’d got what I needed.


You can BUY City of Forts for the special pre-order price HERE.

I have a new book coming out in April – here’s the cover reveal.

I have a new book out on 15 April 2018 called City of Forts. Feast your eyes on the first draft cover below. The eagle-eyed will note there’s a typo of my name on the spine, but that will be fixed for release.

Christopher Lucania, as always, has done a beautiful bit of work. You should check his work out here.

Here’s the blurb:

All thirteen-year-old Ricky Nardilo wants is a fun summer before he and his friends part for school again. But, when he and Liz fall through the floor of an abandoned house and comes face to face with a dead man, the hot months become charged with danger.

The City of Forts is the name Ricky and his friends have given a crescent of abandoned homes at the edge of Town. Lying in the shadow of a disused factory it is their refuge from the Town’s rust, its drug dealers, and the Ghost Boys.

It’s not a refuge for long. The dead man has triggered a gangster’s warpath. Tarantula Man wants to know how his man has disappeared. And he wants to use the City of Forts for his own purposes.

Ricky, Liz, Bixby, and Tanais will not give it up without a fight – and maybe with the help of Floyd, Mr Vale and his son, Charlie, they’ll rid themselves of the invaders.

City of Forts is a dark coming of age crime drama where every street and alleyway is loaded with menace.

Here’s what those in the know have to say about it:

“A haunting tale of death, love, and the American Dream on a US town’s mean streets” –

Keith Nixon, author of the bestselling Konstantin series.

“A brilliant read that explores society and all its cracks. Jason Beech expertly balances the nostalgia of childhood adventures with the brutality of life in a very grown-up and dark town. City of Forts deserves to sit equal with the greats as a piece of entertainment and a study of modern life’s struggle” –

Aidan Thorn, author of When the Music’s Over from Number 13 Press.

To celebrate its release I’ve invited a bunch of really exciting authors to not talk about my book at all, but instead talk about their work. You should check them all out and give them your hard-earned money. I don’t mind if you buy mine either.

The first will run tomorrow, Monday – so tune in to check it out.

In the meantime, you can pre-order City of Forts (ebook version) by clicking here.

The pre-order is $0.99 and 99p (so save a couple of bucks/quid).

Moorlands on offer for 99p and $0.99 from 1-7 May 2017

moorlands
DOWNLOAD Moorlands

As Paul D. Brazill put it:

“Larry is a burglar who needs to get his hands on some cash. Sharpish. When his step- father – a retired cop – asks him to track down his errant sister , he has the chance of a way out of  his financial problems but Larry soon digs himself even deeper into the mire. Moorlands is a tight, atmospheric crime thriller with a strong sense of melancholy.”

 

You can download Moorlands from Amazon.

 

 

Gumshoe by Paul D. Brazill


Another work of comic sleaze from noir master Paul D. Brazill. Peter Ord is a private eye in Seatown, a blustery place in northeast England, full of blustery characters. Ord stumbles from one job to another in the company of the drunks, the nutters, and bottles of special sauce to keep him arm’s length from life’s cold realities. His main task throughout this novella is to serve up info and complete tasks for the local gangster, Jack. But never mind all that, the plot (which are more moments in the life of Ord) is purely in the service of delivering hilarious scenes with chapters punctuated with tasty punchlines. Every chapter will at the very least raise a happy smile, and more often bellow a laugh at the nutters within.

A taster:

He was guarded at first but after a couple of drinks the words tumbled out of Ernie’s mouth like a gang of deunks staggering out of a pub at closing time’ …

This kind of stuff just spills out the book. It’s short and sweet, and well worth an investment of time.

Note: As of now, I cannot find the book in the Kindle store, though it is available in paperback if you look hard enough at Amazon.

 

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