Q: Okay the first and most obvious, do you surf and are you any good? I believe you once described your surfing skills as limited to falling and swimming.
A: I do, but I pretty much suck. I’m awkward anyway – a friend once said that I walk like a broken duck – so balance isn’t my best thing. Also, we’ve moved an hour inland from the beach, to an old ranch, so I’m more into my ‘cowboy’ phase. But I do keep a wetsuit in the trunk of my car, and if I’m near the coast, I usually pop in for at least a body-surfing session. I do love it.
Q: Surfing has featured in your previous novels but never as front and center as in THE DAWN PATROL. Have you been thinking about writing a big surfing novel for a long time? What made you want to do it now?
A: Yeah, I have been. You know that old adage, ‘Write what you know.’ I’d amend it to, ‘Write what you know and love,’ because you’re going to be spending a whole lot of time there. I’d spent years doing a pretty grim book about the drug trade, then a mob book, so going to the beach seemed like a nice break. But really I’ve always wanted to try to capture in words what had always been an ineffable fascination in my life. I was raised along the ocean and have been in the surf since I can remember. My dad took me out and taught me about waves. The ocean has always been my refuge and my catharsis, if that’s not overly pretentious. I walked to the beach after my father’s funeral. The sound of a wave going off still gets my heart pounding, and I never feel as good, or as much at peace, as when I come out of the ocean after a good, rough session. Food tastes better, I sleep great. . . I hope I captured some of that in the written word.
Q: Like your last novel, The Winter of Frankie Machine, THE DAWN PATROL follows characters that live at the intersection of the laid-back surfing culture and the shadowy underworld. What about these seemingly disparate subcultures brings them together so seamlessly for you?
A: The contrast. You know, you stand up on a bluff, for instance, and look at that wonderful, sunny, blue southern California scene and it’s beautiful. But you know that simultaneously, there’s a whole lot of ugly stuff going on there. At first it seems dissonant, but on deeper inspection there’s a harmony, a yin-and-yang to it. Some of the beautiful houses were built with drug money; some of those drugs were brought in on that ocean you’re looking at, by some of the surfers who are in the break. So it is seamless. It’s kind of like the ocean itself –one moment it’s placid and benign, and then – WHAM – it tries to kill you. But it’s still the same ocean, yeah?
Q: There is a lot of colorful surfing jargon used in THE DAWN PATROL, like ‘epic macking crunchy.’ Did you borrow these terms from the existing surfing lexicon or are they your own creation?
A: No, it all comes from current surfbonics. Of course, it’s always changing. Which I love. I also love that mélange of Californo-American, Hawaiian, Samoan, Mexican that makes up surf jargon. There’s a sort of democracy, maybe anarchy, of speech that’s perfectly expressive. And funny. I like the humor of surfspeak, which is usually self-deprecating as a lot of it refers to common experiences of screwing up. Surf conversations are just funny.
Q: Most of your novels take place in Southern California, and in THE DAWN PATROL the ocean and surfing are so important in your characters’ lives that they seem like characters themselves. What is it about this specific place that you find so compelling as the setting for your books?
A: Well, I think that characters are almost indistinguishable from place. We are where we live. So, to me, there’s little difference between the people and the locale, they’re all of a piece. And I’m in love with the place. Seriously, I can be driving between Laguna and Dana Point, for instance, and I literally ache. It’s so beautiful, so interesting, so crazy. I never get tired of it. I’m greedy for it. You drive from Newport Beach south to the border and it’s just one great place after another, all subtly different. Great beaches, great breaks, great towns, great little places. I still get a charge out of going into the Killer Dana Surf Shop. Papa’s Tacos. Jeff’s Burgers. I love having breakfast on the deck of the Coyote Grill, eating eggs machaca and looking at the impossibly blue water. Or just sitting out at ‘Shores’ and watching the slow sunset. Why is it compelling? I don’t know – why is love compelling? I could probably sit and list fifty-eight reasons why I’m in love with my wife, and they’d all be true, but they don’t get the totality. It’s just that sometimes I see her eyes and BAM – my heart stops.
Q: There are some serious issues underlying the exuberance and fast pace of the waves. Boone takes on a case that involves not only murder and blackmail but, as he discovers also exposes a terrifying network of human trafficking. Where did this aspect of the novel come from?
A: Shame. I mean, you drive around this beautiful part of the world and you’re having such a good time. You’re so spoiled, stunning views, nice place to live, great food, fantastic things to do (like surfing), and then you drive past some fields and you know that other people are suffering. In regard to the issues you mention, they’re happening to children and they’re suffering terribly. And if that doesn’t take some of the fun out of your day, if it doesn’t take that idiot, hedonistic grin off your face for at least a second, there’s something wrong with you. So maybe I felt that, as a writer who lives in (and off) this area, I had a responsibility to write about some of these issues – including human trafficking.
Q: Is where you live, close to the U.S. border, part of what informs your interest in exploring the lives of those searching for a better life yet often falling into the hands of those who prey on the vulnerable?
A: Sure. It’s a part of daily life here. I deal with it every day – on school boards, community committees, that kind of thing. I’ve seen the Border Patrol chase people across the back of my place. I’ve found the remnants of mojado camps out in the brush on our back acres. Everyone around here knows what corner you go to if you want to hire illegal day workers. Kids in school go ‘home’ on holidays and then don’t make it back on time because they can’t get back across the border. I’ve spent time with the Border Patrol and it was one of the most depressing experiences of my life.
Q: Boone Daniels and the rest of the crew that make up ‘The Dawn Patrol’ are a winning bunch? Can we expect to see any of them again in the future?
A: Well, I’m glad you think so. Yeah, you’ll be seeing them again. I guess. If you want to.
Q: Are you excited about the upcoming movie of your last novel, The Winter of Frankie Machine? Starring Robert De Niro and directed by Michael Mann it, would seem like it has a lot in its favor.
A: I am. I mean, come on – Robert freaking De Niro?! I’d be stoked if he just read one of my books. And Mann’s a great guy – I had a long talk with him one time about ‘Heat,’ and the man is a freak for detail. SO, yeah, I’m excited.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: I’m hoping for breakfast. On the longer term, I’m working on a retelling of The Aeneid, set in the crime world – no, seriously – and also doing a sequel to THE DAWN PATROL, titled The Gentlemen’s Hour, which is the next session in the daily surf calendar.