1. What inspired you to write Border Field Blues?
The inspiration for Border Field Blues happened many years ago, when my wife and I first stumbled on Border Field State Park while out for a Sunday drive. It’s a rarely visited California landmark along the San Diego-Tijuana border in the most southwesterly corner of the continental United States. It was a rare combination of place – beautiful and forlorn. There was only a single rusty fence separating the border at that time, a flimsy chain link structure, where separated families met to pass food, money, and conversation through the rusted links.
I originally set the climactic action of my first Rolly Waters mystery, Black’s Beach Shuffle, there, but the location didn’t really fit the scope of the book, so I dropped it. I found a way to build the second book around the park, although the plot of Border Field Blues ended up a long way from where it originally began. I had the title figured out at least a year before I started writing it.
2. Border Field Blues is the second novel in the Rolly Waters mystery series. What can you tell us about the first Rolly Waters mystery, Black’s Beach Shuffle?
Believe it or not, my first idea was to write a dark, detective/noir musical. I’d been a musician for many years and had also worked in professional theatre as a sound designer. That was my background. Fortunately, I gave up on the musical idea pretty quickly. I knew it had to be a novel.
Black’s Beach Shuffle came out of my time working for MP3.com, a famous (or infamous, depending on your view) internet start-up that had the biggest technology IPO in history at the time it went public. Two years later, it lost one of the biggest copyright suits in history and about a year later was sold to Vivendi/Universal. I started outlining the book while I was still working there.
Many of the details of EyeBitz.com, the internet start-up in the book, were based directly on my experience at MP3.com and the whole environment of a well-funded tech start-up. We were a legitimate business, however. The inspiration for the criminal chicanery in the book came from a start-up called Pixelon. You can read about the company on Wikipedia – a complete disaster, and scam, from start to finish.
3. When Border Field Blues begins, Rolly’s friend Max asks him for help finding the eco-vandals who destroy a local bird preserve. Rolly is reluctant to begin this investigation, which turns out to be much more than eco-vandalism. How would you characterize Rolly as a private investigator and as a person?
There were two choices I made right away about Rolly. He was an over-the-hill musician, a guy with solid guitar skills, who didn’t quite make it to the big leagues due to personal problems and just plain bad luck. I suppose this is partly my own story (although I play keyboards), but I wanted his character to be a tribute to all the people I played with over the years, some great, great musicians who, for a variety of reasons, didn’t continue on as professionals. And also for those who have continued on, scraping by, but still playing professionally.
My second choice was that Rolly would not be “hard-boiled.” He’ll never carry a gun. He’s soft around the middle. A high-school friend of mine who’d become a private investigator was really the inspiration for this character. He was one of the last people you’d imagine as a tough private-eye, at least according to classic noir and “Hollywood” versions. My friend explained to me that if he had a case that became threatening to him personally in any way, he was basically done – time to quit and turn it over to the police. But Rolly can’t do that. He’s too stubborn and prideful. And he hates it when somebody tells him he can’t do something.
Also, Rolly doesn’t surf. Tried it once; never again for him.
4. Both Black’s Beach Shuffle and Border Field Blues take place in San Diego. How integral is San Diego to the Rolly Waters mysteries and what made you choose it as the setting for the series?
I was born in San Diego and I’ve lived here most of my life. I wanted to capture some of the “other” side of San Diego, the part that’s never in the tourist brochures, to give a feel for what it’s like to live in America’s Finest City. It’s a great place. I love living here, but we’re not just a bunch of beach bums and surfers. I came across a contest recently, sponsored by one of the local publications, asking people to describe San Diego in three words. I came up with these: beautiful, intelligent, constipated.
5. Can you describe some of the research you did when you were writing Border Field Blues?
I drove down to South County and the border a lot. I also drove and hiked through parts of the Tijuana River Valley Regional Park. It’s really an amazing place, so many different “streams” if you will, flowing into it.
The largest border crossing in the world is at the Tijuana-San Diego. It’s packed with traffic every single day, yet only a mile or two away is a natural bird preserve and a place where you can ride horses on the beach. But even at the border, the political issues are ever present, with its big iron fence that goes all the way out into the ocean. There are also many farms in the area. You can get some of the best strawberries you’ve ever tasted.
I also did a lot of research on the history of Border Field State Park. The story that Max tells about Pat Nixon’s visit is completely true. It’s amazing to think that a Republican first lady was extolling the virtues of “getting rid of this fence” forty years ago, especially compared to where we are now.
The last important piece of research I did was about the international trade in human smuggling. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but it’s mind-boggling how international the underground slave trade and sex trafficking has become and how many girls and young women are victims of it. A good place to learn more about this (and do something about it) is The Polaris Project (http://www.polarisproject.org/).
6. Are you working on another Rolly Waters mystery? If so, what can you tell us about it?
The working title for my next book is Slab City Rockers. It plays off the desert area to the east of San Diego, taking for its inspiration the real-life, off-the-grid community of Slab City, which has its own concert stage, 24-hour library, and churches located in the Anza-Borrego desert.