Of all my books, perhaps The Last Resort is the most conflicted. It’s also the book one of my beta readers swears is the best I’ve ever written. It’s the book that nearly won a contest, but won one of the judges’ hearts – she asked to be notified if it ever reached print. (It has!) It’s also the book that receives the most mixed reviews – primarily a complaint that too much is going on. Which I have to admit makes me laugh even as I struggle with it.
Because life is messy, and complicated, and so much of events of The Last Resort are based on reality. Events that took place almost exactly as they happen in the book, and at the same time. Only the names have been changed to protect the guilty. Or innocent. I have to admit to being tempted to hold a contest asking readers to tell me which characters in The Last Resort are real…and which aren’t. I’m also grateful that some of the participants in those events are probably dead by now although I doubt they’d recognize themselves. People never do.
One reviewer even commented on the level of detail, objecting to a mention of the heroine raking leaves. Yet that rake shows up in a later scene. As a writer I had to explain why it was so conveniently placed there. I had to make it real.
Even the ‘rescue rangers’ are based in truth. Some time ago, I read about a woman who had organized a group of retired cops and ex-service people to help battered women escape their abusers. It was difficult and dangerous work, as they and any police officer could tell you.
I sometimes wonder if people have just seen too many Lifetime movies where the victim escapes into the arms of the one man who will love her, who will fight for her, and in the end save her from her abuser.
In real life, that just doesn’t happen. Most women who escape run to their families (where their batterers frequently find them) or live in shelters on subsistence. They have no money because their abusers made sure they had no access to any. Most are ashamed.
When they do call for help, they frequently panic immediately afterward. Many times cops become caught between the abuser and the victim, because the victim is all too aware that the laws don’t really protect her. In all likelihood her abuser will be back out on the street within hours. And looking for her. Unless she finds a shelter – most counties don’t have domestic violence shelters – he’ll very likely find her. A protection from abuse order is worth the paper it’s written on, it’s a formality that must be part of the record…but one that is almost guaranteed to infuriate the abuser – who never considers himself the bad guy. It’s shaming, and inflaming for them.
Leaving is the most dangerous time for most women, and the time when most die. One to three women in the United States daily.
So I wrote The Last Resort from my own experience, and it translated fairly easily. All the events in the book took place around the same time.
What I didn’t want to write was just another domestic violence book. I didn’t want it to be primarily about domestic violence. I wanted to write something that would be entertaining as well. I wanted the book to balance what I frequently see as a culture of constant victim-hood, with women and those around them defining themselves always by this one event for the rest of their lives. It doesn’t have to be that way.
I wanted to write about someone who would give women hope, an example of someone who had broken the chains of domestic violence. I wanted to write a book about a woman who had not only survived, but thrived and grew stronger because of it. I also wanted to show that it was possible to love and be loved again, to have a healthy relationship.
Someone like me.
Twenty percent of all the proceeds of The Last Resort will go to charities benefiting the victims of domestic violence.
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They say writers should always go places that scare them, that make demands on their skills. Nike’s Wings was one of the more difficult books I’ve ever written, for a lot of reasons. Nike came to be by way of my vivid fantasy life, an article on parkour and a song – ‘She Don’t Want the World’ by Three Doors Down. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_bQAs1KYfIk I could see how parkour would be handy for an assassin who didn’t rely on strength or fancy weapons. That song played in the back of my head all through the scene that began it all, the moment when Ty confronts Nike at the abandoned school halfway through the book. I could see the dingy windows and smell the moldy mattresses. So Nike was born. Not only did I want to know how they got there, I wanted to know what happened next.
I’ve written harder scenes – the one where Elon and Colath are captured in The Coming Storm, for instance – but some of Nike and Ty’s experiences were difficult. I believe you have to put yourself where your characters are, share their experiences, and to some extent at one time I sort of had.
I didn’t need to do a lot of research, I’m an avid reader of not only books but newspapers and magazines. The information on the cartels, the wall, etc., are all based on real events. I was surprised when, shortly after writing it, a newspaper article suggested that the situation I postulated for how Nike was turned into an assassin might actually have been real.
Even so, I hesitated in releasing Nike, although I finished it over a year ago. I loved the book but something about it still felt incomplete. Not that the research didn’t come in handy *grins* I used it as the foundation for an erotic contemporary suspense called Special Delivery, written under the pen name V. J. Devereaux.
I worked on several novels in between but Nike niggled at the back of my mind. Then, one morning at 4 AM, I woke up. In that halfway space between dreaming and waking, Nike and I walked through those scenes and suddenly I had it. I got up, rewrote them and tumbled back to bed. Woke up, thinking about how it could be stronger, better. Wrote that. Halfway through the day, I had the last pieces, and it all fell into place.
Deliberately, I stepped back for a day or two before going back to her and doing the final edit. I passed her to people I knew and trusted, particularly one. The feedback came back positive, and so I released her.
Now she’s yours.
August 2001 Somewhere in Central/South America
The big custom-built Hummers bumped their way through the jungle along the rutted road to the oil fields. It was hardly Callie’s first trip out there but it was the first in such prestigious company. Her father’s boss and some man from the State Department, of all things, traveled with them. It didn’t look as if she’d need the book she had in her backpack, or get the chance to read it.
Oddly enough, it was turning out to be something of an occasion. Originally, they hadn’t planned to bring her along on this trip but she’d just turned eighteen and was due to fly back home to the states in just a few weeks. In less than a month she’d start her first year at Princeton University with a major in international studies. As it happened, Princeton was where both her father’s boss, Tony Gallegos, and the man from the State Department, Phillip Reeves, had attended college. Once her father mentioned it, both men insisted on bringing her along so they could fill her in and trade stories of their time there.
There were several vehicles in the expedition into the jungle where the oilrigs were located, a truck with some of the oil field workers, cars with guards both ahead and behind, another truck carrying supplies and their own Hummer.
Except for the presence of Mr. Reeves, it was a fairly routine trip. Tensions over the oil were rising among some of the more radical groups in the area so he’d come to try to negotiate with them to see if he could smooth the waters a bit.
First, though, he wanted to visit the oil fields. A lot of people were pretty pissed about it and some of them would be even more so if they knew about this trip. Some of them thought that statement said too much about his priorities, that like in Iraq the oil fields were more important to the U.S. than the negotiations. It was the oil that Reeves really cared about.
Callie had even heard some of that kind of talk on the streets among the people she hung out with there, her parkour and free-running friends.
Listening to him on the way out, she couldn’t really argue the point, it was all he talked about, the importance of the oil fields. That was, when he wasn’t talking about Princeton and the bars she had to visit in the towns near the campus once she was there.
So far, though, the trip had gone pretty quietly with the two men trading stories of their days at college. Callie caught an amused and resigned look from her father when the other two men weren’t watching. He gave her a wink and she smothered a grin.
She glanced out the windows at the thick undergrowth that ran so close beside the windows here along the road where the sun could reach and then up at the trees that towered high above them. Branches clattered and scraped against the glass. The sky was cloudy and dark above them, the sunlight of the morning vanishing as the rainy season clouds rolled in. To those who didn’t know the rain forest it was surprisingly cool, the clammy air thick and heavy with moisture. Some folks thought the humidity at home was bad but they’d never been in the jungle in the rainy season.
Both Mr. Gallegos and Mr. Reeves were reminiscing again over their days at college. Callie restrained a sigh, listening with only half an ear. A part of her longed for the book in her backpack. It was a long usually boring trip, broken only by the appearance of an animal or bird erupting out of the brush but now she couldn’t even read or she’d look rude.
The sudden chatter of automatic weapon fire shattered the boredom, the quiet.
Instantly it became a green and scarlet nightmare as bodies shuddered with the impact of bullets, blood sprayed, screams and cries ran out as men fell amid the shouting and confusion.
Glass shattered in the car ahead of them, every window exploding as bullets stitched along the side of it from the cover of the underbrush. The bodies of those within juddered with the impact of the bullets as blood flew like rain. Some of the guards bailed out of the vehicles in a desperate attempt to return fire and save themselves. Bullets savaged them. Their bodies jerked and twisted as more blood flew. It was so sudden, so shocking Callie couldn’t even draw breath enough to scream. Others tried to run to save themselves and were cut down anyway.
The noise was incredible, the sheer volume of the sound stupefying, overwhelming.
Callie tried to twist in her seat to see the guards that rode in the car behind them. One of them, Jeremy, had been teaching her self-defense. He’d been with the Navy Seals and she’d liked him. Had a crush on him. No one had been expecting any trouble.
Even as she turned, her father unfastened her seatbelt and dragged her off the car seat onto the floor.
She only had a brief glimpse of the chaos erupting behind them before her father’s weight crushed her to the floor of the car. Instinctively she wrapped her arms around her head. She didn’t even know she was screaming as the car bumped and jerked, the driver trying desperately to get around the lead cars until bullets smashed through the windshield.
Hot wetness splashed the side of her face as the car filled with the coppery aroma of blood.
The car jolted to a halt, shouting men firing their weapons into the air pulled the doors open and roughly dragged everyone out, pushing and shoving as the gunfire continued. She smelled burning fuel and scorched metal.
Callie’s father fought to keep them away from her, fought to hold onto her, shouting at them, but the men tore her away. More shots were fired as she was dragged off into the jungle.
When she looked around, all she saw was the men who’d taken them. Mr. Reeves and Mr. Gallegos.
She didn’t see her father.
The rough, dirty, smelly men dragged and shoved her ahead of them, barking at her in Spanish. She nodded numbly, staggering between them along the nearly invisible trail.
She glanced back just once before the jungle closed around them.
Bloody bodies were scattered around the vehicles and the road. No one moved. One of the trucks exploded and she flinched. Thick black smoke billowed. It rose above the trees. She couldn’t see any sign of her father, of Jeremy…then even the trucks disappeared behind the dense foliage.
Somehow she knew her father was gone…dead…but somehow she couldn’t quite bring herself to believe it. She had no time for tears or grieving, only surviving. If her father had died trying to save her, the least she could do was stay alive.
She was so scared…so scared…but Jeremy’s words as he had been teaching her echoed in her head. “Most people die because they stop thinking, Callie,” he’d advised. “Don’t stop thinking.”
Unconsciously she nodded in response to his remembered words. She wondered if he’d had time to think before he died.
She’d only been taking the lessons from him because he was cute…and he seemed to think she was, too. Now he was dead back there like the others. Because if he wasn’t dead, they would still be shooting and her father would be calling for her. But he wasn’t.
Her throat was tight.
Maybe Jeremy’s words, his training, would save her even if they hadn’t saved him. Tears streamed down her face. That was his legacy to her. That and her life.
Another set of words moved through her mind, words from an old science fiction book she’d read. She thought of deserts, not jungles, and of enduring. Of surviving.
Something about fear.
Her mind worried at the puzzle of those words, trying to remember them right.
The men tied her wrists together, pushed and shoved her along, shouted epithets in Spanish.
Knowledge, too, was a dangerous thing. It was a valuable thing. She would keep her knowledge of Spanish to herself. Everything was an edge. She would survive. Somehow, she would survive this.
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