Author's Notes Breaking Point
Breaking Point is not a political novel. It is not a veiled attempt to make some kind of statement one way or another about the controversies and problems surrounding illegal immigration. It is a story about two very wounded souls played out on some of the most dangerous real estate on earth—the U.S./Mexico border.
The seed of the story was planted several years ago when I researched and wrote an opinion column on the femicides in Ciudad Juárez, where more than 400 women and teenage girls have been murdered, their sexually mutilated bodies found dumped on the outskirts of town or in the desert. Most of the murders remain unsolved, and more than 1,000 women and girls are still missing.
Try to imagine an American city—your own city, perhaps—having 400 unsolved sexual homicides and 1,000 missing women. It defies comprehension.
In the years since I covered that issue, the region has become even more dangerous as cartels fight with one another for control over the trade in drugs, guns and human beings. As is often the case in parts of the world where the truth interferes with people's ability to get away with crime and corruption, journalists have become targets. At this moment in time, Mexico is the most dangerous place on earth to be a journalist outside an active war zone.
I'm not sure exactly what prompted me to bring Natalie into this environment. My travel experiences in Mexico have been wonderful, involving long, lazy days on the beach drinking rum, riding horses, snorkeling and dining beside the ocean. Perhaps the story of las muertas de Juárez—the murdered women of Juárez—had a bigger impact on me than I realized. Regardless, this is where Natalie's story brought me.
As strange as it felt to write an I-Team story set far beyond Denver, the research for this book was fascinating. I focused heavily on the details of illicit border crossings and found that planning aspects of this novel was much like playing a desert version of that old computer game Oregon Trail. What would Zach have to bring with him if he and Natalie were to survive? What route would he take? What environmental and human hazards would they encounter?
I also focused on the work and experiences of U.S. Marshals. I interviewed the former U.S. Marshal for Colorado, Tina Lewis Rowe, and Larry Homenick, a retired deputy U.S. Marshal who once worked "the line," i.e., the border, crossing back and forth between his office at EPIC in El Paso, Texas, and Cd. Juárez. Not only did their stories fascinate me, but watching the two of them interact was highly entertaining as they joked and traded friendly insults. I've tried to honor Rowe with a walk-on part in the story. She shouldn't be hard to spot.
The result of all this research is my most action-packed love story to date. Zach and Natalie are strangers, both about to die at the hands of ruthless men who think nothing of human life. But the violence of this world only gives us a chance to see how truly courageous, strong and determined both Natalie and Zach are. As concern for one another blossoms into attraction and love, the two find the strength to triumph, not only over the bad guys, but also over their own personal tragedies.
As I wrote the book, largely planned in 2009, the wire headlines that came across my desk at the paper began to echo aspects of my plot—public shootings, macabre murders, the slaying of journalists and border agents. At times it was positively eerie. About an hour after I started writing these notes, news broke about a U.S. Border Patrol agent who was shot and killed by bajadores, the bandits who lurk on both sides of the border and which play a role in this story.
It has been a goal of mine for some time to write an I-Team story in which the past heroes all play a pivotal role in the action, in which the stakes are so high that all of the I-Team heroes have to come together to keep the heroine alive. I was finally able to write that kind of story in this book. Fans of Julian, Marc, and Gabe will find their favorite heroes on center stage, together with Zach and Natalie. Reece, admittedly, is relegated to a minor role. (Sorry, Team Reece! Trust me. You'll like it anyway.)
But barely ten chapters into the story, I learned I needed major surgery to save my spinal cord. Two vertebrae had deteriorated as a result of an old injury and were literally crushing my spine flat. In a way it was great news because it explained my lack of balance and the terrible pain I'd been having in my legs for more than two years. The surgeon removed the two vertebrae and discs, replacing them with implants, bone grafts, and titanium plates and screws. And for almost two months, writing on this story ceased. Your cards, e-mails, gifts and letters meant so much to me during that time.
After allowing myself some time to recover, I reread what I'd written, picking up the threads and trying to finish the story. It's the first time I've had a major interruption like that in the middle of writing, but it turned out to be a good thing. Not only was the surgery necessary and successful, but also the last few weeks of my two-month medical leave were put to good use, making up for lost time.
Breaking Point is my tenth novel. Finishing it felt like a milestone to me, even though I know authors who've written more than a hundred novels. Though I often feel that I struggle with my limitations as a writer, I believe I continue to improve. Writing fiction is the most difficult thing I know, and yet it's the only thing I want to do.
Thanks for sharing yet another journey with me. I hope you enjoy the story.
Jan. 3, 2011
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