Thanks to Matt Bracken for this terrific discussion of his upcoming novel, Castigo Cay, and how today’s deteriorating American scene sets the stage for it:
WRSA: Your new book is called Castigo Cay. It sounds like an adventure novel. So have you quit writing contemporary political thrillers?
MB: No, I haven’t quit. My new book is still highly political, but I don’t get into Democrats and Republicans, nothing at that level. The issues that are overwhelming the United States at the time of Castigo Cay go far beyond left and right. In the novel, it’s sufficient just to paint the picture of the contemporary United States in order to understand the political and social pathologies at work.
WRSA: So what are the main political and social issues presented in Castigo Cay?
MB: The loss of privacy and diminishing freedom. Increasingly pervasive surveillance at every level from the internet to the city sidewalk. Politicians and ordinary people coming to grips with the collapse of the debt-based economy. The acceptance of the end of America’s status as the sole global superpower. The decline and death of the dollar. The deliberate deconstruction of American culture through multiculturalism and other means. Virtually legalized graft, bribery, patronage, political corruption and outright theft on a scale that would have made Huey Long ashamed.
WRSA: Why are your novels all set in the near future?
MB: To me, it’s much more interesting to hypothesize about future scenarios than to write about the status quo. Setting the novels ahead a few years permits me to add another dimensional layer to the weave. Anyway, if you don’t postulate some alternate realities in your books, you run the risk of being overtaken by events. I enjoy setting realistic fiction just beyond next year’s event horizon, but with some twist that serves as an event accelerant. For example, a devastating New Madrid Fault earthquake in Foreign Enemies And Traitors, or the stadium massacre which opens Enemies Foreign And Domestic, leading to the banning of all semi-automatic rifles.
But writing too far into the future sends you into the realm of science-fiction. In thirty years we might be fighting with lasers or with rocks. We might be teleporting to Mars, or we might all be dead. To jump even a generation ahead, you have to make some fictional leaps that take you into science fiction, so I stay close to the present day. For one concrete example: all of the high-tech weaponry and surveillance technology portrayed in my novels either exists now or is in an advanced prototype stage. It’s all real, and it can all happen just the way I write it.
WRSA: There seem to be a lot of novels out today that deal with some type of social collapse scenario.
MB: Sure, the meme is finally reaching Joe Sixpack. Ordinary people are figuring it out. But I think the post-Armageddon societal-collapse genre is already overflowing with mostly very bad novels. I prefer to fictionalize the downward slide from the status quo, rather than to set a novel in another rehashed post-apocalyptic Mad Max world. That’s too easy and it’s been done to death. Every historical slide and collapse is unique and interesting. Bare survival in the post-collapse rubble is mostly the same, and becomes rather boring to read. As far as I’m concerned, Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” was the end of the road for post-collapse novels. The process of decay toward ultimate collapse is much more interesting and compelling to me than the end state. In Castigo Cay, most of America’s systems are still functioning, but in a degraded state. The lights are blinking, but they’re not out. America is becoming more of an overt police state even while the national economy is unraveling. Combine terrorism with street riots, bank runs, hyperinflation, currency collapse, and authoritarian rule by local strongmen, and you have the American backdrop of Castigo Cay.
WRSA: The protagonist of Castigo Cay is a Marine sniper?
MB: Former. Dan Kilmer is a thirty-year-old former Marine Corps scout-sniper who is a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan. He has been riding out the Greater Depression and staying off of Big Brother’s screen by living aboard a sixty-foot steel schooner. He can’t sail to the USA because his boat will be seized for back taxes and other fines that have piled up while he’s been “out of CONUS” for several years. Through no deliberate choice of his own, he’s become a man without a country, an ex-pat renegade with no fixed address, just doing what he can to live free in an increasingly unfree world.
WRSA: So Castigo Cay all takes place outside of the States?
MB: No, half of it takes place in Fort Lauderdale and Miami. Dan has to sneak back into Florida under the radar in order to rescue his girlfriend. This forces him to navigate through and around the new police state controls, which I hope will be both interesting and helpful to readers.
WRSA: Castigo Cay is just the first Dan Kilmer novel? This will be a series?
MB: That’s my plan, and I already have a shelf of plots to write. Making Dan Kilmer the skipper of an ocean-crossing sailboat will allow the novels to be set in a wide variety of locations with greatly varying politics, economies, social customs and local power structures. The typical fictional PIs, detectives, lawyers, and shrinks almost always hang their shingles in one American town for many years. Dan Kilmer won’t be restricted to one city or region. Because of his boat, Kilmer will be a free radical, who can arrive on any scene and trigger a reaction. In order to afford the boat and maintain his preferred standard of living, he has to be clever and run the odd scam, because he is always a foreigner and isn’t allowed to seek legal employment. He is constantly slipping out of port one step ahead of the authorities or the local mafia.
WRSA: You have an interesting background as a Navy SEAL and an ocean sailor. Does any of this background come through in either the EFAD trilogy or your new novel?
MB: Most writers of genre fiction have little or no first-hand knowledge of subjects such as the use of explosives, tactical firearms employment, running a fast boat across the ocean at night and so on. I think I bring more realism to my fiction because of my experiences.
In my opinion, very few novelists can write well or convincingly about using modern weapons, parachuting at night, preparing a C-4 demo charge or a hundred other things. Some of them literally don’t know a revolver from a pistol, yet they put them both in their characters’ hands. Most of the famous name-brand authors wind up writing thrillers that, at least to me, read like comic books without the benefit of colorful illustrations. Many are so laughable in their depictions of action sequences and technical details that I end up throwing the books against a wall.
These authors are far over their heads when they write about guys running around with sub machineguns, night vision devices and lock picks. They are all creating multi-lingual Jason Bournes who swing between sky-scrapers and even cities like Spiderman. They can hack any computer, pilot any jet, speak any language. It gets silly and unreadable. Because they’ve never done a bit of it themselves, these famous authors can’t write the action scenes convincingly, any more than I could write convincingly about conducting the London Philharmonic or quarterbacking an NFL football team. And original, convincing action is at the heart of a compelling thriller. Otherwise, Dostoyevsky is still waiting to be read on the next aisle.
WRSA: It takes one to write one?
MB: (Laughs) It sure helps, I think. At least it gives me an edge in one area of my writing. But the famous name-brand authors do sell a boatload of books and make a ton of money, and I greatly admire that aspect of their success and strive to emulate it by writing fast and clever stuff. But grounded in some reality. What I write can happen. I don’t write comic books lacking pictures as many of them do. Maybe I should. They do sell a lot of copies. But it just wouldn’t interest me to write them. God help me, but I can only write what interests me, what has meaning to me, come hell or high water. And if I ever needed to trim my sails to politically-correct winds in order to sell books I wouldn’t write at all, at least not for publication.
WRSA: What is Castigo Cay? Where is it?
MB: It’s an imagined island in the Bahamas. Don’t look for it, it’s not there.
WRSA: Can people read any sample chapters online?
MB: The first hundred or so pages of all of my novels are free for the reading on my website. The latest addition is the opening sequences of Castigo Cay.
WRSA: When will people be able to read the entire book?
MB: Probably in May or June of 2011.
WRSA: I look forward to it.
MB: It’s like nothing out there, I promise.
WRSA: You could say that about all of your novels.
MB: Thank you.
Matthew Bracken is the author of the Enemies Foreign And Domestic trilogy of novels, all of which explore hot-button constitutional issues without the constraining hand of political correctness. He also wrote The CW2 Cube — Mapping The Meta-Terrain Of Civil War Two, Arm Thy Neighbor, Professor Raoul X, and In Praise Of Duplexed AR Mags for WRSA.