Christina Hoag is a thriller writer, her short fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry have been published in 25 literary journals with two of her short stories published in anthologies. Christina worked as a reporter and editor for the Miami Herald and The Associated Press. She has a new novel out, Skin Of Tattoos. Christina met me at The Slaughterhouse where we talked about her new release and her literacy influences.
Tell us about your latest novel.
It’s called “Skin of Tattoos.” It’s sort of genre-defying – a noir-crime thriller written in a literary style. The setting is the gang underworld of Los Angeles, the U.S. capital of gangs, and the main character, Mags, is a gang member. We meet him as he comes out of prison wanting, as most parolees do, to go straight and never return “behind the wall.” To do that, he has to get away from his gang, the Cyco Lokos, but the “clica” has undergone some changes since he’s been locked up, namely his rival Rico, who set him up on the charge that got him imprisoned, is now the “shotcaller” or leader. It’s a story of revenge and rivalry, but there are also other layers: Mags’s quest for his father’s approval, the hardships faced by a poor immigrant family, as well as the larger picture of the socioeconomic factors that drive gangs in our society in general.
Who are your literary influences?
Probably my favourite all time author is Graham Greene. Many of his books are about the concept of being a foreigner, an outsider/observer, which I relate to on a personal level since I’ve lived in many countries both as a child and as an adult. That influence comes through in my novel “Skin of Tattoos,” where the protagonist Mags was born in El Salvador but left with his family fleeing the civil war when he was a child so he doesn’t really feel Salvadoran, doesn’t remember anything about the place, yet that is his identity. He’s an outsider to El Salvador, yet as an immigrant an outsider to mainstream American society, as well. He finds his home in a gang with others from similar backgrounds.
As a reader, I love immersing myself in foreign cultures and settings because you always learn something new. As a writer, Greene’s work made me see how key setting can be. It can almost become almost like another character with a personality all of its own.
Having lived in Central and South America, I’m also partial to Latin American authors. One of my favourite books is “The Goat’s Party” by Peruvian Nobel prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa. This book is a fictionalization of the 1961 plot to assassinate the Rafael Trujillo, the dictator who ruled the Dominican Republic for 31 years. I found it fascinating, like a window into an unseen world in the way it fleshed out historical events with the motivations and emotions of the real people. It has certainly influenced one of the novels I’m working on now, “The Revolutionaries,” which deals with the 2002 coup attempt in Venezuela that I lived through and covered as a journalist.
How important is the family in your fictions?
In both my current novels, “Skin of Tattoos” and my YA romantic thriller “Girl on the Brink,” the protagonist’s family is key to fleshing out the characters and their motivations. It may have to do with both characters’ young ages – Mags in SOT is 20, Chloe in GotB is 17, and our immediate families tend to be much more important to our worlds when we are young, before we go on to form our own families. In the YA novel, the plot sort of revolves around Chloe’s family situation. The impending divorce of her parents is a main reason why Chloe is so drawn to Kieran, the antagonist, and her mother’s pill addiction keeps her distant from her, thus allowing this doomed relationship to flourish. In SOT, Mags has tons of family strife stemming his resentment of his over achieving older brother (I made him second-child, same sex deliberately so he’d have that sibling rivalry), he’s desperate for his dad’s approval and his mother’s attention, and he’s very protective of his younger sisters so that also forms motivations for his actions when they are threatened. Family strife makes for some good emotional strings to tie up neatly at the end, too. However, in the two novels I’m finishing now, both with older adults as protagonists, I’ve struggled with how much of their family of origin to bring into play because it doesn’t seem to matter as much as their marriages, both of which are in dire straits and form context for the plot as it unfolds.
What else is on the cards for you this year?
For the rest of the year, I’ll be busy promoting “Skin of Tattoos” and “Girl on the Brink.” Marketing is fun, but time-consuming and I’m already itching to get back to my two unfinished novels: a detective mystery and a political thriller I mentioned (which I’ve been working on since 2005 so my goal is to finish this one this year by hook or by crook!) Both of them are about 80 percent there, I’d say, so I’m eager to finish. I also have a sequel of “Skin of Tattoos” on the drawing board. I have a chunk of it written but a lot to go, so this one will be on for next year.
Thank you Christina for an informative interview.