Thursday, May 26, 2011

Book Club: Breaking Point by Pamela Clare

By: Ronlyn Howe

Denver journalist Natalie Benoit and Deputy U.S. Marshal Zach McBride find themselves captives of a bloodthirsty Mexican drug cartel. Working together, they escape through the desert toward the border, the attraction between them flaring hotter than the Sonoran sun. They fight to stay ahead of the danger that hunts them as forces more powerful than they can imagine conspire to destroy them both...

And now for Ronlyn's interview with Pamela!

Ronlyn: How are you feeling now that BREAKING POINT has been released?


Pamela: Relieved and very tired. I’m always nervous in the weeks up to a release. I put so much work into the stories, hoping to please readers. Seeing the characters that have lived in my head for months or even years come alive for other people and experiencing readers’ excitement as they move through the story has been very gratifying.

Ronlyn: Do you treat yourself to something special when you finish writing a book?

Pamela: Yes. Sleep.

Actually, things are usually so unraveled in my life when I finish a book that, after sleeping a bit, I “celebrate” by cleaning my house, going for walks, catching up on errands, and generally restoring a sense of order. Because I work essentially two full-time jobs, there’s no leisure time for keeping on top of such things while I’m writing. If my house gets cleaned twice a month while I’m writing, that’s great. (When my son Benjamin is home, he cleans the house. Bless him!)

Often, I get a massage or two, also. That helps get rid of the aches that come from sitting for long stretches of time, and it helps with the emotional release I need after finishing a book. Writing stories that are intensely emotional often leaves me feeling really emotional. I cry at the drop of a hat and feel really drained. Massage helps bring back some sense of serenity.

Ronlyn: I LOVE massages. And a clean house. I need to invest in a housekeeper and masseuse. ;-) You've always been very candid about some of the "topic" ideas coming from your day job as a journalist. When you come across some of those topics do you immediately think, "Oh, here's something I would use!" or is it a more gradual process?

Sometimes it’s one, and sometimes it’s the other. The five I-Team books that I’ve written so far include the most high-profile work I’ve done as a reporter. In a few cases, I was conscious of the fact that I would later use this stuff in a book while I was doing the investigating/reporting. But that was after I’d published. My reporting on prison issues and American Indian issues started before I was published, so, although it was obvious material for fiction, I wasn’t thinking, “Gotta put this in a book” while it was happening.

As the I-Team continues, I’ll be having to dig deeper into past reportage for topics/issues, and I might even veer into matters that I’ve never covered. I’ve been exceptionally—is lucky the word?—to have so many really big stories come my way. A lot of journalists never get to work on projects like that. But part of it is my own desire to step off the beaten path and take on topics no one else wants to touch.

Ronlyn: While you were writing BREAKING POINT the current issues on the border were becoming national news, with several reports regarding the Zetas making headlines. Then, of course, with the Navy SEALs becoming such a huge focus for their work, you were interviewed by the Washington Post. How did it feel having some of the topics in your fiction work be current headlines while you were writing and as the book was released?

Pamela: It was creepifying. I’d write about some hideous thing, and then something very similar would happen a few weeks later. I was writing about fictional Zetas while the real Zetas were out there committing mass murder in absolutely macabre ways—faces stitched to soccer balls, hanging people and slitting their throats (talk about literal overkill), slaughtering a house full of immigrants trying to make their way to the US, the kiling of U.S. Border patrol agents by bajadores and others. I’ve been aware of the situation with regard to Las Muertes de Ju├írez for almost a decade, and, of course, I knew about the Zetas. But the topic for the book had been settled in my mind for quite some time. To have all of this flare up while I was writing the story was extremely eerie.

Then, to top it off, SEAL Team Six takes out Osama bin Laden two days before the book’s release, putting SEALs in the headlines. Who could have predicted that?

Ronlyn: I guess this book is just really timely.

Pamela: That’s in part because I’m a journalist, so the issues I write about are real. They’re in or have been in the headlines (many times they’re headlines I’ve written, such as an article about a cement plan titled, “Concrete Evidence,” from which I got the focus of Extreme Exposure and the title Hard Evidence). For example, after Hard Evidence came out, the issue of human trafficking became more prominent in the news as part of a rising tide of public awareness.

I read a review where the reviewer insisted that the incidents described in Unlawful Contact—the rape of inmates by inmates, the sexual assaults of juvenile female inmates by guards, etc.—were hyperbole, that such extreme things didn’t really happen. I wanted to ask her when she was coming back to Planet Earth. These things really did happen.

Ronlyn: Do you think you might have a bit more of a finger on the pulse, so to speak, of various issues that are about to...trend (for lack of a better word) due to your continued work as a journalist and editor

Pamela: Possibly. I have a knack for predicting where stories will go. That’s one reason I’m the editor-in-chief and no longer a reporter. (I still do reporting, but that’s not the focus of my job any longer and hasn’t been for about 15 years.) Here’s an example of what I mean. When the Oklahoma City bombing happened, the TV stations were reporting that people who seemed to be Arab or Muslim were being stopped at airports for questioning. All of the channels were talking about the possiblity that this attack had been carried out by someone from the Middle East with a grudge against the U.S. I couldn’t believe how ridiculous they were being. First of all, someone from the Middle East is going to want to attack something symbolic of the United States, not an obscure building in a city and state their friends have never heard of. Secondly, I knew it was the anniversary of Ruby Ridge. So I turned to my fellow journlists and said both of these things, finishing with, “They need to be looking for a disgruntled redneck, not a Muslim.” I wrote a column about it, which ran in the paper the next day—when news broke about McVeigh.

And everyone in the newsroom said, “Whoa!” and looked over at me.

But, hey, to me all of that seemed obvious. Sadly, it was obvious on 9/11, too.

***SPOILER ALERT***

Ronlyn: Going back to BREAKING POINT, I know you've caught some serious flack for Natalie's decision to become a housewife. Did that surprise you?

Pamela: It really surprises me that women are so intolerant of other women’s choices, even those of fictional women. So, yes, I was a bit surprised. I was even more surprised by people saying that “all” of the I-Team women leave their jobs. If by “all” they mean just Natalie, they’re correct. (Personally, people can hate my books if they want, but I’d really appreciate their getting the facts straight.) Kara and Tessa reach the heights of being a journalist, which is working independently writing books and freelancing. That’s what every journalist hopes to do one day. They didn’t “leave journalism.” Au contraire. They moved up in their careers. Sophie, who always wanted to be a journalist, and Kat, who similarly had strong motivations for being a journalist (i.e., being a voice for Native people), are still at the paper. Natalie did leave, and I tried to make it clear in the story that she just wasn’t as connected to her career as the others. Journalism found her, she didn’t find it, and as the story opens we learn that she’s in a state of “professional ennui.”

Of course, then she goes through weeks of hell and attempts on her life. This, combined with her past trauma, ought to be reason enough to say, “To hell with this job.” In reality, very few women who start careers as investigative journalists remain in the job. It’s confrontational and intimidating. I’ve tried over the years to bring women in and to deliberately cultivate them as investigative journalists. Of all the women who’ve worked under my mentorship, ONE is still a reporter. One. It’s not discrimination; it’s self-selection. Women self-select out of this career more often than they remain. So for Natalie to leave her job reflects her lack of connection to it, her understandable desire not to be the target of violence, and the reality of the journalism world.

In addition to these reasons, there are two more: She is deeply in love with a man who has struggled to adjust to life outside of war. She doesn’t want to be the kind of two-career family where everyone’s exhausted and no one’s needs are met. She wants to make sure they both get the peace and happy homelife they so desperately want and deserve. She lost Beau, so she knows that every moment is precious. Who in her right might would say on her death bed, “Wow, I really wish I’d spent more hours at the office and succeeded more in my career”? It’s much more likely that most of us will wish for more time with those we love. So she chooses to be a homemaker in order to maximize the time they have together.

The second reason is very simple: If no one leaves the I-Team, I can’t bring in new characters.

In my hometown, I’m considered to be a serious feminist. But feminism for me revolves around the desires of women, not the expectations of a society that still values men’s work over that of women. If a woman wants to stay home and has the means to do so, that’s her business. I’ve had a journalism career that is the envy of many male journalists. It was recently capped off with the Keeper of the Flame Lifetime Achievement Award from SPJ, the same organization that sent Natalie to Mexico. But I stayed home with my kids when they were little, and if I hadn’t had to work, I probably never would have. Does that make me less of a feminist? In the eyes of some, perhaps. But there are those who see success for a woman as mirroring what we traditionally define as success for a man. I don’t want to be a man. I want to be a woman and to celebrate what’s special about the feminine in this world. I felt that Natalie personified balance in this regard. She was a feminine woman, but she was strong when she needed to be strong.

Women who are pursuing careers for the sake of having careers may find that path less fulfilling than they imagine. I’ve won big national journalism awards, passed a state law, broken big news, and the thing I’m most proud of in this life is being a mother.

One last thing: Some of those who objected to Natalie’s choice objected on the basis that it she was a woman who sacrificed her career for a man. I don’t think Natalie sees it as a sacrifice. While I understand that a lot of women feel taken for granted by the men in their life—I’ve been there and am proudly and happily divorced—there is nothing wrong with a woman giving of herself for the sake of the man she loves. I don’t see scads of message board posts objecting to the fact that Zach suffered and almost died for her sake. So apparently it’s okay for a man to give his life for the woman he loves, but it’s not okay for a woman to bake pies and keep a home for the man she loves. That’s unbalanced and unhealthy. From my point of view, spiritually speaking, the greatest thing to which we can aspire is to master ourselves so that we can serve others.

I’m working on that still.

Ronlyn: If there is one thing you'd like people to take away from BREAKING POINT, what would that be?

Pamela: I guess I want what I always want—for readers to leave the story feeling that they’ve been on a journey and are the better for it. We all know the feeling we get when we read a book that touches us. It’s that feeling that I want readers to have.

If there’s any message in the book—a moral premise, if you will—it might be that we can’t live full lives as human beings by keeping our pain to ourselves. Zach and Natalie try that. It’s only when they share with one another that they find love and release from the past and earn their HEA.

Ronlyn: Thank you so much Pamela for agreeing to chat with us today! If anyone has questions feel free to post them and she'll be popping in and out today to answer as many questions as she can as well as do a give away!