Interview: M. A. Lawson, author of Rosarito Beach

Please welcome MA Lawson (aka Mike Lawson)to the blog! His brand new novel (and first of a new series), ROSARITO BEACH, just came out today, and he was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about the book, and more!

mikelawsonYour newest book (and first of a new series), ROSARITO BEACH, just came out! Will you tell us a little about it?
Rosarito Beach is the story of a doesn’t-play-well-with-others DEA agent named Kay Hamilton. Kay sets her sights on bringing down the San Diego based little brother of the leader of a Mexican drug cartel. In the opening scenes of the novel, she arrests the little brother – and his big bad brother down in Mexico reacts by putting Kay in a position where she’s forced to get his younger brother out of jail. I can’t reveal exactly what the drug cartel leader does to put Kay in this position without giving the way the plot – but Kay, who’s fearless and uncompromising extracts, herself from the situation with a some violence, a bit of luck, and little sex – and while being pitted against both the drug cartel and the DEA.

You’ve got quite a few titles under your belt already, and have an engineering background to boot, but have you always wanted to be a writer? What made you take the plunge into fiction?
I’ve been asked this question a number of times: how did I go from nuclear engineering to writing. I don’t remember a Road-to-Damascus moment. I always read a lot of fiction, I did a lot of technical writing when I had a real job, and one day just decided to try my hand at writing a novel. The catalyst for doing this was basically two things: First, the invention of the laptop computer and programs like Word and Word Perfect which made it “mechanically” easy to write. Or I should say, made it mechanically easy to rewrite. I don’t know how people write books by hand and using typewriters considering all the revisions I make when I write a book. Second, I used to take a ferry to work and the ferry ride gave me about forty-five minutes each day in which to write – and this is a luxury most writers who have families and real jobs don’t have: forty five minutes of uninterrupted writing time each day.

ROSARITO BEACH stars DEA Agent Kay Hamilton. What do you like most about her, and why do you think readers will root for her?
What I like about Kay is that she’s flawed. I like flawed heroes. On the good side, Kay is smart, tough, sexy, and brave. She has a sense of humor. She’s willing to take risks, she’s loyal to people not organizations. On the “bad” side, she’s uncompromising; she makes mistakes both personally and professionally; she’s so driven she can be a tad insensitive. I’m hoping readers will like her not only because of her attitude but because, like in Rosarito Beach, she overcomes some of her own flaws to ultimately do the right thing.

rosaritobeachWhat kind of research did you do for ROSARITO BEACH?
I guess I’d say I just did the usual stuff that writers do to get smarter on a subject. I talked to a lot of people: people who live in Mexico, federal judges and lawyers, guns guy to tell me about guns (because I’m not a gun guy). I visited the brig at Camp Pendleton, the federal lock-up in San Diego, the border region of Mexico. I read books, watched movies and documentaries, and surfed the Internet. I did my best to make sure I was being accurate – it’s jarring to readers when writers get the facts wrong – but I was mostly focused on telling an entertaining story.

How did you celebrate when you sold your first book?
That’s a great question. And even though it happened ten years ago – 2004 – I can still remember the moment. When my agent called me at told me that I had a two book deal for my first novel, The Inside Ring, I was down in Las Vegas with a bunch of family members. My reaction was total astonishment. I couldn’t believe that after ten years of trying to get published, I finally had a publisher. I was simply stunned – basically standing there with my mouth open – but my brother-in-law, Joe, went out and bought a couple cigars, a bottle of brandy, and we sat there on a balcony, drinking and smoking, looking at the Las Vegas lights – me continuing to be stunned, mostly speechless, and grateful I was so damn lucky.

What’s one of the most interesting things you’ve learned since becoming a published author?
The biggest thing I’ve learned is that it’s a lot easier to write a book than it is to sell a book. Again, I’m just lucky to have a publisher like Penguin Blue Rider Press who’s doing the hard work.

What’s one of your favorite book villains?
I can’t name a particular villain so much as a type of villain. I like villains that have a human side as opposed to the steely-eyed Terminator type characters you see in many books who are totally focused on death and mayhem. One of my favorite examples of this kind of villain, and what I mean by villains with a human side, is the scene in Pulp Fiction where John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson are driving toward an apartment where they’re going to kill four or five guys. But what do they talk about on the way to the apartment? They talk about what do you call a quarter-pounder at a McDonald’s in Paris where they have the metric system. You see villains like this Elmore Leonard’s books, in Don Winslow’s and George Pelecanos’ books.

dennislehaneWhat are a few books or authors that have influenced you the most?
That’s a really long list. But I like the books of John Sandford, the humor in the books, the “relaxed” writing style. The late, great Elmore Leonard mentioned above for the way he can tell so much with so few words. David Ignatius for the way he mixes real life politics with fiction. Dennis Lehane because his good guys are always flawed.

What was one of your favorite books of 2013?
Boomerang by Michael Lewis. It’s a non-fiction book – I read a lot of non-fiction. I don’t know when it was written but I read it this year. I like all of Michael Lewis’s books, The Big Short, Blind Side, Moneyball, et cetera. Also Carol O’Connell’s It Happens in the Dark, which was published in 2013. Carol is one of my favorite writers because she invented a sociopath for a protagonist long before Dexter came along.

What are you reading now?
*Tatiana by Martin Cruz Smith.

When you’re not working on your next project, how do you like to spend your free time?
Playing golf – I’m a really shitty golfer but I like to play. I read a lot, I watch TV and movies a lot, particularly series like the type you see on HBO. But my main activity when I’m not writing is doing whatever my wife tells me to do.

What’s next for you?
Another Kay Hamilton novel, tentatively titled Viking Bay, which is currently with my editor. Also my ninth DeMarco novel, number 9, titled House Reckoning, being released in 2014. I’m currently working on the third Kay Hamilton novel and the tenth DeMarco novel. I love being a writer.

Keep up with M.A. Lawson: Website | Twitter

Bold, brash, and beautiful, Kay Hamilton is not your average DEA agent—she’s as infuriating as she is irresistible. Having recently been transferred to San Diego after a case in Miami brought her more notoriety than medals, Kay once again finds herself embroiled in an international bust. Tito Olivera, younger brother of drug czar Caesar Olivera, is within her grasp. If she takes down Tito, Kay is positive that Caesar will follow—and when Caesar falls, so does the largest and most vicious cartel in Mexico. But when a mysterious stranger shows up on her doorstep, all of Kay’s carefully laid plans are thrown out the window. The Olivera case suddenly becomes far more personal—not to mention dangerous—and Kay must be willing to sacrifice everything to get her man.

Rosarito Beach is an explosive, action-packed thriller that will have readers on the edge of their seats until the final moments of the epic conclusion.

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