Nano Word Count: 51109

December 9 Joy
Now that Nano is over, and I've put down my plot notes and ideas for changes, time to put that novel away to "ripen". Then I can view it with fresh eyes, tear it apart, rewrite. But first we need time apart. Which means I move onto my next project, something I have been working up to and now I am ready. I will finish the novel version of What Goes Around, working from the screenplay. The screenplay was an excellent way to capture the action and plot, to convey the intensity. But with this series, it's all in the details and that is a luxury not allowed within the concise parameters of script format. Now that I'm three books in (okay, first drafts) I understand so much more about my characters and where they are coming from. So I think this is the ideal place from which to write the first book in the series. The second book is about 70% written, but I am counting on taking the momentum from finishing the first book and carrying that over into the second to complete it. Kind of like a one-two punch.

December 6 Hope
The rose coloured glasses are off and I'm looking at plot holes that are craters. That's okay. It's about getting the idea down, laying out the bones of the story. They aren't supposed to be perfect yet. I have a better understanding of who my characters are, as opposed to who I wanted them to be when I started out. Very important lesson - listen to you characters and let them lead. They tell me their story, and that becomes the story. Which means that as much as I liked using fracking as a plot point, it won't work with this storyline and these characters. So, I'll save it for next year's new project. The new concept is that the whole story takes place in Canada, with the two sisters starting out on an isolated grow-op on the west coast. I can make this very dark, and weave drugs, corruption and various levels of manipulation into the storyline. I just needed to let my characters tell me where to go.

December 3 Peace
I love this time of year. I do. I love it from the inside out. I'll have the radio station on that plays non-stop Christmas tunes. I'll watch every holiday special and Christmas movie. And enjoy a thousand other fun things that have become tradition. And I'll let you in on something. For some strange reason, many of my stories have Christmas just sort of happen in them. Ho!Ho!Ho! I'd write more here, but I actually have to resume negotiating a little holiday heat between Kate and Stuart. I love this gig!

November 30

 

Yes! I did it. Have to admit - this year was a little tougher going. I had moved somewhat out of my comfort zone and left behind Hart and the cartels. And I made myself really write the story, get into the heads of the characters, map out a plot. It was a very good learning exercise. And now I'm ready to take a break from it and work on other projects. Which is always great, because the trick is to come back to a project and look at it with fresh eyes. I love my characters, and I love the dark turns the story takes. There's lots of really good writing ahead. And now I am looking forward to resuming the story with Hart and Mara. I've been thinking a lot about the characters and what needs to happen in the third book. I'm finally ready to sit down and write it out. And that is how I like to welcome in December. How about you?

November 28
This is the home stretch for Nano and I really just want to get it over and done. Then I can think about December and winter and all the other projects lined up and waiting for my attention. Which I would do as wonderful distractions but then I wouldn't write. I am the queen of procrastination. Today's writing objective, other than of course making and exceeding word count, is to really lay in some story framework. Establish my characters so the reader can form an emotional bond. And put in action. I need to light the fire of my thriller component. I have the ending in place but it's that dreaded mid-section that needs attention. Where all stories fail and lose readers. While my characters may be able to talk their way out of anything, they can't talk their way out of that! So, here's to guns, fire, explosions and rising body counts. Given the explosive nature of fracking, and the subversive relationship between industry and government, that shouldn't be too hard to do. See ya!

November 25
Okay. Now we can talk about Nano. I had to find the story in the story. I needed a really good plot line ie something that would make me pick this story up and read it, which would make it easier for me to write it. I was missing the big idea for the plot. But then, by fluke, I was channel surfing and landed on a documentary called "Gaslands." Whoa. For an hour I was transfixed, until people came back home from swimming and life resumed its normal state of chaos here. I thought I knew what fracking was but I had no fracking idea. And that has now become a major insidious component of my twisted thriller. And yes, we all know how I love to shed light on those things that others would prefer to keep hidden. Such is fracking. So, I will be dealing with the ugliness of the business and the politics behind the process in this novel. It's going terribly well. But I may need a better book cover for this now. Something that conveys what happens when you turn on your faucet, hold up a match, and - BOOM!

November 18
Let's not talk about how far behind I am in Nano. But rather that a really good story is taking shape, and it is the story I want to tell. I've known these characters for a while, and I really like them. So what happens to them matters very much to me. There are two couples, a primary and a secondary, and their interrelationships are the cornerstone of the plot. And then the villains. Yes. Plural. Because it is way more challenging that way! And I love my villains. They are essential to keeping the story going. More than that. Making the reader fear for the characters like they would fear for themselves.
I read an interesting news item about Mexico: almost twenty corpses have been found in a mass graveyard, put their by the local police who were following orders from the cartel. I don't have to make this stuff up. It's out there and I am following it in my novels.
Finally, I am sending my thoughts and prayers and money to the brave people in the Phillipines, who must attempt to recover from a disaster I cannot begin to imagine and hope I never have to.

November 11
Lest we forget. Thank you to all the members of our armed forces who are prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice to defend our borders and protect our freedom. It's easy to take for granted our ordinary lives, but juxtaposed against current conflicts and catastrophes, our day-to-day existence would be extraordinary to much of the world. We live the stuff of dreams. Plenty to eat, clean water, electricity, shelter, schools, jobs, friends and family around us, safe and happy. Peace. Everything else pales in comparison.

November 9

 

I only spent way too much time on the cover instead of writing. But now I feel inspired. Or maybe desperate. Both are good for this story. Is it dark and a little creepy? Good! Because the story sure is.

November 8
I've had a writing revelation and making some revisions to the nano novel. That's part of the fun. I needed a title that meant business. And now I've found it: She'll Never Tell. Sounds ominous enough doesn't it? Her Sister's Keeper sounds caring and nice, everything this novel isn't! Then, I needed to rework some key plot points. Why have just ordinary intrigue when you can have something more nefarious? Yup, we're bringing in some of my favourite bad guys and I will say no more. And I needed the hero, Stuart, to be one step removed so he can play a more active role in the story. Done. He was once Chief Counsel for Spencer Industries, but then was conveniently offered a position outside the family-run empire with a Bay Street firm. Which he is now a named partner of. I'm working on a cover for this one while I write, and will post when ready. Need to evoke the right reaction so the artwork takes time. And I have to keep adding to my wordcount! Oh almost forgot, I also need to do the laundry and make dinner. Welcome to my world in November!

November 7
It's Nanowrimo month! And this is my 10th year anniversary. Every November, I join 300,000 other like-minded writing fools to pen 50,000 words in 30 days. That's a really good first draft of a novel. I use it to start a new project each year and it just gets better. And it's free. You make friends, get freebies, learn a lot. Totally a win. And it's crazy - I have to do it around everything else going on, so the laptop lives on the kitchen table, and pivotal scenes involving gunplay or C4 get written while brownies are baked and dishes get washed. Actually, I like working out difficult plot points while washing the dishes. Maybe the kinetic energy fuels my creative drive. So what's this year's Nano novel? "Her Sister's Keeper" is the working title and I am so excited! I'm writing it in a dual first person narrative, so the reader really gets inside the heads and hearts of the main characters. It's based in Toronto ( I love being Canadian!). And it's a very dark romantic thriller. Emphasis on the dark and thriller. Here's the back cover blurb:

You can run …

Detective Kate Beaumont has done everything to protect herself and her sister, Amy, from their past. But when Amy is almost killed, Kate discovers her sister’s new life is a world of danger and deceit. Amy’s husband, David Spencer, wants a divorce, his business is failing, and his powerful family want Amy gone permanently. Kate needs help but there’s nowhere to turn and no one to trust.

But you can’t hide …

Brilliant and cynical, Bay Street powerbroker Stuart Caldwell brought Spencer Industries to the top. Now the business is under attack, his best friend, David, is a wreck, and the only answers lie with Amy in her coma. Reluctantly, Stuart partners with Kate to protect those they love from secrets worth killing for. More than an alliance is forged as walls come down and attraction heats up. But nothing stays hidden forever, and the past that Kate escaped finally hunts her down.

 

October 23: My Tribute to Tom Clancy April 12, 1947 - October 1, 2013
It doesn't seem possible, but the world lost another great talent this month. He is more than just a favourite author. He is why I discovered my passion for this genre. And I think a lot of writers could say they owe a great debt to Tom Clancy. He didn't just tell a great story. He filled every nook and cranny of that story with detail. After reading a Clancy novel, you almost knew how to pilot a submarine, or navigate through the political labyrinth of the Pentagon. I love to learn, and a Clancy novel is a full-on learning experience. It's like sitting in the front row of your favourite university course, as the professor regales you with facts and anecdotes, completely in his element. Though I haven't read them all, my favourite is Clear and Present Danger. But the book I most want to read is "Against All Enemies". I really want to see how he approaches the pairing of Mexican cartels and militant Islamic terrorists. And given my storyline it would be essential reading. I am very grateful to him for the legacy in books he has left us, and wealth of learning he embedded in some truly great stories.

June 19: My Tribute to Vince Flynn April 6, 1966 - June 19, 2013
My favourite author died today and I am still reeling from the news. At 47, Vince Flynn still had not reached the top of his game when the cancer he had battled with such determination robbed us all of what more Vince had to give. This is my eulogy, my tribute if you will, to a man who made a massive impact on my life as a writer, and as someone I have grown to deeply respect and admire. It wasn't just what Vince wrote. It was how he went about writing it, and, especially for me, how he wrote. Vince had an innate understanding of how to let his characters "speak". He let them lead, and gave them far more than just voice. Of all the many books I have read, including highly regarded best-sellers and literary classics, I will stand up and shout that I loved Vince's books the most. I hunted for them at book sales, in library cart castoffs, and garage sales. They were the treasures I carted home to triumphantly savour. And in the end, isn't that what good writing should mean to the reader? In this thriller genre of covert ops, political vipers' nests, and the fate of the world in one man's hands, it is easy to overstep and lose all credibility; to render main characters two-dimensional as they become supermen. Not so in the stories Vince told. I love how Mitch Rapp swears. That grabbed me from the start: Rapp's voice, biting out his frustration and anger the way anybody - okay I - would do. I cut my teeth on Tom Clancy's massive tomes, filled with technical detail. Vince supplied that same detail, pared it down, and made a potent impact on the reader as the plot unravelled and the pace accelerated. And unlike many novels in this genre, there is a satisfying depth to these stories, allowing readers to develop relationships with the main characters as they navigate together through the complex twists and turns of the plot. And here is where Rapp's brilliance cannot be exaggerated: his plots were so well-chosen, meticulously thought out, and terrifyingly applicable to present-day that Rapp was sought as a consultant by the CIA, the producers of the series "24", among others. Really, as a reader, I could not ask for more.

But there was so much more to Vince Flynn than just the writer. The story of how he came to be an author, and what ensued, is a story worth reading in itself. First, and he would put this so, he was a dedicated and loving husband and father. His family meant the world to him. He was also a man of faith, Roman Catholic, something surprising and hard to come by in the stories he wrote. Vince also gave back, encouraging new authors and sharing the rewards of his success. He made sure to recognize the efforts of the military and support them every chance he could. It is my privilege to share what I know with you, and to honour the memory of someone who influenced my life considerably.

Thank you, Vince Flynn, for the wonderful legacy you have left us. And if I may, for the number of times I had to suppress the urge to shout "Yes!!" as I read how Mitch Rapp kicked ass and gave somebody what they justly deserved.

June 7
Like a lot of writers, I have soundtracks for my works in progress. I thought I'd share that with you now. The Hart Jones series has its own collection of songs which work across the books, and each book has several songs unique to its storyline and characters. I love that I have found a song by Canadian group, 54-40, that serves as the "theme" song for each book: "Ocean Pearl" introduces us to Hart and his team at Miami DEA when he goes after Dom with Mara's help. "Since When" lends a funky vibe to book 2, when Hart has more at stake as he moves on to battle the cartels in Mexico. And "Love You All" brings a hard-driving edginess to Book 3, when it's clear the battle is far from over. Listen to the songs on Youtube and see if I'm right. Then, there are the songs I associate specifically with each book's opening sequence. I tend to write my first drafts like a movie, so that may explain a lot. When I was laying out Book 1, I was envisioning Miami, South Beach, lifestyle, power and money. "Eminence Front" by The Who played out the whole scenario in my mind. Try listening to it as you read the opening description that takes us to Hart and his boys in the Santos stronghold.

FADE IN:

EXT. MIAMI BEACH SKYLINE - TITLE SEQUENCE – DAY

OPENING MUSIC: “EMINENCE FRONT” THE WHO

Open with us soaring across the vast turquoise expanse of ocean leading up to Miami Beach . We move further inland, over glittering waters filled with outrageous yachts, boats with colourful sails. As OPENING TITLES run and music crescendos - we cruise up the beach across bronzed and buff bodies. We head inland, to the boutiques and bars of South Beach , where beautiful people admire themselves and each other. We follow one into a white Lamborghini, head out onto the expressway and speed over to mega-million dollar oceanfront estates. We zoom into the circular drive of a spectacular fortress and arrive at...

EXT. SANTOS COMPOUND MIAMI - DAY

SUPER: MIAMI – 2004

Glaring sun beats off the opulent white stone courtyard in the rear of drug lord DOMINGO SANTOS. Exotic gardens, marble balustrades, flagstone paths - the modern palace is Santos ' Florida stronghold. Three men are hunkered down behind a stone half wall in a secluded section of the back gardens. They are undercover DEA agents and each one has their sidearm drawn at the ready. The staccato burst of automatic gunfire fills the air. Bullets whiz overhead. HART JONES, their leader, shields his eyes and looks across the courtyard

Fun, huh? As for Book 2, when Hart goes up against the cartels in Mexico, that was instant: "Mexican Radio" by Wall of Voodoo. Something about the frenetic beat and sarcastic twists in the lyrics played a montage of violent headlines in my mind, that translated very nicely into the mayhem that ensued in Calexico. If you haven't already, you can read the excerpt for No Borders, No Boundaries to get the jist.

And then there is Book 3. What can I say? I have a taste for classic rock. The Stones, "Sympathy for the Devil" conjured up images of the gleaming white jet, the Yemeni in his immaculate white suit, and the meeting between him and the devil himself, Domingo Santos. This storyline, when the concept hit, left me breathless. Imagining Dom's reaction when dealing with someone even he finds reprehensible - well, that's the stuff that makes writing so much fun. And the Yemeni is a real piece of work. But I need to finish writing the excerpt for that so you can see for yourself.

Yes, I have songs for the characters. Mara in particular. And for those intense/intimate moments. There are songs that mark pivotal moments. I liked the laid back, cool vibe of "Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress" by the Hollies for Book 3, when there are 2 insanely crucial events unfolding at the same time. Picture the Mexican desert, just across the US border. Huge mesas and cliffs, sand and rock. Zoom in and see an army of vehicles flanked by air support converging on an area by a towering cliff. Van, cars, and a whole alphabet of acronyms. Suddenly there is a massive explosion, and white clouds of dust billow out from a hidden entrance within the cliff. It's mayhem. A few minutes later, Hart and the guys straggle out. Then we cut to an armed fortress, on the other side of Mexico, and a very pregnant, very desperate woman laying explosive charges along the walls in the living room. I cannot say more because that would spoil things.

As for the endings, Book 1 is "Like A Star" by Corinne Bailey Rae. Because I am a stickler for happy endings, boy gets girl. Ergo Book 2, and "If I Ever Lose my Faith in You" by Sting. And I'm still working out the ending for book 3 - I haven't found the right song to end with... yet. Stay tuned.

 

May 17
Writing takes research. This storyline and this blog are based on the research I do, and it pays off, because I keep finding new angles and twists. As the saying goes, truth really is stranger than fiction. My sources are predominantly online. I've found the occasional print or newpaper article that netted me some treasure, and even been lucky enough to catch something on CNN, BBC or CBC. But I make a point of tracking the situation daily, so online works best for me. Here are my sources. I've been subscribing to updates from Stratfor Global Intelligence. Those pop up in my inbasket and actually make a great subway read. They've been around almost 20 years now, and are widely used. It's high-level analysis, a great overview of situations, with great maps and charts from guys who've done security around the world. To zoom in further, I check Insight Crime: Organized Crime in the Americas. They give me a professional, journalistic compendium of what I need. Their pieces are well-written, detailed research that I can comb through, putting together the intricate web of facts my stories are based on.

May 15
All stop. It is time to boldly go where no one has gone before. Time for the best movie of the year to open. Star Trek. Cue the theme music already! Seriously, I loved what JJ Abrams did with the first movie. He took that iconic crew and imbued them with substance, enhanced them with a powerful and regenerative storyline, and then inundated us with spectacular effects and action. The only thing I was left wanting for was - the next movie. My love for Star Trek stretches almost as far back as my love for writing, when I can remember being able to find something to write with and something to write on. Well, we had three tv channels back in the dark ages, one of which was French which I didn't speak when I was 8. So Star Trek was pretty entertaining fare. I loved the thought of travelling to distant galaxies. I always wanted to believe there were aliens and spaceships out there, somewhere. And one of the many things I can thank Star Trek for is my love of computers. All those flashing buttons, the power to answer any question at your fingertips. How smart did you have to be to make that happen? Let's just say I've gone on to more thoroughly explore my love of technology beyond the 1960s special effects. Something else I love about Star Trek is the terrific ensemble cast. I could say they nailed the roles of Bones McCoy and Scotty, but that would be an understatement. Our favourite memories have been vibrantly reimaged. Zoe Saldana gets to do more than emancipate the role of Uhura - she kicks artistic butt. Because Uhura really is so much more than just another pretty face and thank you, JJ Abrams, for giving this comm spec her due. I think Chris Pine has embarked successfully on his reclamation of the character of Kirk, and allows us the occasional hommage to Shatner. And as for my favourite Vulcan, Zachary Quinto is truly Spock, brilliantly logical with powerfully suppressed passion in a storyline that finally gives us deeper insight into a fascinating and complex character. Humour, action, twists, and story - Abrams really delivered the first time and I'll bet the farm that he does it again with Round 2. I can't wait. Beam me up, Scotty!

May 11
Well, they brought Al Capone down on tax evasion. In a strategy that seems to borrow from the past, the Feds have managed to land the 3 biggest fish yet in their battle with the cartels. On American soil, in a US court of law, the three Trevino brothers and the leaders of Los Zetas, Omar, Jose and Miguel, have all been found guilty and charged with... money laundering. This is a major blow against Los Zetas, and this may set the precedent for future action taken against other cartels. And the elusive Sinaloa cartel may have just been dealt a major blow by the Kingpin Act, or the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, as reported by Borderland Beat. Thanks to the combined efforts of numerous organizations including the DEA, the US Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) acted on the report released of 8 key individuals who are plaza bosses for Sinaloa. Each boss acts as a cartel leader within their turf along the Sonara-Arizona stretch along the US-Mexico border. They supervise the shipments of drugs, guns, cash and other illegal goods across the border. They use sicarios, armed hitmen, as enforcers. Tucson and Phoenix are key points for access, with the corresponding crime stats and violence. As has been well-documented, Chappo Guzman wields the kind of influence that has put government officials, military, and law enforcement completely under his control. So dealing this kind of financial blow to the massive organization is like finding the proverbial chink in Sinaloa's armour. Essentially it means that no US citizen may conduct a financial or commercial transaction with the named plaza bosses. As well, it freezes any assets they have under US jurisdiction. Now this isn't going to bring either Los Zetas or Sinaloa to their knees. It will be more of an annoyance until the Cartels figure a way around it, which they invariably will as they have in past. But it's a better tact than trying to outgun and outfight them. In the end, this will all be about the long game.

May 2
Now for something completely different. Lights. Camera. Action!! I love a really good action flic. This is my humble homage to those brilliant and creative directors and actors who suspend reality for a glorious one hundred and twenty minutes and allow us to see and hear things our imaginations can't quite deliver. And this month is going to be amazing! First, "Ironman 3" opens May 3. I didn't think Robert Downey Jr's Tony Stark could get any better after "The Avengers" but I can't wait to be proven wrong. Let some other guy deliver the maudlin or melodramatic version of the "flawed hero" archetype - I'll take Tony Stark's razor sharp repartee and smart-ass antics anyday. But writer/director Shane Black ups the ante to my favourite storyline - how far will you go to protect the one you love. And we all love Pepper. Face it. We don't want justice - we want revenge, meted out with all the hi-tech tricks and trickery Tony Stark delivers best.
But wait - there's more. On May 17, just in time for my birthday, the sequel to Star Trek comes out. I cannot say enough good things about the first movie. I was weaned and raised on the original Captain Kirk and crew. The cast JJ Abrams assembled and his rendering of the story exceeded expectations I never knew I could even have. So, yeah, I am totally psyched for this sequel and have been since I left the movie theatre after the first one. This is an ensemble cast you really get to know and love, so there's a lot more at stake this time when the genius of JJ is unleashed, and he hurtles us, along with the crew of the USS Enterprise, into chaos untold. And just like those complex, intrepid, and fascinating characters, you can't prepare for what he's got coming...
And last, but certainly not least, on May 26, again, well-timed for my birthday, is the 6th installment to the Fast and Furious franchise. Now, I admit, I held off on watching these. I scoffed at those who did. Then I watched Fast 5. Again. And again. And then I watched them all. Justin Lin directed the last 3, including this one, all of which honestly are just good excuses to sit down and be entertained. You really should watch Fast 5 if for no other reason than to watch them drag a safe down the streets of Sao Paolo Brazil. But trust me, you'll find plenty of reasons before that to keep watching. And Fast 6 - well, l'm just going to enjoy the ride!

April 30
Underground tunnels that sneak across the border. We've seen them in the movies, like Fast and Furious. They're secret, dark, dangerous. Where the bad guys escape, hide their drugs and guns, and the law can't catch them. Narcotunnels have become another sophisticated weapon in the arsenal used by cartels. Tunnels have been found along key sections of the border in Tijuana, Arizona and Texas. Per Drugwar 101, on Dec. 29, 2012, "U.S. officials say Mexican authorities have found a sophisticated smuggling tunnel equipped with electricity and ventilation not far from the Nogales port of entry into Arizona." The tunnels aren't something new. They've been around for years, and most have been strategically located along the border in California and Arizona. In February this year, "soldiers detained 17 men working on the unfinished tunnel in the border city of Tijuana. It was planned to cross under the border near the Otay Mesa port of entry." (Drugwar 101). Reading articles like these just over a year ago got me thinking about the what vulnerabilities were exposed, and to whom. If the cartels were using these tunnels to move drugs, guns and people then who else would want to use them to their own ends? After 9/11, we all know the answer to that question: Al Quaeda. Then I followed the new reports of a Canadian woman, Cyndy Vanier, who was jailed in Mexico as part of a suspected conspiracy to smuggle the son of Moammar Gadhafi into Mexico. She insisted she was innocent and was recently released, but even I have to admit, there is a lot of smoke, and where there's smoke, well ... We may never know the real story, but it helped lead me to one heck of a wicked storyline for Book 3, "Unholy Alliance". What if jihadist terrorists, backed by endless money and powerful supporters, found something and someone they wanted to use in Mexico? Suppose they needed someone to give them full access along the border. And suppose that someone wasn't used to taking orders from anyone. Ahhhh, now you get the drift, right?

April 28
Cartels 101: The basic dictionary definitions of a cartel include alliance, association, union or league. I like this definition from Funk and Wagnalls best: "an international syndicate or trust that aims at monopolistic control of a particular market." Drug cartels have evolved into something far uglier, beyond the lucrative business arrangements they once provided. A more accurate term is narco-terrorism.
When the powerful Cali cocaine cartel toppled more than a decade ago, it was a double-sided victory for law enforcement, because since then the struggle for control has been an increasingly vicious battle between the Mexican cartels. Since February 2010, the major cartels have aligned in two factions, one integrated by the Juárez Cartel, Tijuana Cartel, Los Zetas and the Beltran-Leyva Cartel; the other faction integrated by the Gulf Cartel, Sinaloa Cartel and La Familia Cartel.

Sinaloa: The most powerful Cartel in Mexico is led by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, second only to Osama bin Laden on the FBI's most wanted list. Guzman has an estimated net worth over US$1 billion, per Forbes Magazine. Guzman is a notorious and legendary figure, able to so far elude capture and to maintain significant control over much of Mexico .

The Juarez Cartel: Led by Vicente Carillo Fuentes. They were once allied with Sinaloa but have been fighting violently since 2007 over control of the lucrative border territory of Ciudad Juarez . Fuentes has been in hiding and unseen for years. Ciudad Juarez has been called "The City of death" for good reason.

Beltrán Leyva Organization: This cartel split from Sinaloa in 2008. The Beltrán Leyva brothers then sought an alliance with Los Zetas. This cartel currently battles Sinaloa for control of drug trafficking transportation routes along the Pacific coast. After authorities killed kingpin Arturo Beltrán Leyva and captured his brother, Carlos, leadership fell to another brother, Hector.

The Tijuana Cartel: Also known as the Arellano Felix Organization, this once powerful cartel is in decline because numerous arrests by the authorities have decimated leadership within.

The Gulf Cartel: One of Mexico 's dominant cartels until recently. It hired a private mercenary army as enforcers. This group, known as Los Zetas, became a partner within the cartel in 2006. Then in 2010 the partnership ended violently, their battles turning several regions into ghost towns. The cartel is splintering into factions that battle against each other, further weakening it.

Los Zetas: Currently the second most powerful cartel in Mexico, and by some accounts now taking top position, and certainly the most vicious and feared. Formed by a group of corrupt former elite military soldiers, Los Zetas helped the Gulf Cartel dominate much of the drug trade in Mexico . They have since fought to keep hold of that influence for themselves, and with their alliance to Beltran-Leyva, have influence from the Gulf to the Pacific.

La Familia: “They decapitate, torture, and extort. Then they pray, and donate to charity.” This cartel is a paradox. They produce and sell meth, but their members are discouraged from taking drugs or alcohol, part of the group's semi-religious ideology. They are based out of the state of Michoaca, along the south Pacific coastline. They have allied with the Gulf Cartel against Los Zetas and the Beltran-Leyva cartel. Over the past year, a number of arrests by authorities have considerably weakened La Familia. When leader Nazario Moreno was killed by security forces in late 2010, the cartel splintered and a rival cartel, the Knights Templar, was formed.

The Knights Templar: The other co-founders of La Familia, Enricque Plancarte Solis and Servando Gomez Martinez formed the Knights Templar. Their belief is to “fight and die” for their vision of social justice. They are driven by their hatred of Los Zetas. They took over many of the meth labs in west and southwest of the country. Their was an attempt by a member of La Familia to regain control of these labs by seeking an alliance with Los Zetas, which failed. They announced their arrival and their purpose by hanging large banners on highway overpasses in 2011. They promised to keep order in the region and protect the people, preventing robbery, kidnapping, and extortion, as well as the intrusion of rival groups.

Jalisco New Generation Cartel(CJN): One of the newest and fastest growing cartels to emerge. Formed when members left Sinaloa after the death of drug lord Ignacio Coronel Villareal. However, a mutual hatred for Los Zetas reunited CJN with Sinaloa in battle. They have staked their turf along the strategic Pacific coast, battling it out with Los Zetas for control over Guadalajara, Jalisco, Nayarit (vacation destination, Puerto Vallarta), Michoacan (once controlled by La Familia), Colima (major port) and Guanajuato. In addition, they have control on both coasts as hired guns for Sinaloa, (known as Matazetas or Zeta killers) battling Los Zetas on their own turf in Nuevo Laredo and Vera Cruz.

April 26
I mentioned current hotbeds in the previous post, so let's examine two of those, Zacatecas and Tamaulipas.
The state of Zacatecas, the capital city of which is also Zacatecas, is located in the central northern part of the country. It is a Unesco historic site, filled with history and architecure, where mining continues to be a key industry. But the region is now in the cross-hairs of the ongoing battle between the Gulf Cartel and their ex-enforcers, Los Zetas. The body count has been steadily growing since late 2012, with another 6 deaths reported only a few days ago per Drugwar 101, which also says that since the new president took charge, violence has been on the upsurge. Christmas and New Year's were marked by at least 24 deaths. Not unlike what happened in Juarez, and in Monterrey, the cartels have engaged in a no-holds barred battle with each other, and anyone who gets in their way. Local police, the Federales, and the Mexican Marines have all paid the price in blood. In the city of Fresnillo, of the 300 Marines originally there, only 25 remain. Those not killed or wounded have "transferred out." And then there are the kidnappings and disappearances. Family members report them, "but they do so anonymously and also without formalizing their complaints before the state attorney general, out of a general feeling of mistrust." (Drugwar 101).
The north-eastern state of Tamaulipas is on the Gulf Coast, sharing a 370 km stretch of the US-Mexican border with Texas. This stretch of border has been the most lucrative for the drug trade. Other states sharing this border include Nuevo Leon, where the city of Monterrey is ground zero for the battle for control by Los Zetas. In Tamaulipas, the cities of Reynosa, Matamoros, Nuevo Laredo and Tampico feature prominently in reports of cartel violence and death. Not surprisingly, these cities were the seat of the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas, before the split. As I've written in previous installments, in this region journalists pay with their lives for reporting on cartel activity. There is an article in Borderland Beat by a journalist who was kidnapped in 2010 and lived to tell about it. Raymundo Peres Arrellano says "What hasn't changed is the content of media reports in Reynosa. They deal with water leaks, chronicle hard times in local communities, even cover violence in other states like Chihuahua or Guerrero, but they don't inform their readers how, where and when organized crime groups are operating in this city".
As Los Zetas continue to further their expansionist goals, the violence has been moving steadily west, stretching inland where Sinaloa has long exercised control. And the battle is no longer between two all-powerful cartels. splintered factions and resurrected ones are vying for their own turf along the Pacific coast. This I will cover in future posts.

April 24
My intrepid niece is heading south of the border to study. Naturally, I said I would do some recon. While other aunts send envelopes with money or nice travel kit items, not me. I gather facts and data on cartel activity in the locale. But she loves me anyway! She is headed off to Taxco, a charming and historically rich city in the south-west Mexican state of Guerrero. Silver mining and tourism are the main industries. She'll be inland, some distance away from either coast, and about 170 km southwest of Mexico city. Taxco is a picturesque statement of old Mexico, filled with charming architecture and detail. But in 2010, this place of lovely handicrafts and worked silver was also the site of one of the largest mass graves ever found in Mexico, the human cost of the rivalry between the cartels. According to the most recent map prepared by Stratfor Intelligence (click here to open the map) Taxco is in a disputed region, fought over by the major cartels. The locale is adjacent to the region once controlled by La Familia Michoaca, which was nearly wiped out due to well-timed and suspiciously fortuitous arrests of most their leadersin 2011. The swatch controlled by Los Zetas extends all the way down the Gulf Coast to the border of Guatemala. The lucrative stretch along the Pacific coast, however, is still in play, and actively sought after by the Sinaloa cartel, Los Zetas, The Knights Templar (the cartel that rose from the ashes of La Familia) and the new kids, Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion. Between 2010 and 2011, the were 3 grisly dicoveries of mass burials. At the time, internal strife within the Beltran-Leyva cartel was believed responsible, as different factions within the cartel vied for territory. The Cartel Pacifico del Sur (CPS) is active in this region, and in February 2012 the Mexican army seized a stockpile of assault weapons, ammo and camo military uniforms in Cuernavaca, Morelos, a CPS stronghold. As I have said before, cartel alliances and control can shift like sand, and CPS is now being referred to as Los Rojos, affiliated with the Gulf Cartel, sworn enemies of Los Zetas. As well, La Familia Michoaca has been clawing back control over certain regions in Guerrero, including Taxco. But aside from those events listed here, I have not found any significant recent reports. The current hotbeds are Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Durango, La Laguna. La Familia has its own business and is not aggressively expansionist. It successfully cohabitated with Sinaloa for years, finding ways to work together. So, given my analysis, Taxco is still safe, and I'm okay to recommend it for tourism and students.

April 22
Time for a brief review about the Mexican-American border. It's 3169 km long, with sizeable stretches that are seriously compromised because they aren't defended or cannot be adequately defended. There is no impregnable wall, no advanced automatic defence system that will keep the bad guys out. My point: just because the cartels operate on the other side of that border, in Mexico, does not mean they are only Mexico's problem. The communities that live alongside the border in Arizona and Texas can attest to that. It's not just drugs that come across the border. It's a level of violence, and a propensity to exact retribution and control most North Americans cannot understand. Cartels do the unthinkable. Beheadings, mass graves, multiple executions, eviscerations, bodies hung from overpasses as messages. And I will not detail the worst. This is a battle for power and control that respects no guidelines, no borders, no boundaries. (hence the title of Book 2).

The cartels aren't going away. Under the new regime, they are going to only grow. Which means the drugs and guns problems plaguing America aren't going away either. Think of their reach like tentacles, stretching out, hungry, powerful, and aggressive. Case in point: last year when a horse ranch was discovered to be part of a major money laundering operation for Los Zetas. The public was stunned when the news broke. Nobody could believe that Mexico's deadliest cartel was operating in their city. But there are vast amounts of money to be siphoned through multiple shell games before returning to Mexico. Cartels have become highly efficient transnational criminal enterprises. Guess which phone Los Zetas prefer: Blackberries, because apparently in privacy mode the phones scrub themselves clean.

The criminal trial is now ongoing. Omar, Jose and Miguel Trevino, leaders of Los Zetas, are in Austin, Texas to face charges along with close family members and associates. Point of note: the Trevino boys grew up in Laredo, Texas. As reported in Borderland Beat, Federal Prosecutor Douglas Gardner, heading up four attorneys for the federal side, described Los Zetas as “one of the largest, most versatile, and violent criminal organizations.” Some of the accused are described as “soft-hearted” and that they had no idea there were any ties to Los Zetas. The horses were even being used for therapy with autistic children. But the original owner of one of the horses, Jose Ramiro Villareal, was found dead in the burnt shell of his vehicle near Nuevo Laredo in Tamaulipas, Mexico. Zetas territory. Villareal was actually a close and trusted friend of Miguel Trevino, also known as Z40 and a leader of Los Zetas. It was only a matter of time until the DEA pounced and forced Villareal to make a hard decision. He turned informant, knowing he had sealed his fate. The truth is that once in, you're in for life. Doesn't matter how rich or powerful you are. Or if you have a personal relationship with someone in control. Young, old, children, women – the Cartel shows no mercy when the Cartel owns you.

For those who like to say Not In My Back Yard, sorry. The cartels are already here. And their reach is global.

April 21
I came across a video commentary during my research today. By Ben Swann of Reality Check, Fox News. It came out late 2012, and supports my stance that Chappo Guzman controls the Mexican government and the military. It's not hard to form that opinion. Guzman has evaded capture but everyone knows where he is. His territorial control covers half of Mexico. And there were stories about the US offering to swoop in and take him out, only to be flatly rejected by the Mexican government. My guess is that this current administration under Pena Nieto will be even more to his liking. Here is the link to Swann's commentary. He grew up in El Paso, across the border from Juarez, ground zero in the drug war for a long time, and deadliest city in the world at one point. He compares the violence to what went on in other war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan, saying that it was a whole new level of horrific. He talks about the desire to form one supercartel, having control over all the others, over the country, and cites Chappo Guzman and Sinaloa Cartel as being that. His claim is that following Guzman's remarkable escape from prison in a laundry basket, Sinaloa rose rapidly to power, thanks to the Mexican government. He also points out how many people on both sides of the border were presenting the drug war as nothing for regular people to worry about. That it was only something affecting the criminals and drug dealers. The point he makes is that the media, ie American media, will not tell the full truth about the war on drugs. Why? Because it is being perpetuated by high-level American officials and decision makers. He says "It's about power and it's about control and media will never tell you the truth about it." He goes on to say about the cartels "having lived where I've lived and seen what I've seen, they are America's greatest security threat." He describes the vast expanse of the border between both countries, pointing out that there are sizeable stretches that are undefended because there isn't enough man power. At some points, there is only broken down fence. And in Arizona, border guards can't get within several miles of the border in key places because of cartel snipers positioned in the hills on the other side. And don't forget the tunnels that run beneath the border - a key part of my story in Book 3 Unholy Alliance. The cartels aren't just some fantastic element in a blockbuster movie. They aren't only Mexico's problem. They're a real threat that continues to encroach on the safety and security of everyone in North America. And with the new Mexican administration, the war on drugs just went from bad to worse.


April 19
I'm catching up on my homework. For my cartel series. I predicted a few months ago, along with other more learned folk, that when El Presidente Pena Nieto took charge a return to the old ways would resume. He would be little more than an attractive puppet, allowing the Cartels and organized crime to regain their hold over the country and enjoy the level of control they previously had. The war on drugs, as waged by Calderone, would end. The military would be deployed elsewhere, and resources re-allocated. According to Insight Crime, "Mexico's authorities refused a freedom of information request for details on the country's drug cartels, further evidence that the Enrique Peña Nieto administration is trying to limit the public's understanding of what is happening". Hmm. No surprises there. And then there's this "The number of Marines involved in counternarcotics operations in Mexico has fallen 40 percent since Enrique Peña Nieto took power, in another sign of Mexico's shifting security priorities." The result could be a total narco state. As it stands now, the country has absolved itself of any responsibility and has no control over the Cartels. The Gulf coast is a killing field for the on-going rivalry between Los Zetas, The Gulf cartel, Sinaloa, and the new, aggressive off-shoots seeking their share of the spoils. My favourite online source, Borderland Beat, is carrying the same stories it did from 6 months ago, proving out that the new administration's policies have done nothing to quell the violence. I've been waiting to see what move the kingpin of kingpins, El Chappo Guzman of Sinaloa, is going to make. Because it really still comes down to the same 2 dogs fighting over a bone: Sinaloa vs Los Zetas.


April 18
It's been a while. Had a few developments going on the world beyond my writing life that needed my full attention. There was a silver lining to that storywise: sometimes you need to step back, let things congeal, and see what develops. What I love about the series is what makes it very challenging to write: multiple major characters, with new ones being introduced in each story; off-ramps to outside stories for those new characters; the ever-changing and enormous amount of research required which in turn leads to more stories and plot twists. It had me questioning if I had the stuff to keep going. The answer to that was simple: would I write these characters if I didn't? But I had to go through a Lenten desert of my own, putting my stories, my goals, on hold awhile. Didn't mean I forgot about them. Instead, it made me think what I would do when I got the chance again to actually sit down and write. It made me come up with answers for the unresolved plot lines and questions that kept tripping me up. Things need time: wine, cheese, writing. Now I see the timeline for these three stories clearly, and the actions my characters need to take stand out. I took the time to get to know them as individuals, question them on what they would and would not do. Ask any writer - their characters are as real to them as any people they know. And we, as readers, are fascinated by how characters change, grow, and evolve with circumstances. Therein lies the story.

Welcome to a New Year, a New Blog.

 

Works in Progress


Series: Hart Jones, DEA
What Goes Around

No Borders, No Boundaries

Unholy Alliance

Characters and Cartels

Exit Strategy

The Price to be Paid

Follow My Lead

Her Father's Daughter

She'll Never Tell

Currently
Listening to: The Black Keys; Mumford & Sons; Bruno Mars
Reading: Game of Thrones, Gone Girl
Watching: Justified; Homeland; Scandal
Big Screen Thrill: Star Trek: Into Darkness. Thank you J.J. Abrams!

Dec 4, 2012

Christmas came early for me with another successful effort at Nanowrimo. 50,060 words in less than 16 days. And the best writing I've done in a Nano novel. Now I have the first draft for "Unholy Alliance", Book 3 in the series. I'd been mulling over the plot for months. I knew what I wanted to happen, but this has gone so far beyond what I even dared imagine. Which is a good thing. I wanted a foil for Dom, a villain for him to come up against. I think the Yemeni terrorism broker is just that. "Unholy Alliance" represents the forging of several unthinkable bonds in the story, at various levels. There has been plenty of speculation about, and even arrests related to, the Mexican cartels and possible links to Al Quaeda. We know their money comes from deep pockets, and the links to oil money and Saudi Royalty are documented. Islamic militants fight a different war than the west has been able to grasp. So what would happen if they found a way to use our weaknesses against us and bring the war to our doorstep? And what if a masterful drug kingpin, and the most vicious cartel in Mexico, got caught up in the plan? That's the basic premise of the third book. With everything that is going on, in a more global arena, some new characters have been introduced, who have their own stories to tell, offshoots if you please. I love when things can diverge and divulge. But the focus is still on our favourites. Just when you thought you knew Dom, you get to know him so much better, and you won't be disappointed. The Alanna/Dan storyline picks up where it left off and, no, I don't make it easy for anybody. And for fun, we get to see something we didn't expect - Chris and Ramon. I wouldn't write it if I didn't love it. As for Hart and Mara, well, there's a reason for that title, and that's all I'm saying here. So now I know what has to happen with Book 4. It's finally time to bring somebody else in. If you've been following this blog, or events in Mexico, you can probably guess who. And that, my friends, will be a story worth waiting for.

Nov 29, 2012

It's almost December. Which means the end of Nanowrimo for another year. This was my year of coming from behind, since I didn't even start until the 16th. And it wasn't all smooth sailing. Remember that 3000 words a day I needed to do? There was a block of at least 7 days where there was no writing, at all. Infact, it looked like I should just forego it this year and give in to the demands of everything and everyone else around me. But, I decided to channel the drama from my own life into the novel. And now, I have almost 45,000 words. I wrote over 20,000 across a weekend. And, most importantly, while it is a rough first draft, I will call it a decent crack at book 3 in my series, and it is surprising even me with the twists, turns and best of all, the characters! Be prepared to learn more about Dom and how he plays to win, especially up against the kind of adversary he has never confronted. And meet some colleagues of Dan's who bring a little something extra to any party. Ordinances, anyone? And you won't believe what I've got in store for the grand finale. Let's just say there's a cast of thousands. So, I have to go rescue someone from the shower, and then it's back to the land of cartels and Yemeni terrorists.

Nov 15, 2012

It's November. Which means one thing. Nanowrimo. I honestly did not think I would get to do my annual crazy, writing a 50,000 novel in 30 days with a hundred thousand other like-mindeds, but I can't miss out. Not after doing it for ten years. So I started today. Yes, I will write a 50,000 word novel in 15 days. Just to add to the insanity. I have to write just over 3000 words a day, and no, they can't all be the same word. So wordcount currently sits at - drum roll please - 3200. Let's hear it for the eternal optimists. This will be the 3rd installment of the Hart Jones series, titled "Unholy Alliance" and it will feature some fascinating new characters who I have kept waiting in the wings for the right time. And I can promise you this - the more drama in my real life, the better drama in my writing life. Here's to some crazy good times ahead!

Oct 20, 2012

I've been away but I'm happy to repart that the world has kept right on going. I've rejoined the workforce. Had to get the hang of a new schedule and a few less hours in my day. It's all good now. So I'm back, in case you missed me. And we are gearing up for what is a very important election. I don't know about you, but I don't want Romney at the control panel of anything more than a Chrysler minivan. And Paul Ryan strapped safely into the backseat, because he is a natural backseat driver. But I wouldn't hand him over control of anything. He's a little too intense, in the way that makes my spidey sense tingle. Obama isn't putting on the show I had hoped he would be, the show that he needs to be. Maybe he is playing it safe, trying to let these two guys burn themselves and their audience out. But Obama is running out of precious time to reach those undecided and disillusioned voters he needs. We all know elections can turn on a dime, especially ones like these. Repairing the fractured American economy and the future of American healthcare are huge issues to the voters south of the border, and the world is watching. I believe that America is safer in the moderate hands of Obama and the democrats, whose foibles we now know, and whose potential can still be realized. The Republicans have bet on what I think may well be the wrong horse in this race, and nothing Romney says inspires confidence in me as much as fear. The US cannot afford any big mistakes or failures, however well-meaning they may be. We have learned that what looks good on paper doesn't always happen. Let's keep that in mind as we listen to those ambitious promises from the Republican on the podium.

Sep 27, 2012

Pinch me because I just witnessed a history-making moment. By now, everyone either knows about or has seen Prime Minister Netenyahu's presentation at the UN. I applaud him, I respect him, and I support him. He had a point to make, and he did so without resorting to endless prose and dancing around the issue. After a straightforward and excellent speech, he pulled out a cardboard diagram of a cartoon bomb, illustrated and explained succinctly how quickly Iran was acquiring and compiling enriched uranium into a nuclear weapon, and then used a red marker to draw the red line he has urged must be established. Let people laugh at the simplicity of the approach or even the cartoon-like drawing. He made his point. The international atomic monitoring agency reports far more than just a steady increase in Iran's production of enriched uranium. Iran says they need it for fuel plates for the hospital reactor. What they need and what they will actually use it for are two very different things. Netenyahu is smart enough to know that. Are the rest of us?

Sep 26, 2012

It's an all-star event at the United Nations in New York this week. Yesterday, Barack Obama laid out his stance on the Iran Nukes controversy. While it was good to finally hear him use stronger language, and take a somewhat more aggressive stance, he gave no solid confirmation of how and when military retaliation would be taken. The people have spoken and the polls show the American public is not happy with this lacklustre approach. Me neither. I wear my heart on my sleeve when I say this but I expect great things from Obama, and the time is now for him to shine. Hilary Clinton is a fine stateswoman, and tough when she needs to be. Obama is President of the United States, still a super-power. He needs to be the tough guy now. He has to send a clear message that his country, and the friends of his country, will not be messed with. One of those friends, and a strategic ally, is Israel.

Sep 22, 2012

I know I said I would only say this once but recent events now force me to repeat myself. Two wrongs do not make a right. They do not make anything right. I refer to events over the past 48 hours in Pakistan including a day that they set aside to honour the Muslim prophet Mohammed. A laundry list of violence and chaos was enacted in retaliation over a poorly-made independent film: more than nineteen lives were taken, a movie theatre was burned down, a KFC was ransacked, numerous properties were damaged, and there were countless injuries. Tell me, please, just how did any of this make things better? In a country that is already impoverished, how did destroying what little people had help them or honour a religious figure? To those who shot and bludgeoned people to death I ask how did killing your own countrymen achieve retribution against the actual idiot who made that useless film? A film which no one else in the world takes seriously, or would otherwise be bothered to watch. There is no point in trying to fathom how this made sense to the extremists who carried it out. There is no point in trying to work with or reason with these parties. In North America, this kind of fanatical bullshit is reserved for cults, openly regarded as threats and not given any credence. Yet the countries who harbour and support these extremists take our aid and ask for more, only to turn on us time and again. My rose-coloured glasses have fallen off and broken. After years of pouring good money after bad, we should stop. The decent people in our countries deserve the money shipped out as aid far more than do the corrupt politicians and fundamental extremists who use it to their own ends. When you make your bed, you lie in it. We teach our children the consequences of their actions to help them be better people. It's time to apply the same lesson to these untenable nations.

Sep 20 , 2012

Let's return south of the border. The split within the Zetas cartel has ratcheted up the levels of violence in the Gulf coast state of Tamaulipas, further devastating the once-major city of Monterrey, and that is only expected to increase over the coming weeks because of the capture of not one but two major Cartel leaders from the ailing Gulf Cartel, Jorge Eduardo Costillo Sanchez "El Coss"and Mario Cardenas Guillen. The issue of power vacuums very much applies here because the particular region up for grabs, Reynosa Plaza, has been a deadly prize sought by the Zetas from the Gulf cartel. The Gulf Cartel suffered from internal division as well, the wounds now exposed with the recent loss of leadership. The question to ask now is will certain unsatisfied members now defect to Los Zetas or to Sinaloa? The Gulf cartel allied with Sinaloa in 2010, establishing two clear factions that still exist: those allied with Los Zetas and those allied with Sinaloa. While this most recent development does provide an opportunity for Sinaloa to move in and stake its claim in a region dominated by Los Zetas, will they? Perhaps Sinaloa has been kept busy fighting to maintain control in its own regions internally and especially along the Pacific coast, where the major ports are located. The state of Michoaca was once controlled by La Familia, a powerful cartel destroyed by a series of arrests last year. The Knights Templar rose as a new cartel from those ashes and battles for control over the region against Los Zetas, ever-expanding, and newer cartels like Jalisco Nueva Generacion. I find it very interesting that we have heard almost nothing directly from "El Chapo" Guzman and Sinaloa over these past few months. Almost all reports are about the Zetas, focussing attention on them and their region. It is time to take a closer look at Juan Guzman, head of Sinaloa, still considered to be the most powerful cartel in Mexico. Guzman escaped from a Mexican prison in a laundry cart back in 2001 and has yet to be apprehended. However, everyone knows he is safely and securely ensconced in his stronghold within the mountains of Sinaloa. The Mexican army has its own branch of Special Forces and we know they are well-armed and trained. Just look to Los Zetas. According to an article in "Proceso" and Borderland Beat, the US Pentagon offered to send in the Seals and do a "Bin Laden" to take down Guzman, but they have been told absolutely no. Looks to me like the Mexican government, even under Calderone, has kept Sinaloa in its position of power for their own reasons. And given the alternative, which would be rule by Los Zetas, maybe that isn't so hard to fathom.

Sep 18 , 2012

Time for my two cents on Iran, nukes, Israel and will they, won't they. Nobody wants to be the guy who called this wrong, and Israel is in the awkward place of being the one to cry wolf. I don't blame Israeli Prime Minister Netenyahu for being so vocal in expressing his concerns about Iran. Does anyone really believe for a moment that Iran will engage in a responsible use of their nuclear capabilities? Modern history has borne out that we have no reason to trust Iran, nor to believe that any good will come of their nuclear capability. The definition of volatile extremist, they are inclined to behave just so long as everyone is watching. Stratfor Global Intelligence ran an excellent online piece this week explaining how these states of chaos come to be when leaderships are ousted and power vacuums occur. In a business, you line up a replacement when someone leaves a key position, or any position. Typically, candidates are selected based on skill, trustworthiness and fit. You're not going to put in a potential thief or liar, or someone nobody can stand to be around, or an incompetent buffoon. Yet, this is what happens in world politics when governments fall and no suitable successor takes the reins. The Arab spring is mired now in the mud of turmoil as battles for control rage across the region. We can only expect the victor to be a reflection of how these wars are being waged, which means no improvement for the general population. Just more of the same tyranny, oppression and fear. If the US and others are concerned that Syria would consider using its stores of chemical weapons, how wrong are we to think the same of Iran and nukes? Israel and Netenyahu are the West's best allies in a part of the world held fierce in the tyrannical grip of fundamental extremism. Israel shares with us dedication to freedoms, democracy, human rights - keystones in the foundations of Western states. While we cannot find leaders dedicated to protecting and preserving these tenets in Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Saudi Arabia or essentially the rest of the Middle East, we can find support and protection for those who would engage in an Islamic Jihad. I would strongly encourage President Obama to give Prime Minister Netenyahu his full attention.

Sep 17 , 2012

I've been on back-to-school hiatus. Now that the dust has settled, I'm back at the keyboard. First, I want to send out congrats and best wishes to author Alex Berenson and his wife on their new baby girl. And to author Jerry Langton who is finishing up his tenth book in six years. Cheers, guys!
Back to business. I only want to say this once: two wrongs never, ever make a right. And this is directed to all those extremists who felt it necessary to take their anger out in ridiculous fashion on innocent parties who were in no way remotely responsible for that purportedly anti-Islam film. Really, how does ripping up American flags and sacking embassies, and killing people who actually give a damn about your rights, address what amounts to an insult? That film was a no-budget "youtube" effort and essentially the responsibility of one person, believed to be an Egyptian. It wasn't put out by American studios or endorsed by American government. And yet, the extremists decided to use it as a springboard for violence, an excuse to yet again vent their absolute hatred of all things Western. You cannot reason with parties who are incapable of rational behaviour or thought. You cannot change, persuade or disuade them. They have chosen to make themselves beyond reach. Hence, they do not deserve the consideration or effort given to anyone who would abide by civilized and decent practices. Let's start by shutting off the money and arms valve to Egypt. As for what happened in Libya, the world lost a very valuable contributor to peace with the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens. While this was the act of a small group, and many Libyans genuinely expressed grief and remorse, the fact remains that the danger to the West is inherent in the volatility and violence of these extremists, wherever they are.

My Remembrance for Sep 11, 2012

In my kitchen sits a cream porcelain mug, everpresent and stuffed with pencils. On it are the words Cantor Fitzgerald, a firm that was virtually wiped out when the towers were hit and then collapsed. I never knew anyone there but I learned so much about them in the days that followed, when the skies were strangely silent and empty of planes. Now, I can never forget them. Nor will I ever be able to erase the images from my mind from eleven years ago. I was hundreds of miles away and yet the horror, a tragedy so unspeakable and immense, unfolded in my living room before me, as it did for so many others. We watched the news endlessly, leaving the television on, watching the same scenes play over and over, as if that would make the impossible begin to sink in. We knew it had happened, yet something deep inside us refused to let us accept this thing, the finality and certainty of the slaughter of innocents. In that way, America's pain became everyone's. We listened to the stories about those people who died in the towers and the planes, learned about their families, careers, hopes and dreams, so that we could value and remember their lives. Which we still do, eleven years on. As I pray for those lives lost, the families who continue on, the survivors, and the countless heroes who did whatever they could, I do not pray for those who were responsible because I am not big enough to forgive or forget mass murder. That I'll leave to God.

Sep 3 , 2012

And the race is on. A little departure from my usual subject matter. The US Presidential Election is in full swing, and the Democrats are holding their national convention this week. Mitt Romney got Clint Eastwood to do a dramatic turn with a chair for him, but Obama has half of Hollywood offering their talents. Paul Ryan gave a sizzling speech at the Republican convention, and proved his value at the podium, but he still doesn't hold a candle to Obama, orator extraordinaire. He may use a lot of words, too many according to the Repulicans, but he uses them all so well. And therein lies the difference. It's going to be a horse race, and there are two huge issues: healthcare and the economy, or in a word, jobs. The Republicans are having a field day trashing Obamacare and I get that Medicare is a sacred cow, a promise to future generations that you don't touch. The whole concept of healthcare reform is not bunk, however. In the end, I think it's really going to come down to jobs. "Show me the money!" The Republicans have already paraded out their action plan of more stuff for less taxes. Why, why, why do politicians always do that, and why, why, why do we let ourselves believe they can? It costs money to run programs and countries and governments. That money comes from two sources, since we no longer pillage: exports/goods sold and taxes. The math is annoyingly simple. If you don't get enough money by selling stuff to other countries, you need to charge the people in your own country more. Nobody likes taxes, we get that. There are a whole lot of things nobody likes including brocolli, exercise, going to bed, getting up etc but we do what we have to do. Because we know what can happen when we don't. Canada is learning some lessons the hard way. Like if we let our social systems and infrastructures breakdown, after a certain point they can't be rescued and the damage is done. Everybody likes the word "invest." Taxes are how you make a necessary investment in your country. Think about the story of the Emperor who got sold a bill of goods and walked around buck-naked, trying to convince himself and everyone else he had clothes so fine only special people could see them. People wanted to believe they were special enough to see those clothes even though they couldn't. And then a child pointed out the obvious, and everyone felt foolish, the Emperor had to admit that he had let himself be conned. The American public desperately wants to hear wonderful things, and at no extra cost. Don't we all. In this election, someone is going to tell them what they want to hear, and someone else is going to be honest enough to say what they don't. My money's on the guy whose many words have substance.

Aug 25, 2012

There is a fascinating piece in Borderland Beat today, written by author Samuel Logan. He has coauthored a book with George W. Grayson, called "The Executioner's Men" specifically about Los Zetas. Both men are well known for their expertise in the area of the Mexican drug war and Los Zetas. I'm waiting to get my hands on the book (of course!) and you can read a great review on Sylvia Longmire's site Mexico's Drug War. The piece poses a theory called the "Zetas Cross" where "the Zetas may be working from a blueprint that designates battles to capture plazas that complete an east to west corridor, from Tampico to Durango through San Luis Potosi and Zacatecas, and a north to south corridor, running from Nuevo Laredo through Zacatecas and into the states of Colima, Jalisco and Nayarit." This was written about a year ago, and I see it bearing out. The objective is to isolate the Gulf cartel, then the remnants of La Familia Michoaca, and then block access to the border for The Knights Templar. This makes complete sense given that Los Zetas was formed by highly trained military elite who were corrupt. Unlike other cartels, they are well organized and would be able to apply military strategy in their fighting. The hub of the cross is Zacatecas, strategically located in the state of Durango, Sinaloa territory. From there, they would move south to Guadalajara then Manzanillo, Colima, giving them access to take full control over the port where huge shipments of precursor chemicals from China arrive, utilized in the production of meth. With this game plan, Los Zetas secure a route straight from the Pacific up to Nuevo Laredo on the US border, a huge access point and one they have shown fierce control over. They shut down The Knights Templar by cutting off access to their allies, Sinaloa. They pen Sinaloa in to the north, using the existing geography of the Sierra Madres to restrict access. But this won't happen without one hell of a fight. Sinaloa is allied with La Familia and The Knights Templar, and they share that access to the Pacific Coast and the port in Collima. This is Sinaloa's turf, and Chapo Guzman isn't about to let anyone take over his control of Guadalahara and Jalisco. Guzman hasn't hit back hard ... yet. I don't want to see what it looks like when he does.

Aug 22, 2012

It is the Knights Templar (TKT) who are stepping into the ring against Los Zetas. In an article today in Borderland Beat, the current leader of TKT, Servando Gomez Martinez or "La Tuta", has issued a video statement in which he addresses the citizens of Mexico, the President, and the narcos. TKT sees itself as a brotherhood, an order on a holy mission. Martinez openly declares they are not a cartel or criminal organization, and their mandate justifies their actions. We all know, though, that if it walks like a duck, and talks like a duck, then ... Martinez goes on to explain that he is "our friend" and wants to be seen that way. That his group follows strict rules as per their manual. They live by a code and do not wish to cause chaos and terror. "Our only role is to help our people, preserve our state, and keep our country free of people who are causing terror." This refers to their mandate to fight against Los Zetas and to take down the leader, Z40. In the video, Martinez sends a rallying cry to everyone to join with him in this cause, united to defeat "the primary cause" of all things evil happening in Mexico. I agree that Los Zetas, especially under the rule of Z40 (Morales), is the single greatest threat to Mexico and a threat to neighbouring countries. Violence and death have reached unimaginable levels because of this cartel that no one can stop. Martinez is calling for the other cartels to unite with him and bring down Los Zetas. He refers to his group as "a necessary evil ... but ... a way to fix ourselves." Without saying it, he alludes to the corruption between the government and the cartels. He appeals to the military to be ready to join the fight and do the right thing. This isn't a message the rest of us should disregard, and this isn't a case of "let them fight it out amongst themselves." First, the reference to just Z40 indicates that the rift within the Zetas may already be decided and that Z40 has control. He is a cold-blooded sociopath who enjoys killing. Los Zetas are his killing machine. Second, this is an admission by another cartel that Los Zetas now are in control, and cannot be beaten. Third, this may very well be a veiled plea to Chapo Guzman to now take action. Sinaloa and Los Zetas are not allies, but fierce competitors. What does Guzman want for himself, and Mexico? How far is he willing to go and what can he bring? Everyone has been waiting for this card to be dealt.

Aug 19, 2012

Body count. That's the opening line in my novel, and I wish that's all it had to be. Fiction. But the ugly truth of the cartel wars in Mexico is found in the body count. Starting with the fact that the Mexican government won't, likely because they can't, give an accurate or honest figure. As per the article in today's Borderland Beat, current estimates for the death toll since the Calderone administration are approximately 110,000, but that this number could well be only half the true count. Two years ago, 7 states did not keep count. The government estimates that at least 25,000 bodies are in mass graves, yet to be uncovered. Mass graves have been discovered and reported over the past few years, which supports this claim. Another group largely unaccounted for are migrant workers, 72 of whom were slaughtered at a ranch in Tamaulipas in 2010. These workers come up through Central America and are easy prey for the cartels, particularly Los Zetas. An estimated 50,000 of these workers have been kidnapped, raped, forced to work in the sex trade, do criminal acts, and then are killed. But these numbers don't appear even when the bodies eventually surface. There is no coordination nor correlation of data. Worse, Mexican authorities are notorious for not investigating homicides. So, why does this matter to those of us north of the 49th parallel? For starters, it should to matter to anyone. We all pay attention to mass killings, to excessive human rights violations. Currently, and for very good reason, the situation in Syria is all over the news. As was Darfur. These are countries so overwhelmed by violence they cannot resolve it themselves. We all know that the solution isn't to send in our finest and chase the bad guys out. But there won't be a solution if we absolve ourselves. Canadians are known as, and pride ourselves on being, humanitarians and peacekeepers. We do have a role to play here. Solidarity, awareness, acknowledgement can go a long way. Maybe we start by asking what can we do for Mexico that they can no longer do for themselves? I keep reading the blogs and the forums. Mexico is waiting for somebody to notice their plight.

Aug 17, 2012

Most of this blog has been about the major two cartels getting ready to fight for control over Mexico: Sinaloa and Los Zetas. Time for a change. The Knights Templar (Los Caballeros Templarios) have thrown down the gauntlet. They are sworn enemies of Los Zetas, and now they are declaring they want the leader Z40, Trevino Morales, and calling upon the people to hand him over. In 2011, when La Familia Michoaca crumbled, The Knights Templar (TKT) seemed to rise like a phoenix from the ashes of one of the most violent and powerful cartels. Using narcobanners spanning highway bridges to herald its arrival, the new cartel vowed to fight for justice and rights, for the common citizen, and to fight Los Zetas, with what amounts to religious fanaticism. Ironically, this is a cartel and the very acts they engage in go against these statements. Yet, this is how they want to be perceived. TKT functions as a secret society, with initiation rites and practices that include blood pacts and wearing costumes that represent the middle ages. In a show of force one night last June, just a few month following their emergence, they paraded past an open market in 50 pickup trucks and SUVs openly displaying their weapons. My take? Here is a cartel, comprised of fighters, whose mandate is to go after Los Zetas. And, La Familia, however twisted they were, recognized the people and their basic needs as they built their cartel empire. As an offshoot, TNT has proclaimed the same. In the end, though, this is still a power struggle. Right now, they are burning cars and gas stations within their turf, Michoaca. Sadly for the citizens caught in the crossfire, TNT will only offer more collateral damage in an all-out assault on Los Zetas.

Aug 15, 2012

I know the new president has not officially taken office yet, and the Calderone administration is still technically in charge. We know what that amounts to. The outgoing regime can't really do anything and the new regime isn't authorized yet to do anything. A whole lot of nothing. Which leaves a gaping hole of opportunity for the cartels to wreak havoc. At the moment, it appears Los Zetas are suffering from a major internal rift. According to Borderland Beat, a Zetas leader known as Z50 or "Taliban" is challenging the second in command, Z40, Miguel Trevino Morales. And there are some reports that there is friction between Trevino and the head of Los Zetas, Heriberto Lazcano. This jousting for control spills out violently with a lot of collateral damage. The federal government of Mexico has put out a state of high alert because of what they perceive may be an impending war within Los Zetas. Given the swath of Mexico currently under the heavy hand of this cartel, and their military might, we all need to keep careful watch over what unfolds. The shifting sands of cartel alliances may very well come into play here.

Aug 13, 2012

Took a summer break, focussed on being a kid with the kids and I'm back. Much as I'd like to say nothing much happened, I'd be lying. It may sound impossible, but the level of violence, and the heinous nature of the acts, has reached new levels. Notably in regions known as Zeta strongholds. I won't go into graphic detail but this was the slaughter of innocents. Twice. Two families and young children. There is a line that is not crossed: women and children. It's a point of honour, and yes, there is honour even among thieves and within criminal organizations. The murder of children can never be sanctioned. So who has decided this no longer applies and why? The Zetas have made it abundantly clear they have no sense of decency or compassion. They believe they are above any law, beyond anyone's control. People know who did the killings but fear and mass corruption have eliminated any possibility of real justice. As is most often the case, these acts will go unpunished out of fear of reprisal. Thus far, anyone who has challenged the Zetas has met the same gory fate. I think we, as Canadians, need to pay a lot more attention, and we need to start thinking about how to solve this problem, because it does affect us. The US isn't an impermeable buffer between us and Mexico. The Zetas are expansionists, and we don't know how to fight by their rules. It's time we started figuring that out.

Aug 7, 2012

Quick - what's a four letter word for the scariest cartel in Mexico? ZETA. It is so clear that these guys are after the whole pie. And as we keep learning, they do not share or play well with others, with perhaps one exception. Their alliance with the boys in the Beltran-Leyva cartel has been long-standing and apparently effective. At this time, reports establish Los Zetas have control over nearly 50% of Mexico. Keep in mind, this is the cartel that started as the hired guns for the established and formidable Gulf Cartel. They've come a long way in a short time, considering the official split was in 2010. These are killers who have no fear, whose sense of decency has been trained and beaten out of them. They are driven by their appetite for control and money. Essentially, they exist to conquer. At this time, they have a stranglehold on the media in Mexico, forcing the press to stay silent. Yesterday's article in Borderland Beat suggests they may well become "the new fourth estate" in Mexico. Today's article in Borderland Beat reports that the Zetas are moving aggressively into areas controlled by Sinaloa. Infact, the Beltran-Leyva Cartel is using its alliance with the Zetas to strike out against, Sinaloa, with whom they once shared a powerful alliance before things fell apart. Guzman has handled his control of Mexico strategically, and I would expect him to act as a force against Zeta expanionism. He has set his own killers on the Zetas, and no one knows the full extent of Guzman`s control or influence throughout Mexico. Time will bear out just how much more of the Zetas and their impunity he is willing to tolerate.

Aug 4, 2012

Do you remember the scene in the movie "The Dark Knight" when the Joker threatens to attack the hospitals? We see bedlam and panic as patients are wheeled out. I remember feeling a mix of fear and outrage, that a place meant to save lives and filled with people who cannot defend themselves would ever be a target. Yet, in terrorism, that makes sense. Which explains what happened at a hospital in Torreon, Mexico. According to the report on Borderland Beat on July 23 there was an explosion and floors 4, 5 and 6 were in flames. Reports on what happened kept changing. It was a gas leak, then a ballast exploding. Nurses reported they received anonymous warnings not to come into work because the hospital was threatened. Then when the fires were burning, more messages came saying "This is just the beginning." The next report issued was that the incident was caused by a general short circuit. But the real reason 450 patients had to be evacuated from a major hospital were the cartels and their corruption on a mass scale. The region now holds the third highest death rate behind Juarez and Acapulco, in a struggle for control between the Sinaloa and Los Zetas cartels. The city is a stronghold for the Zetas, who have infiltrated the army, Attorney General's office, state police and federal police. The Zetas bribed and coerced government officials and military officers to let them run rampant through the region as they ran their drug empire, extorting and kidnapping local business owners. Sadly for the people of Mexico, there is no refuge or safe haven respected by the cartels. The innocent and most vulnerable have become acceptable targets. Corruption means that those charged with defending the public are in league with criminals. In this war, nothing is sacrosanct.

Aug 2, 2012

What are the new rules of warfare? Well, two groups of soldiers on opposing sides don't line up anymore on a battlefield to fight it out. The battle isn't left solely to the guys in uniform and it hasn't been for decades. We've seen how civilians are not just drawn into the struggle but become active participants by jihadists and the fighting in the middle east. We've learned that our reasons to fight differ fundamentally from extremists in that they will set out to die for the cause. That is not the North American mindset and I don't think anyone wants it to be. So how do we fight ideology and entrenched belief systems? That is what we are now up against with the cartels in Mexico. Systemic corruption, a culture of fear, and endemic poverty have broken down a society, leaving recent generations with no sense of purpose or hope. Among them are the "NiNis." This group ranges from 14 to 24 years old, teens to young adults, who neither work nor go to school, "ni estudian, ni trabajan" hence "NiNi." Education is not free and schools are not available. I just viewed a clip by Dominic Bracco II, a Pulitzer Centre grantee, that he produced with fellow grantee Susan Seijas, about this group, their tragedies and surprising triumphs. Roughly 10 million "ninis" live across Mexico, with the most in Juarez, the deadliest city in Mexico, an epicentre for the cartel wars between Sinaloa, Juarez and Loz Zetas.The narcos approach these kids who can't afford the cost of going to school and employ them to sell drugs or to kill. How cheap is a life? $45. There are local and transnational gangs in league with the cartels who bring the young people in. It probably comes as no surprise that Los Zetas are using the Mara Salvatrucha, a transnational gang who have infiltrated US prisons, are rampant throughout Latin America, and who are even more bloodthirsty than Los Zetas.
So, how does Mexico save the future when it is losing whole generations? This is a place where new President Pena Nieto can make some fundamental changes, and cut off a source of manpower utilized by the cartels. He could do that, but I expect he won't. He's in power with cartel money behind him, and this would go against their interests. If you want to learn more about these youth, read the articles on the Pulitzer Center site, and on Borderland Beat.

July 29, 2012

Why does what happens in Mexico with drugs and cartels matter to Canada? Because unlike Las Vegas, what happens in Mexico will NOT stay in Mexico. Guns, drugs and death are apparently high demand and easier to export than a lot of other things. I know the government would like us to believe otherwise, but burying our head in the sand is not a viable foreign policy in this case. It will be too late if we just watch the US and wait for them to come up with a blanket solution. They don't have a solution. They have a problem, and it is becoming our problem. And rather than just criticize, I want to offer suggestions. Here's where I'd start. Tell Canadians more. We love our news and we do a finejob covering serious issues. The CBC has already aired several major stories this year. Bring out the human interest component. Encourage the natural tendency of Canadians to care and to question. We are big on social justice and human rights. Set up a special Canadian envoy who recognizes this issue and addresses it directly. Let it matter in its own right, and not be just part of our standing relationship with Mexico. The cartels want people to stay uninformed and disinterested. Ignorance is an effective barrier. But what happens when people start paying attention, especially the people you never expected to? Given our history, I would say that Canada has a unique opportunity to play a key role in influencing other nations to pay attention and become involved. We can lead by example, encourage discourse and awareness, make ourselves far less attractive as a potential market or target. Ideally, a collective effort by similar countries would send a global message that maybe the cartels aren't as powerful as they want everyone to believe. "We know who you are, we know what you do, you won't do it here."

July 25, 2012

I watched a news show the other night about a young husband killed by Zeta Cartel members in front of his wife on Falcon Lake, Texas. This region was heavily utilized by the cartel to ship their drugs into the US. But the couple didn't know that. They were having fun on their jet skiis. Until a boat cornered them and men started firing automatic weapons. The family never got the body back. The Mexican authorities dropped the investigation just days in, when the chief of police had his head chopped off by the Zetas to send a message. This happened in 2010, as the Zetas were emerging as a cartel in their own right, and the bloody fight for control between them and the Gulf Cartel along the Gulf coast was in full swing. Because reporters were being threatened with death, no one could air these stories and inform the people living there about what was going on infront of them. People took to texting images, putting them on Facebook, sending them to narco blogs. Like what we've seen with Arab Spring uprisings and social media. People will find a way to get the information out, to seek support. And that is why this blog, and any others like it, matter. We have to tell the stories, we have to show support. The people of Mexico need to know the rest of the world not only is aware of what is going on, but that they actually give a damn. And the cartels need to know that too. They operate with impunity because they believe they can. And they will so long as the world beyond Mexico's borders doesn't shine a light on the goings-on, and leaves this to be Mexico's problem. But the people on these shows, both sides of the border, keep saying the same thing: the cartels are coming north. They are bringing their violence and death with them. Let that be a wake-up call for Canada and the US. What would it look like if Canada started actively paying attention?

July 23, 2012

I really am working on those revisions to No Borders, No Boundaries. Any writer can tell you that it always takes longer than you think. Especially during summer vacation when the house is filled with kids and noise and the local swimming pool beckons. But I love it. There really isn't anything I would rather be doing. Even when I fall out of love with my story for a few days, and think I am ridiculous for trying to write about something this complex. And who the heck even reads my blog except maybe me? Ahh, self-doubt and recrimination help keep that old ego in check. But then I watch the news and the breaking story relates directly to what I'm writing about. I realize how much I have learned and now understand, and what I am doing with that knowledge. I am actually disseminating it. Sharing it, explaining it, making it relevant to a whole lot of people. And in so doing, effecting change by raising awareness. Anybody, everybody, who reads this blog just helped make that happen. That's one for the good guys.

July 21, 2012

It has been the summer of the gun in Toronto. Following two recent gang-related mass shootings, the largest city in Canada and its residents have now been forcibly initiated into the real world of illegal weapons and innocent victims. It was by choice, not naivete, that so many of us wanted to believe that could not happen here. Not in Canada. That kind of senseless violence happened other places. We thought ourselves above it. We were too polite, too respectful and law-abiding. In our bland, navel-gazing way, we believed we had safely ensconsed our citizens in an over-regulated cocoon of safety. Our rude awakening came when bullets were fired at a street party with children, leaving twenty people wounded and two dead. As he made his official statement, the Chief of Police was clearly shocked. There was no precedent for this.
The world we are part of has changed, and now we have changed with it. We can no longer say "
Nobody expected this to happen here". Senseless violence involving assault weapons and heavy collateral damage apparently can happen anywhere, especially places we wanted to believe were havens because children and families would be there. But there are more people out there than we ever realized who have no regard for our rules and common decency. This behaviour is exemplified daily in the Cartel carnage on the streets of Mexico, and it is being shipped north of the border with every kilo, bought and sold.

July 20, 2012

I mourn those lives lost senselessly, needlessly, to a crazed gunman in Aurora, Colorado today. My prayers go out for their families and friends, and for all those who were injured or impacted by the horrific event. As much as we may want to, we cannot prepare for those who deliberately calculate acts of such great evil. Do not let the actions of this one sick individual stop you from living your life. Instead, offer support and sympathy to those who most need it now, be respectful of those sworn to protect us, and be good to each other.

July 19, 2012

I'm sorry I had to return my library copy of "The Power of the Dog" by Don Winslow today. Somebody else wanted it and I couldn't renew. There has been a lot of press and hype for the movie "Savages" which is based on his book of the same name, but I'm really happy I found this book instead. "The Power of the Dog" has been a fascinating fictionalized account of the history of the early days of the DEA and the rise to power of the drug cartels in Mexico. The violence is graphic but not gratuitous. His characters are genuinely interesting, particularly the main character, Art, a DEA agent, because they are flawed and believable as they get caught up in the corruption and desperation. The book portrays the starkly human toll, the real price paid. I found myself doing the old "if they knew then what we know now" for the DEA and Mexico of 1980 and applying it to Mexico in 2012. In the book, Art is the lens through which we see the corruption inherent within Mexico at the time, and the blinders worn by Americans who only wanted to see what they believed was true. In light of the recent Mexican elections, and American laws regarding drugs and guns, what is it we will tell people thirty years from now that could have made the difference?

July 15, 2012

Raise your hand if you watched the CNN interview of President Pena Nieto by Fareed Zakaria. Just joking. I did, though. And you barely saw the strings attached to Pena Nieto as he gave his answers sincerely. His approach will be to do things differently than Calderone, to reduce the violence and not focus on going after the Cartel leaders or stopping the flow of drugs into America. Sorry - I am laughing too hard as I type these words. He is simply restoring what the order was before Calderone took over. The order where Cartels flourished and corruption ruled. Of course, the controversy over the election being rigged (which cannot come as a surprise to anyone) has overshadowed the sad truth of this change in government. He lobs the ball back across the net, though, when he calls for the US to be involved in a fundamental role in a new review of how the war on drugs should be waged, without legalizing them. It goes back to the sorry fact that the US is the main consumer of the product coming north. Billions of dollars fueling an industry that has overtaken a society and a culture. A whole generation has been raised in this narcoculture, where few choices exist and decisions are made at the end of a gun. Corruption is deeply entrenched within the existing political system, to the benefit of the cartels, but no one wants to admit Mexico has become a narcostate. Entire police forces have been fired and rebuilt from scratch. How do you do that to a country without civil war? In the case of Mexico, how do you dismantle the drug industry, which has taken on a life of its own? It knows no borders, no boundaries.

July 13, 2012

I realize most of this blog has been about Mexico and the cartels. That's in keeping with my current novel, which is almost revised and almost ready to take on the world. So I would like to think. Because it is a relevant and timely piece. Mexico just had a major election. The cartels themselves are ever-changing and evolving. And given the importance of the US/Mexican border, this will always be newsworthy and noteworthy. This afternoon I watched CNN cover the subject I wrote about on the 11th. They two commentators discussed how the newspaper was being forced to stop covering those stories, raised the issue of freedom of speech, and concluded that due to government corruption, there was nothing the papers could do. This piece was presented as an introduction for most viewers to the reality of the cartels.It is a little strange perhaps just how much I now know. And because of what I keep learning, I try to pass that info along. The cartels are here. They have set themselves up north of the border, and have been comfortably operating for some time. An unpleasant analogy is to liken them to cancer. By the time you realize they are here, it's too late. Except the odds of beating cancer are actually better. This past week the big news was tunnels. Tunnels dug from Mexico into the USA. California, Arizona, Texas. Some were highly sophisticated, like the one that was 60 feet deep and 755 feet long. They have electricity, ventilation systems, even vehicles to move the drugs and weapons. The commentators also asked each other what it would take to end this war on drugs. There are a lot of really smart, really experienced people who have tried to answer that question since Calderone declared his war in 2006. It's now 2012. I won't say Juan Guzman of Sinaloa Cartel has the answer, but he understands what's going on better than everybody else, and if you ask anyone, he makes the rules.

July 11, 2012

To be a journalist in Mexico is to sign your own death warrant. Once again, the cartels have struck out against those who would speak against them. The El Manana newspaper has suffered two grenade attacks in two months and publicly declared it will no longer report on cartel violence. Located in Nuevo Laredo along Mexico's northwestern border, it is situated in battleground between the rival Gulf and Zeta cartels. Here is a link to the article in the Toronto Star. And there are many similar stories and accounts, like this in The Examiner. I can use this blog to raise awareness of and speak out against how the cartels enforce silence. I can represent those journalists and reporters who want to bring the truth to light of life under the cartels. This is the challenge faced by a main character in my novel, "No Borders, No Boundaries." So, for those who cannot speak, I am carrying this forward. And if anyone else wants to join the fight, you just have to read.

July 9, 2012

Before I write another word, I want to acknowledge the work done by a lot of people who fight the war on drugs every day. Across borders, in more agencies than I can name, men and women go out to do a job they know can end their lives. That's not melodrama. It's the truth. Police officers, DEA agents, Customs and Border officials, agents with the FBI, ICE, USMS, and others I don't know about yet make the choice and the commitment to fight a battle for the rest of us. Thank you all. While I chose to make my hero a DEA agent, I made his best friend work for the FBI, and another key character works with ICE (Homeland Security) because it really is a massive collaboration. I do my best to represent them fairly in the story, reading and researching whatever I can, but I would be so happy to receive first-hand guidance and recommendations since I don't do these jobs for a living.

July 7, 2012

"Sicario." It means hitman in Spanish, death in Mexico. Youth are hired off the streets by the cartels, trained and equipped to do their dirty work. This week, reporter Keith Boag with the CBC aired a story about a young man who became a sicario for Los Zetas when he was just 13. One of the sad truths is that the decision is often made for the killers - kill or be killed. It doesn't justify the crime, it simply illustrates the way cartels destroy a society. What is particularly interesting is that the man, now 22 and in prison, is an American, who lived just across the border in Texas. This is a chilling account of how effectively the cartels find and train their hired guns, and how transparent the border really is. The link to the video segment "Young Guns" is here: http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/story/2012/07/04/video-feature-rosalio-reta-national.html. And the coverage of the story by Borderland Beat features additional details not in the newstory.

July 5, 2012

"Savages" opens for wide release tomorrow. I've put a little blurb up on Facebook about my website and novel. I think I have surprised quite a few people. Many don't know I am a writer. Almost all of them have no idea I write this kind of stuff. They know I bake cookies, help at school, do the Sunday school thing. And I love that. But it's not my mission to shock and offend anyone. Like most writers, I write the stories that are clamouring inside me to be told. Characters who pop into my head, carrying their situations with them. And I feel compelled to do them justice by telling the best story I can, one that not only entertains, but educates and challenges the reader, taking them someplace they may never otherwise go. They get to go on a journey of discovery along with the characters, and find their reward at the end. I just happen to do that in this particular genre.

July 3, 2012

The Mexican election is over and no surprises there. Pena Nieto was elected, reinstating the PRI party. The party that ruled over Mexico with an iron fist for over 70 years, ignoring or obliterating basic rights and freedoms, while ensuring the prosperity of themselves and the cartels. Pena Nieto made wonderful promises, taking a bold stance as he promised things would be different this time, and there would be changes in the war against drugs. But all politicians make wonderful promises. Pena Nieto is nothing more than a very attractive facade, a puppet for the old guard. I'm sure there will be less violence in his approach to the war on drugs, because ousted President Calderone of the PAN party declared the war against the cartels. The PRI, however, had longstanding and profitable relationships that are waiting to be resumed. This election was decided long before the votes were ever cast.

July 1, 2012

Happy Canada Day! I am celebrating our national day at our family's annual BBQ. No political rants and raves today. Just kudos to our excellent hosts for another fantastic feast and great time. Just want to say I'm grateful to have a great family, and to live in a great country.

June 30 , 2012

This is an election year for both the US and Mexico. But a new leader won't usher in the dawn of change the country needs. It appears to be more of the same. Current front runner Enrique Pena Nieto is a member of the PRI, the party which ruled for over seven decades until ousted in 2000. The cartels grew tremendously during that time because of massive corruption. The old guard who ruled within the party is still strong, and largely behind Pena Nieto's climb to power. Who is to say they won't return to the old ways? But the world of the cartels themselves has changed, and the new members are gangs more than cartels, creating instability within the already complex relationships that exist. These new players are volatile and unpredictable. While Mexico can likely expect more of the same, Americans have a more interesting and impactful choice. And it may very well be through that choice change comes to Mexico.

June 29 , 2012

It must have been terrifying. Federal police officers opened fire on three other police officers in the packed food court at Mexico City International Airport this past Monday. All three died. The federales responsible are still at large, and believed to have been working for a drug traffickers. The story behind the story is a vivid illustration of how pervasive corruption is in Mexico, and the reach of the most powerful cartels, Sinaloa and Los Zetas. As per the article in Borderland Beat by Felix Fuentes, Hector Velasquez Corona, in charge of airport security since 2005 and the general manager, has links with drug cartel members and is believed to have been working on behalf of the Sinaloa and Los Zetas cartel. He's considered to be a member of President Calderone's inner circle, and membership has had its privileges. For all that could be attributed to him, he has not been investigated. The security cameras in the airport were turned elsewhere when the shootings happened, and they were controlled by the airport, under Corona's direction. How does corruption flourish? See nothing, hear nothing, say nothing. Do nothing.

June 28 , 2012

Thankfully, my life does not revolve around crime reports and drug cartels. Of anything I do, my greatest accomplishments will be realized in my three kids. And as hokey as that sounds it's true. We just celebrated two graduations: Grade 6 and Senior Kindergarten. Life needs these happy milestones. It's a great feeling to be proud of our kids and their accomplishments, whatever they are. I love being able to send in cookies for class parties, contributing to bake sales, being a class helper and coming along on field trips. I really enjoyed spending the last day of school with my youngest and exploring a local ravine with his class, counting snails and bugs with unabashed glee. My kids keep me grounded, remind me of what really matters, and challenge me to try harder. Now it is officially summer vacation, and I can still feel the thrill of those endless days of possibility stretching ahead with my kids. Here's to freezies, sprinklers, and a wishlist of fun things to do.

June 27 , 2012

It could have been a television show. But the events that began on June 22nd really happened. A Mexican naval helipcopter carrying four was reported missing. It had left a navy base in Manzanillo, on the west coast, to return to a base in Minatitlan, Veracruz, on the Gulf coast. The chopper carried four people, including a pilot and two naval officers. As reported in Borderland Beat by Chris Covert, maintenance had been done on the chopper before it returned to Veracruz. It has been confirmed the chopper went down minutes later, crashing into a mountaintop in a remote area of Jalisco state, known as a haven for drug traffickers. More, the Mexican navy had recently gone in and taken apart a synthetic drug lab. Manzanillo is a valuable port city for the shipment of precursor chemicals used in the manufacture of meth, a massive industry for La Familia Michoaca who are located there, the Sinaloa cartel, and Los Zetas. This is a highly disputed region. No survivors have been found. My sympathies to the families of and respects for the dead. Perhaps the maintenace performed on the Eurocopter Panter AS365 was sabotage, but more likely it was shot down by the cartel whose lab was destroyed. My guess, Sinaloa. Chapo Guzman's reach is far. And with the upcoming Mexican elections on July 1, we should all ask just how far.

June 25 , 2012

When we watch the news and the subject matter becomes too disturbing, we have a choice. We can just change the channel. For those who live in Mexico, especially the most embattled areas, choices are few, and hard. If you flee, where can you go? I read a story in Borderland Beat (by Joseph Kolb for Fox News Latino) about the Porras family. They had a good business with food carts in Villa Ahumada, just outside Juarez. Juarez has been cited as one of the deadliest places on earth, maybe ground zero in the Cartel wars, fought over by the Juarez cartel and their enforcers, La Linea, Sinaloa, and Los Zetas. Villa Ahumada suffered the deadly grip of the cartel with extortions, kidnappings and executions. After two members of the family were killed, and the police did nothing, the Hector Porras gathered the family en masse and what they could take and headed to Juarez, to the Attorney General's office. They thought they would be safe there. They thought they could ask for help. The family needed an armed escort to to bring them safely to the US border crossing. But they were kept for days in one room, in very poor conditions at the Attorney General's office and were finally told no help would be given. At that point, they feared the people they thought they could trust, and made their way to the border point themselves. They are now safe in the US seeking asylum. That will be their next challenge but at least they don't expect to be gunned down on sight, or executed by the people who are supposed to protect them. It's easy to change the channel when we don't like the news. But for those caught up in the war on drugs, they must live with the reality of mass corruption and no where to turn.

June 23 , 2012

Oliver Stone has a new movie coming out about two American pot growers up against a Mexican cartel. "Savages" is based on a best-seller penned by Don Winslow. I haven't read the book. The cast looks interesting,with John Travolta as a corrupt DEA agent, Salma Hayek (in very scary bangs) and Benicio del Torro, (always a fave in a dark thriller) as the cartel leaders, and Blake Lively as the catalyst. This isn't my angle on the cartel story, but I am curious to find out how Stone applies his mastery to the material and the violence. As a writer, I have to be open to both sides of a story, to look at all the angles, because everything is a learning opportunity. Everyone has a story to tell. When I close my mind, I close a door and shut out possibility. It's fine if I don't like the movie or the premise, but I'm not going to nay-say it until I've actually bothered to give it a go. Good life lesson there. And Mr. Stone, I actually do have a screenplay for my prequel ready to go, if you're interested.

June 19 , 2012

In my novel "No Borders, No Boundaries" I had to decide which of the Mexican cartels to focus on. There was a real strategy involved because I wanted the details to be accurate. I didn't want to make up a cartel because there was a real dynamic already in place. I had to do timelines, research news headlines going back several years, and learn all I could about the cartels, their origins and their relationships. It was fascinating and I was hooked. Why make something up when the reality was a story waiting to be told? The rise of Los Zetas leant itself to the rise of Dom from the ashes of his fall in Miami. Ex-special forces, corrupt, the hired guns of the most powerful cartel until they decided to split and run their own business. They are a terrifying force, and growing in power through intimidation. When I started writing and researching, Los Zetas were in a fierce battle against the Gulf Cartel for control along the Gulf coast. Given their tactics and lust for power they will stop at nothing and their reach is far. Just this weekend, arrests at a horse farm in Oklahoma revealed that it, and several others, were being used as money laundering operations in the US by Los Zetas. (see Borderland Beat for more) They are ambitious, expansive and only one thing stands in their way: the Sinaloa cartel, Juan Guzman's empire.

June 17 , 2012

We just celebrated Father's Day. My kids are lucky to have a great dad, who is happy to be actively involved in their lives. And his dad is big part of our lives as well. Plus his numerous uncles and cousins. That's a whole lot of positive male role models my kids get to take for granted. However I don't take any of them for granted, because I know what it's like not to have one. Not all families have dads or male partners. That doesn't mean they can't or don't have men who act as role models. Look at Big Brothers. Kids learn more than we can ever know from the adults in their lives: good neighbours, classroom volunteers, helpful librarians. Everyone makes an impact. So, to all the men in my life who are there for my kids, thanks.

June 15 , 2012

Great news. There has been an update on the Mexican reporter, Stephania Cardosa, and her son. They are alive but in hiding, and in fear for their lives. In a quotation from the article by reporter Chivis Martinez, Cardosa says "She knows that many people are concerned for them, but for their safety she cannot communicate with anyone nor her family. She asks the Federals of Mexico for protection not only for her and her son but for her family." Here is the link to the full article here: http://www.borderlandbeat.com/

I read Borderland Beat daily because so much is changing so rapidly in Mexico, especially with the upcoming elections. While the US has its own major election coming up in November, all eyes should be on Mexico in July. I will go so far as to say that the main contenders are merely puppets on strings controlled by the cartels. They will determine the outcome most favourable to their purposes. At this time, those cartels would be Sinaloa and Los Zetas. For years, Sinaloa has owned politicians, police and the military. Mayors, governors, virtually any elected official becomes an instrument in the quest for power by the cartels. While the contenders accuse each others' party's of corruption, all of them are tainted. Nothing will change for the better with these elections. They will only serve to set things up for the battle between two formidable opponents: Los Zetas and Sinaloa. Once again, this will only reinforce a system that offers most people little choice but poverty and crime.

June 13 , 2012

Something I try to portray in all my books are strong female characters. These women are intelligent, resourceful, independent, and courageous. They overcome adversity, set goals and work toward them. As women, their inherent sensibilities let them approach situations in ways that differ from the men they know, they bring a different dynamic to the story, and that can be the deciding factor. The Hart Jones series is as much Mara's story as it is Hart's, as much Chris and Alanna's as it is Dan's. I wanted to show women who overcome subjugation, who choose not to remain victims of the crimes committed against them. Their experiences, harrowing as they are, imbue these characters with a powerful sense of purpose and insight, which drives the storyline and determines the resolution. But because I want the reader to be able to care about and identify with them, I have tried to make these women "real". They make mistakes, doubt themselves. They experience sorrow and fear, as well as love, happiness and friendship. Through their eyes, some of the more dehumanizing aspects of the cartel war can be told more poignantly, reaching readers on a different level than news headlines would. Because as I keep discovering, there is so much more to this than just a story.

June 11 , 2012

In the battleground of Mexico, freedoms we take for granted have been taken from the people by the cartels. Mexico is considered the most dangerous place in the world for journalists, because to write a story about the cartels, to honestly cover and report on their dealings, is to write your own death warrant. This is very real, and impossible for the country to fight from within. I have just read an article by Chivis Martinez in Borderland Beat about a young Mexican journalist who has been missing since January with her young son. Stephania Cardosa didn't cover stories about narcotics or cartels, however. Her beat was mundane. Mostly traffic issues. And yet, she appears to have been selected to send a message. With permission from the writers, I am including this excerpt and a link to the story.

"She is a crime reporter, but I could not find any articles with narco crimes or narco activity as her subject. Many were of traffic accidents ... after unsuccessful attempts to reach Cardoso, her family went to her home to check on her. When they arrived at the home they discovered Cardoso and her toddler son were missing. The home had been thrashed, with her belongs scattered about and her camera broken on the floor. Her vehicle is also missing.
In 2010, two Zocalo reporters were abducted. Valentin Valdes Espinosa, 29, was abducted, then found shot to death in the the capital city of Saltillo in the Northern Mexican state of Coahuila." http://www.borderlandbeat.com/

June 9 , 2012

One of those old adages goes "write what you know." In reality, it often gets amended to "write what you want to learn a whole lot about." You get an idea, something you're interested in. It's that interest that fuels the project. Believe me, there are many things I know lots about without doing research, but none of them would motivate me to write more than a paragraph. But passion plus an idea won't make that story happen either, hence doing the research. I have been very fortunate to find amazing resources online, and I'd like to give them the credit they're due. One source is "Borderland Beat". They supply a constant source of daily news articles about the cartels in Mexico and the surrounding border regions, which is not something I readily can find here in Toronto. More importantly, the freedom of speech and of the press we take for granted no longer exists in Mexico. Journalists and their families are hunted down and murdered for reporting on the cartels. In addition to making the news available to all, the website does a fantastic job of explaining the cartels, their structures, their regions. The staff at Borderland Beat provide are doing an amazing job at providing an important service to a lot of people. Thank you, guys!

June 7 , 2012

Writing is often a lonely pursuit, out of necessity. I spend hours in some make-believe world only I have access to, or hours doing research essential to the story. So when someone takes the time to ask about my work, I am truly grateful. It means a lot, and fuels my jets. I just wanted to say "Thank You!" and please ask me, anytime.

June 5 , 2012

So today I worked on a chapter that is entirely about my villain. It's THE crux of the story from his vantage point. And I loved writing it. My daughter asked me how did it feel, what's it like to try and do that? Because I have to become someone she doesn't know, cannot even imagine, hopefully never will encounter in this lifetime. That is where I have to write from. I need to inhabit Dom's twisted vortex of a mind, and look at crafting revenge as only a brilliant sociopath can. But wait - I am not a brilliant sociopath, thank God! And therein lies the fun of writing, because we get to try to be and do things that are so far beyond what we know. To write Dom takes prep. I listen to a select group of songs that help me get to his personality. I use music a lot, actually, to take me those places I need to write from. I'll play a song over and over to keep me in that place of mind until the scene is written and I extricate myself. Sounds crazy doesn't it? But my characters seem so real to me that I can experience their senses and emotions at the moment, and that is what I strive to capture in words, so that the reader can feel them too. Even the darkest moments and most evil villains.

June 3 , 2012

It's a rainy Sunday afternoon and I have the radio cranked to enjoy Rush sing "Hold on to Your Dreams". Could this song be any more fitting right now in my life? I remember pushing my youngest in a stroller, dreaming of the novel I was one day going to write. It lived in my head, vivid, wonderful, award-winning. And I had no idea how much I would need to learn, how much commitment and effort it would actually take, to transfer those thoughts and images into words on a screen. I truly believed that it would all come flooding out, magically pouring from my fingertips, because I was born to write. Flash forward a few years and here I am, diligently making the time to write. I read and learn from other authors. I find opportunities during each day to revisit and revise my plot, then make sure I sit down at the keyboard and put those words on the screen, in all their imperfection. Because until that story is actually written, brilliance don't mean a thing. Even a year ago, having a first draft in place with 56 actually-written chapters seemed about as easy as winning an Olympic gold medal. Well folks, this is an Olympic year, and I think I just earned my gold. Damn it feels so good!

June 1 , 2012

I've been working on these projects for the past few years, and it has been an incredible journey of learning and discovery. The research has been fascinating, at times terrifying, and often moving. I feel compelled to write these stories more than ever, to bring facts and insights to light. This has become more than just writing a great story. There is a need for social justice to be addressed, and raising awareness through a work of fiction is a way I can help. The more I write, the more I learn. The more I learn, the more I write. And now I want to share via my books and in this blog. So let me broaden your horizons, raise your eyebrows and make you keep reading just one more page. That's what it's all about.

 
Copyright 2013 Cheryl Biswas