- Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery
Billy Kring will be joining Martin Limón and Manning Wolf for a panel discussion on writing from experience, coming up this Tuesday, July 12th, at 7 PM. Billy draws from his experiences as a former border agent for his heroine Hunter Kincaid. In his latest, Tonton, Hunter is reunited with homicide detective John Quick in his Miami stomping ground for a case involving the Haitian community of Miami, the legacy of the Tonton Macoute, and the practice of vodou. We caught up with Billy to talk about the book.
“Hunter’s a woman working in a predominantly male environment, and she suffers from PTSD (but won’t acknowledge it) as she attempts to do her job, and do what is right, which in her mind isn’t always exactly what the law spells out on paper.”
MysteryPeople Scott: What drew you to Haiti and vodou?
Billy Kring: I’ve read about Haitians and vodou for a number of years, both in fiction and nonfiction, (and in researching the Tonton Macoute’s use of vodou in their brutal enforcement of the Haitian people). When I worked in Florida, we dealt with Haitians who entered the U.S. illegally, almost always by crossing from Haiti to the Florida coast in anything that would float. A number of them didn’t make it, but many others did come ashore. In a number of the vessels, we found hidden Creole messages that spelled out vodou prayers and spells to help them succeed in the crossing. Some of the Haitians we interviewed after catching them said the spells worked, and that they passed right in front of a Coast Guard ship without being seen.
Most Haitians who were raised in Haiti believe vodou is always with them, surrounding them, affecting them and others. Vodou is, by a large percentage, about using natural remedies to soothe and heal a person’s problems or illnesses. Only a small percentage of vodou is used for what we call black magic.
This is the part I wrote about in Tonton, and the part that ethno-botanist and researcher Wade Davis studied for several years while living in Haiti, although he was primarily looking into the areas of zombies. (Afterward, Davis wrote the best-selling nonfiction book, The Serpent and the Rainbow)
And Vodou is the Haitian/Caribbean way of spelling it, while in New Orleans it is spelled Voodoo, just to clarify why I spelled it that way here and in the novel.
“I’ve always felt that Hunter and John are separate sides of a very lethal coin. John is a human wrecking ball whose first choice is to handle problems with physical force, while Hunter is a better thinker in dangerous situations, and more surgical, using weapons as her scalpel. It’s not really that simple, but that’s a quick answer.”
MPS: You team Hunter and Quick back together. What do they provide for one another besides back up?
BK: I felt their story wasn’t quite finished and wanted to bring it full term, so to speak. At the end of Quick, John Quick and Hunter seemed to be moving together romantically, but the more I thought about it, with both their emotional baggage, I knew that would be a disaster. So, in writing Tonton, I didn’t exactly write actual scenes of it happening, but I had them both decide that taking their relationship beyond anything but friendship was not what they wanted to do. They also had that rare friendship bonded in blood and violence (“For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother…”)
I’ve always felt that Hunter and John are separate sides of a very lethal coin. John is a human wrecking ball whose first choice is to handle problems with physical force, while Hunter is a better thinker in dangerous situations, and more surgical, using weapons as her scalpel. It’s not really that simple, but that’s a quick answer.
MPS: This time you have Hunter in Quick’s Florida stomping ground. What was the biggest challenge of putting her in a different locale?
BK: For her it was the difference in the Haitian culture as opposed to anything else she’d encountered, and her first experience with anything in the vodou religion, especially the black magic aspect of it. She also doesn’t like sharks!
MPS: For a writer what are the biggest differences between Texas and Florida?
BK: First for me is the climate, with harsh desert in West Texas and lush tropical coasts in Florida. In both areas the people spend a great deal of time outside, so the environment can push things one way or the other. The second thing is the difference in the cultures. I don’t mean this to be trite, but it is like: West Texas is more a modern western, and South Florida is more Miami Vice (with a large dash of The Serpent and the Rainbow). Neither of these is exact, but a snapshot image.
“Hunter is based on several women I know and respect a great deal, all are in law enforcement, and most are, or were Border Patrol Agents. I would trust any of them to have my back, anytime.”
MPS: You have some very heinous villains in your novels. Are they an accurate representation of the criminals you ran across as border agents?
BK: Yes. A few are combinations of a couple of them. There are others who are worse than anyone I’ve written about.
MPS: As an author what makes Hunter Kincaid a heroine worth coming back to?
BK: Hunter’s a woman working in a predominantly male environment, and she suffers from PTSD (but won’t acknowledge it) as she attempts to do her job, and do what is right, which in her mind isn’t always exactly what the law spells out on paper. She is unsure of her own choices in love, and dwells sometimes on the bad ones. She is fiercely loyal to her friends. She spouts off too often when someone says something she doesn’t like, especially if it is about one of her friends. In other words, she can be a real smartass. She has a strong sense of justice. She is athletic and physically beautiful but doesn’t realize it. She thinks she is okay-looking. Pretty much a tomboy growing up, and thinks she’s outgrown it. She hasn’t.
Hunter is based on several women I know and respect a great deal, all are in law enforcement, and most are, or were Border Patrol Agents. I would trust any of them to have my back, anytime.
You can find copies of Tonton on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Come by this upcoming Tuesday, July 12th, at 7 PM, for a panel discussion with authors Billy Kring, Martin Limón and Manning Wolfe on writing what you know and using professional experiences in crime fiction.