David Corbett: Behind The Book: Do They Know I’m Running?

“In this country, the young are like the sunrise.
They don’t last for long.” —Roque Dalton

My latest novel—Do They Know I’m Running?—began taking form in 2006-2007 as I was wrapping up my third, Blood of Paradise, which is set in El Salvador. I watched the immigration “debate” degenerate into an orgy of misinformation, false accusations and blatant slurs that seemed, to my gringo ears, to be conspicuously racist.

At the same time, on the same newscasts tracking this “debate,” anyone who bothered to pay attention could watch the casualty lists from the Iraq War, and be stunned, as I was, at the number of Latino names. In fact, as I learned once I began to research the issue, Latinos were being wounded and dying in combat in greater numbers than any other identifiable sub-group.

As one Latino-American father put it:

On one end of campus, they’re recruiting our sons and daughters to fight and die. On the other, they’re kicking the parents out of the country.

That contradiction fascinated me, and I tried to imagine what it would be like, to be an American who fought in Iraq and came home terribly wounded, to pay that kind of price for this nation, only to see a close relative deported in an immigration raid.

That question turned into the character Godo (short for Godofredo), and as Barry Eisler kindly remarked after reading the book, “What a weirdly noble dude he turned out to be.”

But he was not my hero. That role was filled by Godo’s younger brother Roque, named for the tragic Salvadoran poet Roque Dalton, who often bragged (falsely) that he was descended from a fugitive member of the Dalton gang. (I say “tragic” because, after twice escaping death by firing squad—once by coup, once by earthquake—he was killed by his own guerrilla compatriots under the false suspicion he was a CIA spy.)

I like writing about musicians—they’re artistic gunslingers, and music lies beyond our ability to describe it, making it a challenge to depict on the page. And so I made Roque an eighteen-year-old hotshot on guitar, “the next Carlos Santana.” And I conceived of him as a loner, an outsider, someone who finds himself comfortable neither in the America he considers home nor in the El Salvador of his family’s past. His understanding of his Latino roots is almost entirely musical—not historical or personal. That changes in the course of the book, when he’s chosen by the family to go down to El Salvador and help his deported uncle return home.

The trip changes him forever—opening his eyes to the sacrifices immigrants make, especially now that organized crime has taken over the border and the smuggling routes throughout the region. He also comes to see his family, America, and his own character—especially his heart—in entirely new ways. And, not surprisingly, writing the book changed me.

David Corbett
David, in addition to having a handsome bald noggin and being a great guy, is the author of four acclaimed novels, most the recent of which is DO THEY KNOW I’M RUNNING. His first book, THE DEVIL’S REDHEAD, was nominated for the Anthony and Barry Awards for Best First Novel of 2002.

In a previous life, David was a private investigator. That is right, David actually lived the life that most authors simply write about. While there has been no confirmation as to whether or not he wore a trench coat, he worked out of San Francisco so I think there is a good chance he donned one at least once in a while. For more info, head on over to his website.