Tag Archives: Tony Montana


I’ve talked before about how I’m fascinated with the idea of the illicit drug business. I like the double lives the dealers and importers lead. Even the cops who work that as their beat—from the DEA to the local vice cops—generally are leading double lives. Then there’s the whole thing of secret meetings in out-of-the-way places, everybody there already paranoid, and most of them taking their own product doesn’t help.

Would I want to live in that world? Absolutely not. But it’s great looking at it from the outside.

Style, man. That’s what they have. You can watch the fictional version, with Miami Vice being one of the more

Don Johnson epitomizing the dress style that b...

well-known examples, or you can get into the reality with documentaries like Cocaine Cowboys, which chronicles the times the original Miami Vice made famous: the Cocaine Wars of South Florida in the late seventies and early eighties.

You got expensive cars. Sonny Crockett drove Ferraris on TV, Jon Roberts preferred Porches and Mercedes in real life. They had expensive clothes, with Sonny doing the Armani thing, and I’m not sure what Jon wore, but they were flashy.

Of course, we’re talking about opposite sides here. Sonny Crockett was a fictional vice cop. Jon Roberts was a very real importer for the Medellín Cartel. According to his own estimate, in a roughly six year period, he burned thorough some one hundred fifty million dollars. He bought seven or eight Mercedes a year. He and his girlfriend Toni once trashed two in a fight with one another. He called someone the next day to haul them off and they went and bought a couple more.


Expensive cars. High-end clothing. Exclusive clubs. It’s the kind of setting I’d like to write about sometime. Mostly because, at the very least, I don’t have to keep track of my characters’ budgets. And who knows? Maybe I will someday.

But then again, maybe not. My style seems to be different. No matter how much I might admire the films and TV shows based on this—and the flashy style they convey—my fiction is, for the most part, rooted closer to home. My characters tend to be more down to earth…and a lot poorer.

Take the characters in my forthcoming book Spree. Yeah, they go through a considerable amount of money during the story, and end up with a goodly sum at the end, with the prospect of more to come. But when it starts out, they’re just scraping by, a couple of two-strike losers looking at doing some serious time if they screw up again. Like a lot of people these days, they’re one paycheck away from living on the street. In fact, Steve has spent a lot of his life there.

And then there’s Lyle, the central character in my Rural Empires setting. When we first meet him, he’s already around forty, and he’s spent almost twenty years in a factory job when he’s confronted with the specter of leukemia in his daughter. If not for that, he probably would have lived his life out working the factory job and dealing with his divorce. Pretty Joe Average kind of stuff. And even after he makes a ton of money distributing meth, his lifestyle doesn’t change that much. He spends a lot of money carting his daughter around the world seeing if there’s some way to get her to walk again, only stopping when she insists. It’s the kind of thing most of us would do for our kids.

And I think that’s why I might not ever write about the characters I mentioned above: I’ve never led a life with expensive clothes, cars, and houses. I’ve struggled to make ends meet for as long as I can remember. Seems like I’m always watching people around me slowly build their fortunes, or at least achieve a level of being comfortable, but I don’t even have a retirement account right now.

I’m not looking for pity. I’m just saying I can’t easily relate to driving around in sports cars and needing a machine to count my money. I can’t imagine my biggest problem being finding a way to avoid paying taxes on the proceeds from my latest drug deal.

But I think, in a lot of ways, that means I write characters readers can more readily identify with. Even Eddie and Steve, career criminals that they are, are more relatable than someone like, say, Tony Montana is. We like Scarface because, in the end, we see a guy get what’s coming to him. He lived a life of excess and danger, and made tons of money. But he was still a psychopathic killer who cared pretty much for only one person: Tony Montana. So when he takes that coke-addled, bullet-ridden plunge into the pool at the end, we’re a little sad, but we nod to ourselves and think he got his just desserts.

But Steve Wilson, or Lyle Villines, they’re just a couple guys trying to make it in the world. One is a criminal, one becomes one to take care of his child. The first one comes to regret his life of crime and seeks a way out. The other one does his best to abandon his life of crime at the earliest opportunity, only to find it keeps pulling him back in.

Alfred Hitchcock was famous for making movies that involved men who were out of their element, but had to deal with

Cover of "North by Northwest"

it. I just watched North by Northwest the other night, and that’s exactly what Cary Grant was in that movie: a man out of his natural element. But as the movie progresses, he adapts to the reality he finds himself in and even excels at it.

That’s what I try to do with Lyle. Working in the drug distribution business was never on his list of things he wanted to achieve in life, but he finds that he’s good at it. And has a disturbing ability to deal with the violence that goes along with it. Much to his dismay.

Will I write a slick Miami Vice-style novel someday? I hope. I still think it would be great to pull one off, if only as an homage to something I love. But for the most part, I imagine I’ll stick to what I do best: taking some poor schmuck and plunking him down in a setting he never imagined to find himself in. And in that way, I’ll make my own style.

One I’m happy with.


Side Effects

I didn’t set this up as a political blog. Oh, sure, I’ve got plenty to say on the subject, but that’s exactly why I won’t say it here. This is a blog about the writing life: lessons I learn that I hope will help other writers, experiences I have, things like that. Even just the joys and hang-ups that come with choosing to do this. It’s not easy, and I don’t say that as a calculated way of getting sympathy. Like deciding to be a musician, the writer’s income is dependent on how well he entertains his audience, starting with an editor or agent and progressing, we all hope, to readers. Sometimes I have to really brainstorm to come up with a subject to post about, but I manage something every week, even if it’s boring.

But I never intended to get into politics. I have some definite ideas about politics, and I can get up on my soapbox about them and forget to step down until I see all the glassy eyes around me. One of the ideas is a complete agreement with Thomas Jefferson when he said that the government that governs best, governs least. I don’t think the government has a right to interfere in its citizens’ lives. Like many of the Founding Fathers, I see it as a necessary evil, and the farther it is in the background, the better.

But it is necessary. People being people, there needs to be a framework in place in order for all of us to coexist. That framework is called the law. The law smooths out the rough edges we all have and keeps them, hopefully, at least, from rubbing up against each other and irritating everyone.

When I wrote sf/f, politics did not figure into my stories much. Yes, it can in science fiction. Some of the best stories I’ve read have to do with the author speculating about repressive government, such as 1984, or a story Heinlein wrote titled, if I remember correctly, “If This Goes On…”. The subgenre of dystopian sf is all about this kind of thing. Think V for Vendetta. On the whole, though, I didn’t deal with politics in my stories, other than to set up some kind of political system for the characters to have to deal with.

But in writing Pipeline, I’ve bumped up against all kinds of politics. It’s not right out front in the story because I don’t want or need it to be. But you can’t write a story dealing with the War on Drugs, the Mexican cartels, and everything related to that and avoid politics. And when you encounter them on the level I’ve had to in my research, and in putting these elements in my story, it makes you think about them more deeply. Your characters have to have opinions on these things, and if you’re an honest writer, you’ll have characters with opinions that oppose yours. And to provide authenticity, you have to have those characters talk/think about these things convincingly. You can’t give it lip service.

That always means losing any illusions of a subject being purely black and white.

Yeah, I know: that’s not exactly a news flash. I knew that going in, but I never expected to have it put in my face over and over again during the course of writing this novel.

One night at my writer’s group, one of the people there, a man whose critiques I respect, asked me if I was going to include the politics of meth in my story. I’m not sure if I’ve done that very well. After all, it is first and foremost a story for entertainment, so I don’t intend to do an infodump on things like the Combat Meth Act. Not here, and not in my novel.

But I have to be aware of these things. The Mexican cartels have superlabs that produce hundreds of pounds of meth per day, and they use immigrants, mostly the illegal ones, to bring them across the border. Yeah, they got other ways, too, lots of other ways. I’m not going to get bogged down talking about them, and there’s no way to be definitive about it anyway.

I just want to address one thing, and one thing only, that I bumped up against time and time again, even if it doesn’t pop up in my story all that much: immigration.

This is what’s called a hot button topic right now, and has been for years. They even had to address it in the Al Pacino movie Scarface, because Tony Montana came to Florida as part of the Muriel boatlift of May, 1980, , an even Fidel Castro described by saying “I have flushed the toilets of Cuba on the United States.” On the surface, it’s pretty simple, right? They’re illegal. Pack ’em up and send ’em home. Or at least make them go to the back of the line on the path to legal citizenship. Yeah, that sounds simple, but it’s not.

For starters, let’s forget all the media hype. If you’re letting yourself get riled up over the crap the news media feeds us—and I don’t care if it’s Fox or MSNBC—you need to get over your bad self. The media wants a circus. They want to attract advertisers. They want to make money. I have nothing against them making money, but it certainly doesn’t contribute to their alleged impartiality. They aren’t impartial and never have been. Last time I peeked in on Fox, I was immediately put in mind of watching the WWE: the histrionics, though maybe not quite so far overboard as the wrestlers manage, were there. NPR, which doesn’t have advertising in the traditional sense—though you still have to listen to them plugging their “sponsors” (isn’t that a synonym for advertisers?)—does the same thing, they’re just quieter about it. Listen closely, and every time one of their pitch men—er, excuse me, correspondents, says the words Republican, conservative or Tea Party, there’s enough condescension dripping off them I want to go take a shower.

So, media hype aside, what are we left with? Complications. Yes, it’s illegal, and that needs to be addressed first. No amnesty, none of that. Some people talk about the great number of illegals here and say there’s no way to gather them all up and deport them. And keep in mind that illegal Hispanics are always mentioned because they’re the most numerous. They’re next door to us, and if you live in an area like I do, you see Hispanics, legal and otherwise, every day, unless you hide in your house all the time. I heard recently that, according to the 2010 Census, the Hispanic population increased by 50%.


I have nothing against Hispanics. I’ve worked with lots of them. Just like whites, blacks, yellows, greens or whatever color you want to pick, they have good folks and bad ones. Pick a racial slur (I won’t list any because I don’t want a bunch of offended comments here). They exist because we all have elements we’re embarrassed by. Come to my area of the country and I’ll show you the single-wides with yards full of old refrigerators and broken down cars rusting quietly into the ground. Heck, most of the time you aren’t sure if the trailer is habitable or not till some grubby kid bails out the front door in a lumpy diaper.

If you educate yourself about the situation in Mexico (and most of the other Latin American countries, with the possible exception of Costa Rica), you quickly begin to understand why these people are so eager to live here. It’s not all just because they think we’re the Land of Milk and Honey, where the government hands out free everything.

To put it quite simply, the country of Mexico is a fine place, in many ways. Think of places like Cancún and Cabo San Lucas, and, for racing fans, the Baja 500 and 1000, just to name a few things. But, as I understand it, there are only two classes of people in Mexico: the Haves and Have-nots. There isn’t a middle class as we know it here. And the Haves trample on the Have-nots and do everything within their power to ensure they stay in their place. For instance, the law may have changed (though I doubt it), but several years ago, I read in National Geographic that the government of Mexico does not pro-rate unemployment. In other words, if you’re collecting unemployment and you get a temp job and work, say, eight hours, you get that eight hours’ pay. The unemployment is automatically negated and you get none of it. So, given such a system, would you be chomping at the bit to work temp jobs?

I also understand there are what I’ve heard called white Mexicans (and if I’m wrong here, feel free to comment and correct me), which are direct descendents of the Spanish who colonized Mexico. Most white Mexicans are in the Have class, while most of the Have-nots have Indian blood mixed in their heritage. I understand those who have Indian blood in Mexico are ashamed of it. Kinda like being half-black in the South years ago (and still today, I’m ashamed to say, in some areas).

I’m not trying to be politically correct here, but please understand that none of these observations is meant as a racial slur on anyone.

I’d also like to stop and point something out: I’m getting close to 1500 words right here and haven’t even scratched the surface of all the complications associated with illegal immigration. And that’s just talking about illegal immigration. I stress illegal because one of the ways supporters of amnesty like to characterize opponents of it is to drop that all-important word. Yes, there are folks out there who oppose any and all immigration, but don’t lump them in with those of us who can’t understand what’s meant when someone says, “You just want to criminalize illegal immigration.” I’m sorry. Last time I checked, the words illegal and criminal were closely related. I don’t have to tell you that murder is illegal to imply that it’s a criminal act.

Do you see how truly complicated all this gets? In some ways, I haven’t really said anything about the subject, and yet I’ve stretched this post out past a reasonable length.

Bottom line for me? Well, in the beginning, it was a black-and-white thing: they’re illegal. Box ’em up and send ’em home. And, on the whole, I still think that. But, I realize it’s also impractical. There are literally millions of illegal Hispanics in this country. The government says about twelve million, last I heard, while groups like the Minutemen say it’s more like thirty or more. Whichever number is right, there are far too many to round them up and ship them out. Never mind the fact that it smacks of throwing the Japanese in internment camps in WWII. It’s a police state tactic just like drunk driving checkpoints. Ever think about those? The cops set up a checkpoint and everyone on the road has to prove they have a right to be there and aren’t drunk. Sounds like a blatant violation of the “innocent until proven guilty” concept if I ever heard it: “Show me your papers!”

I can’t and won’t go into all the other complications. Suffice it to say that I no longer view immigration, illegal or otherwise, the way I once did. It’s complicated, perhaps even Byzantine, in nature. In other words, I don’t feel comfortable making any kind of definitive statement about it other than to say that something needs to be done. Which is to say, the more I learned about it, the less I knew.

But let me end off with this little anecdote: In his book Methland, on page 267, Nick Reding relates attending a 2006 meth summit between Mexican and U.S. officials in Dallas. The attorneys general of both countries were in attendance, and one government official openly—and anonymously—stated that there was a “direct and conscious link between failed U.S. immigration policy and the meth epidemic.”

Meditate upon that, Grasshopper.