New publisher, new editions, and new translations for Young Adult & Thriller Writer Christina Hoag.
Author Interview + Author & Book Info + Excerpts
New Publisher: The Books
Girl on the Brink
He was perfect. At first. The summer before senior year, 17-year-old Chloe starts an internship at a local newspaper. While on assignment, she meets Kieran, a quirky aspiring actor. Chloe is smitten with Kieran’s charisma and his ability to soothe her soul, torn over her parents’ impending divorce. As their bond deepens, Kieran becomes smothering and flies into terrifying rages. He confides in Chloe that he suffered a traumatic childhood, and Chloe is moved to help him.
If only he could be healed, she thinks, their relationship would be perfect. Her efforts backfire. Kieran becomes violent. Chloe breaks up with him, but Kieran pursues her relentlessly. Chloe must make the heartrending choice between saving herself or saving Kieran, until his mission of remorse turns into a quest for revenge. Published by Onward Press, a veterans non-profit. All sales contribute to its mission to help veterans publish their stories.
To Purchase Girl on the Brink, click the link here: Amazon
Skin of Tattoos
Los Angeles homeboy Magdaleno is paroled from prison after serving time on a gun possession frameup by a rival, Rico, who takes over as gang shotcaller in Mags’s absence. Mags promises himself and his Salvadoran immigrant family a fresh start, but he can’t find either the decent job or the respect he craves from his parents and his firefighter brother, who look at him as a disappointment.
Moreover, Rico, under pressure to earn money to free the Cyco Lokos’ jailed top leader and eager to exert his authority over his rival-turned-underling, isn’t about to let Mags get out of his reach. Ultimately, Mags’s desire for revenge and respect pushes him to make a decision that ensnares him in a world seeded with deceit and betrayal, where the only escape from rules that carry a heavy price for transgression is sacrifice.
Drawn from the author’s extensive interviews with street gang members in Los Angeles and San Salvador, this noir crime novel explores a poor immigrant family’s struggle to survive in a gritty world where gangs appear to offer youth a way out but instead ensnare them in a dead-end life.
To purchase Skin of Tattoos, click the link here: Amazon
The Interview with Christina Hoag
Skin of Tattoos and Girl on the Brink are being rereleased by Onward Press. Tell us about that process, are you doing any rewriting?
New editions are great. It’s almost like getting a do-over. I wrote these books quite a while ago, and even before they were published, they’d been in submission for a while, so my craft has greatly improved since then.
I went through each book and corrected any typos, then I also revised. I put in more emotion in both books and gave both books new beginnings-scenes drawn from the middle of story, which are far more action-packed. I’ve learnt that the beginning of a story is actually not the best place to start a story, so I started in the middle then in chapter two, I went back to the chronological start. I think it’s far more compelling.
Screenwriters do this well and I think novelists can learn a lot from this technique.
Tell us about Onward Press:
It’s the new publishing imprint of the US Veterans Artists Alliance, an LA-based nonprofit that encourages creative expression by military vets.
I got involved in USVAA several years ago as a mentor at its monthly writers workshop, then as a developmental editor for the imprint (which has published three military-related memoirs so far). I was going to publish the Spanish translation of Girl on the Brink myself, but then they expressed interest in publishing it, as well as the English version and Skin of Tattoos as the launch of a new crime section. I got my rights back from the small presses that had published them and here we are.
We’re also doing an audiobook of Skin of Tattoos. Girl on the Brink is already on Audible.
A Spanish language version of Girl on the Brink will also be released. Did you do the translation? What was that process like?
I didn’t do the translation. I speak Spanish but writing in a second language is a whole other ballgame from conversation. Mistakes jump out from pages whereas in speech they’re just skipped over in the ongoing speaking.
A friend of mine from Peru who loves translating did the translation. Like many things, it was easier said than done! And it turned into a lot of work. Since I do know Spanish very well, I was able to edit her translation. We went back and forth over the choice of certain words and phrases so not only the meaning, but tone was conveyed accurately.
It was a really exhaustive and exhausting effort!
What have you learned about the industry that you are going to do differently this time around with regards to your book launches?
That’s the second thing that’s great about new editions. I’ve now learnt a lot about marketing! I didn’t even have a website when I started out with these novels. I now have a newsletter, a good website, built up social media platforms and perhaps most, importantly, I’ve lost a lot of shyness about promoting myself and my work.
That was a big hurdle for me to get over.
I’ve been doing a lot of podcasts this year, which are great. Onward Press is also into marketing so we’re going to do a lot more with Facebook and other social media ads, Goodreads and so on.
How has your long career as a reporter impacted your work as a novelist?
It’s given me a huge amount of fodder for plots and also characters, particularly backstory. Skin of Tattoos, for example, was directly drawn from interviews with gang members in El Salvador and Los Angeles. I’m also used to researching, writing every day, writing on deadline and well used to receiving feedback and criticism.
I really love using reporters as characters as they can do a lot. Girl on the Brink is about a teenage reporter.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on the third draft of a standalone mystery that involves a cold case, a true crime podcast and a young woman with PTSD over a sexual assault that happened in her teens.
I’ve finally got a good handle on the story and characters and hope to finish this year. It takes place in wintry northern New Jersey, where I went to high school.
Words of Wisdom for Aspiring Writers:
Persevere and believe in yourself and read a lot. (One of my pet peeves: people who say they want to write, or who do write, and they’re not well read.)
Excellent advice! Congratulations on all your success, best of luck with all your projects!
Excerpt — Skin of Tattoos —New Publisher
“You wanna get wet?” Rico said. “Numb you right out.”
I shook my head. “I don’t need numb. I wanna stay mad.”
“Aim is better when you got your adrenaline under control, homes.”
“Nothing wrong with my aim.” I pointed to a corner store at the end of the block. “I gotta get me some candy bars.”
Rico pulled over in the shadows under a smashed streetlight. “I hit that place a few months back. I’ll wait for you here. Don’t take all fuckin day. We gotta mission to do. Your mission, in case you forgot.”
“I didn’t forget. Be back in five.”
I left Rico doing up his sherm and jogged up the block and into the store. I was choosing my chocolate bars when the sleigh bells on the door jingled. A moment later, I heard the thud of the refrigerator door, the pop and hiss of a can opening. Footsteps shuffled to a stop at my aisle. All the muscles in my back tensed up. I looked round.
“Magdaleno, we got to stop meeting like this.”
I grabbed a handful of candy bars. “Scuse me, Officer.” I squeezed by him to get to the counter.
“What you been up to lately?”
“Working.” I slapped the candy on the counter in front of the slot in the steel-barred window and tossed some crinkled bills on top of them. I was itching to run outta there, just grab the candy and leave the change, but I knew I couldn’t. I had to act real casual.
“Staying away from the homeboys?”
I willed the fool behind the counter to move faster. “Yep.”
“Better be the truth.”
The guy pushed the change and the candy bars through the slot. Finally. I scooped it all up and dove for the door, not looking at Morales. The cruiser was parked outside. The other bluesuit stood on the sidewalk, hand resting on the Glock in his gunbelt. I glanced down the street. The Corolla was gone. Rico must’ve booked when he seen la ley. Fuck.
I wiped a trail of sweat from my temple with my forearm. I had to jet before Morales came out. I walked the opposite way to where Rico been parked, being careful to take my time. As I turned the corner, I peeked back. The dynamic duo in blue were kicking it in front of the mini market.
I walked another block and called Rico, no answer. We weren’t far from the garage, maybe a dozen blocks, so I went back, figuring Rico would prolly be there. He wasn’t. The homies had bounced already too. I crouched against the outside wall and chowed down a Three Musketeers, calling Rico. Pick up, motherfucker. Still no answer.
A chill tingled the base of my spine. I ate my way through the pile of candy bars, then felt sick. Either from eating too much candy or the unease chewing my nerves. Rico shoulda answered by now. I was about to try him again when a familiar whomping noise broke the silence.
The ghetto bird thumped louder. It was flying low, its searchlights slashing the darkness like blades. The five-o was looking for someone, close by too. I had to get home fast or I was going to end up doing the asphalt angel, kissing the street while Morales slapped on the steel bracelets.
I threw up my hoodie and walked fast, keeping to the shadows and alleys, holding myself back from breaking into a jog, drawing attention to myself, when I heard the sound of distant sirens.
I made it home in twenty minutes. Pops was snoring on the couch when I walked in. Shit. I was going to have to move him to pull out the bed. I shook his shoulder. He stirred, his eyes blinking. “Papá, I gotta get the bed out.”
He pulled himself up and staggered to his bedroom, for once with no fuss. I made up the bed and lay in it, staring into the darkness, trying to slow my breathing to calm myself like they taught us in anger management inside, but it wasn’t working. I was too fired up.
Something happened. Rico? Maybe not. I reminded myself that things were always happening in this neighborhood, but my gut told me otherwise. It was Rico.
I knew right then, way down inside, I’d made a mistake. I’d let the shit get personal. Something I always vowed not to do. And I realized something else. Your best fuckin homies make your worst fuckin enemies.
But it was too late now. I was in too deep. Way too deep.
And fuckin Rico knew it.
Excerpt — Girl on the Brink — New Publisher
“Chloe! Where are you?”
My heart seizes. “Just getting water. Want some?” I try to make my voice sound as casual as possible, but it’s not that easy when someone just tried to kill you.
The couch creaks in the living room. Shit. I guess I didn’t succeed. Kieran’s getting up. His footsteps thud. He’s in the hallway. It’s now or never. I dash for the back door, but I fumble with the lock, forgetting in my panic which way it turns to open.
“Chloe!” He’s entering the kitchen. He’s right behind me. The tumbler clicks. I fling myself through the door and fly across the dark backyard into the woods.
“Come back here! Chloe! What are you doing?” He crashes into the brush behind me. I up my pace. “You think you can run away from me? Don’t bother coming back, ever. Hear me? I’m done with your shit!”
My legs pump as fast as they can. Branches slap my face. Twigs poke the soles of my bare feet. A stick slashes my calf.
“You’re not getting away from me so easy, Chloe! I know everything about you, don’t forget!”
Fear pushes me to go faster. He almost drowned me a couple hours ago in the bathtub. If he catches me, he might just kill me out of rage at my attempted escape. I blunder wildly in the pitch black then a bare patch of ground shines in a lacy sliver of moonlight through the trees. The trail.
I canter down the path. I have no idea where I’m heading, then it comes to me suddenly, like a voice directing me where to go. I come to the turnoff to a narrower path and veer down it. I hear Kieran thrashing through the trees behind me. I have the advantage of living next to these woods practically my whole life, but he’s taller. His legs take longer strides.
My eyes adjust to the darkness, and I spot the silhouette of the log I’m looking for a couple yards in from the path. I drop to my hands and knees next to it, scraping wildly through the dead leaves. Kieran’s footsteps are nearing. It has to be here. Come on. Come on. My hands detect the plastic tarp. I yank it up, and feet first, I drop eight feet into the party pit, landing in a crouch that sends spears of pain up my legs. I daren’t move. I draw as shallow breaths as I can, remaining in a squat as I look up.
When we first met, I told him about the subterranean living room that some kids dug as a place to hang out and get shitfaced. Will he remember? Again, I hear the voice of calm. Even if he remembers, figures out that’s where I may be hiding, he doesn’t know where it is. I never showed it to him.
I hear him jogging along the trail. He stops right next to the log. My stomach clutches. He saw me! I wait for the tarp to be thrown back, his barking laugh at seeing me caught like a mouse in its own trap. But he’s still tramping around, panting. I picture him pivoting as he searches for any sign of me in the woods. It occurs to me that maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. If he finds me in this hole, there’d be no way to escape except fight my way out. And I’m pretty much certain to lose.
His breaths grow silent. He’s gone. Relief starts to flood my muscles, then that inner voice warns me. I didn’t hear him walk away. I tense again, remembering that he used to hunt. He’s playing possum, watching and listening for any telltale of his quarry’s location. It seems an eternity until I hear his footsteps crunch on. They grow fainter and finally silence falls. I wait another agonizing thirty seconds, but the quiet feels real. I unfold my stiff legs and stand. I’m safe, for now anyway.
The place reeks of stale cigarettes and pot. The kids furnished it with lawn chairs, milk crates, carpet remnants and candles. Right now, I can see nothing. I feel around in the dark and my hands come across a beach chair, one of those low ones you can put your legs up on. I crawl onto it. I’m trembling. I guess this is the excess adrenaline in my system I read about when we covered the nervous system in biology. I lean my head on the seat back. Gradually, anxiety subsides, replaced by a storm of thoughts.
What have I done to my life? I’m a seventeen-year-old A student, a reporter at a local newspaper, and I’m hiding from the guy who just a few months ago I believed was my true love, an angel sent to me by heaven. I even told him that. The same guy who held my head under the water until I almost passed out a couple hours ago. The irony of it, the absurdity of almost being murdered by an “angel” hits me.
I break into a soundless laugh, spasms wracking my chest as I am overcome with sadness at the same time and tears spill from my eyes. Am I laughing or crying? I don’t know. I don’t even know the answer to the biggest question of all:
How the actual fuck did this happen?
Christina Hoag is a former journalist who has had her laptop searched by Colombian guerrillas, phone tapped in Venezuela, was suspected of drug trafficking in Guyana, hid under a car to evade Guatemalan soldiers, and posed as a nun to get inside a Caracas jail. She has interviewed gang members, bank robbers, thieves and thugs in prisons, shantytowns and slums, not to forget billionaires and presidents, some of whom fall into the previous categories. Now she writes about such characters in her fiction.
Christina’s noir crime novel Skin of Tattoos was a finalist for the Silver Falchion Award for suspense, while her YA novel Girl on the Brink was named one of Suspense Magazine’s Best for young adults. She also co-authored the nonfiction book, Peace in the Hood: Working with Gang Members to End the Violence, which is used as a textbook at University of California Los Angeles, University of Southern California, The Chicago School of Professional Psychology and other academic institutions.
She has had numerous short stories, creative nonfiction essays and poems published in literary journals including Shooter (UK), San Antonio Review, Round Table Literary Journal and Lunch Ticket, and won Honorable Mentions for essay and short story in the International Human Rights Arts Festival’s Literary Justice 2020 contest and for essay and novel excerpt in the Soul-Making Keats Writing Competition 2020.
She’s a former staff writer for the Miami Herald and Associated Press and reported from 14 countries around Latin America for Time, Business Week, New York Times, Financial Times, Sunday Times of London, Houston Chronicle and other news outlets. A graduate cum laude of Boston University, she won two prizes from the New Jersey Press Association in her newspaper career.
Born in New Zealand, Christina grew up as an expat around the world. She now lives in California, where she has taught creative writing at a maximum-security prison and to at-risk teen girls. She is a regular speaker at women’s conferences, writing conferences and organizations, book clubs and stores, and libraries.
To learn more about Christine, including signing up for her newsletter, click on her name or photo or any of the following links: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads, Medium & BookBub
Elena Taylor is the author of All We Buried, available now in print, e-book, and audio book format at all your favorite on-line retailers. And don’t forget many independent bookstores can order books for you and have them shipped to your home or for curbside pickup.
For more information on All We Buried, click on the link here to visit the home page.
Foreword INDIE Award Finalist, Best Mystery 2020
Header photo by Alexas_Photos on Pixabay.