The sweltering heat of the Florida Everglades sets the tone for Chris Bowron’s debut novel Devil in the Grass. A page turning thriller, with a liberal dose of the occult, Devil in the Grass is a chilling, fast-paced read. The characters are haunting, the plot compelling, and the writing tight.
Former NFL player, Jack Walker, is trying to get his life back together after a failed football career. When he meets Sarah, a sexy twenty-something, things look promising. The only caveat – Sarah is a member of the Brotherhood of Set, a satanic cult. Aware that this association could jeopardize his new job as an aide in the Senator’s office, Jack nonetheless promises to keep an open mind. Eventually tempted by the Brotherhood’s offer to help re-start his football career, Jack agrees to run an errand for them. But to the Brotherhood, Jack is merely a pawn in a political game, and he soon finds himself framed for a gruesome double murder. Running for his life and pursued by the police, Jack takes refuge deep in the Everglades with his Seminole family, where, as he tries to clear his name, he begins to unravel the Brotherhood’s larger, more sinister plot.
Tabitha Lord: I’m so pleased to welcome Chris to BCB today. Thanks so much for chatting with me Chris! Let’s jump right into your story. I know you’re from Canada, but you spend a lot of time in Florida. The swamp and the sweltering heat of the Everglades really helped to create the mood for Devil in the Grass. How did the setting, the sense of place, impact your story and the direction it might have taken?
Chris Bowron: I was at conference in Miami and Ft. Myers a few years ago and I had to drive through the Everglades on the way home. As I’m driving I’m thinking that if someone was murdered, you could get rid of the body anywhere! It’s so vast. Then I thought, I could write a story about that. I had the idea for the McFadden brothers first. In my mind they were a family of ‘cleaners’ whose job it was to get rid of bodies. That’s where the story started.
TL: Devil in the Grass is not just a political murder mystery. You’ve blended in some of the occult. Can you talk a little about that aspect of the story?
CB: The book actually contained more of an occult theme initially, but I wanted tone it down a little. I think if you write about the occult, you have to make it believable, and if you have too much of it, readers won’t follow you into the story. If readers don’t buy in, you lose them. I didn’t want to write a book about witches and magic and that sort of thing. But there are two parts of Florida. There’s the one part you see when you’re on the beach and then there’s the real Florida, about five miles off the coast. This book is about that Florida. I fish near Lake Okeechobee. It definitely has a different feel, and I tried to capture that.
TL: Let’s talk a little about some of the characters in the book. I’ll be honest; I didn’t really like Jack, the protagonist, at first. It was almost as if he was a little detached from his own life. When he turns to his Seminole family in desperation, I warmed up to him and could see another side of him. That’s when I really hoped he’d make it out alive! How did you envision Jack’s character development?
CB: In the beginning of the story Jack is a little apathetic. I thought this was how he might actually be. He’s trying to get a handle on his life. He’s been stomped on and is just trying to get it together. I think he was a different person before he was cut from his football career. But, when he realizes he’s fallen into a trap and all of a sudden the light goes on, he becomes more the person he used to be. My first editor thought Jack was buffeted too much by the story, and he was just reacting to the story line. I had to go back and do some work with his character to make him more of a hero. When he was duped, that’s when we had to see him change. This makes sense for his character. Even as an athlete, Jack had to be down and out or smacked around in the game for him to really wake up and perform. I was kind of the same way when I played professional hockey. Someone had to hit me hard or we had to come from behind. I was never someone that could go up there and get it going myself. That’s probably why I didn’t make it very far! But I pulled that part of Jack out of my own past experience.
TL: The story is pretty gruesome in places and you didn’t shy away from it at all. But it works. You mentioned the McFadden brothers earlier and I want to bring them up again. They are a particularly nasty bunch – ‘cleaners’ who make bodies and other messy problems disappear! You said they were the impetus for the story. Can you talk a little more about them?
CB: Everyone seems to be fascinated with Jimmy, because he is what he is. He isn’t evil. He isn’t good. He just exists, and whatever he thinks he should do at that point in time, he does it. He has no morals and he’s somewhat controlled by his brothers. I knew I didn’t want a typical serial killer in the story so I created three different personalities who worked together to do one thing. But when Eric, the oldest McFadden brother, dies, it’s kind of like Shakespeare’s wheel – when one spoke breaks, it stops turning. His death shakes up the family. The two surviving brothers can’t keep it together on their own, and they lose touch with something that had worked for their family for hundreds of years – their method of doing things cleanly, working slowly and methodically, and staying under the radar. I really enjoyed writing these guys. But I had one lady at work say she wasn’t sure she could work with me after reading about them. She wondered where I got the idea!
TL: Writing the dark characters is so much fun. I agree! Through your characters, you explore different facets of evil. In a way, Jimmy wasn’t really evil. He did evil things but he didn’t connect at all with the morality of his actions. But his brothers had a different understanding of their deeds. And then you have the cult, whose members are purposefully acting to do harm. It’s an interesting spectrum.
CB: Yeah, the fact that Jimmy didn’t really know what he was doing, or why, made him really scary. As far as the cult, I found it interesting to do the research about Satanism. I didn’t want it to become a book about Satanism, but I think some of the philosophical positions and arguments were very interesting, and I sort of ran with that for the plot. Also, there had to be something compelling enough about it that Jack would at least be willing to listen. I have a degree in religious history, believe it or not, and as I was writing, I thought what if some Satanists come to one of my book signings and harass me for misrepresenting them!
TL: You can remind them that it’s fiction! Let’s talk about the plot a little more, and your own writing process. You backed your characters into a corner and really threw them into the biggest mess you could make for them. Did you know ahead of time how you were going to get them out? Are you a plotter or a pantser (fly by the seat of your pants and see where it goes) kind of writer?
CB: I’m sort of a half-plotter, half-pantser. I find I’m plotting more, though, because there were times when I got stuck and put the manuscript down for a week. So now I tend to plot things out and then I go off on a tangent as I’m writing. But the story’s got to make sense or people will stop reading.
TL: Did you know who was going to die and who was going to survive? Warning: Spoiler Alert!
CB: Nope. I had a pretty good idea, but when I got to the end, the book practically wrote itself. I was tempted to have Jack die, but as much as you really want to do that, you can lose readers. People don’t like that. They want to know that the character is going to be around for book two! I think everyone else is fair game. Lani Green was a surprise for me, but her fate was sealed when the Senator decided to spill the beans. Some people liked that twist and some didn’t. I was like, wow, what just happened there? But when you come up with a really good resolution, it’s satisfying. That’s the fun part of writing.
TL: What are your writing habits like?
CB: Funny enough, my best writing time is when I’m on a plane. If I become a worldwide best seller and have to go to lots of places, I’ll probably become a better writer! But typically I write at home at night, when everyone has gone to bed and it’s quiet. Especially in the wintertime, I can put a fire on and have a glass of wine. I find early in the morning is good, but I have to force myself to do it. When I do write in the morning, though, I’m more clear-headed.
TL: Everyone has a different path to getting published. Can you tell me a little about yours?
CB: I always knew I wanted to be a writer. I’m a successful real estate broker but that was something I sort of fell into. I’m more of a creative person rather than a sales person. It’s pretty hard to be creative in the business I’m in. But I’d written several books and just never finished any of them. Finally my wife said – why don’t you just finish one? So I did. My goal wasn’t to make money. I just enjoyed it. But I wanted to make the book the best it could be, so I took it to an editor. I thought it would be a blast if some of my friends eventually read it and that would be the end of it. I sent it to Lori Handelman from Clear Voice Editing in Austin Texas, and half way through her first overall edit she phoned me. With her Texas drawl she said, “Chris, this is really good.” When it was finished she suggested I try to get it published. I sent out query letters and within three weeks I got a hit from an agent at Savvy Literary Agency. She shopped it to a small press, they published it, and here I am!
TL: I know Devil in the Grass spent some time at #1 on Amazon for several categories. Congratulations on that! What are some of your interests outside of writing?
CB: Thank you! I love to fish. We fish in Florida quite a bit for sharks and snook and redfish. Anytime I get a chance to go down there, that’s pretty much what I do. I golf too. In the last few years writing has become the leisurely thing I like to do. The other day I had to do a questionnaire for an interview, and when my wife asked me what I was doing, I answered ‘working.’ That’s the first time I’ve ever really said that about writing. I’ve been a real estate broker since I was 22 years old. I’m 50 now and I’d like it if in the next 10 years writing and real estate could switch places. I have thirty people who work for me and every week some problem comes up. It will be really nice to just be able to solve my own problems! And I could write forever.
TL: Speaking of writing forever, you left an open thread with Devil in the Grass. Is there a sequel, and can you tell me what else you’re working on? Warning: Another Spoiler Alert!
CB: I’m about 30k words into the sequel. It was going to be called The Senator because Jack was going to become a senator, but I changed my mind. I think I’d rather keep the story at a lower level. In the next book, Jack’s actually gone back to school to get his law degree and is working for Peter Robinson, the lawyer who represented him in Devil in the Grass. This book starts off where Devil ended, with Jack detained with Mason, a powerful Satanist. They have a pretty good scrap. I definitely want to keep these books creepy and I’m trying to keep the occult thing going. There’s a fortuneteller in this one! I really quite like it.
I have another book finished. It doesn’t have a title yet. It’s about a military doctor who loses his license because of something he did in the Iraq war. He’s lured by the prospect of redeeming himself to infiltrate a Mexican cartel dealing in human organ trafficking. He gets a job as an extractor of organs and has to discover the link between the big medical corporations and the cartel. This one is getting good feedback so far.
Another project I’m working on is more of a faith-based story. I have an uncle who went out boating in the Gulf of Mexico with his son, and the boat sunk. They spent three days floating in the water holding onto a rope and two boat bumpers. I look at what they and their families had to go through, and how they kept the search going. I’m not a religious person, but I think it will speak to readers. I have enough on my plate for a few years at least!
TL: Yes you do! Thank you for your time. It was a pleasure, Chris. Best of luck with all your future projects.
About the Author: Christopher Bowron’s roots stretch back four generations in historic Niagara-on-the-Lake, voted the prettiest town in Canada. Christopher is the owner of a successful Real Estate Brokerage, Niagara-on-the-Lake Realty. He has a Bachelor of Arts from Brock University and is a lover of fine wine, sport and a story that takes you away. Christopher has a second residence in southwest Florida where he has spent a good part of his life since childhood. Southwest Florida is the backdrop for his first novel, Devil in the Grass. Visit Chris at www.christopherbowron.com.