Friday, May 7, 2010

Guest Blogger, Douglas Corleone

Please join me in welcoming award-winning author Douglas Corleone as the special guest blogger today here at Thoughts in Progress.

Douglas won the 2009 Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America Best First Crime Novel award for his book, ONE MAN’S PARADISE, which was released on April 27.

Douglas stopped by today to talk about his book and writing.

I was about to share my thoughts on using Hawaii as the setting for my new thriller series featuring Honolulu criminal defense lawyer Kevin Corvelli, but then I became distracted (as I often do) by something on the Internet. It was a review of my debut novel ONE MAN’S PARADISE, placed on the outstanding local literary website, Hawaii Book Blog.

Let me begin by saying, it was a very nice review and I’m damn proud of it. The reviewer exceeded my expectations by exploring the novel in such depth that I found myself reading the piece twice online, before finally printing the review out in order to dissect it. If only all reviews were given this much thought, I might actually know what I’d like to read next. 

The reviewer also accomplished something else: she made me think. How so? One of her few complaints about the novel (found among her many compliments) was that she found some secondary local characters to be token stereotypes. “It’s unfortunate,” the reviewer says, “that the locals (read: Hawaiians) Corvelli seems to gravitate toward are typically ‘troubled’ or came off as working class: bartenders, doormen, drug dealers/users, and so forth.” 

Of course, I respectfully disagree with this assessment; it wholly ignores a vital Native Hawaiian Homicide Detective named John Tatupu and does a
disservice to those who work in the service industry, which contributes tremendously to Hawaii’s economy. But it does bring forward an interesting debate: how should writers of crime fiction navigate the minefields of race and ethnicity in today’s climate? 

Literature, crime or otherwise, is a vital part of any culture. And while fiction itself is by its very definition a lie, I think we as writers would be doing our culture a disservice by putting on a pair of rose-colored glasses before we sit down to write. Generally, any story presents a microcosm of the society it is set in. Of course, given time and page constraints, the novel is more like a snapshot of that microcosm. ONE MAN’S PARADISE is no exception. 

If one were to dive into the archives of the Honolulu Advertiser, he or she would find that many problems affecting Native Hawaiians today parallel many of the problems facing Native Americans on the mainland. Poverty and unemployment are two such issues. Drug use is another. As writers, should we ignore such issues entirely, or do we have an obligation to present existing injustices in the hope that they will no longer be ignored by others?

Where must the crime writer draw the line in terms of political correctness? For every “bad” guy presented in a novel, need there be a “good” guy of the same ethnicity to cancel him out? And how should we handle these characters who are neither good nor bad, but who live in the gray area most human beings exist in? I would suggest that all of the characters portrayed in ONE MAN’S PARADISE live in that gray area, be they professional, “working class,” or criminal.

Ultimately, this important issue is for readers to decide, because they are the ones who buy books. But I would suggest to crime writers to think twice before changing every flawed character’s name to Smith in order to avoid controversy. We are not a nation of Smiths, and we are certainly not a world of Smiths. Ethnicity is a dimension of character we must not avoid. There is good and bad in every culture, and if a writer somehow fails to concoct the perfect mix, let him know, but continue to enjoy the story. The good guys may very well be lurking just off-camera, waiting to play their roles in the sequel.     

Douglas, thanks for guest blogging here today. You’ve brought up a very interesting point about characters and their flaws. Definitely something to ponder.

For more information on Douglas, checkout his website


  1. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and as soon as diversity appears anywhere in a story there is likely to be controversy.
    Thanks for sharing an some interesting thoughts with us.

  2. Mason - Thanks for hosting Douglas.

    Douglas - You've brought up a very important point about characters, race, ethnicity and flaws. As writers, we reflect the society in which we live. We also (if we're doing our job) share real, believable characters with readers. Since humans are flawed, so should characters be. Since human society is not perfect, neither should any fictional society be perfect. This is a controversial topic, so we may never all agree about it; I suppose that's part of what makes it interesting : ).

  3. I would've gone for the realism, too.

  4. It would seem that going for the realism makes it more relatable to the readers as well, making that necessary connection.

  5. I love this thought-provoking discussion of PC-ness. Very interesting.

    I made a villain in one of my stories be this grubby Italian guy, all whiskery and unshaven and somebody told me I couldn't do that. The good guy was a wasp.

    But I'm Italian--I love Italians. It just happened in this book that the bad guy happened to be Italian--it doesn't mean I hate Italian!

    Nice piece.

  6. Thoughtful commentary, Douglas.

    Most writers know that the most interesting characters to write about are those with flaws.

    Thanks for bringing Douglas to our attention via your blog, Mason.


  7. Hi everyone, thanks for stopping by. Just a quick minute to pop in during work and say hope everyone has a great day.

    Douglas, thanks so much for stopping by today and talking about characters and their flaws. Very thought provoking post.

  8. Thanks to everyone who commented this morning. I think this is an important debate, and I hope to continue the discussion.

    To Mary, as an Italian-American myself (you might have guessed at reading my name), I also tend to be harshest with Italian-Americans, as you'll see in One Man's Paradise.

    On realism, as I mentioned in the post, it's impossible to tell the whole story of any race or ethnicity in the span of one novel. So I think it's vital to remember these are fictional characters, and one should never presume that any single character represents an entire people. Just like in real life.

  9. So true. We're not all Smiths. Thanks for this post.

  10. Do not appolgize, we love your interviews and book reviews, but we also like hearing from you and about you.

    From MO, USA- Teresa


I'd love to hear your thoughts on today's post. Thanks for dropping by.