Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Barbara Bamberger Scott is talking with Mark M. Bello, author of Betrayal at the Border (A Zachary Blake Legal Thriller Book 7).
FQ: In view of recent headlines, do you think readers will take special notice of this new work?
BELLO: I certainly hope so. Immigration is an important topic in this country. What's going on at the southern border is abhorrent to me. Our foreign policy in the Middle East has been an abject failure. The book tries to tackle both situations, both policy failures.
Many of us are ignorant to the plight of immigrants or just don't care because the issue doesn't effect them in their everyday lives. But, it does or has. Unless you are a native American, you are the children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren of immigrants. For me the question is simple: This is America. We are better than this. How can we possibly be the country that incarcerates people who are trying to escape tyranny? Would we have wanted our ancestor treated like this when they arrived at Ellis Island?
FQ: How do you organize your time and energy to write the Blake series, given what must be a very busy life of legal work?
BELLO: I have retired from practicing law. For an old man like me, self-publishing and marketing novels and hosting a pro-justice podcast keeps me very busy (but I love it!). What you have to watch out for is trying to do too many things at once. See answers below, it doesn't usually work out so well.
FQ: Are there any storied attorneys that would serve as models for Blake and Mann’s grit and principles?
BELLO: Broadly, yes, there are pieces of many different lawyers in Zachary, Marshall, and my new character, Amy Fletcher. Some are names people might recognize; some are not. I will not name names. There are certainly elements of my personality in Blake's.
FQ: What episode in this complex story was the most challenging to construct?
BELLO: My biggest challenges are always those scenes that are not based on legal issues. Conveying the politics of the day correctly is important. For this novel, the rescue attempt in Syria was probably the biggest challenge and one I did a lot of research on to complete.
FQ: How did you research the settings in the book, such as the Syrian airport and countryside, and the immigrant holding cells in El Paso?
BELLO: Lot's of time on the Internet and in the library—reading accounts of real events or fictional accounts in other novels with similar settings helps me set the table.
FQ: Whom do you envision as the ideal reader for this book, the kind of person you hope most to reach and influence?
BELLO: People who like legal thrillers or political thrillers should like all of my Blake novels. People in the immigration system, immigrant families who might relate to these stories are certainly people who would enjoy reading Betrayal at the Border. People interested in social justice and a fair system will enjoy my books—people who want to see David have a fair shot at beating Goliath. I am a lawyer and a social justice advocate, someone who wants a fair shake for people who can't seem to catch a break or who need a certain specialist to push them over the top. Anybody like me will enjoy a Zachary Blake Social Justice Legal Thriller.
FQ: How long did it take to write this work, considering the many interlocking plot threads that had to be brought together?
BELLO: The book took me a little over a year to write. I started writing it before I finished Supreme Betrayal. I had never tried to write two books at the same time, but I needed a rest from Supreme, so I gave it a try. It didn't work out too well, and the bulk of the book was written after the release of Supreme Betrayal. I recently wrote a few children's picture books, staying with social justice and safety themes. I firmly believe we are introducing these concepts and issue too late in life, hence my kids' books. One of the books deals with distracted driving and the dangers of trying to do two things or more at a time. In this case, I ignored my own advice.
Since I am not an immigration lawyer, and the field is highly specialized, I had to do a lot of research, including talking with multiple attorneys who practice in that system. Keep in mind that this is a NOVEL—I don't have to be legally factual, which helps a bit, but I did my best to accurately portray what immigrants face, every day.
FQ: How much of Zachary Blake is really Mark Bello?
BELLO: Zachary is a cocky, arrogant, aggressive, and tenacious advocate for his clients. He is relentless in his pursuit of justice and he has become extremely wealthy and charitable over the span of 7 legal thrillers. He's not deeply religious, but he's very conscious of his Judaism and Jewish Heritage. I share his feelings about his faith (probably where he is most like me), his relentless pursuit of justice, his advocacy and passion for his clients, but I am not cocky, arrogant or overly aggressive. To your previous question about "storied" lawyers, some of these "negative" (positives for lawyers, depending upon the situation) characteristics are found in those guys.
Unfortunately, I never had the wealth that Zack has accumulated. His wealth permits him the luxury to pick and choose his cases and do lots of pro bono and charity work. Tough cases are easier when you have the money to work them up. He's probably close to the lawyer I would have liked to become (without the cockiness).