It’s So Miami by Sam Hawken

It’s always a pleasure to welcome Sam Hawken back to the blog. Over the years I’ve been honored to both read and review Sam’s novels, as well as to work with him on his Camaro Espinoza novellas. That’s why it’s a particular pleasure to welcome Sam today, as his newest novel, The Night Charter, which will be released tomorrow by Mulholland Books (ISBN-13: 978-0316299213), features Camaro making her full-length novel debut. Today Sam is here to talk about how a thirty-year-old TV show helped shape who and what the Camaro series is all about.

It’s So Miami

I watch a lot of Miami Vice. I’ve been watching it for thirty years, and I’ll probably watch it for thirty more, or for however long I have left. I’ve even been reviewing every episode, week by week, for over a year and am finally coming to the end of all five seasons. Everything about this show is embedded in my brain, from the storytelling to the politics, and has followed me through my writing career up until this day. So it makes sense that I would end up here, with the publication of The Night Charter, in the city of Miami.

This is the story of Camaro Espinoza, Iraq and Afghanistan veteran with the damaged history of someone who spent a thousand days in war zones, and an entire life dealing with the fractured pieces of her past. She’s a fighter, and though she no longer wears a uniform she has discovered the warrior’s path is one that has no end.

As The Night Charter begins, she works as the captain of a charter fishing boat, trying to forget that one year before she helped kill five bad men in New York City, and trying to reconcile the memory of all the people she’s killed over the course of her life. But circumstances change to the point that she had no choice to pick up a gun again. And maybe some part of her wanted to do it all along.

Though Camaro had her debut in the summer of 2013 in a series of novellas I self-published to Amazon with the idea that she would generate enough interest to sell a series of books, The Night Charter is meant to be an introduction to her world for all those who missed those novellas. And of course that introduction would involve Miami and its thriving Cuban community because Miami Vice is, as I said, never far from my mind. The colors, the sights, the people and, yes, those morally ambiguous plots that had good guys and bad guys, but mixed up the deck enough that sometimes it wasn’t clear the best way to resolve the issue at hand beyond putting a bullet in it and letting things play out from there.

Camaro would have been very much at home on Miami Vice. As I built Camaro out of the parts of things which interest me – strong women (in both senses of the word), mixed martial arts fighters, veterans of our brutal wars, the complicated relationship between law and justice – related elements of Miami Vice sort of popped right in there. They fit perfectly. So I guess you could say Camaro is kind of the fictional daughter Michael Mann, guiding light of Miami Vice, never knew he had, even if the show never was able to figure out what to do with its female characters.

It’s funny to me how bits and pieces of inspiration linger in the imagination and crop up at the oddest times. You never know what’s down there in the basement, sometimes until it comes up the stairs and introduces itself. During Miami Vice’s five-year run, Crockett and Tubbs dealt with cases that ranged from tracking a maniac as he worked up the nerve to finally kill the victims whose houses he robbed to figuring out the truth behind alien abductions. They had an episode about black market frozen bull semen. I write pretty grounded stuff these days, but this was the sort of thing I watched as a teenager. And I’m still watching it. Maybe that’s not so bad.

I remember thinking, as I assembled the concept of The Night Charter, that Camaro should go to Miami (cue Jan Hammer’s iconic theme music). The go-go, cocaine cowboy days are long over, the glorious pastel wonderland of Crockett and Tubbs replaced with the styles of today, but surely there was always something happening in that city by the sea. A little digging revealed that the Cuban exile community was still fighting the good fight against the Castro regime, even as official relations warmed between the United States government and the communists. And you know what? There was a Miami Vice episode about that, too. There’s a Miami Vice episode for all occasions.

I didn’t want to retell their story, and I did end up telling something radically different, but the fact remained that I was still on Miami Vice’s wavelength after thirty years. It was coming together almost of its own accord. I hadn’t gotten to the point where I was asking WWMMD? (What Would Michael Mann Do?), but it wouldn’t have been an outrageous suggestion then or now. And Michael Mann, if you’re reading this, the film and TV rights to The Night Charter are available at a very reasonable price.

Anyway, when it came to Miami Vice, I’d coined the phrase Miami Vice Ending” ages before as an example of the sort of thing I really liked to have in my own work. In a Miami Vice Ending, all expectations are subverted. Good people suffer. Bad people prosper. A problem is resolved in a way that only creates more problems. If you’ve read anything of mine previous to The Night Charter, you know how completely I’d subsumed this lesson. A good Miami Vice Ending can leave you devastated, and linger in the memory for years.

I won’t tell you if The Night Charter has a Miami Vice Ending. And maybe Camaro Espinoza won’t stay in Miami forever. Everything has to come to an end sometime. But it’s appropriate that she makes her debut on the world stage in that city because of the way it looms large in my imagination. Thirty years out of date sometimes, but always and indelibly. That she fits right into the imagination of the teenager I was back in the dimly remembered ‘80s, while still engaging me as the middle-aged man I am in the 2010s, is kind of perfect in its way.

I’d love to know what Crockett and Tubbs would make of her.

Trained as an historian, Sam Hawken leans on his academic background to create books with solid connections to the real world, while also telling human stories. His mainstream publishing career began in 2011 with the publication of The Dead Women of Juárez, a crime novel that used the real-life tragedy of female homicides in the Mexican city of Ciudad Juárez as the stepping-off point for a story of corruption, despair and redemption. It was shortlisted by the Crime Writers Association for the John Creasy New Blood Dagger. Hawken’s other works include Tequila Sunset, La Frontera, and Juárez Dance. To learn more about Hawken, visit his website.
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