Journalist Sebastian Rotella makes his fiction debut with Triple Crossing, a thriller that examines corruption in Latin America.
What prompted you to write Triple Crossing?
I’ve always wanted to write fiction. One of the worlds I knew best was crime and corruption in Latin America. I had a lot of rich material and powerful experiences stored up in my head. I explored the Mexican border and the triple border [of Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina] in South America because I wanted this to be a novel about the idea of the borderlands: those spaces around the world that are hubs of lawlessness, intrigue, and cultural convergence. It’s a singular reality in which you see globalization at work in the best and worst senses.
Was it difficult going from journalism to fiction writing?
Actually, it was very liberating. The main challenge is the prose style. It helped that I always tried to use a literary approach to storytelling as a journalist.
How much liberty did you take with the actual facts?
The plot and details are grounded in reality. But a good novel creates an internal reality that is a mosaic of fact and fiction. I changed details about the political context to leave intentional ambiguity about things like which administrations are in power in Mexico and the United States. I envisioned the story happening in a near or parallel future.
Is it well-known that many nationalities use the Mexican border to come into the U.S.?
The smuggling racket involving non-Mexicans is incredibly lucrative: Chinese pay up to $70,000 apiece. As the drug cartels take over the people-smuggling business, the emphasis on non-Mexican business increases because of the money involved. The average reader might be surprised by these kinds of details.
How closely do Border Patrol agent Valentine Pescatore’s experiences resemble that of an actual border agent?
The basics resemble reality: the details of his work, the stresses of the job, his dread of and fascination with the reality of the border, the way the agents slide between languages and cultures; also the mix of sympathy toward the migrants and combativeness toward criminals and the Mexican authorities. The experiences grew out of my knowledge of the mentality and work of the agents. They confront all kinds of despair, lawlessness, and dark forces. That makes them thoughtful, melancholy, and sometimes burned out, like Valentine. Some details of how he gets involved in wrongdoing grew out of my reporting.
Probably a novel about the underworlds of terrorism and intelligence. I’d like to take a few characters from Triple Crossing and put them in a different setting, see how they react and adapt. They will definitely be crossing some more borders.