1. How did you come up with the idea for When Death Comes For You?
I started writing my first novel, and a character showed up, Rose Fleurie. She was interesting—a French-trained Haitian chef who worked for President Aristide. I started to imagine what her life might be, what she might have seen during the coup.
The next time I saw Rose, she was standing on desolate land surrounded by barbed wire and flies. I wanted to know more. I wanted to know how someone goes from working in a palace to languishing in a refugee camp. So, I finished my first novel and immediately got started on this, a prequel. In When Death Comes For You, we get to see how Rose ended up in that refugee camp on Guantanamo.
2. The novel takes place in the 1990s. What fascinates you about that time period?
I joined the world of adults in the 1990s. We were on the cusp of a new century, and everyone was questioning what the new world would look like. Would we survive the end of the 20th century? The questions society was asking mirrored the questions I was asking myself as a young adult.
Those of us who survived the Y2K build-up and whose adult lives straddle two different centuries see the world in fascinating ways. I wanted to explore that world again in my fiction.
3. You wrote about a historical event—the the 1990s Haitian refugee crisis of the 1990s. How much creative license did you give yourself to make things up?
It was important for me to get the facts right as much as I could. I did plenty of research to supplement my memory of events. But facts aren’t neutral, objective truths. Sure, we can talk about names, dates and places using a common language, but the meaning of particular events change depending on where we’re standing.
For example, when the military overthrew Aristide, some truly believed they were doing what was best for the Haitian people. The Catholic Church legitimized the military government—they must have believed they were on the right side of history. Also, the benefit of hindsight shows Aristide himself to be a complicated figure. How do you write about all this “accurately”? I strove for accuracy in the details of events but gave myself creative license with the way my characters experienced those events.
4. What was the most difficult part about writing this novel?
Bringing these issues to life in a compelling but also entertaining way. This is a thriller, it’s meant to get the reader hooked, to turn the page, to ask “what happens next?”
But I am also writing in the tradition of other commercial writers who ask deep questions even as they entertain their audience. I’m thinking about writers like Raymond Chandler and Walter Mosley who push the noir genre to its limits by interrogating society just as much as they reveal the lives of their characters. I don’t write noir, but it does inspire my work. In the issues I’m interested in, society is just as much of a primary character as my protagonist.
If I do my job right, it should all come together in a way that keeps you entertained. I hope that I’ve done that.