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San Diego Author Don Winslow On 'The Border'

March 11, 2019 1:22 p.m.

GUEST:Don Winslow, author, "The Border"

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The L.A. Times says he is the country's best crime s crime novelist. His work tells a story about the war on drugs and all of its horrors. Now his recent novel The border concludes a trilogy filled with fifty years of bloodshed and conflict. Bestselling author Don Winslow will be making his rounds in San Diego to talk about his latest work. But first he stopped by K. PBS. Here's that interview.

DON WINSLOW thank you so much for joining us. Thanks for having me. So the title of this book the border battle loaded title especially in our political landscape today. Why why. What's behind that.

You know it's the third in a trilogy about the Mexican-American drug trade. So the border naturally figures into that an important aspect but also the border refers to other kinds of borders other than just the physical border between our two countries. It refers to ethical borders to moral borders to emotional borders and whether if we cross them can we ever cross back.

You know the book is the conclusion of a trilogy. There was the cartel. There was the power of the dogs.

All of them cartel thrillers about that war on drugs that you mentioned. What inspired you to write about this.

It's not a happy story really. You know back in September of 1998 there were 19 innocent men women and children slaughtered in a little town in Baja. Not very far from here. And I was I couldn't get my head wrapped around how that could happen how any phenomenon could get to that point. So I started researching and now 20 years down the line here we are.

And how much research did it take. I mean each story is packed with so much detail and parallels a lot of truth. How did you research for these books.

It seems like you have to do a lot of digging on do you have you know the first book took me five and a half to six years to research and write and so it was a matter of reading a lot of history a lot of journalism a lot of court documents and government papers but then getting out on the scene talking to people from all aspects of this thing. Tell me about the main character Art Keller and how he's developed into this storyline that in the broader Art Keller we meet him in the first book The Power the dog as a idealistic young DEA agent in Mexico.

True believer in the war on drugs by the time we meet him in the second book not so idealistic and certainly not so young as become cynical kind of jaded. We meet him in this book the border the third book he's become the head of DEA specifically charged with doing something about the heroin epidemic and he realizes that the problems are greater here at home than they are down in Mexico.

And you know in talking about the title of the book and the political landscape how did you factor in the Trump administration's view of the border and building of a wall.

Well look the in terms of drugs and this is what Art Keller has to deal with. Therefore I have to deal with it. The building of this proposed Wall will do absolutely nothing and I wish we could all be very clear on this because the reasons are so obvious. We've all been there. We live in San Diego. We know the wall has Gates the one in San Diego is the busiest commercial border crossing in the Western Hemisphere. DEA tells us and the traffickers tell us that 90 percent plus of the illicit drugs that come up from the Mexican border come through those gates and tractor trailer trucks or private vehicles.

So the wall will won't do a thing to stop the flow of those drugs.

We are talking about your op ed. Yeah. Tell me about that.

You know every year and a half to two years there is a window where people might pay some attention to what I have to say about these issues when I have a book come out. I have that opportunity to speak out not to sound noble about this but I feel that I should. I think that because I write about these topics I feel I owe something to the real life people. Who've been through these things to to speak out and try to do whatever little and it is little that I can do to talk about mass incarceration to talk about the wall to talk about some of our views about immigration.

And so I do. What do you hope that people take from your books. Look I'm a crime writer you know primarily that's my first job is to write a good story that people are going to enjoy and to find interesting at the same time though I do write pretty close to the bone pretty close to fact. And so if that can bring people maybe some more understanding. Or a different perspective you know I often right through the points of view of characters. So for instance in this book through the point of view of a young woman heroin addict through the point of view of a 10 year old watermelon boy trying to escape violence in his home and come up here I hope that that brings people to these issues in a very human individual kind of way.

And maybe the reader can see it in a different way and gain a little bit more understanding. That'd be great. So what happens to these characters. Well I'm not going to give away the end of the book you know. But you've got a 10 year old Guatemalan boy Nico who is threatened with death if he doesn't join the gang in Guatemala City and his mother forces him to leave. And she takes the extremely dangerous trip on the train up through Mexico gets to the American border is immediately arrested. And then we'll see what happens to him.

Jackie the young woman you know I think a lot of treatment professionals and I've interviewed a lot of them and met with them are very close to saying now no trauma no addiction. No trauma no addiction.

So it's easy to take a headline like the heroin epidemic and it turns into a label that's a natural thing. I'm not criticizing that but I want to get beneath that label. Let's let's look at this young woman. Let's let's see what causes this. Let's see what her daily life is like what's see what her thoughts are. Let's see what her feelings are and see if we can get underneath the label underneath the headline you know take a closer look at it.

And in order to tell these stories you had to meet the people behind each character. Yeah. You know it's it's difficult to let go of the character it is. I would imagine do they all live on inside.

Sadly you know several of them didn't make it you know. So you know they died of overdoses. But do they live on inside. Yes sure. Again look I'm not a crusader. You know I'm a I'm a crime fiction writer. You know it's where I live. That's my neighborhood. I love my neighborhood. But if it changes something then yeah I'd be really happy about that. What's next. I know but I'm not ready. Oh come on. Come on. I. Look I know it's not going to be a drug book.

I can tell you that I am really after spending a third of my life on this story ready to move on both in terms of substance and stylistically. You know I want to do other things. All right. DON WINSLOW thank you very much. Rich thank you very much. You can catch Don Winslow today at war weeks in La Hoya 7:00 p.m. and also Friday at Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego at 7 p.m..

Only here is a UK PBS podcast about the place where San Diego and Juana meet who six year old says I'm going to go to America tonight only here. Top stories you would only find in a border town. It's always been a part of my life. Being a border child yet only here wherever you get your podcasts.