Q&A with Victor M. Alvarez
Author of Requiem for the Dead
Requiem for the Dead is your fourth novel. When did you first aspire to become a novelist and how long did it take you to write this book?
A: It was around mid-summer of 2017 when I felt the urge to write fiction instead of non-fiction. With fiction I can write about lies with a large sprinkling of facts and let readers believe on some lies/truths in the telling. Although I consider myself a beginning writer, my first attempt at writing my short-stories provided me with an appetite in venturing out into writing full-length novels with an added fiction narrative and based on my experiences in both law enforcement with my 21 years in the US Army.
My first attempt at writing Requiem For The Dead was a short story line. However, after intensive research, my first draft took me about 10 months to write. I had the finished manuscript completed in another four months.
Requiem for the Dead features a protagonist named Special Agent Jacqueline Sinclair who is a US Army CID criminal investigator assigned to take the lead in a high profile kidnapping case that takes her straight into the heart of a military establishment filled with conspiracy and secrets. She uncovers a sinister plot to set off two nuclear Smart Bombs in Pyongyang, placing the North Korean Regime and the President of the Unites States, in its crosshairs. What inspired this dynamic and remarkable character?
A: Between 1948 and the present—as far back my research took me—several agents have lost their lives in the performance of their assigned duties. Two agents, I had the privilege to have read about, among others, were Agent Walter Edwards Snyder, killed along with a German Police Officer. The suspect shot and killed both officers, then he set their bodies on fire. And Agent James T. Abbott killed at Camp Evans, Vietnam in 1971. Another soldier who barricaded himself in a tower threatened to kill anyone who approached. Agent Abbott was killed while attempting to climb the tower. There are more stories of fallen agents. My one take away from this, was that all the fallen agents have been male: No female agents. And there weren't any female agents doing my three assignments to a CID Field Office.
So, I thought, what if I wrote about a female agent? Then one day, while I sat and played some Latin jazz music; I brainstormed what she would be like. I wrote her character first. Writing her complete background before I even started writing the manuscript, although I knew what the story line would be. Everything else fell in step. I made her into a combat veteran receiving a Silver Star award and purple heart for her wounds and bravery under fire. After several days, and three pages later, I had Special Agent Jacqueline Sinclair fully realized, and with a nickname of Belle given to her by her father. I didn't want her nickname to be Jackie, or any other. My inspiration of the character came from my favorite action movie star, that of Scarlett Johansson. I wrote several descriptions of her, but I finally attributed the same characteristics of Ms. Johansson to my character; body type, beauty, and brains, and I gave her a sidekick, a male DIA Agent.
You are an authority on military protocol who attended Ranger and Airborne schools, the US Army Jungle Warfare School, en route to two ground combat tours during the Vietnam War, before becoming a US Army policeman and criminal investigator (CID Agent). Your writing expresses an authenticity one expects in a military-focused book. Did you keep journals or take notes when enlisted to capture your book’s technical descriptions or rely mostly on memory?
A: Research research, but mostly from memory. While some of my research was speaking to my old army buddies, who provided invaluable insight.
Requiem for the Dead touches on several issues which many people might find controversial or hard to fathom. What was your motivation for writing this complex and cautionary story?
A: The story deals in fact to a large extent on most foreign prisoners detained in North Korea, primarily Americans, who'd been subjected to show-trials, and forced under duress to confess to crimes including espionage since the early 1990s.
One such was Mr. Otto Frederick Warmbier and his tragic end. This was my total motivation. Imagine if you would, someone who’d sought revenge on the North Koreans? Such is my book. I feel that telling an extraordinary story of revenge may waken the communist regime to the possibilities that such Americans or others could target and destroy their homeland.
Requiem for the Dead delves deeply into a world that is fraught with global conspiracy and military warfare. Have you traveled to Germany and Korea before? What were some of your main sources in helping you to research and write this narrative?
A: I spent nine years in Germany and my place’s of duty were Karlsruhe, Bremerhaven, and Stuttgart. I spent one year in South Korea, assigned at Taegu. During my tours in Germany, I had the time to travel to Shape, Belgium, Italy, and Switzerland.
In my research, I relied on Global Positioning System or GPS Maps and street maps of Germany and surrounding area. It was an aid in determining where to place my characters, what streets they would take and so on. Weather system broadcast, and history of certain areas were valuable for descriptive purposes. Most of the areas described in my book I have traveled, so I knew exactly where I needed to place my story in. I also used several travel brochures and travel guides to help me along the way. I used actual street names and places.
You were born in Puerto Rico and moved to Spanish Harlem in New York City when you were nine years old. You had to join a gang in order to survive the streets. What lessons did you learn and how did this time in your life help to shape you as a person?
A: I grew up in New York City’s Spanish Harlem on 111th Street between Madison and Park Avenues, in what is now called Harlem, under a difficult home environment. My father, a Merchant Marine, was out to sea 10 months at a time. My mother raised a family of 5 siblings in a two-bedroom, five-story brown-stone apartment complex. We were very poor. My mother worked off and on at a sweat-shop in lower Manhattan, earning a meager pay. Both of my parents were alcoholics. My older brother and I did most of the housecleaning and laundry in those early years. When our father would be home, he would sit and drink and holler at our mother or spend his money betting on the horses or boxing matches. Sometimes, my parents arguing turned into fist-fights; my mother receiving the worst of it.
In the summer of 1955, a week never went by when I and my older brother, Greg, were assaulted by gang members looking for new recruits. Greg and I resisted the best way we could and tried to ignore them. Until they threatened our lives, promising if the two of us didn’t join, one of us would be killed. We gave in then and became members.
At first, the leaders of the gang would pick us up and we would have to fight other gangs; black gangs from 125th Street, the Italian gangs on the East side, better known as Italian Harlem or maybe fight one on one with an opposing member. On two occasions a rumble of sorts would occur at wee hours of the night. On one rumble, I came home bleeding from cuts to my face and hands. When mom came home from work, she came with me to the hospital. My mother never once thought Greg, and I were part of a gang. It was a secret, Greg and I kept to each other.
I dare say, Greg and I never went through an initiation like they have today. We had to prove our worth in gangs fights. And we did: I used a switchblade and Greg a piece of pipe, but never once inflicting serious bodily harm. Oh, we got our licks in, that’s for sure, and so did they. Later, we joined in one or two robberies. On one robbery, the police almost caught us, but we outran the officers. They never caught Greg and me. We were lucky. Not so the two leaders of our gang. They were caught and jailed. What became of them, I did not want to know. It was at this time when my uncle, on my mother’s side, a Puerto Rican professional boxer, found out that Greg and I were in a gang, and saved us from that life. Without leadership of sorts, the remaining members drew apart. My uncle taught me to box, and I had a few boxing matches in lower east side YMCA. Before he entered high school, Greg quit school, and found a job at a local liquor store, to help mom make the rent.
The gang life seemed to provide us a false sense of family. Greg and I never went through the solace of it. Never really became hardened criminals like most of the members. The life taught me to be independent, resourceful and above all to show no fear when confronted with danger. It made me a hard person. I learned street lessons of survival, fighting, and the ability to stand up for myself, both verbally and in a confrontation. But I also learned to respect the police. Never did I or my brother Greg go up against a police officer, nor try to disrespect them in any manner.
While stationed in Japan, you earned the converted rank of Godan, or fifth degree Black Belt, under the Shotokan system of Karate, one of the five traditional Japanese martial arts system. Do you still practice Karate?
A: I still practice my martial arts, however, not as rigorous as in my early years. Kata’s are what I work on these days. Kata are the logical techniques of blocking, punching, striking and kicking techniques set sequences. My training in Kata is both spiritual as well as physical. My favorite Kata is called Gojushiho Dai along with its sister Sho.
I also practice the art of know as Iai-do, the way of the sword, art of drawing the Japanese sword. It is the modern noncombative physical and mental discipline based on the proficient use of the traditional Japanese Sword.
I hold a Renshi license (instructor’s license) in the 5 classical Japanese weapons; the Sai, Nunchakos, Bo, Jo and Kama.
Who are a few of your favorite authors?
A: William MacLeod Raine, Luke Short, Elmore Leonard, Edgar Rice Burroughs.
Preston & Child – Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, Robert Ludlum, Lee Child, Clive Cussler.
Are you currently working on any other book-related projects?
A: I have two projects I’m working on. The first is a follow up western on the character of Texas Ranger John Slade, whom I introduced in “Kill Slade—A John Slade Western.” It is a follow up on his life, and that of his father. An action packed western in the tradition of Louis L’Amour, Zane Grey, and Elmore Leonard. I have 18 chapters completed thus far.
My second project is the continuation of the adventures of CID Special Agent Jacqueline Sinclair titled “The Theseus Conspiracy,” with 13 chapters already completed. Sinclair’s best friend is killed and the CID agent vows to seek revenge on whoever ended her life and get to the bottom of it. But forces beyond her control are gathering, and she stands in their way.
What kind of impact and message do you hope this book might impact its readers’ lives?
A: When I began writing Requiem For The Dead, my primary theme was to let the reader know that freedom is worth fighting for, and justice can be achieved in one form or another. But revenge is of the lord. But sometime the lord is too busy. Clearly in the words of Shakespeare “If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge?”
Confucius said, “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”
Researchers and theorists believe that revenge is a form of establishing justice and that the threat of revenge may serve as a form of protection, a kind of enforcement of social cooperation.
I do believe that. Also, my story compels the reader to the realization that everything we do, or not do, has its consequences.