Q. Sweat is your second novel, was it easier to write than Love Thy Neighbour, or with one novel under your belt, did number two come easier?
A. Believe it or not, I wrote Sweat prior to writing Love Thy Neighbor. I wouldn’t typically mention this, but if you research the William Faulkner-Wisdom competition, and do a little sleuthing, the information is already out there. That said, neither book was “easy” to write. When I am in writing mode, I spend a fair bit of time pacing in circles, mumbling to myself. I am equally apt to cut a conversation off in mid-sentence and scramble for a note pad. And while things may not get easier from one book to another, I would like to think on some level that I am becoming a little more efficient. I do enjoy the task of writing. I look forward to seeing where the story is going to take me, much like a reader would but in a more connected way. Editing, on the other hand, is awful.
Q. The sweatshop scenes, and those in the Senate seemed very realistic. How did you research these?
A. The sweatshop scenes were half based on experience and half from imagination. When I lived in Asia I was fortunate enough to travel within the region. On one of those trips I visited a furniture manufacturing facility in Taiwan. (A good friend of mine was a Japanese businessman who had furniture providers in mainland China, Taiwan and a few other places.) The “facility” we visited in Taiwan was in a rural area a couple of hours from Taipei. When we arrived, it was lunchtime, and it was a hundred degrees. All of the workers were lying on benches, sleeping on unfinished furniture. The place was pretty spartan. That is where the experience portion of the sweatshop scenes came from. (I would like to stress that these factories were not sweatshops, they merely provided the mental imagery of what a sweatshop could very easily look like.)
I think the research portion of the Senate was largely a result of growing up the DC area. I was not really aware of the “Mark-Up” process involved on Capitol Hill and the topic was so surprising that I included it in detail in “Sweat.” For the physical buildings, I have been inside many of those I included in the book, so the description aspect was largely based on experience. For the inner workings of congressional hearings and proceedings, I watched CSPAN. When I woke up later with the remote controller in my hand, and the same congressman still on the screen, I figured that part of the research had been exhausted.
Q. Were you intending to raise awareness of sweatshops, and do you think governments are doing enough with respect to conditions outside of their direct territorial control?
A. It wasn’t my original intention to raise awareness regarding sweatshops, but that would be a by-product of the book I would certainly welcome. When I first started Sweat, believe it or not, a Senator was not involved. The story only involved a businessman. But as I started writing the story, and consequently doing research as I went, I ended up learning quite a bit about US territories, labor law, etc. There was also a lawsuit a few years ago involving Saipan and some major US clothing manufacturers. So the pieces sort of fell in place as the story unfolded at the keyboard.
I can’t really speak to whether or not the government is doing enough to prevent sweatshop conditions within U.S. Territories. We all know about accusations of major US companies using sweatshop labor, or underage labor, in various locations around the globe. I think it becomes hard to prevent proactively. I am sure when companies expand overseas there are promises made and standards to be enforced, and everyone agrees to abide by the law. I am equally sure that once a manufacturing facility is established, it becomes very difficult to ensure that standards are being followed. But to some degree all parties must realize the potential for abuse is there. And once abuse is discovered, it needs to be corrected.
Q. Terrorism and sweatshops are not exactly lightweight topics, what can your readers expect from your next book?
A. I think everyone is going to have to stay tuned for the next book for the answer to that question. All I will say is the next book will also take place in the DC area.