By Azam Gill
Christina Hoag’s latest mystery, ANGEL’S LUST, has readers applauding its fast pace, deft characterizations, and unconventional take on the police procedural subgenre.
When an unidentified male body is found in an alley, LAPD Detective Verity Thrett suspects murder most foul. The investigation is burdened with the ambitions of Detective Finbar McNab, a brash new transfer who’ll stop at nothing to get his derailed career back on track. As the detectives investigate the possible homicide, they uncover the existence of a secretive BDSM club and a trail of sex trafficking that leads to solving a cold-case murder.
“I’m fascinated with people who lead double lives,” says Hoag, on the dynamics that drive her new thriller. “People often have secrets that are completely at odds with their public persona. Of course, this is a natural for all fiction writing, but especially handy for mystery and thriller writers. In this book, I explore people’s hidden sexual lives and how this led to a cover-up of a murder and formed the basis of a lucrative business. The detectives unravel these secrets in the course of the investigation, not suspecting where it will lead.”
Hoag’s two other book-length fictional works are the noir crime novel Skin of Tattoos, a finalist for the 2017 Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Award for Suspense, and the YA thriller Girl on the Brink, named one of Suspense Magazine’s Best of 2016. She has contributed stories to several anthologies, and her short stories have been published in literary reviews.
Besides her fiction work, Hoag is the co-author of Peace in the Hood: Working with Gang Members to End the Violence, about gang violence mediation and intervention—a subject that caught Hoag’s interest years ago, when she interviewed several Hells Angels about their holiday toy drive. “I found their lifestyle fascinating,” Hoag says. “Later, I was doing a magazine story about gang members from Los Angeles deported to their native El Salvador. It struck me as an odd consequence of immigration, and that became the genesis of my novel Skin of Tattoos. When I moved to Los Angeles in 2008, I worked for the Associated Press and I covered a lot of gang issues—LA being the world capital of street gangs. So, I became more interested in how and why they operate.”
Hoag is a former staff writer for the Miami Herald and the Associated Press, and has written for Time, Business Week, the New York Times, and other news outlets. She is actively involved with the US Veterans’ Artists Alliance writing workshop, has taught creative writing at a maximum-security prison and to at-risk teen girls, and is a regular speaker at writing conferences, groups, and book clubs. Hoag believes that “creative writing can be very therapeutic for all kinds of people, and it’s one thing that you can do that’s low-cost—all you need is a pen and paper.”
Pen and paper have been Hoag’s life from the age of five or six, when she won a prize from her teacher for “writing interesting stories.” A native of New Zealand, Hoag became a “third culture kid” (TCK) as her father’s job with a multinational company exposed her to third culture upbringing—a term used to describe children whose formative years are spent in a country other than their parents’ homeland.
“I think growing up in such different environments makes you a very keen observer,” says Hoag, who went on to study French literature at university before spending 10 years living in Latin American countries. “So I notice details, and I think that’s a useful skill for a writer. Also, travel makes you more empathic to people. [It] gives you a lot of material to draw from in character and plot. … I also really loved to read as a child. I just devoured books, so it became my goal to write them.”
As an adult, Hoag has lived in Spain, Guatemala, and Venezuela, teaching English and working as a freelance journalist. “Those years were the highlight of my journalism career,” she says. “It was an adventure every day!”
“Adventure” might be an understatement. Hoag’s laptop was searched by Colombian guerrillas, and her phone was tapped in Venezuela, where she infiltrated a Caracas jail posing as a nun. Guyanese authorities suspected her of drug trafficking, and she once hid under a car to evade Guatemalan soldiers. She has interviewed gang members, bank robbers, thieves, and thugs in prisons, shantytowns, and slums, not to mention crooked billionaires and presidents.
Now she writes about such characters in her fiction, which is a natural extension of her experience as a crime reporter. As for her young adult novels, Hoag says that category attracts her because “teenagers make great protagonists. They make a lot of mistakes as they’re learning about the world.”
Asked how she goes about crafting a story, Hoag says, “I start out with a gist of an idea and in general really nail down the plot and characters as I write the first draft. Unfortunately, this makes for a longer writing process, but I’ve found it’s just the way I do it. Things get revealed on the page. That’s also the factor that makes writing fiction exciting.”
Hoag writes in the privacy of her study. Her mornings are devoted to creative expression on her laptop, with a 1,000-word goal each day. Editing, promotional work, and household management take up the afternoon. Hoag’s relaxed, low-key lifestyle revolves around walks to “clear [her] head,” enriched by cultural events, movies, art galleries, plays, and travel.
Hoag will follow ANGEL’S LUST with a YA novel that will bring her full-circle, tapping into her own culturally diverse TCK upbringing. Hoag says the novel will feature “a teen girl from Australia who grew up around the world, using my own experiences.” She also has a full slate of readings and events scheduled throughout spring 2019, including appearances at GenreLA Writers Conference, the Southern California Writers Association, and Pasadena LitFest.
Author Christina Hoag is a former journalist who has had her laptop searched by Colombian guerrillas, phone tapped in Venezuela, was suspected of drug trafficking in Guyana, hid under a car to evade Guatemalan soldiers, and posed as a nun to get inside a Caracas jail. She has interviewed gang members, bank robbers, thieves and thugs in prisons, shantytowns and slums, not to forget billionaires and presidents, some of whom fall into the previous categories. Now she writes about such characters in her fiction.
Christina’s noir novel Skin of Tattoos was a finalist for the 2017 Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Award for suspense, while her YA thriller Girl on the Brink was named one of Suspense Magazine’s Best of 2016 for young adults. She also co-authored the nonfiction book Peace in the Hood: Working with Gang Members to End the Violence, used in several universities.
She’s a former staff writer for the Miami Herald and Associated Press, and wrote from Latin America for Time, Business Week, New York Times, Financial Times, Times of London, Houston Chronicle and other news outlets.
Christina lives in Los Angeles, where she has taught creative writing at a maximum-security prison and to at-risk teen girls. She is a regular speaker at writing conferences and groups, book clubs and stores, and libraries.
To learn more, please visit her website.