The second book in Christopher Flory’s Paul Dodge series, LAST RAYS OF DAYLIGHT, is an entertaining, thought-provoking story with classic characters presented in a unique way that demonstrate the best and worst of the human race.
Paul Dodge has a traumatic and chaotic past, but he’s developed a reputation for accomplishing his goal. Not always rogue, but not known for being a rule follower either, he will color outside the lines or draw new ones if it suits his end goal of justice for those taken advantage of by powerful people and their minions—no matter who they are.
A vacation aboard his beloved sailboat in the Virgin Islands is interrupted on the heels of a hurricane which has left law enforcement stretched to the limit. When the FBI requests Dodge’s help for a case that is in his area of expertise, he considers it. Though floating around on his sailboat, flirting with woman, enjoying fruity drinks, and fishing have been enjoyable, he longs for “the hunt.”
This, coupled with the fear he “might lose his edge” sway him to take the job offered by the feds. The money they agree to provide isn’t bad either.
But, typical in any good crime fiction novel, complications ensue, and the case explodes into a behemoth convoluted conflict between good and evil.
When Dodge discovers the victim has ties to a cartel and that law enforcement isn’t totally forthcoming, he realizes it will take his entire skill set to keep himself and others alive while he attempts to find justice and resolution for all concerned.
In this exclusive interview with The Big Thrill, Flory provides insight into his personal experience in law enforcement and how he became a published author.
You were a probation and parole officer for ten years who supervised “sexually based offenders and criminal street gang members.” I suspect most people without your background may think the aforementioned job as mundane. Your protagonist, Paul Dodge, has a history as a parole officer with an extensive skill set—creative license or reality? Could you please lend some insight into the actual duties of a parole/probation officer?
First, I’d like to thank you and the International Thriller Writers for this opportunity. I’m excited to talk about LAST RAYS OF DAYLIGHT and my experiences as an author and what led me to this wonderful destination in life.
I began my career as a probation and parole officer around 2001 in Phoenix, AZ, after graduating with a BS in Criminal Justice from Indiana-Purdue University Fort Wayne. I started out, like most new officers, supervising what we called normal offenders. People that had gotten into trouble through drugs, stealing, and alcohol-related offenses. Most of my days in the early years of my career were spent at the desk filing paperwork with the court, following up with treatment providers to make sure the people on my caseload were doing court-mandated treatment and working where they said they did. We conducted home visits occasionally to ensure the person lived in as stable a home as could be and didn’t move without notifying the court. It wasn’t until I was more experienced, working in Virginia and Indiana, that I became involved in the more complex supervision cases involving sex offenders and gangs.
While supervising sex offenders and gang members, it became more important to interact with them in the community. Home visits were conducted more often with unscheduled visits at night, usually alone. I carried a weapon, and in Indiana, made my own arrests when an offender on parole was in violation of his/her terms of supervision.
Like most professions, the job consists of 99 percent boredom and one percent adrenaline rush. Carrying a weapon as a probation and parole officer is decided in individual states. The states I worked in—AZ, FL, VA, and IN—all allowed officers to carry if they wanted. While you usually work and live in the same community as the people you supervise, you were not allowed to carry a duty weapon off duty. It was not uncommon to run into an offender at the store on a Saturday while shopping with your family.
Paul Dodge is a sort of alter ego of mine. I had a set of rules I tried to follow to keep me safe. The idea of rules and how he interacts with the public is true to me. I was proficient in firearms and mentored new officers. For story purposes, I took some creative liberties in the attitude Dodge takes with “bad guys” and how often he relies on his weapon skills. I only had to unholster my weapon three times in 10 years and never fired a shot. Thank goodness!
Did you do a lot of research for LAST RAYS OF DAYLIGHT, or were you able to draw pertinent information from your own experiences and knowledge base?
I conducted a lot of research for LAST RAYS OF DAYLIGHT. I had never been to St. Thomas or Colombia, and I needed to have Google Maps up the entire time I was writing the book. I often found myself referring to the maps when writing scenes, making the characters and plot coincide with the reality of the real places the story took place in. I never dealt with high-level cartel members in my career as a probation and parole officer. Most of my dealing with drugs was with users and low-level dealers. The same was true with gang members. But I had been to Criminal Street Gang and Strategic Threat Group training and had the overall knowledge of how larger organizations functioned. I also read a lot and watch documentaries on gangs and cartels. It’s all so fascinating to me.
Your protagonist, Paul Dodge, points out that “all cartel leaders” (Colombian) “had a picture of the national hero” (Bolivar). Is this something you ascertained during your previous career, or did you make this discovery while doing research?
This statement was something I remembered reading, or seeing on television, a long time ago. I think it was on a real-life expose about the DEA and drug cartels in Colombia. When I was writing the scenes with my main “bad guy,” I just put it in there. Call it using literary liberties, if you like.
What lead you to choose a career investigating sex crimes and gangs?
Probation and parole has always been an entry-level job for people that wanted to move on in law enforcement. It’s a great way to get experience in dealing with the part of the community that struggles with following the rules. You often work hand in hand with local, and sometimes federal, law enforcement and gain the connections needed to move on to being a cop or another job in the criminal justice field. Originally, that was my goal as well, but I never pushed forward to become a cop. Not sure why, really.
It’s funny because I never wanted to supervise sex offenders. I was put in the role out of necessity. It just turned out that I had a knack for dealing with people who committed sex crimes. I was able to get people to open up and tell me things they were trying to keep secret, like other crimes they had committed, or if they had other victims. I could absorb all the gooey details as they recounted their crimes and keep a straight face. That was important. You couldn’t show disgust, or the bond of trust would be broken and they would close off. And most people are repulsed by sex offenders. They assume all sex offenders are child molesters, and that is only a small subset of the sex offender population. Because of that, once you’re in the role, it’s hard to get out, because nobody else wants to do the job.
Have you always wanted to pen a novel, or did your former profession provide such great fodder and conflict for stories that you felt compelled to write fiction?
I have always wanted to write. I started writing my first story in high school, but never finished it. Over the years, I started many projects, and they fizzled out as my life situation changed. Then one day around 2017, I decided to write a screenplay. That is how the idea for Trust Misplaced, my first book, was born. When COVID hit, we slowed down at work, and I had more free time on my hands, and my wife told me I needed a hobby. So, I took the screenplay and adapted it into a novel.
I was no longer working in the probation and parole field, but still had all the stories and experiences from my old job floating around in my head. It just seemed right to take that knowledge and make series out of it. It is also kind of therapy for me. I saw and heard a lot of things that haunt me, even today. Putting some of the horror on paper helps me deal with the emotional baggage I carry from the job.
With only two queries sent out before offers were made, you admit in one of your blogs that, “publishing wasn’t too hard.” What advice do you have for aspiring novelists?
As I said in the blog, I got very lucky in finding my publisher, Torchflame Books. I queried twice and was turned away on both. I decided to self-publish and not deal with finding an agent to pimp out my work to the Big Five. Then I learned that many indie publishers take direct submissions from authors. I submitted to three, and all three offered me contracts. I chose the one that seemed to fit me best. And I have a great relationship with them. They even admitted that although my work lay outside of their normal wheelhouse, they loved my story and wanted to publish it.
My advice for new authors is simple. Don’t give up and don’t pin yourself to only the Big Five publishing houses. There are a lot of great indie publishers out there who want to tell your amazing story. Give them a chance. If you are successful, it could lead to bigger things.
If you could change anything in your writing journey to this point, what would it be and why?
I know this is going to make me seem overly confidant, but I wouldn’t change a thing. I was too young and too inexperienced earlier in my life to write the stories I now pen. I think things happened in the order they were supposed to for me. It just seemed to work out right.
A self-proclaimed “pantser,” what do you see as the advantages and disadvantages of writing in this way?
First, I want to make clear, there is no right or wrong way to write. Each person needs to discover what works best for them and fits their lifestyle. I am just bad at outlining. I have never found it useful for me, not even in graduate school. I know how I want the story to end. Everything I put on paper leads to that. But I also visualize the scenes as I write them. They play like a movie in my head. The problem happens when I’m not able to do that and I force myself to write. I never like what I create during those times. The advantage I find is that I don’t feel tied down to a particular timeline or plot. Each of my chapters is made up after the previous one ends. It works for me, and I am aware some will think this is just crazy, but I am not building elaborate worlds and creating new languages. My characters live in the same world as me, so it’s easier to draw on that when writing.
A disadvantage is many times I must go back and look at previous chapters and keep victims and timelines straight. Characters come and go, and nothing is worse than bringing back a character in Chapter 20 who you killed off in Chapter 7. So having organized ideas would be nice, but my brain doesn’t seem to work that way.
People who choose to publish with an indie house must be willing and able to do a tremendous amount of marketing on their own. In your experience, as it relates to books sold, what are the most effective forms of marketing? The least effective?
I have found marketing to be the hardest thing about being an author. The best advice I can give others is to expand your social media presence. Get out there on as many platforms as you are able to manage. But remember, you have to be a human being as well. No one, not even the writing community, wants their timeline inundated with an author screaming “Buy my book!” It’s not an effective sales technique and turns people off. Interact with other writers, readers, bloggers, and artists. We are all in the same boat, and most are willing to give advice and share experiences.
Use Bookbub and Goodreads to make reading lists and review other writers’ books and post the reviews. Try to buy other writers’ works. You’ll find many times they return the favor. Also use all your family and friends. Word of mouth will be one of your biggest assets. Bob tells Sally. Sally tells her friends and so on, so forth. This will net you sales. I feel signing events at local bookstores is a good way, but COVID has kept me from being able to fully utilize that resource yet. I find Facebook the least effective tool. I just don’t get a lot of feedback from that platform.
How do you manage your time in order to be a novelist and also work as a contractor for the federal government?
Time management is the second biggest challenge I have experienced as an author. I work full-time and am also remodeling an entire house we bought last fall. But I work four ten-hour days on second shift, so I use the mornings to do most of my writing after my wife has left for work. I really try to get something on paper every day. Sometimes it’s 200 words. Sometimes it’s 2,500 words. I do my best to keep the story always moving forward. The struggle is real, but I love every second of it, and I have more stories to tell.
Christopher (Chris) Flory was raised in Indiana and now lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and dog Shadow. He spent ten years with various correctional departments as a probation and parole officer, specializing in the supervision of sexually based offenders and criminal street gang members. He is currently employed as a contractor for the federal government as an intelligence analyst. LAST RAYS OF DAYLIGHT: A PAUL DODGE NOVEL is Chris’ second published novel. His first novel, Trust Misplaced, was released in August 2021. He is currently working on the third book in the Paul Dodge series and has ideas for several more installments. Chris enjoys spending time with his family, baking, and outdoor activities.
To learn more about the author and his work, please visit his website.