Saturday, March 31, 2012

Painted Black by Deb Borys: Character Interview & Excerpt

Jo Sullivan just wanted some new material for her column in Winds of Change, a weekly rag willing to dust the dirt off the seamier side of Chicago. Then she meets fifteen-year-old Lexie Green, with her haunting eyes, eerie tale, and the terror that sends the girl fleeing into the night. When Lexie disappears, Jo finds herself haunted by her own dark past and unable to ignore the anonymous faces of youth on the streets, Together with Cry, a street graffiti artist and friend of Lexie, Jo uncovers a path littered with corpses, corporate greed and one man's private collection of freeze-dried cadavers.

Christopher Robert Young, Cry for short, told himself he went with Lexie to keep her safe, that it had nothing to do with his struggle to avoid hustling along the harbor like Moon and the others. Selling blow jobs for forty bucks, however, pales in comparison to what he finds in Cole's apartment above the funeral home. And even a hungry kid will only go so far to fill his stomach. In the ensuing struggle, Chris escapes but Lexie does not and that fact still haunts him.

Sidney Cole’s fascination with death has soothed him since childhood. Since the first dead pigeon he kept in a shoe box under his bed so he could stroke the downy feathers, to the first failed experiment in human sublimation he should have disposed of–but didn’t. He just wants to be left alone with his collection, and his fantasies. And Philip Quinlan had promised him peace.

Excerpt from Painted Black Chapter 44

Seth Koplin led them past tables lined against the wall and in a row down the middle. A few diners looked up and greeted them with nods or smiles.  With few exceptions, Jo couldn't tell for sure who was staff and who a resident.

"Here we are," Koplin said, stopping.  "Lucky us, to find empty seats at Samuel Walker's table.  Move yourself on over by Mojo there, Spike.  Samuel here's got some company to keep."

He shooed away a lean, leather-skinned man who looked like he should be wearing a cowboy hat.  Samuel looked up in surprise, but no alarm.  Jo could tell he didn't remember her so she smiled as she placed her tray across from him and sat down.  Koplin sat at a table across the aisle from them and started up a conversation of his own with the men there.

"Mr. Walker," Jo said.  "It's nice to meet you again.  I'm Jo Sullivan.  We talked yesterday at the Sandwich Stop."

Samuel's face cracked into a smile, though there was still no recognition in his eyes. "Pleased to make your acquaintance."  He reached across to shake her hand, then did the same to Jack who nodded and said simply, "Jack Prescott, Mr. Walker."

Samuel cackled.  "No need to call me mister."  He nudged the man sitting next to him.  "What you think there, Billy Ray, they be calling me mister?"  They both laughed.  "Samuel'll do just fine."  He turned back to Jo.  "That's right, now--you be the girl was talkin' with the young boy there that night."  He shook his head sadly and plowed his fork through the layers of food on his plate.  "See that boy on the corner every night, I do," he said past a mouthful of mashed potatoes.

"Samuel--" Jo sucked surprisingly tasty chicken grease off her fingers before continuing.  "You said the other night that you knew Tommy Piper. Remember?."

"Why you be askin' me about the Brit?  He still dead, ain't he?"  He rocked with laughter at his own joke.  Billy Ray and two other men at the table grinned their appreciation as well.

"He's dead all right," Jo said.  "And laid out all pretty and well groomed in a glass coffin."

That earned her a bit of attention.  Everyone at the table leaned forward to listen as she described Tommy's eternal rest, stirring a few laughs and guffaws for her flowery narrative.

"Well, don't that beat all," Samuel said when she was done, wiping a gleeful tear from the corner of his eye.  "Don't that just?  He were a fine one, he were, always talking 'bout what a fancy life he lived once.  Made a body just about believe the man, that's for shore.  Well, if it weren't true then, sounds like it be so now." 

That produced another round of laughter at the table.  A few men out of earshot looked over at them curiously, wondering what they were missing.

"The reason I'm asking about Tommy," Jo said when the laughter settled down again, "is because a girl named Lexie Green told me that before he died he said someone had been following him.  And now Lexie is missing.  I'm trying to find out if there's some connection between the two or if it's just coincidence."

"Ain't no coincidence in life," Samuel answered, serious now, fork motionless, lines on his forehead frowning over his white, wild eyebrows.  "The Lord has a plan.  I believes that.  Can't tell it, maybe, to look at me, but He has a plan even for such as me. 'We have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will.' Ephesians 1:11.  That girl missin' even. He got a plan for that too."

He studied Jo for a second before spearing a brussels sprout and trailing it through the gravy on his plate.  "Why you care 'bout where this girl be?"  He popped the dripping vegetable into his mouth
Jo felt Jack looking closely at her.

"Somebody should," she said.  "Her mother doesn't.  Her aunt doesn't even know she exists, pretty much.  The police brush it off like she's a fly trying to land on their jelly donut. It's the same reason, maybe, that Seth here runs this shelter.  Or Jack quit his job to work for Night Moves.  Because it's something I feel I need to do, is all."

Samuel cocked one eyebrow and waved his fork at her, another gravy coated sprout skewered by the tines.  "Cause it's in His plan," he said triumphantly.  "It be all His doing, see.  Wait and see.  It's true."

"I only know that I want to figure out part of this plan before something happens to Lexie.  Or if it's too late for that, before some other kid ends up missing."  Jo thought of the attack on Chris in the alley, the fight with Cole in the parking lot.  Too many close calls to her way of thinking.  Too many coincidences.  She had little or no faith in Samuel's grand 'plan,' but she generally tended to agree that there was no such thing as coincidence.


Tell us how you became a journalist and what you like about your job with Winds of Change?

            When I was about five or so, my dad took me to the newspaper office where he worked in Des Moines, Iowa.  It was a small paper and this was before the industry got so high tech.  There was chaos and the smell of ink all around me.  Or maybe I couldn’t really smell ink, but when I go back in my memory it always seems like I could.  There was this high level of energy at all the desks, people talking on the phones and calling to each other across the room.  Some little kids might have been scared by it all, but it just made me happy.  Or maybe hyper would be a better word.  That was the first time I knew I wanted to do that when I grew up.

            Maybe it was also a little bit of wanting to grow up to be like my dad at first.  We don’t have that kind of relationship anymore, or any kind of relationship really, but I don’t like talking about that.  My first real job, not counting high school or college newspapers was when I was awarded an internship with the Chicago Tribune.  Things had changed a lot in the industry by then, plus a big press like that is a whole lot different than the romantic picture I had in my head.  It was a good experience for the most part, I guess, and I learned a lot, even if mostly I learned that my boss had roving hands.  But when I applied for the opening at Winds of Change it was with the idea of getting back to that idyllic picture I had of what a newspaperman looks like (or woman, I guess I should say).

            But wow, was I surprised by how the change of jobs has changed me.  It started as just another step in my career, you know?  In addition to covering the cop beat and other stories assigned to me, they wanted me to continue a column they had called Street Stories.  The purpose of the column was to make street people visible as human beings, instead of the scourge of society like so many people think.  Each story focuses on one individual person, and I found that by writing them, I started focusing on the individual person.  They weren’t just stories anymore; they were the vet who got brain damaged by an IED, or the teenager who got kicked out because the family couldn’t afford to feed her anymore. 


Can you tell us about one of these stories that illustrate why you feel they are so important?

            Recently I spent a lot of time with this graffiti artist, Cry.  His real name is Christopher Robert Young, but he signs his work CRY so that’s how he got his nickname.  If you just passed him on the street, he looks like this wise-mouthed punk.  I guess there’s a part of him that is that.  Some people call graffiti art, but most call it vandalism.  And when I first met Chris, well, let’s just say he was headed down some very iffy roads just trying to get by and because, quite frankly, a lot of these kids give up hope and lose self esteem after they’ve been on the streets too long.

            But this sixteen-year-old, who’d taken care of his mom and little sisters before he left home, has more heart than any well-raised, affluent suburbanite I know.  He risked his life trying to help us find his missing friend, Lexie Green.  A lot of kids wouldn’t have cared at all, let along become actively involved.  When we found out Lexie had been murdered, I thought it would break his heart, but in an essay he wrote about it, he showed it did the opposite.  It made him more determined than ever to get off the street and turn his life around.

I understand you lead a writer’s workshop at the Night Moves youth shelter.  Can you tell us a little bit about what the kids do there?

            What we do depends on how many kids are there.  We meet once a week, but being homeless means these kids are transient.  They might move on to transitional housing, or get kicked out because they broke a rule.  There was a group of about four kids for a while that was there pretty regularly.  We actually came up with a cast of characters and a plot line and some of them started writing little stories about the world we’d built before they moved on to other things.

Mostly it seems the kids like to write poetry.  Some of it is pretty good stuff.  Here’s part of one that I remember because it was so telling about the life the poet had led:

The weak are weeded out by the strong
The vicious cycle continually on
We enjoy the dance and song but
Nobody forgets when we do wrong 

Where do you see yourself in the future, personally and professionally?

            Well, I can’t say I see myself as a little old lady walking the streets of Chicago and working for Winds all my life.  Not that that would be so bad.  But a small paper that’s trying to call attention to social issues like that doesn’t get a lot of big money behind it, so I’m sure there will be another job after this one and another after that.

            I don’t think I’ll ever entirely get away from the streets, though, even if I end up living in a different city somewhere.  Even if never write another story about it.  Like, I just met this girl, Snow Ramirez.  She’s half Mexican and half Yakama Indian and she’s convinced her little brother is in danger from the psychiatrist he’s seeing.  Am I going to not listen to her story if I suddenly stop being a reporter?  No way.  I see the people standing on the street corner now, thank God, and I’m going keep helping any way I can. 

Is there any special person in your life right now?

            You mean as in boyfriend?  Well, I’ve had my share. I was even married for an, oh, so brief time.  But no, I’m not really looking even.  My friend Keisha likes to razz me about this guy who works for Night Moves.  He’s a counselor and a case worker and a great guy.  We work together really well, Jack and Keisha and me.  But romantic?  Nah, I’m not looking right now, like I said.

Why was it important to you to help us promote this book Painted Black by Debra R. Borys?

            Deb’s got the right idea about how important it is to make the invisible people visible.  I try to do that with my column, and she uses fiction for the same purpose.  It’s kind of a great and sneaky way to get a message across, when you think about it.  So here you’re reading a suspense-filled story, getting all wrapped up in the lives of these characters who jump right off the page at you like they’re real or something.  And when you put the book down, chances are the next time a kid in a ragged coat asks you for some spare change, you find yourself thinking, why he reminds me an awful lot of that character in the book I just read—I wonder what his story is.  And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

{Nods head in agreement}  Thanks so much for taking this time to talk with us today.  It’s been great visiting with you and finding out more about Deb’s book.


Former Chicagoan DEBRA R. BORYS spent eight years volunteering with homeless on the streets of both Chicago and Seattle. She is a freelance writer and the author of several published short stories. Currently she is working on a second novel in the Jo Sullivan series which combines mystery and suspense with the reality of throw away youth striving to survive. 10% of the author profits will be donated to homeless services, including The Night Ministry in Chicago, in appreciation for the work they do in helping the homeless. Ms Borys encourages anyone who reads her books to also support any program working to eliminate homelessness. More information can be found at and

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Anonymous said...

Thank you, Laurie, for giving Jo a chance to share her views. She's bookmarking your site to keep an eye on the rest of the author features here! :-)

Deb Borys

Unknown said...

i like L J Smith

catherine0807 at hotmail dot com

Little Star said...

To look beyond reality, into the other side - a side of vampires, wolves, fae, ghosts, witches, changlings - makes the world a bit interesting and furthers your imagination

scarlettkitty at hotmail dot com

Natasha said...

I like Gena Showalter's books.

Sharmaine C said...

I like The Guild Hunter Series by Nalini Singh.

me_winy AT yahoo DOT com DOT ph

Dana said...

This book sounds so cool I would love to win it!

andalene said...
I love these blog hops - fun finding new blogs and hops.

Debra Borys said...

Dana, I'm glad the book sounds interesting to you. Good luck on the contest.

If you want to find out what other people thought of Painted Black, here's a link to some reviews I've gotten on

"It's written on such a personal level, you see their young faces, doing things that only come alive in our nightmares."

Kylie said...

What a great and creepy idea- freeze-dried cadavers! This sounds like a wonderful book.

Gale Nelson said...

I really like the sound of this book. Hope to win it. Thanks for the great giveaway! Gale

Debra Borys said...

Thanks, Kylie and Gale. Good luck with the contest. I would love for you to read Painted Black. So far I've been very pleased with the feedback I've gotten from reviewers--I'm walking on cloud 9!