Tuesday, May 29, 2018

#GIVEAWAY Madagascar Interview with author Stephen Holgate

Stephen Holgate visited the blog about a year ago when his debut novel, Tangier released and I'm so happy he's back to chat about book number two, Madagascar. Stephen's stint as a diplomat gave him access to the places he writes about so be sure and read all about it. Stephen and his publicist Author/Guide is also sponsoring a giveaway of the novel. 
Details below!

Publisher: Blank Slate Press
Release Date: 5-29-2018Length: 350ppBuy It: Amazon/B&N/Kobo/indieBound



An American diplomat--reformed alcoholic, unreformed gambler, and inveterate smart-ass--finds himself under threat of disgrace and murder even as he seeks love and redemption on the strange and spirit-ridden island of Madagascar. Author Steve Holgate brings the mystery and mysticism of Madagascar to life in his haunting and exciting second novel.

#Giveaway is for One Print Copy
Madagascar US ONLY
Please use the Rafflecopter form to enter
Good Luck!

excerpt courtesy Stephen Holgate––

Chapter One

I bring my fist to my ear and listen to the clacking of the dice, unable to shake the fear that I’m listening to the rattle of my own fate. The voices of the gamblers in the second-rate casino swirl around me like a river—eddies of French and Malagasy, whorls of variously-accented English, ripples of Italian and Japanese. Maybe these currents will carry the dice on their long fall toward the table and give me the nine I need. I close my eyes and blow, trying to breathe on these lumps of plastic some unearned quantum of good fortune, an overdraft on my depleted karmic account.
The croupier, a short, diffident Malagasy in an ill-fitting jacket, frowns at me and sighs. “Monsieur Knott.”
“All right, all right,” I tell him and grudge-flick the dice down the long green table, where they bounce awkwardly, skid to a stop, and thumb their nose at me—a three. Craps.
The croupier gathers in the dice like a mother retrieving her children from the attentions of a dubious stranger.
I might look for solace in the faces of my friends among the other gamblers, but I have no friends among the gamblers, have few friends of any description. Even those I have don’t like me.
Working on my mojo as the Man Who Doesn’t Care, I take a sip of tonic water, gone warm and flat, and stroll away from the table like an actor walking offstage.
I glance at my watch. Eleven o’clock. Only in Madagascar would this seem late. Nowhere to go but home. But I put the moment off, drift over to the tall windows at the far end of the room and gaze at the reflection of the tall fellow before me, still lean, though no longer athletic, hair flecked with gray. I flash myself an unpersuasive smile.
The Zebu Room is named after the hump-back cattle that roam in every field, graze in every pasture, and stand on every street corner in Madagascar. It sits like a boil on the top of the Hotel Continental, and looks out over the vast darkness of Antananarivo, a city of two million souls—or four million, or six million, no one really knows—its shadowy expanse sprinkled with a few pinpricks of electric light and, out in the spreading shanty towns, the faint orange glow of oil lamps. Fourteen stories below, a gap-toothed string of street lights edges the nearly deserted boulevard.
I try to pick out the distant lights of the country’s main prison and feel relieved when I can’t find them. But it doesn’t help me shake the dread of my visit tomorrow to the crumbling penitentiary and its unhappy population of the brutal, the venal, and the luckless. More particularly, I don’t want to think of the lone American rotting in his cell up there. Walt Sackett. Malfortunate sonofabitch. I picture him up there, gray, filthy and unwell, his life dribbling away in a hell hole beyond the reach of home or God or the American Embassy. I try to shake the image from my mind, rid myself of the corrosive conviction that his fate is not unlike my own.
I put my empty glass on the tray of a passing waiter and head for the door.
“Monsieur Knott, you are leaving so soon?” The voice cinches around my neck like a cowboy’s lasso.
Even before I turn around, I recognize the wheedling tones of Jacques Razafintsalama, the Zebu Room’s manager. He regards me with finely counterfeited regret.
“Just going down to put a couple more francs in the parking meter.”
Jacques smiles at my little joke. I’m more likely to find a unicorn on the streets of Antananarivo than a parking meter.
“The Colonel wishes to see you,” he says.
I tap my watch like a man in a hurry. “It’s getting late. Maybe another time.”
But I’m not fooling anyone. We both know it isn’t a request.
I fall in behind the Malagasy, who leads me toward a corridor at the far end of the room.
Maurice Picard, a fat, red-faced Frenchman in his fifties, gets up from behind his desk and offers me his meaty hand.
“Robert, how are you?” he asks in English and waves me into a chair.
A ceiling fan turns slowly overhead, purely decorative in the air-conditioned office.
Maurice insists his staff call him Colonel, out of respect, he tells them, for his former position in the French army.
Occasionally he lets it drop that he made his stack as a soldier of fortune in Central Africa, fighting for a variety of dubious causes. Unfortunately for Picard, a string of defeats had, in the eyes of the victors, transformed his military adventures from a struggle for national liberation into war crimes. Chased by demands for his extradition should he ever reappear in his native France, Picard hopscotched from one unwelcoming African republic to another until he eventually landed on the island nation of Madagascar, the end of the line, a part of Africa and yet physically separate, as if it too had been cast out. There he bought the Zebu Room from a dying German who, like Picard, had run out of luck and places to run.
For years Picard tried to set the tone for his establishment by appearing each night in a dinner jacket, his diamond-studded cuff links twinkling in the understated light, his heavy cologne speaking to a fat man’s insecurity about his own excesses. Few of his gamblers heeded his call to elegance, continuing to come to the gaming room in street clothes until he he finally traded the tux for shapeless khakis and a flowered shirt that bulged over his large belly, “to make this place less stuffy, give it a flavor of the tropics,” he says. It really means he’s given up, that despite the tally of each night’s profits he is, like the German before him, losing whatever existential wager he has made on his casino. And on Madagascar.
“A drink?”
I wag a finger in a negative kind of way and pat a spot where I believe my liver to reside.
“Ah, yes, old friend.” Picard’s breezy familiarity and his insistent use of my Christian name sends a twist of unease deep into my gut. For all his outward affability, Picard has always struck me as the kind of man who could strangle you with a length of piano wire then walk into the kitchen and make himself a sandwich without even washing his hands.
With the grunt of a big man shifting his weight, Picard settles behind his desk and nods at Jacques, who backs out of the room, closing the door behind him.
A framed photo of a young woman sits in a frame on the cabinet behind Picard.
“Pretty girl,” I tell him, hoping the subtle compliment about his girlfriend might buy me a dram of grace.
The Frenchman turns and gazes at the picture. “My daughter. She lives in France.” He might have been saying she lives on the moon. “You’ve told me you have a daughter too, yes?”
I don’t much care to share anything about the sole issue of my loins with this thug, but I’m the one who started this conversation, so I say, “Christine. She’ll turn seventeen this—”
“Christine,” Picard sighs, as if it were the name of every daughter lost to her father.
With a swift pivot of his chair the big man turns back to me. “You like the dice,” he declares, like a sideshow mind reader. He folds his hands over his ample stomach and leans back in his chair. “Now, the Malagasy, they prefer the roulette table,” he says, twirling his finger. “Round and round it goes. Like their sense of time. You know they don’t see it—time, I mean—as a straight line like we do. We Europeans ride on a train going from the point of our birth toward”—the flicker of a smile here—“some unknown destination. Going immutably forward. For them … Well, they’re all on a carousel. All of them, and their revered ancestors, going in never-ending circles.”
“Yeah, that’s what I hear.” The chair is hard, the air short of oxygen. I can’t breathe and want desperately to be somewhere else.
Maurice, though, seems to be enjoying himself. “For an instant we run alongside each other, Robert, the Malagasy and us, and we think we’re travelling together. But we’re on entirely different tracks.” He smiles philosophically. “It’s like their sense of everything, elliptical, everyone talking in circles, dancing around what they mean. Very Asian. Never”—he brings his hand down like a cleaver, sending a shiver through what’s left of my soul—“never coming at you directly.”
“You seem to have picked something up from them.”
Picard looks at me quizzically, then laughs. “Ah, maybe so.” He clasps his hands together and leans over his desk toward me, making the room feel smaller. “So, did you have a good night, Robert? Walking away with a little of my money, I hope?”
I manufacture a shrug. “My luck’ll change.”
“It’s going to have to, Robert.” Picard nods toward the gaming room beyond the door. “You signed for your chips again tonight?”
“I run a tab,” I say, acknowledging what we both know.
“A large one, my friend, a very large one. Fourteen million Malagasy francs.” He makes a low whistle at this weighty sum. “What is that?” He squints at a piece of paper in front of him as if he hasn’t already memorized the figure.
“I don’t know. I forgot to bring my abacus.” I lean back, clasp my hands behind my head. Just a couple of friends talking.
“Twelve thousand dollars American, I believe.”
“I’m good for it. The State Department pays us decently. Besides, what else am I going to spend my money on in Madagascar?”
Picard smiles and spreads his hands, a man laying everything on the table. “Yes. And you get paid in dollars, lucky boy. Non?” He slips into French as his smile fades. “Look at me. I rake in hundreds of thousands every night. Millions.” He raises his hands, palms up. “Bof! All of it in Malagasy francs. Play money.” He mimes tossing a handful of it into the air. “Try cashing it in for something real—euros, Swiss francs, dollars. The banks won’t do it. The Malagasy franc’s a non-convertible currency, they say.” He flicks his hand and blows across his palm. “And, as you say, Robert, what is there to spend it on?” He cocks his hand and squints at me. “How much longer are you in Madagascar?”
“Almost seven more months.” I try to make it sound like so many years.
“Seven months.” Picard grunts, ruminating on this. “And you can pay me—what?—nearly two thousand dollars a month until you leave?”
“You know I’m not allowed—”
“To pay me with any of the embassy’s precious dollars. Yes, I know.” Picard leans back in his chair and stares at the ceiling fan. “You’re a diplomat,” he sighs, “so I can’t have you arrested.” He pauses a bit too long before adding, “Not that I would want to, of course.”
“Of course.”
“I can’t even sue you.” The injustice of it creeps into his voice. He leans forward again, crowding me, and asks, “And if I wrote a letter to the embassy—well, what then? Private debts are private matters, no?”
With a soft “plonk” the pebble drops into the pool of our conversation. I feel myself bobbing on its ripples.
Disgrace over gambling debts seems so old-fashioned, like something from a Russian novel. But the Department itself is as old-fashioned as hoop skirts, tut-tutting its way backwards into the future. And in the mind of Diplomatic Security, large debts to foreigners are, like idle hands, the devil’s playground.
“You know, Maurice, I really haven’t got much of a career to ruin.”
Picard waves his hand, trying to deny that I’d taken his words exactly as he meant them.
“Look at me, Maurice. Twenty-two years in the foreign service. Forty-seven years old. And what am I? Political officer in Madagascar. And I only got this post because all the places farther from Washington are in the middle of the ocean. My desk officer back at State never returns my e-mails. No one reads my cables. No one yearns to take my place. Why? Because no one cares what happens here.”
“Ah, Robert, so much takes place here. The island is enormous. Madagascar—”
“Is like an old lady’s private parts. Everyone knows it’s down there somewhere, but nobody really cares. We’ve sailed over the edge of the world, you and me. What the hell harm do you really think you can do to me now?”
“Well, exactly, Robert, what harm can I do you?”
But the counterfeit colonel knows his man. After years dedicated to crawling up the treacherous slopes of the hierarchy, a foreign service officer can no more surrender even his most tattered ambitions than he can decide to breathe something other than oxygen. “In a few years I’ll be past fifty. When I fail to get my next promotion—and I will—I’ll be shoved into honorable retirement.” I try to laugh at the punchline my life has become. “Retirement to what? I’ve spent most of my adult life overseas. The States are as foreign to me as they are to your average Malagasy. How many years have I spent in Africa representing a country I don’t even know anymore? We’re just alike, Maurice, you and me. Stateless. Professional foreigners.”
The little speech gains me no applause. “Okay. How’s this?” I waggle my head like one of the island’s Indian merchants offering a bargain. “When I go, I’ll give you my car. A Peugeot. Worth at least eight thousand dollars.”
Picard emits a loud bof! “I already have a car. And even if I sell yours, I only get another pile of Malagasy francs. No, we’ll have to make some other arrangement.” He flashes a smile like a snake flicking its tongue. “I’m sure something will occur to us. Something to our mutual benefit.” The big Frenchman stands and holds out his hand. The audience is over. “Always good to see you Robert.”
We cluck a few affable words of parting and shake hands. Mine is sweaty and cold and I make for the door like a man with a fast-moving fire behind him. Standing at the end of the corridor, Jacques Razafintsalama bows politely and gives me his most ironic smile, the one he saves for those who kid themselves that they won’t be back. I cross the gaming room, this time avoiding the view through the tall windows and their prospect of the distant prison.ldldkf

Interview with Stephen Holgate 

Hi Stephen welcome to The Reading Frenzy.
Tell my readers a bit about your new novel, Madagascar.
“Madagascar” tells the story of Robert Knott, an American diplomat who has driven his life, his career and his soul into a hole so deep that he has drilled right through the center of the earth and emerged in Madagascar, the end of the world. In addition to whatever existential woes might haunt a man who, as he readily admits, is a natural bastard, he is up to his eyes in debt too, to the local casino and its murderous owner and has earned the fierce enmity of cold-blooded police captain known as the Prince of Bleeping Darkness. He's also trying to free from a Malagasy prison a broken down cowboy named Walt Sackett, in whose fate he sees his own. Behind all this lies the ultimate Joker, and what might be the strongest character in the story—Madagascar—the Island of Ghosts, where implausible is not only likely, but mandatory.

With such an eclectic background I’m sure you don’t have to travel far into your imagination for story ideas.
But what actually led you to become an author?
Yes, as a foreign service officer I traveled to places I never imagined I would see, met fascinating people and lived in cultures far different from the one I was brought up in. It's not n easy life, but is incredibly stimulating and sets the imagination free to roam in other worlds. The experience made me want—even feel obligated—to share what I saw and learned, to write all this unlikely stuff down. In fact, I've wanted to be a writer ever since I was about nine years-old. It was the first occupation I imagined for myself, and the most enduring. Even as a kid, I loved to read, to enter into the world of the books I bought or checked out from the library. And what better thing could I wish to do than to make up my own world and invite others to live in it with me.å

Stephen this is your second novel and both are set in exotic locales. Your debut novel Tangier is set in the country where you served at the American Embassy.
What inspired Madagascar?
The book is maybe my way of working through the experience of living there, of trying to make sense of the stories I heard and the things I experienced in my two years there, such as nearly getting shot due to a misunderstanding at a security checkpoint—I still don't know what that was about—seeing embassy colleagues go a bit crazy from their inability to reconcile to living in such a strange environment, and watching parts of the country go up in flames during a time of riots and disturbances. In one disguise or another each of these things finds its way into the story. I easily found characters to inhabit this world and to experience events that might seem utterly unlikely elsewhere, but oddly inevitable in Madagascar.

In the book blurb your protagonist, Robert Knott is described as “An American diplomat-reformed alcoholic, unreformed gambler, and inveterate smart-ass”
That’s quite a resume. Was he all those things while you were creating his story or was he a well-behaved character to write?
For a thoroughly disreputable rogue, Knott behaved himself pretty well. From the beginning, I saw him clearly and had little trouble watching and hearing him as he suffered his various misadventures. Despite his many character flaws, there is a saving self-awareness in him, a clear if resigned realization that he should be a better man, that all the people who think so little of him are in fact right. I like to think this lends him a tattered sort of honesty and even a peculiar charm.

Stephen did you recently travel to the island for novel research, did you rely on past visits or was this researched through the armchair method?
I lived for two years in Madagascar, serving as the embassy's Public Affairs Officer. Much of the experience—its traumas and joys, bafflements and hard-won epiphanies—proved absolutely indelible, making it easier to retrieve the impressions, memories, reflections of living there. I didn't do a lot of research other than looking through a couple of the very few English-language books about Madagascar when trying to find answers to a couple of particular points about the culture or the natural environment. Perhaps my most important form of research was to simply go through family snapshots, which brought back vivid memories of the people I knew, places I went and, more importantly, what it felt like to live in such an extraordinary place.

This is your second published novel.
What if anything was different about the process this time?
Every book, I suppose, presents its own themes incidents and atmosphere, and will demand a slightly different approach. With “Madagascar,” I did less research than I had with “Tangier,” but worked harder to relive it, to steep myself in its atmosphere, retrieving physical and emotional memory with old snapshots. I would even transport myself back by playing recordings of music from Madagascar while I wrote. Mostly, though, writing the two books had a lot in common. I had to force on myself the discipline of getting up every morning, fixing a pot of tea, and writing for a couple of hours, moving the ball a couple of yards down the field before I got up. It's finally all about getting black on white.

Stephen thank you for answering my questions. Good luck with the novel.

Connect with Stephen Website
Meet Stephen:
Stephen Holgate is a fifth-generation Oregonian who served as a diplomat at American embassies in France, Madagascar, Morocco, Mexico and Sri Lanka.
In addition to his Foreign Service posts, Mr. Holgate served as a congressional staffer; headed a committee staff of the Oregon State Senate; managed two electoral campaigns; acted with the national tour of an improvisational theater group; worked as a crew member of a barge on the canals of France; and lived in a tent while working as a gardener in Malibu.
Tangier, his first novel, gained critical acclaim and made one ten-best list. Holgate has published several short stories and a successfully produced one-man play as well as publishing innumerable freelance articles.
He lives with his wife, Felicia, in Portland, Oregon.

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