My Austin Conrad books are intended as fast, fun action thrillers. As I offer in the disclaimer at the bottom of the blurb for each book, they contain “violence, profanity and irreverence, in equal measure.” The irreverence referred to is sort of my literary get-out-of-jail-free card. It’s my built-in, sheep-faced mea culpa. My tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement that I’m not really an expert in everything I write about, but hopefully we’re all having a good time. And most of you (if you’re still here after reading my books) will agree that outlandishly brutal tough guys, murderous motorcycle-riding psychos, and the flash of sharpened steel make for some good times indeed.
But the underlying issue that sparks the central controversy in my Austin Conrad series is no joke. As you know from the books, Austin has stumbled upon a side-business that some of his colleagues in the MC have been up to, including the club’s president. Of course, these are not virtuous guys, Austin included. They’re criminals, murderers, drug dealers, gun runners. They’d shoot you for getting in their way. They’d stab you for shorting them on a deal. They’d beat you down for wearing the wrong colors in their territory. In today’s parlance, they just don’t give a fuck. But for Austin, this newly discovered venture crossed a line, even for a hardened criminal like him. Turns out, he does give a fuck when it comes to human trafficking.
According to the International Labour Organization, as of 2016 there were an estimated 40.3 million people entrapped in some form of modern slavery. Among those are 4.8 million persons in forced sexual exploitation–in other words, sex slaves. Modern slavery, in its various forms, is big business. The ILO estimates that forced labor and human trafficking iis a $150 billion industry, worldwide.
January is National Human Trafficking Awareness Month so please take a few moments sometime this month to do a bit or reading on the subject. Of course, awareness in itself isn’t a cure for the problem, but it goes a long way toward a solution. For basic information on the subject, here is the US Department of Homeland Security’s page about the Blue Campaign to end human trafficking (the actual day for the Blue Campaign has passed, but the information there is still useful). If you’re interested in getting involved, here is a list of organizations that combat human trafficking. There are many organizations working together in this effort, from large to small grass-roots groups. One that I’ve worked with and can recommend is Set Them Free.
If you’ve read my books, starting with Blood Brothers, you know that human trafficking was the spark that caused the conflict that is central to the story. But the books don’t dwell on the subject much, beyond that. We glimpse it in the beginning, and again during the wrap-up at the end of the third book, Blood Out, but I never go in-depth into the subject. Instead, the story moves into an ensemble of action scenes and character studies of the main characters. I would admit this is a fair criticism, if anybody wanted to point it out, but thankfully nobody has taken me to task for it yet. But I almost use the human trafficking angle as the sensational hook, then skirt the issue for most of the rest of the series.
That was actually intentional. The subject of human trafficking has been covered by other authors, both fiction and non, and some of them have treated it with more skill and authenticity than I would have been able to, as a new author. I didn’t want to cheapen the subject matter by dwelling on it too much or digging into the more salacious aspects of it. In other words, I didn’t want to use those girls in that way, even though the ones in my story were made-up. But a couple of other authors have managed to pull it off with powerful, thoughtful stories. Number one on that list, for me as a thriller fan, is Livia Lone by Barry Eisler. Check it out if you haven’t yet. It’s an excellent thriller, not to mention it dives deep into the journey of the victims. It is both heartbreaking and ultimately triumphant.
Which isn’t to say that new and independent authors should leave the subject alone. A colleague in one of my online author groups (and fellow Southern California indie author), Pat Spencer, has done a masterful job of tackling the subject in her debut novel, Story of a Stolen Girl. She has skillfully crafted an engrossing, fast-paced novel that showcases this very real crime, its victims and perpetrators. I highly recommend it. And check out her website if you have a moment. You’ll find out that she has the background to treat this subject with the respect that it deserves, while still managing to spin a good yarn and entertain the reader.
Let me know in the comments if you have any personal involvement with this issue, or whether you’re much aware of it at all. And if you’ve read any good works of fiction (preferably thrillers) that skillfully touch on the issue, send those links my way.. Lastly, if you’ve read my books, I’d be interested to hear what you thought of my treatment of the issue within my stories.
(NOTE: book links above are affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I will receive a small referral fee from Amazon)