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Interview with Ralph Sanborn, author of China Red

Title: China Red
Genre: Suspense/Thriller
Author: Ralph Sanborn
Publisher: iUniverse

Heroin, called “China Red” on the street, is being smuggled into the United States. Zhou Jing—who fancies himself a fifteenth-century Chinese warlord, is using Muslim Uighers in western China to produce the heroin. In exchange, Zhou arms, trains, and provides security from the Chinese government for the Uighers.

Caleb Frost is a professional assassin in a deep cover, black operations team that specializes in wet work. His team includes two ex-Navy SEALs and a Greek beauty and former New York City escort. Funded by the US government, the team operates autonomously in total secrecy. China hires Caleb’s team to destroy, with prejudice, the smuggling operation in the US.

Zhou’s partner is a brilliant, psychopathic killer—a Harvard Business School graduate named Wrath. He founded the Visigoths MC, a hard riding, vicious motorcycle gang which protects, delivers, and collects payment for the heroin shipments. When matters become personal and Caleb’s sister Rebecca is kidnapped, the team’s task gets messier. It becomes more than an “assassination engagement” for Caleb—it becomes a bloodthirsty vendetta.

“This tornado of a thriller drags the reader into a world of guns, bombs, swords and death and won’t let go.”
-Rob Swigart, Author of The Delphi Agenda

“China Red plunges the reader into a world of evil intrigue and high adventure. You won’t be able to put it down.”
-Antoinette May, author of The Sacred Well, Pilate’s Wife,
and Haunted Houses of California

How did you come up with the title of your book?

The title, China Red is the street name of the heroin being smuggled into the United States. It became “China Red”, versus the common name, China White, because the horse comes in a red packet. In China, the color red is for happiness.

What is your writing environment like?

I work in a room filled with bookcases, files cabinets, stacks of paper from my research strewn about on the floor and any surface that’s available. The “Black Hole”, as I call it, is in my home’s basement. I spend six to seven hours a day writing, editing, and researching (and possibly napping) at my laptop.

What are some of the best tools available today for writers?

There are three areas in which I use “tools”.

My research is generally handled by my two researchers, Mr. Google and Ms. Wikipedia. Indispensable for the breadth of content I need to learn about.

My grammar and style issues are handled by The Chicago Manual of Style. Indispensable.

And, for organization, I am using a software tool called Scrivener which allows me to keep the main manuscript and the bits and pieces of it in an easily accessible form for access.

And, of course, there are many excellent books on writing which I’ve collected to educate myself.

What inspires you to write?

I fortunately lost my job in 2008.

Being a suit man for my career, I tried a couple of job things, because I thought I had to do traditional work. These forays proved to be no go and I found myself spending more and more time on the book. I’d been working on the book’s concept at odd moments for a number of years. Eventually I became totally engrossed in writing my stories and can’t imagine doing anything else.

Did you learn anything while writing this book?

I learned what my ‘voice’ was: the shorter, punchier sentence, the rhythm of language, and, in dialogue, to write it as it is. Gang members don’t say “My I ask what you are doing?” They say “What the f*** are you doing, mother******?” A reviewer called the language in China Red rambunctious. I liked that.

Based on an Elmore Leonard principle, I learned not to write what readers won’t read. And from Cara Black I learned to ‘design’ each page with shorter paragraphs. I learned nitty-gritty, descriptive writing from James Crumley, Walter Mosley, and George Pelicanos.

In the final analysis, I learned that I have a lot to learn.

What is your favorite quality about yourself?

Personally, I enjoy and get along with people. I learn from them. There are only two people in my life I ever truly disliked. I’m a people watcher. One of my favorite characters in China Red, The Brown Man, was collected while I was having coffee and the “model” was seated outside my window.

In my writing I enjoy applying my sardonic streak. Not a nasty streak, but gently sardonic, humorous more than disdainful. It shows in my approach to issues, characters’ actions, politics, and religion. Caleb Frost is not me, but every now and then I allow him to transmit my messages.


Ralph Sanborn was raised in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, and earned a degree in psychology from St. Lawrence University. He has lived in several different countries and worked in a variety of manufacturing and software enterprise marketing capacities. He currently lives in Northern California with his wife, Susan, and their two dogs.

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