[img_assist|nid=4579|title=tafoya|desc=|link=node|align=left|width=66|height=100]In a phone interview about his first book, Dope Thief, Philadelphia author Dennis Tafoya marveled at his “incredible luck” at being published by Minotaur Books. He talked about a woman who first read him on the web and introduced him to the amazing “big picture editor”, Laurie Webb, and then to a manager, who found him an agent, who then sold the book…“It was like winning the lottery over and over again,” he said.
Dope Thief, already highly acclaimed by early reviewers, is worthy of Tafoya’s good fortune.
Although Dope Thief is categorized as crime fiction, it is truly a literary novel in which Tafoya says, “I played with the conventions of the genre but didn’t let myself become limited by them.” Early in the book the reader learns that 30-year-old Ray, the principal character, was in “juvie” before his sweetheart graduated high school, before she died in the stolen car he was driving. With a mother who abandoned him and a father in prison, Ray thought he was born to be “in the life” of crime.
Readers are artfully transported into Ray’s heart and mind through Tafoya’s straight forward, in-your-face description. Tafoya said, “I have an impulse to be terse. I try to be evocative in a short space.” For example, when Ray’s step mother wishes him Happy Birthday, Tafoya writes, “He could smell her, stale Arpège and Marlboros; and the house, something fried from last night, wet dog and dust and Lysol. The smell of home.” Later Ray’s memories were described as like “reading a terrible book and not wanting to read more pages because you knew the story just got worse”. In the same way, I couldn’t stop reading the book but dreaded how it would end.
The action, often searing with brutality yet softened by introspection and glimpses of redemption, involves the lucrative, sordid business of drugs: street dealers, crazed meth-heads and big time syndicates. It is set in Philadelphia’s suburbs where Tafoya grew up and adjacent rural Bucks County where he now lives. “Although I had a conventional childhood, albeit with my share of teenage stupidity, I was always fascinated by crime. I never knew hard core criminals but I understand desperation and like Ray, I often question myself about how we get where we are.”
Although Dope Thief is his first published book, Tafoya has been writing since high school. “I had to put serious writing aside after I got married and when the children were growing up,” he said. Continuing to work full time in industrial sales, Tafoya is in the process of writing a new mystery book. “I write in my head as I drive along between clients and then start real writing at home after dinner,” he said.
Tafoya says his family is “thrilled, excited and maybe a little surprised” about his new-found success. Although he notes “there is nothing like children and a copy editor to help to control any run-away ego!” Tafoya deserves to feel proud. Not only did his publisher recognize a terrific new author, but the title Dope Thief is his own and he even designed the cover.
Dope Thief is available online and in bookstores on April 28th.
By Christina Weaver, author of the memoir, What You Lose on the Roundabout