Welcome to our Indie Spotlight series, in which TNBBC gives small press authors the floor to shed some light on their writing process, publishing experiences, or whatever else they'd like to share with you, the readers!
Today we are shining the spotlight on Stephen Baker
The Origin of Donkey Show:
Take a real story and play with the pieces
was working a while back as a general assignment reporter at the (now defunct) El Paso Herald-Post when a freelance
photographer returned from a harrowing experience across the border, in Ciudad
Juarez. A reputed drug lord, Gilberto Ontiveros, and his henchmen had beaten and
mock-executed the photographer, Al Gutierrez, apparently mistaking him for
a DEA agent. Gutierrez brought back a death threat from Ontiveros for our lead
drug reporter, Terrence Poppa.
newspaper, naturally, ran with this as a series of front-page stories, nothing
less than a crusade. It was accompanied by editorials accusing the Mexican
government of sheltering the drug lord. This pressure eventually led to
Ontiveros’ arrest. Our editors viewed it as a journalistic triumph.
was an excellent, hard-working reporter, who later was nominated for a Pulitzer
for his investigative work. In his Herald-Post series, he reported that Ontiveros traveled
around Juarez in a Mercedes limousine with a carload of "pistoleros" in front or
back. The drug lord’s trademark, he wrote, was a briefcase with the words
"The Boss" spelled out in diamonds.
For my novel, Donkey Show, I started with that same story, but changed
it in crucial ways. What would happen, I wondered, if everything in the story
had been wrong--if the original reporting had been flawed, and if the death
threat had come not from the drug lord, but by underlings who wanted to see him
thrown in jail? In such a case, the newspaper would be running its crusade
based on misunderstandings. And the reporter--a lazy one, in my story--would
have to put the pieces together.
That’s the essence of Donkey
Show. I placed the story in 1993, just as the United States and Mexico (and
Canada) were finalizing a continental free trade agreement (NAFTA). This gives
the fictional newspaper more leverage in its campaign. It’s still a time when
regional newspapers carry weight. The digitalization of media is still in the
future. Cell phones, huge with antennas, are luxury items for the rich. In
short, information is scarcer, and the resulting ignorance drives the plot on
both sides of the border.
My 2014 novel, The Boost, also takes place
along the border, though in the future, not the past. In fact, the protagonist
of The Boost, a coder named Ralf, is
the great grandson of Tom Harley, the lazy death-threatened reporter of Donkey Show.
Baker has worked as a journalist and writer in many cities, including Paris,
Mexico City, Caracas, Quito, Madrid, New York, and El Paso. His non-fiction
books, including The Numerati and Final Jeopardy: Man vs. Machine and
the Quest to Know Everything, explore the effects of technology on society.