As an attorney and civil justice advocate, author Mark M. Bello draws upon over 40 years of courtroom experience in his Zachary Blake Legal Thriller Series.
A Michigan native, Mark received his B.A. in English Literature from Oakland University and his law degree from Thomas M. Cooley Law School. After working extremely high-profile legal cases, Mark wanted to give the public a front-row glimpse of what victims face when standing up for justice.
Combining his legal experience and passion for justice with a creative writing style, Mark not only brings high-quality legal services to his clients but captivating novels to his readers.
When Mark’s not writing legal and political novels, he writes and posts about fairness and justice in the civil justice system on his website, Legal Examiner and NotFakeNews. In his spare time, Mark enjoys traveling and spending time with his family. Mark and his wife, Tobye, have four children and 8 grandchildren.
Hi Mark, thank you for joining us today at Reader Views! What is Betrayal at the Border about?
I’m probably not telling you anything you don’t know, but our immigration system is broken and many of our citizens have forgotten that they are the descendants of immigrants. The America we know today was built by these immigrants. In addition, we are not well liked around the world, especially in the Middle East. Betrayal of the Border tells both stories: One, an undocumented South American couple, separated from their children after ICE raids the plant they work at, and two, a young Muslim American citizen who travels with her young daughter and is kidnapped by ISIS. Two unique situations, two interesting consequences of a dysfunctional system. Enter, Zachary Blake.
All of your legal thrillers are based on actual news headlines in the world today. What compelled you to write about the immigration issue?
Constantly seeing stories of these policies playing out in real people’s lives, especially during the Trump administration. Pick your ethnic group. If our ancestors were treated like this when they arrived at Ellis Island, we would not be here today, and America would not be the country it is today. I am not suggesting open borders or condoning law breaking, but I believe we can do better. After all, we are America! It’s a cliché, I know, but I prefer we build bridges, not walls.
What was your inspiration for the story?
As with most of my novels, I was inspired by many news reports of people who were trapped in similar circumstances and by colleagues who specialize in immigration law and shared stories of the plights of various clients. People are being treated horribly, and the conditions in some of these detention centers are deplorable. The government is overwhelmed by the volume, not processing people in a timely manner, and detaining them instead of releasing them into the custody of relative citizens.
As to the situation in Syria, I read, with interest multiple accounts about how America counted on assistance from the Kurds and then abandoned them when they got involved in their own “border crisis” with Turkey and Syria. The Kurds and Kobani experienced their very own “Betrayal at the Border” where Syria meets Turkey. I decided these were stories that needed to be told.
For those not familiar with your books, can you share a little about your protagonist, Zachary Blake?
I’m very proud of Zack. His is quite the rags to riches story. In the first novel, Betrayal of Faith, both his personal and business lives are in the toilet. He is drinking too much, ignoring his family, teetering on destruction, and a woman named Jennifer Tracey calls him with the case of a lifetime, changing everything. But his success was not miraculous; he didn’t win the lottery. He pulled himself out of the gutter, used his God-given brains and talent, and transformed himself into Detroit’s “King of Justice.” He has taken on and brought down the most powerful church in the world, white supremacists, bad cops, evil gun manufacturers, a supreme court justice and the president of the United States. David speaks truth to power and beats Goliath in a court of law, the great equalizer.
In Betrayal at the Border Zachary Blake takes on two immigration cases based on different circumstances – legal and illegal immigration. What’s the difference?
Well, he doesn’t exactly “take on” legal immigration. He takes a case where (Muslim, Syrian-born) American citizens, legally naturalized citizens, are being held hostage. The captives have gone through a legal immigration process and been granted citizenship. They return “home” to Kobani for a visit, are captured and held for random by ISIS terrorists. The other family came to the country legally from Venezuela but overstayed their visa. You will read that there are many sensible reasons for their decision to become “illegal”, but illegal they were. The children in Betrayal at the Border were born in the United States. They are citizens, yet negatively affected by these draconian policies. Worse, we have the category of the so-called DREAMERS, who came here as babies, are not citizens, but know no other country than America. What do we do? “Illegal?” “Legal?” I’m afraid these stories (and people) are not so simply categorized.
Can you tell us a bit about the specific cases in your story?
Miguel and Mary Carmen Gonzalez live in Lincoln Park, MI. They came into the country legally but overstayed their visa. Their two children are American born citizens. ICE raids the plant where they work, rounds everyone up, and places them in a detention center. Shortly after that, their kids are hauled away to parts unknown (an out-of-state detention center for children) and the government loses track of them. When the parents are released, they can’t find their kids. This story is playing out in real homes, all over the country.
Canan Izady takes her daughter Hana to meet her grandmother for the first time. The problem is that grandma lives in Kobani, in Syria, where it borders Syria. The area has been the focus of an intense civil war, which is, supposedly, now over. But someone forgot to tell ISIS. Canan and Hana are stopped on the road, kidnapped, and a ransom is demanded for their safe return.
Zachary Blake and his immigration lawyer, Marshall Mann, bravely place themselves squarely in the middle of both conflicts.
Is one set of circumstances more heavily targeted than the other, in your story and in real life?
That’s an interesting question. I would suggest that the Venezuelan citizenship story and conflict is frequently experienced by South American immigrants. Family separations and government inefficiencies have become commonplace at the border. The likelihood of traveling to Syria and being kidnapped by ISIS is certainly possible, but a far more “fictional” or “less common” event that a family being mistreated and misplaced by ICE.
How does your background as an attorney influence your writing, both through your storylines and your characters?
My legal background is a heavy influence on my writing. I like to pick a newsworthy legal topic, decide how a future Blake client might be treated or mistreated, and insert Blake into the equation to, hopefully, right some wrongs.
My Holocaust novella, “L-Dor V’Dor—From Generation to Generation” (free for registering on my website at http://www.markmbello.com) is the only Zachary Blake story that does not focus on the law. All of my books feature elements of Zack’s Jewish and Detroit roots, but not to the extent of his legal pedigree. I am currently writing a cookbook “L’Dor V’Dor II” that focuses almost entirely on his Jewish roots. I’m having fun with it—should be available for the holiday season.
Did you ever handle any immigration cases?
No. But the stories break my heart. We are better than this.
What kind of research was involved in creating the cases for your story?
Lots and lots of library and internet research. I’ve spoken to numerous lawyers who shared stories and non-confidential case information with me. There are areas where the law takes a back seat to dramatic license, but legal research and legal “realism” are important components of any Zachary Blake novel.
WHY do you write about social justice?
It was John Bradford who coined the phrase: “There, but for the grace of God, go I,” or something similar. Throughout my legal career, I have tried to help people less fortunate than I have been. It is who I was as a lawyer, who I try to be as a person, and who I’d like Zachary Blake to be as the principal protagonist of my novels. I could not see myself representing insurance companies or large corporations against wronged individual citizens. Some of my colleagues make a lot of money doing so, but it is not for me. I do, however, value these colleagues’ input when writing a Blake novel.
In addition to writing legal thrillers you also co-host a talk show. Can tell us a bit about your show? What is the goal of the show? Where can listener’s find you, etc.
Thanks for asking. Yes, I recently started my “Justice Counts” podcast on the Spreaker Network and streaming on other podcast networks as well. We’ve recorded several episodes but have only broadcast three. The show examined the concept of justice, from multiple points of view. Justice or “injustice” for that matter, is not limited to the law. We certainly cover the law; we’ve recorded shows about immigration, the Larry Nassar scandal, the clergy abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, policing and police abuse, the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 14th Amendments to the Constitution.
But we also see injustice outside traditional legal settings. How do the police treat different ethnic groups? How are these same groups treated by the government or business? Do Hispanics or Blacks have the same access to goods and services as white people? Do minorities and woman earn the same pay for the same work as white men? Can all live in the same neighborhoods? Where do we locate cell towers, power plants, or power stations? Can we all buy the home or car of our dreams? Do we have equal access to financing? Equal access to education? “Justice Counts” in all these situations, too. The upcoming schedule is available on my website, at www.markmbello.com. We have some VERY interesting shows and guests coming up.
Betrayal at the Border is available now for preorder and releases October 11, 2021 so I imagine you’ll be working on marketing and promotion for a bit. Do you have plans to continue your Zachary Blake series in the future? If so, what’s the next item of social justice to be tackled?
I’m not sure what’s next for Zachary Blake. I’m a grumpy old man. Something in the news will make me angry enough to write a book. Fact has been much stranger than fiction over the past few years, would you agree?
Looks like you’re also venturing out into other genres. Tell us a bit about the other things you’re working on?
I am working on finishing my Blake/Lewin Family Cookbook of Jewish Recipes (L’Dor V’Dor—From Generation to Generation II). These are old family recipes handed down over the years by generations of family members on both sides of my family. The book is written by Zachary Blake “as told to” Mark M. Bello. There’s a lot of memories and Jewish “schtick” in the book and many of my relatives will be calling to thank or chastise me after they recognize themselves or their ancestors (good and bad). I’ve had a lot of fun putting it together.
I am also writing a series of children’s books that tackle some important safety and social justice issues but speak to kids—in a kid friendly way. I firmly believe that when it comes to safety and social justice, we need to start delivering these messages much earlier in life. Delivering a distracted driving or bullying message, for instance, to a group of high school or college students is way too late. I’d like to “visit” (Zoom?) as many schools as I can and carry these messages to kids across the country. If you are a school administrator, email me at email@example.com.
The “we are all in this together,” “stronger together” or “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link” messages need to be delivered as soon as a child can comprehend the importance of them. Hopefully, (I’m trying not to rush them) these messages will be delivered in the form of my children’s picture books by the 2021 holiday season.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Thanks for giving me the opportunity to reach and touch people with my work. These issues are important.
CONNECT WITH MARK BELLO!
Mark’s books can be found on his website, Amazon, Goodreads, and all other online retailers. The books are available for reader, in print, or as audiobooks.
Read Our Review of Betrayal at the Border