RULE OF CAPTURE—publication day and acknowledgements

Rule print copy


My novel RULE OF CAPTURE is out today, in print, ebook and audiobook editions. I am proud of the book, and some of the generous early praise it has earned. If you read it, and like it, please consider yourself encouraged to let others know, whether by word of mouth or contributing a review to the algorithmic “ecosystem.” If you haven’t read the book, and are curious, the first two chapters are available as a free excerpt thanks to my publisher. I’ve already put a lot of energy into promoting this book, so I wanted to take today to express thanks to all of those who helped me get to this point. And to start with that, I am excerpting a different part of the book—the acknowledgements section that most folks probably don’t read. Thanks to everyone mentioned below, and everyone I forgot to mention.

Over on my Twitter feed, I have supplemented the below with some more background on the sources I drew on to research and write the book.


Texas is a place where lawyer ads flourish like prickly pear, and it was a lawyer on a billboard that provided the initial inspiration for this story. I was pumping gas one afternoon on the side of Highway 71 at the outskirts of Austin, looking in the direction of Houston. Staring down at me from above the overpass was a criminal defense lawyer sporting a leather jacket, wild hair, and a trickster’s smile—one of those rare lawyers who works to show potential clients they are ready to fight the system, not be part of it. I was working on Tropic of Kansas at the time, and while I didn’t need a lawyer, my fugitive characters did—a lawyer who would combine some of the frontage road tenacity of a Texas plaintiff’s attorney with the political courage of advocates like William Kunstler and Jacques Vergès to help clients navigate the legal minefields of dystopia. Donny Kimoe didn’t make the final cut of that book, but his billboard did, and it was enough to make one character pick up the phone for that free initial consultation. My imaginary dystopian defense lawyer would not be possible without the example and inspiration of all the real ones who roll up their sleeves to fight for a dream of justice we all know is rarely achieved outside of fiction, and I humbly hope that this book inspires some others in the same way.

Donny Kimoe practices in a legal system I invented for this book. If you try to look up any of the statutes or cases cited here, you won’t find them (with a few exceptions, notably Johnson v. M’Intosh, 21 U.S. (8 Wheat.) 543 (1823)). But they are all extrapolations from existing legal precedents, from the military tribunals of Guantánamo and the Civil War to the loyalty laws of the Red Scare and the Cold War and the martial law invocations that occurred with remarkable frequency in the twentieth century, especially before World War II. To develop my jurisprudential variation on speculative fictional world- building, I spent a tremendous amount of time in the Tarlton Law Library at the University of Texas School of Law, taking advantage of its prodigious collection of material, which even includes a section of dusty how-to guides for the domestic administration of military government in times of insurrection or emergency—as well as an amazing collection of law and popular culture ready-made for a writer wishing to decode the deep roots of the American lawyer story. I owe thanks to the librar- ians of that amazing institution, and to the authors of the many remarkable works I drew from in my research.

The other experience I had while working on Tropic of Kansas that had a big influence on this book was my service for several months on a Texas grand jury. Having only ever worked at the margins of criminal procedure over the course of my career as a lawyer, I found it a unique opportunity, and an eye-opener. Unlike a trial jury, which sits as the finder of fact in a specific case, the grand jury hears the government’s presentation of each felony indictment it wants to prosecute. The standard it applies is low. And the volume of cases it hears is huge—dozens or more a day, two or three days a week. Our panel was a diverse group of Texans with good bullshit detectors and a strong sense of justice, and we did our job to turn away cases where the standard was not met. But in most of the cases, indictments were issued based on the evidence, and you learned what it feels like to be part of the machine that takes people (many of them young people) off the street, marks them for life, and locks them up. People who may be guilty of the crimes for which they’ve been arrested, but caught through a process that’s rigged—from the decisions about what activity should be criminalized to the decisions about what neighborhoods to patrol to the way the system allocates access to lawyers. Serving on a grand jury, you quickly gain a deeper understanding of how justice is distributed the same way ev- erything else is in this society. That from at least some vantage points, the system is already pretty dystopian, even without distortion through the prism of imaginative fiction. The experience recharged my sense of pervasive injustice in a way that impacted my own practice, especially my pro bono and community work, and led to me pursue the idea of this book. So thanks to my fellow grand jurors for helping me see the law from the perspective of their very different experiences, and to the court for the opportunity.

This story bears the imprint of my own experiences as a working lawyer, sometimes helping people who had no money and sometimes helping people who had too much, and the things I have learned from the clients and lawyers and paralegals I have had the good fortune to work with, from government and non-profit clinics to big law firms and bigger companies. Those people are too numerous to list, but I owe particular thanks to Charlie Szalkowski, who sets the model of professional ethics and can tell you the story of just about every Houston lawyer who ever lived; Melissa Russell, who helped me see the things lawyers hide from each other; Len Sandler, who taught me how to truly listen to a client; and Steve Bercu, whose example has been more influential than he knows.

A few of those lawyers are also writers, and they proved especially helpful sounding boards as I fleshed out this book. In particular, I owe thanks to Paul Miles for reading various drafts and providing essential election law advice; to Dan Wood for helping me think through my ideas for how to write a legal thriller that was about the law as much as the facts; and to Justin Castillo for helping me vet both my law and procedure, and other insights as well. I also owe thanks to some writers who are not lawyers, including Pepe Rojo, for once again help- ing me see this country from the other side of the border wall that keeps us in; Kelly Link, for titular affirmation; Jessica Re- isman, for being the truest of colleagues and the most trusted of advisors; Henry Wessells, for being the sounding board who always gets it; and Timmi Duchamp, for the engagement and example.

I want to thank my neighbors here in East Austin, with whom I have had the opportunity to work in recent years, especially Daniel Llanes and Susana Almanza, who have helped me see how the injustices of the twenty-first-century city are rooted in the history of the land on which it is built, and Bill O’Rourke, who provided important encouragement and helped me see the city from the streets. Thanks also to Sam Douglas for his documentary filmmaker’s tips on where to find Hous- ton’s very best lawyer commercials.

Big thanks to my editor, David Pomerico, who saw the potential of this idea early on, and played a critical role in helping me flesh out the concept and make it something much bigger than I initially conceived. Thanks to the rest of the team at HarperCollins, notably cover designer Owen Corrigan for helping to convey the book visually. And thanks to literary agent Mark Gottlieb for helping to guide the project forward and providing insightful advice and counsel along the way.

Finally, thanks to my family, for the love, support, and inspiration. Especially Virginia and Eliseo, for sharing with me some sense of what it is like to live in a country where the government is truly at war with the people. Thanks to Hugo and Ajin, Bill and Sibyl, and Alex and Katiti. And thanks most importantly to Agustina, for the partnership that makes works like this possible, and teaching me what it means to love some- one from Houston (and learn to love Houston in the process).

After this book went to production, my brother Alex, to whom this book is dedicated, died unexpectedly of a stroke. A painter and hardcore punk pioneer, Alex set a powerful ex- ample of how to live a life that stays true to the idealistic manifestos of youth, even in the face of adulthood’s frequent calls to pragmatic compromise. He loved secret histories, weird fic- tions, and hidden truths, and I thought of him often while I was writing this book—not just because we were planning a trip together as soon as I finished it. He lived a rich life, and left a meaningful body of work behind as an artist and musician. Preparing for his memorial service, we rediscovered some of the earliest work he had done—DIY punk zines that grounded their passionate political and social protest in profound empa- thy and a deep sense of community, and by their very making helped create a new community, one that went on to positively impact the world around it. I’ll never know what Alex would have thought of this book, but in his absence I see more clearly how much he taught me about what real justice should feel like, and his deep influence on this book’s effort to bridge the gap between the world our youthful selves want to live in, and the one we find.

TROPIC OF KANSAS a Kindle monthly deal

Preorder Tropic of Kansas from Amazon

Just found out that my novel TROPIC OF KANSAS is a Kindle monthly deal, on sale through the end of June for $1.99—a great chance for those who haven’t read it, in advance of my new related book RULE OF CAPTURE coming out later this summer (and now available for preorder).


TROPIC OF KANSAS e-book a Kindle monthly deal

This week brought the news that Tropic of Kansas is a Kindle Monthly Deal from now through November 5—$2.99 for the e-book. Thanks to all of the folks who have already checked it out.

This week’s memory feed also served a reminder of one of my favorite squibs on the book, from one year ago in Booklist:

Booklist on ToK 9-27-17

A nice boost as I crank on what’s next.

A Natural History of Empty Lots

Impala 4-13

My story “A Natural History of Vacant Lots”—really a piece of speculative nonfiction—is now available at Texas Architect and in print in the magazine’s September/October issue.

The Los Angeles Public Library has an interview about Tropic of Kansas up at their blog—some great questions that really bit into the material.

And the September 15 issue of the Times Literary Supplement has a roundup of new American dystopias, including Tropic of Kansas, remarking on the book’s “thriller-ish swagger,” “the rather richly imagined wasteland of [the book’s] mid-America,” and it’s “Twainian journey downriver to the Missisippi’s end,” and even pulling out Roland Barthes to explain the book’s narrative strategies for world building.

Texas Architect: “A Natural History of Vacant Lots”

Los Angeles Public Library: Interview with an Author: Christopher Brown

Wall Street Journal on TROPIC OF KANSAS

This weekend’s Wall Street Journal included a nice review of Tropic of Kansas by Tom Shippey—an unexpected highlight of a great weekend that also included an exceptional installment of Armadillocon, Austin’s annual conference on imaginative literature.


And this morning, my interview with Rick Kleffel at the KQED studios in San Francisco is now available online (in both 1-hour and 7-minute versions), after airing on several Northern California NPR affiliates. Rick also has a generous review of Tropic of Kansas, asserting the book is neither dystopian nor utopian, but merely “utopian”—telling it like it is:

…As hellish as things look; climate change, economic disaster, and Untied, not United States – Brown is happy to offer us some solace as well. Not everybody with a modicum of power buys into the madness. The possibility for real change is present, and low technology is there to help. The experience of reading Tropic of Kansas is thrilling not just because Brown is a masterful plotter with Sig (sort of) maturing into a genuine hero, the kind of character that makes readers want to cheer out loud. One of the major thrill here is realizing that this is not the future. It’s the present, lightly re-mixed, with a plot that reality sadly seems to lack.

It’s hard to turn the pages fast enough as you read Tropic of Kansas. Brown writes set-pieces with a powerfully cinematic eye, but remembers to invest them in character. And, as you are reading, Brown’s visionary writing and world will drop your jaws every time his perceptions laser their way into the heart of today. This happens early and often; importantly, the book was written well before today, so that Brown’s vision seems topical without resorting to “ripped from the headlines.”

It’s also critical that this is not Another Book About the Dire, Awful World. Things are bad in Tropic of Kansas, but not entirely so. There’s a soupcon of “getting-better-ability” even in the most horrific situations. This isn’t dystopian or utopian fiction, but just, what you might call “Topian,” which is to say a system that has Humans in it and thus is incapable of reaching Heaven or Hell. We can imagine both, but we know in our hearts that it’s Purgatory for us…”

Wall Street Journal—”Double Dystopia

Narrative Species/Agony Column—”Christopher Brown’s Tropic of Kansas: Topian Fiction” 


Preorder Tropic of Kansas from AmazonDelighted to see Tropic of Kansas in the latest roundup of summer reading recommendations at Kirkus, written by SF Signal editor John DeNardo:

In Brown’s all-too-plausible near future, the United States as we know it is no more. Instead of being a group of states ruled by the government, Middle America is a collection of warring territories where civil unrest and revolution are the new normal. The so-called Tropic of Kansas – described as ‘the parts of the Midwest that had somehow turned third world’ – is a demilitarized zone where civilian militias impose their own brand of cowboy justice. Into this arid wasteland comes Sig, the abandoned son of political dissidents, and Tania, his foster sister, a government investigator blackmailed into helping a tyrannical government hunt down her foster brother. Brown’s story moves quickly and he packs quite a lot of ideas and world building into every sentence. My advice: hang on and enjoy the dark but satisfying ride.

Kirkus Reviews: “Your Best Bets for Fascinating SF/F/H Reads in July”

Kelly Link on Tropic of Kansas


“The great American novel about the end of America.” Pretty stoked by this wonderful quote from the amazing (and generous) Kelly Link—2016 Pulitzer Prize finalist and award-winning author of GET IN TROUBLE, PRETTY MONSTERS, and MAGIC FOR BEGINNERS—about TROPIC OF KANSAS, coming your way in just a few more weeks.

Preorder details here.