As far as the public knows, the unassuming building on Park Avenue is a travel agency. An exclusive, extravagant travel agency — the kind that can book you a private tour of the Titanic wreckage or an illegal nighttime zip-line tour of Manhattan — but just a travel agency, complete with travel agents, who know absolutely nothing about what's going on a mile underground, on level B4.
That's the world Manuel Gonzales drops readers into, rappelling down through a ventilation shaft, into the underground heart of the Regional Office, a top secret organization of female assassins allied against the "amassing forces of darkness."
The plot of Gonzales's debut novel, "The Regional Office Is Under Attack!", reads at first glance like an action movie — a summer blockbuster stuffed with explosions and bloody showdowns. But he takes the pop culture tropes of lethal women and shadow organizations and even super powers, and sets his literary blender to "Pulverize."
The result is an electric, lively book that ping pongs between characters caught in the chaos as one group of highly trained female assassins launches an assault on another. There's betrayal, teenage crushes, a long-lost mother, a mechanical arm and even a satirical takedown of office culture, complete with a shootout in the copy room. Did we mention the all-knowing oracles?
Gonzales joined MPR News host Kerri Miller to talk about his novel and the writing process.
Writing the book was a battle of its own, as Gonzales tore through draft after draft: "All the things I was trying to do wouldn't work."
Finally, he recrafted the beginning, and the pieces began to click. The structure of the novel runs as wild as the conflicts it contains: Shifting points of view are interrupted by interstitial chapters that provide an academic background of the Regional Office's history and exploits.
Through all the mayhem and hand-to-hand combat, Gonzales keeps a steady eye on characters' insecurities and long-held secrets.
"I like it when people are given their destiny, and refuse to bow down to it," Gonzales said.
For the full interview with Manuel Gonzales, use the audio player above.
Manuel Gonzales will be reading at Magers & Quinn in Minneapolis on Friday, June 17, at 7 p.m. More details are available from Magers & Quinn.