Rachel Denhing talks to James Kelly about his book Pablo Fandango.

What was your purpose for this book?

The book Pablo Fandango came to me as a revelation of sorts. In my mind, I was making a declaration of sorts to myself on my colorful life. It was truly a disclosure of my past in every shape and form. This book, and others, have been in me wanting to be realized for well over 25 years! My friends and colleagues over the years would tell me “You should be writing novels based around your exploits and life you’ve lived.” Finally, one day, I decided I would attempt to write a screenplay based on Pablo Fandango. Once I finished the screenplay, a lightbulb went off and I came up with the idea of turning the screenplay into a novel. A great deal of sweat, memories, and love went into writing Pablo Fandango. I can honestly say I’m very proud to have pulled it off. I was also tired of seeing the same old stories pumped out like a factory, using the same old characters with no realness to them. They just seemed so fake! Ironic my novel is about forgery! Hahahaa

There is lots of vulgar language throughout the story, is this how you speak, or did you think it was more appropriate given the characters you created?

There are points of vulgar language throughout my novel, absolutely. I’m separating my voice from the same old expressions and characters language that is out there today. That’s like asking Dr. Dre if Ice-T, who pioneered gangsta-rap, into a distinct form. I, personally, do not use vulgar language unless the moment calls for it. I’m not part of that ‘Snowflake’ movement. I’m old school and very straight-forward in my actions and beliefs as an individual. I may not be politically correct at times, but that’s me. I’m not perfect and I don’t claim to be. If I see a wrong, I will speak my mind wholeheartedly, and if that means being vulgar, I will be vulgar! One must understand where one comes from. I wasn’t raised in Buckingham Palace, although I’ve had the great pleasure of Princess Diana’s personal chef, Darren McGrady, cook for me. I come from the streets, the ghetto, and people from the streets use what I call ‘colorful language.’ But, to be square, regular people may find colorful language to be vulgar.

It has been my experience that, having dealt with a great many underworld figures, this is how these individuals express themselves. One should watch John Gotti’s jailhouse conversations with his visitors on YouTube and see how he talks very calmly to his own family and the language he uses. This is the language that that life dictates. And I wanted my readers to feel the true expressions from my characters based on their vulgar language, to give them a sense of where they’re from and the environment they live in.

Are there any characters you can relate to more than others?

I can really relate to Marty Ronan, but also to Matt and Howie.

These three characters were, in fact, based, on one real-life character, which, in turn, I developed into three, with some traits based on my own experiences. They all have traits from a real-life spy of spies! Having worked as a mercenary/UC operative for more than twenty-five years, I’ve taken experiences and, with my imagination, changed a few things around. But, for the most part, I can say I identify with the main character Marty Ronan. He’s truly a very unique character and unlike any other character out there today in this field of reading. He has a dying loyalty to his true friendships. He’s a chameleon of sorts, which I can relate to. And he lives by his own code. So, yes, I really can relate to him as a character.

Is there a reason for setting the story in the 1990s, with the chance that many millennial readers might not understand references given during that decade?

The reason the story takes place and is based in the 1990s is because this is when Marty Ronan embarks upon his journey and was loosely based on a real-life timeline. My real-life character, which he is based on, started his career in the 90s. His story continues on from this escapade and just flourishes into an astonishing journey like no other.

Marty Ronan fans will truly enjoy what’s just around the corner.

This series of novels can be enjoyed immensely by young or old, whether you’re a Millennial or Gen-Xer! I’ve had nothing but positive feedback from Millennials. They are wiser than we give them credit for, and they actually really identify with the friendships and personalities of my main characters. They are not your common cliché characters. This resonates with them due to some of their own relationships, traumas, friendships, and just being a Millennial in today’s ever-changing world. They see my characters, who are dreamers and not afraid to go out and do what they gotta do! So Millennials are not an issue at all. It’s all been a positive experience for myself.

Do you have a favorite part of the story?

My favorite part, without a doubt, is when playboy Howie (Howard Ashley Harrington) lets out to the prospective mark, that, in fact, they are selling the stolen forged Picasso on behalf of Colombian Drug lord Pablo Escobar! And, in fact, this actually did happen in real life! It just takes their con to a whole other level. It really reminds me of the Paul Newman/Robert Redford classic movie ‘The Sting’ — how a small-time drifter makes it to the big con. Very similar con-game being played. It’s all in the bait and switch of running a con like they have run. Imagine hearing a story like that being an art purchaser, knowing you’re dealing with none other than Pablo Escobars’ cohorts! It’s mind-boggling for the average person to wrap his head around….ha ha ha!

Stranger than fiction.

Do you have an interest in art? Or is there another reason you chose this subject?

I absolutely love Fine Art and have since my youth. How could you not love art! It’s part of our very fabric as a society. I was an exceptionally talented artist from a very early age who just had a gift. I can remember vividly as a kid in kindergarten that my teacher was astonished by an ocean scene with a whale that I created. It was my very first painting. I then got accepted into a special program for gifted kids and went on to attend SAIT and the Ontario College of Art.

My father used to say it was in my genes, as my great-great uncles used to paint the churches in Europe. I have fallen for the contemporary art scene, and I find the art being created today to be fascinating. I’m lucky to have a following of sorts and collectors love my artwork, which I’m incredibly grateful for. I also collect old Dutch masters. I love Van Gogh — a true genius. Life would be very boring without art.

While writing, did you have any interesting writing quirks?

Having played this story over in my mind like a movie, I really had no quirks. When I write a story, I play it in my mind like viewing a motion picture. I write scene for scene and then expand on it and bring it to life. It flows because I do a great deal of research at all angles. And it really helps when you’re motivated and passionate about the project your undertaking at hand. The process, in some ways, is like painting.  You put your ideas on canvas, or whatever medium you’re using, to create your own masterpiece. When you love doing what you’re doing, quirks don’t happen—you find the exit and move on.

I guess it’s my Jedi mindset…..ha ha ha ha

Where did you get your information or ideas for Pablo Fandango?

My Intel for this novel came from a quite lengthy research process I undertook. I performed personal interviews with members of law enforcement, family members attached to the real-life characters, as well as art historians and professionals in the Fine Art arena. I had a treasure trove of newspaper articles on the real-life character and the criminal proceedings, which were part of his story—court records, probation reports. So I did, in fact, do an incredible amount of research for Pablo Fandango. In the early 1990s, this was an incredible story and a fascinating story for the media. You really have to do a great deal of in-depth research to create a credible story. People can smell BS when they see it! And I enjoy creating characters and stories based on real-life people.

Do you have other works coming out soon?

Right now, I’m working on the next Marty Ronan novel. It’s really going great. Set in a number of fabulous international locations and centered around the global Heroin/Arms Trade in southeast Asia. It’s Marty Ronan’s introduction into the big-time world of transnational criminal/terrorist organizations that transport their evil wares globally. He will need all his wit and charm to cut off the head of the snake! With a whole slew of fascinating characters and going after a target who supplied Osama Bin Laden and his cohorts’ weapons, it’s going to be a tremendously entertaining experience for Marty Ronan fans! And, once again, based loosely on real-life events and people.

You have lived a very interesting life. Will you try to incorporate personal experiences into your future books or are there any experiences in this one?

All of my books have experiences I’ve endured over the span of my career in that life. Good and bad. It’s what makes my voice I feel unique. I’m pulling ideas constantly from my mind. For me, it’s a rehabilitation for my mind….ha ha ha ha! To have endured more than twenty-five years, I often wonder how I made it! But you press on and go through life’s rough patches. That is what builds character in us as people. It just makes you stronger, I feel. You may lose a battle every now and then, but you never give up and keep going, no matter what. Keep dreaming larger than life. I do every second of the day!

This has been an incredible question period Rachel and I enjoyed it immensely. Thank you for your brilliant questions. I hope my answers weren’t too brutally honest. Like I said, I’m old school and a straight arrow.


James Kelly is many things: global chameleon, mercenary, an encyclopedia of organized crime. Now, with the publication of his first novel, Pablo Fandango, he’s an author.

From the murder capital of Oakland, to the bustling streets of Bangkok, author James Kelly has worked as a high-level mercenary operating on the frontlines with the RCMP, DEA, ICE, INTERPOL, AFP, and a whole slew of clandestine intelligence agencies from around the world fighting transnational terrorism and organized crime. James Kelly has worked in overseas investigations in Asia, Australia, India, Europe, South America, and the Middle East.

During his long and varied career, Kelly has succeeded in ways that read out of a Hollywood script, like saving the life of one of Italy’s most loved entertainers from a mob hitman. Kelly was integral to Canada’s biggest reverse sting operation that changed North America’s laws forever.

“In my line of work you get one chance. It’s not Hollywood – it’s real life. And if you can’t impress the bad guys that you’re the real deal, very fast you end up in the trunk of a car – dead.” – James Kelly, author of Pablo Fandango

After many of his colleagues told him he should be writing novels on his exploits, he decided to come out of the shadows. When he is not skirting death across the globe, he attends to several hobbies. He is an accomplished contemporary artist as well as a collector of old Dutch masters. His artistic practice involves turning garbage and pages from old novels into thought-provoking mixed media collages, which are coveted by collectors around the world. He is a cigar aficionado and a man of good taste evident. He loves the ocean and is an avid deep sea fisherman. He has attended the Ontario College of Art and SAIT and is already working on his next Marty Ronan novel. He has lived an incredibly extraordinary life!