Mario Acevedo says that highlights in his life include artist-in-residence for Arte Americas in Fresno, California, serving in Operation Desert Storm as a combat artist, teaching art to prisoners at the Avenal State Prison and organizing art fundraisers for various pet rescue groups. Now he can add one more highlight - the publication of his first novel, Nymphos of Rocky Flats (Rayo HarperCollins, March, 2006). And what a wild read it is. Private eye Felix Gomez has returned from Iraq confused and depressed. He's also become a vampire. Felix is hired to investigate a strange outbreak of nymphomania at infamous Rocky Flats. Meanwhile he has to fight off rival vampires and bloodthirsty (I couldn't resist) vampire hunters. Mario has inked a three book deal with Rayo, and I see nothing but a bright future for this writer. He's in that enviable position of first-time novelist, the babe in the woods thing, so I thought La Bloga readers would find his story interesting and a nice follow-up to last week's interview with Lucha Corpi, a veteran writer.
Once you accepted that you are a writer, did your life change? If so, how? When did that happen?
Mario: I got The Call (from my agent telling me he had sold my book) on November 17, 2004 at 2:46 PM. The call lasted 6 minutes and 46 seconds. So yes, I remember. Materially and outwardly my life hasn’t changed much (unfortunately). Now that this novel is coming out and I have to work on the sequels I’ve become a lot more focused on my writing career.
You are waiting on the publication of your first book. What’s your writing history?
Mario: I’ve always been a bookworm. When I was a kid in Las Cruces, NM, my mother would call the library and tell them to send me home. In college I did miserably in English because my writing was bad. I had to redo a class and opted for Tech Writing. The instructor showed us that good writing wasn’t about flowery language or lofty ideas but about getting your message across as clearly and simply as possible. The light went on in my head and I’ve enjoyed writing since. I’ve had a few essays published. My favorite was The Chicano Chronicles, Part I, published in The Exquisite Corpse literary journal edited by Andrei Codrescu of NPR fame.
And what are you working on for the future?
Mario: I’m polishing the sequel, X-Rated Bloodsuckers, and then start book three in the Felix Gomez series. I’ve also got a backlog of other stories rumbling in my head.
We often hear how difficult it is to get published these days. How tough was it for you?
Mario: I’ve never heard anyone say, “Back when, it was so easy to get published.” Getting published today is as tough as it was yesterday and as it will be tomorrow. The path to publication is different for every writer. I’ve collected my share of rejection letters: Dear writer, you suck.
How long has it taken you to get to this point?
Mario: One day I bought a computer from Radio Shack and started writing a novel. Seventeen years later I signed a contract. Don’t follow my example. Find a shortcut
Does it matter in the big scheme of things if you are acknowledged as a Chicano novelist?
Mario: Very much so. Actually, I’d like to be known as a successful and prosperous Chicano novelist.
Now that your book has been accepted for publication, what other goals do you want to accomplish as a writer?
Mario: Write great stories. There are many outstanding writers I admire and their novels have set a high standard. Plus I want to help other writers and get more Chicanos published.
Can you single out a person or event or situation that moved your writing forward, in terms of getting published or other recognition of your work? If so, who or what was it?
Mario: The one event that turned things around was joining Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, a Denver-based nonprofit dedicated to supporting writers of novel-length genre fiction. I got to mix with real, royalty-earning writers and learned much about the business of getting published. My RMFW critique group helped pummel my manuscript into shape.
Your first novel has private eye, vampire and thriller elements. This may be an entirely new genre. What are the reasons behind your choice of subject matter?
Mario: I originally started to write big political pot-boilers thick with crap about “important” issues. The stories bored even me. My novels evolved into historical narratives and I kept hearing from my critique group, “Mario, write to your strengths--you’re a low-brow smart-ass, go from there.” So I invented a story that lets me work in a little bit of sarcasm. I enjoy mystery stories as they allow a writer to weave edgy, oddball characters into a lurid story with a lot of plot movement. Since mysteries deal with society, you get to comment in an oblique way on social and cultural issues. In all my manuscripts, even the first sucky ones, the protagonist was an outsider so a private eye was a natural development. I was never a big vampire/fantasy fan. You want horror? Read history. Nymphos grew from the most ridiculous premise I could think of: a Chicano vampire private detective investigates an outbreak of nymphomania at the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant. The vampire mythos has morphed into an interesting direction. At first the vampire was a fearsome monster in league with Satan, then became a sadder, world-weary character, and is now the hero.
I’ll bet that you are going to get tagged with some genre label: mystery, horror, private eye, ethnic mystery/horror/private eye, whatever. How do you feel about that and about labels on your writing in general?
Mario: Labels haven’t hurt my favorite authors. Carl Hiaasen, satirist. Harlan Coben, thriller. Laura Lippman, mystery. Dennis Lehane, noir. The one label I want is the most important one: Mario is a good writer and he tells great stories.
This must be an exciting time for you. Describe what it’s like to know that one day very soon you can walk into a bookstore and there on the shelves you will have a space, along with all your favorite books and authors.
Mario: Yes, I am excited and getting more so every day as the launch day approaches. Seeing my book on the shelves will encourage me to write better and work harder on the next stories.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you ever received or that you want to give to other writers?
Mario: One. Read as much as you can. And write. Don’t wait for inspiration. The muse works for you. Go club her on the head and make her help pay the rent. Two. Get involved with writing groups whose goals support yours. Three. Have faith. You won’t know when you will get published but if you quit, it will never happen.
Thanks, Mario - good luck with the book. Mario's launch party for Nymphos is set for March 23 at 7:30 PM at the Tattered Cover (Denver, LoDo). See you there.
On January 22, 2006, Justo Vasco, one of the founding members of the International Crime Writers Association, died from a stroke. He was 63. Cuban by birth, Justo moved to Gijón, Spain in 1996. He is survived by his son Enrique, his wife Cristina Macía, and Laura, his three-year-old daughter. Justo wrote crime fiction, la novela negra, and was friends with and had befriended many of the world's best crime fiction writers. He helped with the organizational and administrative responsibilities of the annual Semana Negra crime fiction literary festitval in Gijón. That's where I met Justo and I remember him as a gracious, affable man committed to crime fiction as literature. Rest in peace.