Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Back in January 2006, Manuel Ramos’ Friday La Bloga column interviewed Mario Acevedo, who’d just announced his upcoming first novel, The Nymphos of Rocky Flats. “Uau,” I told myself, “now that is one heck of a memorable title. I hope it reads as well as the title is effective.”
As it turned out, 2006 has nearly disappeared and I still haven’t read Nymphos. Menso me. Having just read Acevedo’s second novel, X-Rated Bloodsuckers, I’m aware what I must have missed. If Nymphos is half the book as the second novel, Acevedo’s readers are in for a long line of highly enjoyable novels.
Acevedo has found a secret ingredient that assures a long, reliable stream of sure-fire winners, a greatly imaginative character. Think of the best character-driven novels and how eager readers thirst for the next one: Len Deighton’s Bernard Samson, Manuel Ramos’ Luis Montez, John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee.
Meet Felix Gomez, private detective, Chicano, vampire.
A vampire has a bag of tricks that lets the author pull all sorts of tricks on his plot: reading auras, hypnotizing anyone making eye contact, shape shifting, for example. And lots of human traits, like horniness, and everyday experiences where supernatural mojo has no effect.
Gomez is a Denver dick, but Acevedo sets this story in Gomez’ hometown of Pacoima and greater Los Angeles. Returning to his boyhood home, the vampire has a moment of human regret. As he notes, “Even with supernatural mojo, I still felt queasy coming here. Since I had left many years ago, vowing never to return, I had graduated from college, gone to war, become a vampire, and settled in Denver. And here I was, back in Pacoima anyway.” I like how he slips in the remarkable. From the vampire's point of view, one experience is much akin to any other.
Gomez finds his old community awash in commercial development, an improvement over vacant lots and abandoned cars. Following a clue, the detective comes “home” to visit a local Chicana activist, Veronica Torres. The vampire falls instantly in lust with the luscious woman. Although he easily could hypnotize her and enjoy all the blood and sex he can take with impunity, Felix treats her honorably, even crawling into bed with her and leaving her untouched after she passes out drunk. Later, after they’ve bedded down, the horny vampire talks like the military man the human Felix had been, when he remarks, “’I sorted the documents, crosschecking information, taking the occasional break for a coffee-and-blood pick-me-up. What I really wanted was a Manhattan and another shot of leg…Veronica’s.’”
The auras give Acevedo a chance for some fun. Human auras are red, vampires orange. Humans, unaware of their auras, give away their emotions in an instant reading of their auras. "Rosario's aura flared, then settled into a turbulent neon mass swirling around his bulk. . . .His aura settled into a soft glowing texture like phosphorescent chenille." Some vampires, like sidekick Coyote, control theirs, playing with color and form around the edges. Plus, the orange glow makes hiding from hunter-killer vampires nearly impossible.
Then there's one remarkable human, the villainous Councilwoman Venin: “A red aura surrounded Petale Venin, a vermillion corona placid as still waters. My naked eyes bore into hers and nothing happened. Venin was immune to vampire hypnosis.” Many of the characters' names are like that, oddball, like the porno stars of the title, Katz Meow and Roxy Bronze AKA Freya Kreiger. Then there are the despicable surgeon, Dr. Mordecai Niphe, the corrupt Rev. Dale Journey and the crooked Lucky Rosario.
Acevedo uses vampire magic when convenient, but it’s of little use confronting—or not—the mundane. More than merely everyday, Acevedo peppers the novel with wonderful bits of local color and Chicano authenticity, as in the description of Veronica’s office: “The front hall doubled as an art gallery. The exhibition was a series of modern interpretations of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The Virgin as seamstress. The Virgin wearing boxing gloves. The Virgin working the drive-thru window of McDonald’s.” If you’ve had the privilege of viewing Alma Lopez, J. Michael Walker, or Ester Hernandez’ Guadalupana art, these images will be familiar.
Local color, like the art show, informs the novel's sense of community. Acevedo doesn’t make a big deal of the matter-of-fact mundane, as when Gomez goes to stay with Coyote. The vampire magician’s home presents scenes familiar in almost any poor family: “'I told you I lived in a palace.' Coyote unfolded a towel covering a stack of flour tortillas on the counter by the stove. He turned one of the stove handles with a set of pliers and let the gas hiss.” I remember that stove from my aunt Mona’s house.
Aside from an interesting plot mixing political corruption and danger to the vampire world, Acevedo obviously enjoys the arresting simile:
“Seen from the freeway, the sprawl of the San Fernando Valley stretched in relentless monotony. A line of homes clung to the surrounding hills like the ring around a bathtub.”
“Once the engine kicked over, I stomped on the accelerator. My tires screeched like banshees with hemorrhoids.”
“'I’ve got the ass with you, smart guy.' His voice sounded like words dragged over sandpaper." More Army talk, there, by the way. I remember my First Sergeant getting a “case of the ass” at some hapless GI and assigning several hours filling sandbags as a cure.
There is so much to enjoy in Acevedo's work. Still, he does kowtow to the irritating habit of appositional translation, saying algo en Spanish then translating it into English. "Coyote scooped blood with a nacho chip and crunched on it. '?Nada, verdad? Nothing, right?'" Then again, some of these translations add hilarity to the mix, as in the line, "'No kidding, buey.' Ball-less asshole."
X-Rated Bloodsuckers will make an excellent, if perhaps ironic, gift for Easter. Harper Collins’ Rayo imprint has the novel scheduled for a March 2007 release. Outright hilarity in places, downright revulsion in others, e.g. rat chorizo and coffee mixed with Type B, and an involving yarn make it a standout. Hopefully, a recipient won’t be superstitious, but at any rate, the engaging character of Felix Gomez will win you as many friends as you give copies.
Great news on the mural front!
National Effort Launched to Rescue Public Murals Project Seeks Recommendations of Murals to Save
Washington, D.C.- Rescue Public Murals, a national project to save public murals in the United States, has launched an initiative to collect information on important outdoor murals that are deteriorating in communities nationwide.
Rescue Public Murals, based at the national nonprofit organization Heritage Preservation, will bring public attention to U.S. murals, document their unique artistic and historic contributions, and secure the expertise and support to save them. The project recently received significant funding from the Getty Foundation, as well as from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Booth Heritage Foundation, and the Wyeth Foundation for American Art.
Individuals and communities are invited to submit information about public murals, particularly those that appear to be in poor condition, at www.RescuePublicMurals.org. These recommendations will help Rescue Public Murals form local committees that will work with Heritage Preservation and professional conservators to assess the condition of highly endangered murals in the United States and raise awareness and funding for their preservation.
In 2007, Rescue Public Murals will select 10 deteriorating murals for in-depth assessments involving a conservator, the artist who created the mural, and community supporters. The assessments will result in recommendations for conservation, maintenance, and fund-raising. Heritage Preservation also has begun planning for a comprehensive database of U.S. murals.
Public murals enliven neighborhoods, inform citizens, and comment on events, aspirations, and challenges in communities. Unfortunately, the very qualities that make murals so distinctive also lead to their disintegration. Public murals' accessibility exposes them to weather and graffiti. The surfaces public murals are painted on can damage the artwork over time. Many of the hundreds of mural art masterpieces from the 1970s and 1980s are in serious disrepair. Without prompt attention, they will vanish.
Rescue Public Murals will be modeled on Save Outdoor Sculpture (SOS!), an award-winning program of Heritage Preservation that inventoried 32,000 works of outdoor sculpture nationwide and resulted in more than $8 million being spent on saving outdoor sculpture. "SOS! taught us that documenting public art is a vital step in ensuring its proper, long-term care. With heightened public awareness, these treasures of our community life were preserved for future generations. We look forward to having the same success with public murals," says Heritage Preservation's President Lawrence L. Reger.
An advisory committee of muralists, conservators, art historians, and public art professionals will advise Heritage Preservation on Rescue Public Murals. Co-chairing the committee are Timothy W. Drescher, a mural scholar and former co-editor of Community Murals magazine, and Will Shank, a independent conservator and curator and past head of conservation at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
"The Getty is delighted to provide support for the first phase of Rescue Public Murals," says Joan Weinstein, interim director of the Getty Foundation. "Public murals are vital community assets, and a national strategy to document and preserve them will benefit artists, scholars, and the broader public."
With grant support, Heritage Preservation has designed the Rescue Public Murals Web site, compiled a list of individuals and organizations active in the mural arts movement, and developed guidelines on how to involve the community, artists, and conservators in the process of assessing murals. While Rescue Public Murals recognizes the significant historic and artistic value of public murals within structures, the project's initial priority will be murals that are outdoors and thus especially vulnerable.
More about the Project
Heritage Preservation is a nonprofit organization working to save the objects that embody our history, partnering with conservators, collecting institutions, civic groups, and concerned individuals across the nation who care about preserving pieces of our shared and individual pasts. For more information, contact Heritage Preservation, 1012 14th Street NW, Suite 1200, Washington DC 20005, 202-233-0800, email@example.com, or www.heritagepreservation.org.
The J. Paul Getty Trust is an international cultural and philanthropic institution devoted to the visual arts that features the Getty Conservation Institute, the Getty Foundation, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the Getty Research Institute. The J. Paul Getty Trust and Getty programs serve a varied audience from two locations: the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Getty Villa in Malibu. Additional information is available on the Getty Web site at www.getty.edu.
For more information on Rescue Public Murals, contact project director Kristen Overbeck Laise, Heritage Preservation, 1012 14th Street NW, Suite 1200, Washington DC 20005, 202-233-0800, or www.RescuePublicMurals.org.
So, Raza and fellow-readers, it’s the week before Xmas and all through the house, all the critters are looking forward to a big pile of books under the tree. What are you giving this year? I’m giving myself The Nymphos of Rocky Flats, and mid-week, my order arrives at indie bookseller IMIX Books, and just as easy as that, presto! Le voila! my gift list will be almost complete.
See you on Boxing Day!