By Daniel Olivas
In addition to a political thriller The Hidden Light of Mexico City, Carmen Amato is the author of the Emilia Cruz mystery series set in Acapulco, including Cliff Diver, Hat Dance, Diablo Nights, and the collection of short stories Made in Acapulco. Originally from New York, Amato has also lived in Mexico and Central America which brings an authenticity to her fiction. Her creation, Emilia Cruz, is the first and only female police detective based in Acapulco. Amato kindly made time to answer a few questions about Diablo Nights.
DANIEL OLIVAS: Emilia Cruz is a wonderfully complex character. What went into your creation of her and how has she developed in the series?
CARMEN AMATO: First of all, thanks so much for inviting me to chat. I’ve been up to my ears in the fourth Emilia Cruz mystery, King Peso, and am happy to take a break!
Emilia came about after a scary night in a church in Mexico City. We were an American family in Mexico City, embracing a new culture, exploring a vibrant city, and meeting people who were to impact our lives for years to come. Expatriate life was good.
But a drug-addled gun-waving man lurched his way up the aisle during midnight mass on Christmas Eve. He accosted our parish priest, Father Richard, who dug into a pocket beneath his robes and handed the man a few pesos. Several men from the congregation managed to get the man out of the church without further incident but we were all shaken.
The experience popped my lovely expatriate bubble. We read the worsening news over the next year: shootouts in major cities, multiple drug seizures, rising numbers of dead and missing, the murders of mayors, governors and journalists.
Now back in the United States, as a writer, I wanted to raise awareness of what's going on in Mexico. My weapons are plot elements straight out of the headlines, an authentic dive into one of the most beautiful settings on earth, and a little salsa fresca from my own years living in Mexico and Central America.
To carry the narrative, I had to create a strong, multi-dimensional character able to shoulder the burden of a cop in Mexico. Emilia has to walk a fine line between drug cartels and institutionalized corruption. Being female adds to the mix but also reflects reality in Mexico, as does her strong Catholicism. Her family’s poverty contrasts with her relationship with a rich gringo and is a nod to the extremes of wealth in Mexico, but she’s also a mean kickboxer and a good liar.
Have I mentioned that she’s also a mean kickboxer, hunts for missing women, and is a good liar?
DO: In Diablo Nights, Emilia Cruz battles everything from the drug cartels to incompetent or (worse yet) corrupt members of law enforcement to sexism to trying to find balance in her personal life. Could you talk about these challenges that Cruz confronts and what the reaction has been from your readers?
CA: The Emilia Cruz mystery series is based on reality. Emilia’s challenges are pulled right from the headlines in Mexico. There’s no need for me to make up bizarre serial killers when cartel violence and corrupt politicians provide more than enough inspiration. For example, Emilia’s perpetual hunt for women who have gone missing—referred to as Las Perdidas or the Lost Ones—was inspired by the hundreds of women missing from the Juarez area.
The majority of readers find Emilia because the books are catalogued as International Mystery and Crime, alongside books by Jo Nesbo and Ian Rankin. Those who love police procedurals tell me it’s a fresh take on the genre. Those who love female sleuths have embraced Emilia as a woman battling the odds. The scene in Cliff Diver when she takes down a would-be rapist is the most talked-about bit out of all the books.
Other readers find the books because they are interested in Mexico. Those readers invariably mention the authenticity of the food and setting. Many say how much they have learned about Mexico from the books.
I think another appeal of the Emilia Cruz series is that so much of the intrigue and mystery elements come from relationships. These mysteries aren’t powered by forensics or ballistics, but by the twisted connections between characters. The characters themselves are often twisted, too, by violence or greed.
DO: The Emilia Cruz novels would make a great movie or TV series. Any plans for the big or small screen and, regardless, who would you like to see play Cruz?
CA: You must have a sixth sense! By the time this interview goes live, the contract for the film rights to the Emilia Cruz series will have been inked. The screenwriter has really taken the time to get to know the characters and has been to Mexico several times. While a feature film is under consideration, a cable or Netflix series would be a terrific vehicle for Emilia, given material from both the novels and short stories. Tense, but with gorgeous views of Acapulco.
Think House of Cards meets Hawaii 5-0.
As for who would play Emilia on the silver screen, it’s a toss-up. Eva Mendes would bring physical and sensual power as well as a touch of humor to the character. But America Ferrera, best known for the Ugly Betty television show, is a superb actress and could really explore Emilia’s vulnerable side.
The only cast member I’m sure of is Salma Hayek as Acapulco mayor Carlota Montoya Perez. I wrote the character with the actress in mind and really hope she’s free next year about this time . . .
Maybe your readers have a few suggestions for the other characters, especially Emilia’s perpetually surly partner, Franco Silvio. I’d love to hear them!
IN OTHER LITERARY NEWS…
La Bloga’s own René Colato Laínez shares the following, and you can help:
I have been nominated by Talleres de Poesia and Lunas Press to Premios Actitud El Salvador awarded by La Prensa de Los Angeles. I am in the category “Personalidad con Actitud.” I need your vote. Please click the link. They will ask for your email address. Then they will send a code to your email address that you will need to finalize the vote. The last day to vote in April 15th. Thank you! ¡Muchas gracias!
He sido nominado a premios Actitud El Salvador otorgado por La Prensa de Los Angeles. Estoy en la categoría de Personalidad con Actitud. Necesito su voto para poder ganar. Visite el enlace para votar. Les pedirán su correo electrónico. Luego le enviaran un código a su correo electrónico que se debe agregar para poder finalizar la votación. La votaciones cierran el 15 de abril ¡Muchas gracias!