Friday, July 26, 2013

Mario Acevedo - Happy Birthday, Rocky

Mario Acevedo's New Book, Good Money Gone

La Bloga friend Mario Acevedo writes the best-selling Felix Gomez detective-vampire series (five novels, so far.) Mario’s debut novel, The Nymphos of Rocky Flats, was chosen by Barnes & Noble as one of the best Paranormal Fantasy Novels of the Decade. His vampire character is featured in the graphic novel Killing the Cobra from IDW Publishing. His short fiction is included in the anthologies, You Don’t Have A Clue: Latino Mystery Stories for Teens and Hit List: The Best of Latino Mystery from Arte Público Press, and in Exquisite Corpse and Modern Drunkard Magazine. 

Mario is a past president of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America and was the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers 2009 Writer of the Year.

Mario's latest publishing venture is a thriller he co-wrote with a man who lived through many of the events that appear in the book. It's title is Good Money Gone.

This description is from the blurbs on the book's cover:

"Panama: a tropical paradise with an anything-goes attitude. Bring your wish list. It's a place to start. Or start over. Where the best of intentions are dazzled by the glitter of easy money. Steven McKay chases the quick bucks in offshore finance, playing fast and loose with his scruples until he discovers he's merely one cog in a vast Ponzi scheme. Even as his paranoid boss puts the screws to everyone inside the conspiracy, McKay races to save his clients -- and his skin -- before the rotten machine grinds to a halt under the weight of sleaze, greed, and criminal investigations. He realizes too late that his dream for wealth and fortune was nothing but Good Money Gone."

I asked Mario for a few words about how he came to be involved in this project - here's his response. Plus, he's offering a free download the first few days of August. Check it out.


Mario Acevedo:

I co-wrote this story with Richard Kilborn, and it's based on his experience working with an investment company in Panama. The company swindled millions in one of the biggest offshore Ponzi schemes in US history. (Look up the Firm of Mark M Harris.)

Richard flew me to Panama to get a flavor of the place and to interview some of his former co-workers. The opening chapter is pretty much what I experienced on arrival except that we didn't end up in a whorehouse. This was the first time I've ever been to another Latin American country besides Mexico. The differences and similarities were striking and overall, I was very impressed. I would live in Panama.

When I first started on the manuscript, my outline and draft were based on Richard's recollection and the documents he had forwarded. I suggested that we might add wiretaps and private detectives to heighten the drama but he said that didn't happen.

The interviews with his fellow salesmen weren't very productive. They didn't share much and even resented that Richard had reopened wounds about a painful time in their lives. But his other co-workers were much more forthcoming and the wildest episodes in the novel are based on their testimony (which shocked even Richard). Plus the chief of security did admit to bugging phones and shadowing people. (Do I know noir or what?) The atmosphere during the final days when the firm was sinking and the authorities closing in like sharks was rife with paranoia. And the head of the company was captured almost identically to the way the villain was in the story.

We're offering the ebook as a free download on Amazon, August 1-5.

Good Money Gone, when the road to riches becomes the road to ruin.

Hope you enjoy the book.


Happy Birthday, Rocky Ruiz

Back in 1990 or so I finished a manuscript that I titled El Corrido de Rocky Ruiz. The story focused on Luis Móntez, a burned-out Chicano lawyer trying to stay afloat in Denver, struggling with non-paying clients, no social life, and a malaise of the soul that had him talking to himself. He battled the "old boys club" of lawyers and judges in the courtroom and in his professional life. In his personal life he battled his grouchy and stubborn father, Jesús, who always seemed to know what was best for Luis even if Luis couldn't see it. One of his ex-wives hounded him for money, while his sons gradually drifted away from him as they grew up. Into the middle of Luis's serious mid-life crisis walked Teresa Fuentes, the young Texas attorney who surprised Luis by showing an interest in him but who, as it turned out, had serious dark secrets of her own. Teresa stirred things up in the Mile High City, not the least of which was Luis's resurrected need to learn the truth about the death of his best friend in college, Rocky Ruiz. Luis's search for that truth was at the core of the novel and that meant that the Chicano Movement politics of Luis's youth, back in the 1960s, played an essential role in the story. I jumped with passion and drive into Luis's adventures tracking down the death of Rocky Ruiz and the real reason for Teresa's move to Denver, and when I finished I realized I had written a mystery novel.

This is how Luis describes his first meeting with Teresa:

"I looked at her face and, you know how it is, there are times when the people, atmosphere, and emotions all come together at the right instant and you swear life really is fine, after all. The four black musicians on the small, barely lighted stage kicked off their last set with a moody, bluesy jazz harmony that set exactly the right tone. The bourbon cruised my system, mellowing out the rough parts and tricking me into thinking that the city was the only way to go. And I stared into the most beautiful pair of eyes I had seen in years of chasing every manner and style of woman, tearing apart two marriages and who knows how many affairs, living through broken hearts and breaking a few, too. But those eyes turned me into a twenty-one-year-old loco, a dude on the prowl, and the world again was inhabited by beautiful, sensual women."

Before Rocky I had written another piece that I called a "book"  -- it wasn't. That manuscript has never been read by anyone other than my wife. Bits and pieces of it have been rolled into other stories and novels, and ideas from the early story have found their way into more recent writing, so it was something I had to do. But when I finished El Corrido de Rocky Ruiz I knew I had written a book worth showing to someone other than my biggest fan. I submitted it to a few agents and publishers. Eventually an agent took an interest in the book. I later learned that he was almost as new to the business as I was, but in those days that didn't seem to matter.

I took a chance and entered the manuscript in the Chicano/Latino Literary Award contest sponsored by the University of California at Irvine, administered by the respected and well-known literary critic Juan Bruce-Novoa. I still remember the phone call from Juan when he told me that El Corrido de Rocky Ruiz had won the award and could I come to California for the award ceremony?

Thus began my continuing saga with Rocky Ruiz. My agent sent me copies of rejection letters until the day came that he happily informed me that St. Martin's Press was interested. The award included publication of the book but Juan Bruce-Novoa was okay with St. Martin's as long the award was mentioned on the cover. That's why the following is found on the jacket of the hardcover edition of The Ballad of Rocky Ruiz:

"Winner of the 1991 University of California at Irvine Chicano/Latino Literary Contest."

The editing process included changing the title to The Ballad of Rocky Ruiz: Death of a Martyr (some early reviews have that as the title - Death of a Martyr appeared on the ARCs but not in the final version.) My editor, Reagan Arthur (now publisher at Little, Brown with her own imprint) was encouraging and helpful, and I was the recipient of some honest-to-goodness copy editing from one of Reagan's copy editors. The cover art was sufficiently dark, ambiguous, and mysterious, and it included the line A Mystery by Manuel Ramos right at the top of the front cover. Cool. The jacket copy proclaimed that the book was an "exciting debut novel." I loved that book. The year was 1993. The month was July.

Then the reviews started coming in and, if I say so myself, they were great.

"Ramos fashions Luis into a likeable sleuth ... with hangdog charisma."  Publishers Weekly

"An auspicious debut ... The first-person narrative of Montez is perfect, and a sense of dreamlike fatalism hovers over the action."  San Francisco Examiner and Chronicle

"A thickly atmospheric first novel with just enough mystery to hold together a powerfully elegiac memoir of the heady early days of Chicano activism." Kirkus Reviews

"Keenly enjoyable ... Succeeds as both thriller and soul-searching lamentation for the demise of the 1960s Chicano movement." Booklist

The book won a Colorado Book Award and was a finalist for an Edgar Award for best first novel from the Mystery Writers of America. St. Martin's re-released it as a mass market paperback.  This edition featured a classy cover even though it had an image that probably was Luis Móntez. I always thought Luis's face should have been left to the reader's imagination.

St. Martin's eventually published four Móntez novels. The string with the New York publisher stopped in 1997 with Blues for the Buffalo, around the same time that Reagan Arthur left St. Martin's. I finished the lawyer series in 2003 with Brown-on-Brown, published by the University of New Mexico Press. I had said all I could think of about Luis Móntez and for me his saga was done. The five books covered about a decade in Luis's life. The story arc began with his mid-life edginess in the Ballad of Rocky Ruiz and ended with a quiet acceptance of life's vagaries at the end of Brown-on-Brown, although some things don't change and he still had a regret about a woman who slipped away.

"I thought again about quitting. The cranking furnace heat and the greasy lunch made me drowsy. I could hear the snow falling on the sidewalk outside my office. I could feel the branches of the tree near the front door bend under the weight of ice. My eyes were blinded by the white light of winter. My heart thumped crazily in my chest. I thought of Alicia.

Rosa's voice cracked through my daze. 'You okay, Luis? You don't look so good.'

I said, 'Never better, Rosa. Never better.'"

But Rocky wasn't finished. In the early 2000s I was approached by Ilan Stavans about the possibility of reissuing the Móntez books as part of the Latino Voices series that Stavans was editing for Northwestern University Press. I jumped at the chance. Not only did the books get a new life, they had new covers, a major introduction by Stavans that stretched across the first four books, and forewords for each of the books by authors of my choosing. The new editions were released in 2004. The cover art again was excellent. The artist used the huelga eagle stretching across a southwestern vista. Maybe it didn't have all that much to do with the story, but it sure looked good.

Gary Phillips, one of my favorite crime fiction writers, wrote the foreword. Gary's very nice words included this observation:

"The Ballad of Rocky Ruiz offers no shopworn sentimentality. It is a tale about past sins and how Montez must wrestle with his part in all that to see clearly in the present. It is a mystery of the human condition and our need to heal old wounds. We, like Montez, learn over again that cynicism and regret plague our psyches. But to give in totally is to give up, and that's not the answer to either when the smoke clears.  Always forward, Rocky would say, ese, because it ain't no big thing."

So it's been twenty years. Publishing has changed as much as my hair has lost its glossy black sheen. My attitude about writing hasn't changed all that much, but now I think I understand the business better, and the essential need to appreciate the art rather than the trappings that come with the artistic product. The great reviews, accolades, and attention that I accepted as part of the writer's natural life back in 1993 now seem like a distant dream, not even a memory.  

The Ballad of Rocky Ruiz is still available from Northwestern, and any bookseller can order it if requested. That's something, I think. Contrary to what Rocky Ruiz might say, that's a big thing, ese. 

It was twenty years ago today, Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play ...



Mario Acevedo said...

Feliz cumpleanos to Rocky. The book launch was the first book signing I ever attended and where I met Manuel and Flo. Twenty years! No way.

Manuel Ramos said...

Congrats on the new book, Mario - yeah, hard to believe it's been two decades, but there it is.