Friday, January 15, 2021

Remembering The Ballad of Rocky Ruiz


Three editions of The Ballad of Rocky Ruiz

Angels in the Wind is the title of the next book I will publish.  As I write this piece for La Bloga, the crew at Arte Público Press is working on cover art, pre-pub publicity, and the final galleys for the planned publication date of April 30, 2021.  I wrote most of the book in 2020 and finished it in August.  Yes, only a few months ago.  The fact that it is coming out in April is a testament to the hard-working Arte Público staff. 

Angels in the Wind is my eleventh published novel (I also have a collection of short stories:  The Skull of Pancho Villa and Other Stories.)  Writing the book was hard work; that’s been true about all my books and stories and poetry.  But writing this book also was a bit of a different experience. Over this past record-setting hot summer, as I created, edited, loved or hated the book in my home office or in the shade of the massive pine tree in our front yard (when the air wasn’t polluted with wildfire smoke and ash,) I felt a unique challenge to finish.  After all, I’m seventy-two years old, with typical old man troubles, plus I had the added adventure of dealing with Parkinson’s, fear and uncertainty generated by the COVID-19 crisis, a nervous excitement related to the Black Lives Matter actions, depression and anger caused by the Trump presidency, and a general malaise as I realized and accepted that the years are hurtling by at soul-crunching speed and there isn’t anything to do about that.

Writing Angels in the Wind grounded me, and, paradoxically, shook me up.  It was an unsettling but satisfactory exercise. It might simply have been viejito sentiment or nostalgia, but when I completed the manuscript and sent it to the Houston offices of Arte Público, I found myself reflecting on my previous books, and how I felt when I had finished them.

My first novel was The Ballad of Rocky Ruiz.  Published in 1993, the book tells the story of a burned-out Chicano lawyer who turns to the past to help deal with his present.  Luis Móntez has mixed emotions about the memories of his days as a Chicano activist, and questions whether his life has any meaning, especially as his best friend in college, the young and charismatic Rocky Ruiz, was murdered and no one suffered any consequences.  Rocky died a hero, and his martyrdom elevated his image to near sainthood, an image that Móntez could never live up to or hope to match. Móntez struggles through a reliving of the past, interacting with the characters who populated his elegiac youth, and more often than not, he comes away saddened or disillusioned from these visits with his history.  But Móntez perseveres, learns ugly truths, and eventually solves the murder and gains a modicum of justice for his brother-in-arms, Rocky Ruiz.  

I wrote four more books about Luis Móntez.  By the end of Brown-on-Brown I thought I’d said everything about him that I could or should.  He pops up occasionally in my latest series that features a Chicano private investigator, Gus Corral, but Luis’s days at the center of the story are over.  In that way, he’s become a metaphor for my own life.  

Here’s a quote from the introduction to the Northwestern University Press edition of The Ballad of Rocky Ruiz written by Gary Phillips, a fine writer who had nice things to say about Rocky and Luis.

"The Ballad of Rocky Ruiz offers no shopworn sentimentality.  It is a tale about past sins and how Móntez must wrestle 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 Móntez, 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 either when the smoke clears.  Always forward, Rocky would say, ese, because it ain’t no big thing."

I’m going to finish by quoting the opening paragraph of The Ballad of Rocky Ruiz.  

"I don’t recall all the subtleties and particulars and some of the events are screwed up in my head – out of sequence, out of synch.  Hell, there were too many late nights and fuzzy mornings, end even back then I had a hard time keeping it straight.  Life had this rough texture, like Velcro on a screen door.  But there is one detail that stands out in my mind as clearly as if I was staring at her this minute, across the room, waiting for her to finish taking off her clothes.  Those eyes – the round, moist, glowing brown eyes that will haunt me as sure as La Llorona prowls dark alleys looking for bad children; eyes that will stay with me until Chicanos reclaim their lost land of Aztlán – forever. There are days when I catch them watching me, driving me up the wall, chilling my skin, making me forget every other woman I knew or met or loved.  I know those eyes.

And the blood.  I remember the blood …."



Manuel Ramos writes crime fiction. His latest book is Angels in the Wind from Arte Público Press, April 2021


Tomas Gonzales said...

Manuel, I'm intrigued by the description of your books on Facebook! Where's the best place to get them here in Florida? Thanks Bro, Tomas Gonzales

Manuel Ramos said...

Tomas - thanks for asking. I don't know a specific place in Florida where you can find my books, but you have a few options. Any bookstore should be able to order my books (if they don't have them on their shelves). Or, you can order directly from the publisher (Arte Público Press for my most recent, Northwestern University Press for my first four, including the Ballad of Rocky Ruiz.) You can order them online or by telephone. Also, Amazon has several of my books. And you might check used book stores. Hope this helps - and thanks again.

Manny said...

Manuel, as we enter our golden years, the struggle is real. Was it all for naught or did we make a difference. I like to think the latter. I want signed copies toq.

Christopher David Rosales said...

Manuel, thanks for sharing this. It’s generous of you to give us some behind the scenes looks at the thought processes and vulnerability of having a character play a pivotal role in our lives. Right on; write on.

Juliana Aragón Fatula said...

Manuel, thank you for being a positive role model in Chicano Noir and keeping your characters real. Keep writing, vato. Keep telling our stories.