Mario Acevedo is the author of the national bestselling Felix Gomez detective-vampire series, most recently “Steampunk Banditos: Sex Slaves of Shark Island.” His work has won an International Latino Book Award, a Colorado Book Award, and has appeared in numerous anthologies. Mario taught in the Regis University Mile High MFA program and Lighthouse Writers Workshops. Tomas Alamilla, who prefers to keep a low profile, is a Mexican entrepreneur with a lifelong love of stories featuring Western adventure.
The following is an interview with Mario Acevedo.
Tell us this book’s backstory. What inspired you to write it? Where did the story/theme originate?
Tomas Alamilla has always been interested in Westerns and he wanted a story with the traditional Western tropes of desperate men, tough women, horses and six-shooters, and high adventure. I likewise have been interested in writing a Western but it wasn’t until Tomas approached me to collaborate with him on a draft manuscript that I got a story idea I could sink into.
Westerns are about setting, both physical and psychological, that leverage off a distinctive plot, and so are crime stories. Think of Westerns as gangsters in ten-gallon hats and on horses instead of wearing fedoras and driving Packards.
Place this excerpt in context. How does it fit into the book as a whole? Why did you select it?
This excerpt is from the middle of the book, where it seems that the drama is fading out, only to be rekindled by yet another plot twist. I chose this excerpt because it shows the protagonist, Adam Sanchez, growing into his role as the new sheriff, a position he thought he’d never have.
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We see his relationships with various town folk and we catch glimpses of the subcurrents running through the community. Plus, I let the sergeant of the Buffalo Soldiers and one of the Indian Scouts give their assessment of Adam’s secret and their place in this frontier world.
Tell us about creating this book. What influences and/or experiences informed the project before you actually sat down to write the book?
I read many of the classic Westerns to orient myself on the genre – “True Grit,” “The Shootist,” “The Virginian” and several Louis L’Amour novels. I wanted to break free of clichés about the West and to add verisimilitude.
I read nonfiction sources like True West magazine, “Empire of the Summer Moon,” the Time-Life series on the West, plus accounts from personal journals from that time. I also watched a bunch of Western movies, some good, some not-so-good, and many YouTube videos, which provided a lot of illuminating historical material.
Once you began writing, did the story take you in any unexpected directions? If so, how would you describe dealing with a narrative that seems to have a mind of its own?
The story evolved quite a bit. Originally, Adam Sanchez was the sidekick to Sheriff Nelson Cook. Tomas and I decided to switch that as a Western with a Mexican protagonist, actually a Comanchero, would bring a different perspective to the genre.
As we worked through the chapters, the characters became more defined and with that, their personalities and motives, which affected the development of the plot. Also, Adam Sanchez was a ladies’ man from the beginning and we thought a love interest would add depth to him and the narrative. And being a woman, Tess Buchanan does things her way, which complicated life for Adam in a good way story-wise.
What were the biggest challenges you faced, or surprises you encountered in completing this book?
The biggest challenge was writing a fresh story while delivering on reader expectations for a hard-boiled Western. For example, Adam is rescued by a U.S. Army cavalry patrol, which some consider as a cliché, and to avoid that, I made the troopers Buffalo soldiers, who were a significant presence in the West but seldom depicted in novels or movies.
Also, the soldiers were accompanied by Indian scouts, who were instrumental in the settlement of the West, and again, are seldom mentioned. One of my sources stated that 25% of the Army military formations in the frontier were composed of Indian scouts.
Has the book raised questions or provoked strong opinions among your readers? How did you address them?
So far, all the questions and comments have been positive. Tomas and I tried as much as possible to remain true to the attitudes and language of the time, which can be problematic in this age of political correctness. No one has yet voiced an objection.
Walk us through your writing process: Where and how do you write?
Tomas provided me with the early draft manuscript, which I used to plot out the story. Originally, the story was to be a novella, but when we decided to get it published through a traditional publisher, the story had to be drawn out. It is still a short novel but Tomas and I believe it’s got plenty of juicy meat on its compact bones.
I wrote this book while in my home office. How do I write? I regard myself as very much a blue-collar writer; at 8 a.m. I clock in with the Muse, sit at my desk and start working.
What was the most fun challenge in writing this story?
That would be capturing the language of the time. Because of the movies and bad novels, we tend to think of the people back then as uncultured and speaking in a raw, clumsy English. What I liked about “True Grit” and “Woe To Live On” was the attention to period grammar and syntax.
People back then tended to be more poetic in expressing themselves both when speaking and writing. But when they had to be, they were also masterfully concise.
Tell us about your next project.
Like everyone else, the COVID pandemic wore heavily on me. As an outlet for my anxiety, from 2020 to early 2022 I drew a daily cartoon of cats doing what they could to keep sane during the lockdowns, which I shared on social media.
I’ve collected the best of the cartoons in what I’m calling: “Cats In Quarantine: A Collective Memoir of the Covid Pandemic.”