American River: Tributaries follows three immigrant families struggling to pursue their dreams during the turbulent 1960’s. What served as your inspiration while writing this book?
My love of Northern California, the place where I grew up, and the wonderful history of the area. I was also inspired by my love of art and music and my passion for social justice issues. Immigration and ethnic diversity are the cornerstones of the story.
This book has so many fascinating characters that are well developed. What were some themes you wanted to capture in your characters?
Basically, the story focuses on the creative search for meaning, knowledge, compassion and understanding in a tumultuous world filled with prejudice, obstacles, jealousy, and betrayal. As my characters encounter these obstacles, they discover their own strengths and weaknesses and grow beyond their self-centered ambitions.
I thoroughly enjoyed the historical backdrop to the story and how well researched it was. What historical milestones were important for you to highlight in this book?
The Gold Rush had a tremendous impact on the population and culture of California. Before the Gold Rush, the population consisted mainly of Native Californians and Californios (settlers and landowners of mixed Spanish, Native Californian, and African descent). But gold fever brought people to California from all over the country and the world. The Anglo Americans (of English, Irish, or Scots descent), other Europeans (including Italians, Russians, Greeks and East Europeans), Chinese, Japanese, African Americans, and many more who came and stayed. This changed the makeup of the state’s population making it one of the most ethnically diverse in the country. So, this cultural diversity sets the scene for later entanglements.
Most of the story takes place in the 1960s, that decade that Time Magazine recently termed “The decade that changed a generation.” So, I take the reader down memory lane as my characters encounter the major issues of the time: immigration, racial prejudice, migrant workers, gay rights, women’s rights and the Vietnam War.
This is book one in the American River Trilogy. What can readers expect in book two, American River: Currents?
In Book Two, American River: Currents, a cavalcade of disasters—both personal and public—threatens to overwhelm the scattered members of the McPhalan, Ashida, and Morales clans. Alliances fray, relationships dissolve, divisive secrets are revealed, and promises are broken as the members of three California families struggle to salvage their shattered dreams. The story follows the character’s journeys to places as distant as Cleveland, Ohio, Venice, Italy, and Kyoto, Japan. From the concert halls of Europe to the artist’s lofts of Manhattan, American River: Currents is filled with passionate and resolute characters who refuse to let go of their unique visions of success—even as life’s tumultuous currents threaten to sweep them all away.
Owen McPhalans Mockingbird Valley Ranch is still a thriving family business in 1959. But when his wife, Marian, leaves Mockingbird to follow her dream of becoming a successful artist, she ignites a firestorm that impacts the descendants of all three families. As artists, musicians, writers, and politicians inherit their immigrant parents hopes, they are torn apart by ambition, prejudice, and deception while struggling through the turbulent 1960s. From the concert halls of Europe to Kyotos ancient avenues, and Manhattans artists lofts to San Franciscos North Beach, they each learn the price they must pay in order to realize their dreams. But just as the river is drawn to the sea, they eventually find themselves pulled back to the place that forged the original link between their destiniesa place called Mockingbird.
American River: Tributaries follows three California families as the descendants of Irish, Japanese, and Mexican immigrants embark on unique journeys to pursue their dreams amid an unsettled 1960s world.
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Voice of the Crimson Angel Part II: Poison finds Julissa ready to take on Chancellor Venloran while the United Nation Republic is gearing up to take over Mexico. Was this book an easy continuation of part I or did you have to plan and develop the story before writing?
VOCA Part II took quite a bit of planning, up there with End of Knighthood Part III: Ballad of Demise. I knew telling the entire story of The Expansion from start to finish wasn’t really possible (outside of a very, very, long novel), so I isolated the events that seemed most important and then tied the main characters to them. VOCA Part II, I think more than any other of my previous work, challenged my use of setting. Writing tests an author in odd ways, and one of those ways for me was geography. The setting in question, of course, Mexico. How big is this city? Is it dry or wet this time of year? Is it a metropolis or a small town? Luckily, my story takes place in the future, so I can tweak things, but I prefer going off reality. The first round of writing left VOCA Part II shorter than I wanted, but the final product I’m most pleased with.
Weird thing is at first, I was paying very little attention to the current situation. When I conceived of The Expansion, I was looking at it as a continuation of Manifest Destiny, where Americans expanded westward. The more I examined the history of expanded empires, The Expansion became more and more interesting to write. It went from being a small part of the original book to an integral backdrop for the Iranian characters. Now it’s the main focus in the VOCA trilogy. In future stories, I hope to explore neocolonialism more. Since 2016, immigration has become one of the most decisive topics in the American politics. It influenced me as I watched debates and heard different arguments, but it’s a bit different in VOCA Part II. In the book, the focus is more about imperialism reborn than the push for isolation that we’re experiencing now. What the book does do, I hope, is paint a picture of the circumstances that I feel are similar to current events. For example, I think no matter what side of the political spectrum you’re on, people accept that we live in an era where patriotism is a very touchy issue. Even critique from a person within the system can lead to harsh cries of them being “unamerican.” Blind patriotism, more than anything, fuels a beast like Venloran and his UNR. What I also wanted to focus on was displacement. Civilians can be turned into dissidents when pushed. People have forgotten that the Mujahideen that battled the Soviet Union was propped up by the United States. This same organization became Al-Qaeda, and in the age of the “War on Terror”, we’ve seen an upsurge in the formation of radical groups. I would argue that intervention, this need to intervene and ‘democratize’ other areas around the globe, fuels fundamentalists. Former New York Times writer Chris Hedges (who was fired around the start of the Iraq War) called the usage of violence a disease. Therefore “Poison” was the proper title for this installment. What I wanted to do with the book was take the “War on Terror” and move it closer to home. Instead of across the Atlantic in countries most Americans have never been to, I wanted to imagine it happening right next door.
Have you tried exploring other mediums for your series; games, comic books, etc? I ask because you have developed such a rich backstory already.
I’m not much of a gamer, so I’ve never really considered that route. Comics, however, have always intrigued me. I’ve always been obsessed with visuals (one of my worst habits was the tendency to doodle during class). Comics, namely graphic novels, have always been a favorite medium of mine. You can say a whole lot with just a single frame, and not to mention a good use of color goes a long a way in establishing the mood. The look of the cyborg uniforms, namely the overcoat, was inspired by the Blade design from Marvel comics, while the armor itself is actually manga-based. As a child, I’ve read my share of manga, including Dragon Ball. Unfortunately, I can’t draw all that well. If I could meet a comic book artist who wanted to tell a story from Reverence, I’d be honored to be a part of such a project.
I’ve actually given some thought to this! After all, as I write I often listen to my favorite movie soundtracks. This helps me set the mood and envision a scene: scary might be Ennio Morricone, action-oriented Hans Zimmer, and somber along the lines of Michael Giacchino. Naturally, sometimes I envision certain faces of certain characters. The big one is Will, and for him I could see Will Smith or Denzel Washington taking the role. They are both older and can play action heroes, but all while still giving them emotional resonance. Another instacast for me is Liam Neeson as Chancellor Venloran. This is largely due to his portrayal of Ra’s al Ghul in Batman Begins (2005). He’s calm yet menacing, all without being over-the-top. One of my favorites to envision would be Jessica Chastain as Gabriella Neeson. After seeing her in Interstellar(2014), I was thoroughly convinced. She’s both gorgeous, tough as nails, and can portray a character who is anything but a damsel in distress (no thanks Cameron Diaz). Others are mind boggling. In the case of Marisol Leone, for example, it’s really hard to pin down. One of these days, I’ll sit down and sort them all out.
Julissa Marconi is finally ready to be a soldier again, and now it’s time to take on the tyrannical Chancellor Venloran. With Captain Halsey and her daughter Zaneta by her side, the resistance is the last line of defense preventing the United Nation Republic from seizing the country of Mexico. The combat will prove bloody as Venloran sends his cyborg warriors to squash all opposition. As bullets fly and bodies pile up, Julissa will be forced to consider what she’s capable of. To defeat the enemy, she may just have to become the enemy.
Welcome back to the world of the Reverence series with Voice of a Crimson Angel Part II: Poison. Witness the spark that lit the fire.
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Proud American is a biography about your journey through life in South Texas; from migrant worker to US solider and then US Border Patrol agent. What was the inspiration behind creating such a thoughtful memoir of your life?
My mother passed away in the summer of 2015. After her passing, I fell into a depression because I felt truly alone in the world. Being the only child of a single parent can do that to a person. I had my wife and kids with me but I still felt utterly alone, and I couldn’t shake it off.
My wife kept pushing me to discuss my thoughts and feelings, but I could not muster up the strength. I didn’t know how to discuss what I was experiencing. My wife suggested that I write my feelings down. For years, my wife has been telling me that she believes I’m a good writer. For years, I’ve been ignoring her compliments.
One night after dinner, she brought a letter to me. She handed me a piece of paper and asked me to open it. When I did, I saw that it was a letter I had written to her eight years ago. Eight years ago was when my wife and I first started dating, and one night she asked me over the phone, why I had joined the Army. I wrote her a letter and poured everything out on paper. It opened up the floodgates for me. That letter is now the first chapter of my book.
Do you remember what your idea of ‘America’ was as a child?
Because I began working at the age of seven, my idea of ‘America’ was that of tough living. It is hard for one to realize so young that his or her childhood is nothing like that of other kids. We were dirt poor and I had the full workload of an adult at the age of ten.
In time though, everything around me was a constant reminder of what else was possible in ‘America’. I knew there were better ways to make a living. At such a young age, I wanted to learn how to pursue my thoughts or dreams of a better life. I didn’t have time to dream of the next best toy or fun activity. I spent all my childhood dreaming and thinking of how to break my family cycle of picking crops for a living.
How did your outlook of ‘America’ change after your time in the US Army?
I must say that in many ways, the Army actually spoiled me. Although it increased my awareness of the harshness of life and the many challenges that it can impose on a person, it also continued to show me all the many possibilities available should one choose to work hard to achieve a desired goal. This only enhanced what I already believed as a kid. More so, I also learned of all the harsh realities of life and how people in other countries are in a far worse state than most of us here can ever possibly imagine or understand. I knew, after my military service, that we lived in the greatest country in the world. Even with all our faults and deficiencies, there is no comparison.
Being the son of a Mexican immigrant, was it hard for you to decide to become an agent in the US Border Patrol?
My decision to join the US Border Patrol was actually a fairly easy one. I was looking for something that would allow me to continue my government service. It’s important to note that my grandfather had never talked to us about his encounters with the US Border Patrol and thus played no role in my decision.
It wasn’t until after I had become an agent that I realized how my decision had impacted the entire family. It was a strange feeling and continues to be a delicate subject since I still have family that lives in Mexico and have not been able to visit them because of the dangers a visit from me would pose on them and even on me. With the violent cartel threat just across the border, it will be years before I can see my family again.
What is one stereotype that you think many Americans have of Mexican immigrants?
At this point in time, immigration has become a great issue for our country. With that said, the moment one begins to speak about immigration it is quickly considered to be a topic of Mexican immigrants and the ‘negative’ impact they have on our society.
I am an American Citizen by birth, but I do come from a Mexican Immigrant family and am now a Border Patrol Agent. I have to deal with criminals from every background one can possibly think of. As a federal agent, I don’t merely deal with immigration issues. I also deal with the issue of human trafficking and narcotics trafficking. In essence, I’m caught in the middle of the transaction.
I say this because in any transaction, there is a person providing a product and a person purchasing or demanding that product. I have to process undocumented individuals for deportation while at the same time prosecute the US Citizens that are committing the trafficking.
What role do you feel Mexican-Americans play in bridging the gap between these two countries?
I think we must all play the role of actual educators by way of providing facts and not opinions or emotional outbursts. I wrote a story in the book of an incident that happened to me while on the job as a Border Patrol Agent. The gentleman I encountered truly believed that he was above me simply because of my appearance and name tag. I chose to educate him and not escalate the situation with an emotional outburst. After that interaction, I earned the gentleman’s respect and he earned mine by showing me that he had learned the error in his thinking.
I’m a combat veteran who now has to deport people of my own Mexican Nationality because I have chosen to continue serving my country, the United States of America. And yet, I still have to educate people every single day of my patriotism and the struggles I’ve had to overcome in order to achieve the stability I now have.
Education is key.
“Being the only child of a single mother, Sergio was raised by his maternal grandparents in a South Texas region better known as the Rio Grande Valley. This memoir details the upbringing of a poor Migrant worker of Mexican descent having to pick crops for a living since the age of seven. As a way to break from the family cycle of picking crops and depending on government welfare programs, he joined the United States Army and served ten years active duty. He deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina shortly after the Bosnian War only to find and deal with the aftermath of the genocide that took place there and be caught in the middle of several attacks. His experiences in Bosnia ultimately led to experiencing signs and symptoms related to PTSD. After completing ten years of military service, Sergio joined the U.S. Border Patrol. Being of Mexican descent, having family in south Texas, and in Mexico gave way to new issues of having to counter threats against his family and ill-willed opinions of him for arresting and deporting “his own kind.””
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