The Hazards of Adolescence
Miss Sally is a portrait of a young girl growing up in Texas in the 1930’s. Why was this an important book for you to write?
Primarily because I was living in Texas when I wrote it and my three daughters, though not yet in their teens, faced the hazards of adolescence, the coming of age which always is difficult and which Sally Halm, the protagonist of his novel, confronted in exaggerated form. I spent my boyhood in a small predominantly Protestant rural community and felt it important to portray what rural life was like for a contemporary audience.
The 1930’s are one of my favorite eras because of how much was going on across the country. Why did you choose this as the time period for your story?
My parents were severely affected by the “Great Depression”: they lost everything and had to start life anew in very changed circumstances. Texas was one of the states most affected by migration and the social changes that the Great Depression triggered. Mere survival became the primary preoccupation of millions of people. These are basic ingredients for the making of a novel.
Sally is a simple minded girl, she is not beautiful, and her family treats her this way. How did you set about capturing the thoughts and emotions of a young girl in the 1930’s?
I had a clear impression of Sally, who she was and what she was like, before I began and in the process of writing became Sally, at least to the extent of feeling what she felt, seeing the world as she experienced it, incorporating my own background of growing up in a socially restricted rural community where failed crops and tent revivals were a reality.
What is the next book that you are writing and when will it be available?
I’ve just completed a novella about how an incapacitating illness affects a marriage. It’s being considered by several editors. Also in the hands of editors is a recently compiled book of published short stories about Mexico. This fall I’m issuing as an ebook a nonfiction account of government repression of a teachers’ movement in Oaxaca, Mexico, which includes firsthand reporting. It’s to be called Kill the Teachers! And I’m beginning work on a freewheeling journalistic appraisal of the confused political and economic shenanigans involving the United States and Mexico.
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This is the story of a young girl’s painful initiation into womanhood: the discovery of sex without hope of love, and grief without the release of tears. The setting is rural Texas in the 1930s, a rough and tumble environment in which the thirteen-year-old Sally Halm questions but tries to appease her authoritarian mother’s religiosity, appeasement that leads to misguided attempts to seek a salvation that her environment ruptures
Sally’s father has distanced himself not only from his wife but Sally and her two older brothers and two older sisters. The mother’s ally is the son who hopes to become an evangelical minister; the rebel is Sally’s oldest sister, who Sally and the middle sister Hill’ry discover in a lovemaking tryst with a neighbor boy. Hill’ry is the family’s child protégé who is given privileges that Sally is denied and who Sally both envies and admires, attributes which tumble her into misadventures than Hill’ry sidesteps.
As Sally struggles to reconcile the concepts of “sin” and “salvation” that seem to dominate her life she ricochets between hope and rejection. Inspired by the testimony of a woman evangelist who recounted rising from degradation to achieve happiness and prosperity thanks to accepting Jesus as her personal savior Sally tries to emulate her but realizes “everything I do I do backwards, I can’t even sin without people laughing at me.”
Sent to live with relatives in another part of central Texas, Sally becomes infatuated with an older cousin whom she helps to milk and to breed a mare. Though supportive he’s a man who seems to hate himself, a hard drinker who has no use for religion and prefers the company of prostitutes than that of “churchy people.” Again Sally does things backwards and alienates him as she’s alienated others. Her decision to run away from family, from the she’s leading and has led, thrusts her into even greater entanglements, entanglements that make her realize how difficult it is to have one’s immortal soul saved, even when that’s all that one has left.
A reviewer cautioned, “You’ll love Miss Sally, but she’ll break your heart.”
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There Really Are Human-Alien Hybrids?
H.A.L.F. tells the story of H.A.L.F 9, a Human-Alien Life Form that escapes from the military facility where he was created. What was your inspiration for this imaginative and thrilling novel?
The original idea and plot for this story came to me one day as I was driving in my hometown of Tucson, Arizona, listening to a techno-rap song called “Cowboys and Aliens”. What can I say – it was a hot day in the desert! I’ve long been fascinated by the remote area in southern Arizona, the borderlands between Mexico and the U.S. There’s a military testing range out there and not much else. That song on that day got me thinking about how alien conspiracy theorists talk about a secret underground base. And I thought what if such a base is under the missile testing range? And what if there really are human-alien hybrids? And why would a shadow government want to create such a being? The series has been great fun for me, a huge X-Files, Twilight Zone and Star Trek fan. Fun to create my own alien worlds and adventures!
H.A.L.F. 9 forms a bond with other teens that he comes across and their relationships are dynamic and deep as well. What themes did you try to capture when you were creating the relationships the characters had?
When I write a first draft, I generally don’t think about themes. I also don’t spend time outlining relationships before I write. I try my best to let the characters “speak” and for the relationships to evolve organically.
But once the first draft is written, with the assistance of my content editor, I fine tune. In The Deep Beneath, I had not originally intended for H.A.L.F. 9 to become romantically interested in Erika. But he’s a 17 year old guy who’s never been around girls his own age! Of course he’s interested in her!
As for the three human teens, I spent a lot of pre-first draft planning time creating a relationship backstory for them. On the advice of an early editor, I decided to have Erika and Jack having problems in their boyfriend/girlfriend relationship right off the bat. That’s not a typical starting point in a YA book and I think it was good advice. Over the three books, readers get to see complex relationships play out. And I think that’s more like what life is really like. Even with people we love deeply, we don’t always get along. There are ups and downs. But will we stick with someone through thick and thin? Or bail on them when the going gets tough?
Ian and Erika are best friends. Like many best friends in coming of age stories, their relationship is tested by the difficult circumstances they’re thrust into. The circumstances of the story force them to journey beyond their small town and into the wider world. And oh what a world they step into! They each are confronted with moral dilemmas and the choices they make affects their relationship.
What emerges is a story that over the 3-book series is about loyalty, trust, and having each other’s backs. Not only do we see this in how the three older teens deal with each other, but also through how Erika is teaching H.A.L.F. 9 about living in the human world.
As I’m just finishing up revisions on the third and final book in the series, ORIGINS, I’m going to miss these characters! I’ve enjoyed writing their relationships and watching them grow.
H.A.L.F 9 has telekinetic and telepathic powers which make him a valuable asset to the government. These powers are used in unique and interesting ways. How did you handle the use of these powers in the novel where they were believable yet useful?
I was inspired to give H.A.L.F. 9 the powers that he has from my research into a real top secret military project called Project Stargate. It was started in the 1970’s and the purpose was to research the potential of “psychic warfare.” This was during the cold war and they were seeking to create a “remote viewing” spy network but there was also this idea that enemies could potentially be taken out from thousands of miles away using only the mind.
Of course they didn’t produce much in the way of results. The funding dried up and the program ended (allegedly ;-).
These sorts of top secret programs inspired the story. What if aliens had stronger psychic abilities than humans, and if a human-alien hybrid was engineered to have the stronger alien psychic abilities, what could it do? Media often portrays aliens as having much more developed psychic abilities than humans, so I thought it would be believable for a human-alien hybrid to have these sorts of powers.
Giving the hybrid being these abilities was like creating superpowers or a magic system. So I had to think of its limits. That led to a rather unique problem for the hybrid beings that acts as a limit on their “magic” and is, I think, one of the more unique aspects of the series.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
H.A.L.F.: ORIGINS (H.A.L.F. 3) will be available August 24, 2017! I’m so excited for it! It has been a super difficult book to write due to all the threads that spread out in book 2. But I think that readers will find the wrap up exciting and satisfying – and all questions will be answered!
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H.A.L.F. 9 has taken his first breath of desert air and his first steps in the human world. Created to be a weapon, he proved too powerful for his makers and has lived a sedated life hidden from humans. But H.A.L.F. 9 has escaped the underground lab he called home, and the sedation has worn off. He has never been more alive. More powerful. Or more deadly.
Erika Holt longs to ride her motorcycle east until pavement meets shore. She bides her time until graduation when she’ll say adios to the trailer she shares with her alcoholic mother and memories of her dead father. But a typical night in the desert with friends thrusts Erika into a situation more dangerous than she ever imagined.
Circumstances push the two together, and each must make a fateful choice. Will Erika help H.A.L.F. 9 despite her “don’t get involved” rule? And will H.A.L.F. 9 let Erika live even though he was trained to kill?
The two may need to forget their rules and training and if either is to survive the dangers of the deep beneath them.
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A Constant Reminder
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.
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“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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