Thursday, January 23, 2014

An Introduction to Something New

          I'm pleased to be a new Dark Oak Mystery author and to have a home for my "Something" series of novels set in Mexico.  "Something" is Cotton Waters, an aging American expatriate and ex-political activist with uncertain legal problems at home, hiding out on the Mexican west coast in a tropical frontier of fishing villages and empty beaches, thriving on cantina life, jungle slumming, and playing second base for a local village baseball team. He's an illegal gringo alien, known to his cantina buddies as “Algo”--Something in Spanish, and scrounges up his lifestyle and a little beer money from the Puerto Vallarta tourist trade as a private hustler of a Mexican Riviera lost-and-found--helping some people get lost and finding others--if the price is right or the client’s cause worth the time and interest.
                To a certain extent every writer writes about what he knows and has experienced.  I have a relationship with west coast Mexico that goes back forty years and lived in the Nayarit coastal village culture off and on for over two years when Puerto Vallarta was still an unknown village.  I was “something” of a Cotton Waters in my college days, traipsing around west Mexico and repudiating the American way of life during the Vietnam War.  I return frequently to the region.  However, I’ve lived on the remnants of a family homestead in southwestern Nebraska for thirty-nine years.  I was a dryland wheat farmer for twenty years, and after giving up my own farming, I did itinerate farm labor, substitute teaching, and I conducted escorted excursions in Latin America for small groups for ten years.  During that time I was also writing, and in 1991 my first novel, "Something in Vallarta," was published.  Now, Dark Oak Mysteries is publishing "Something Like A Dream," a novel about the Huichols, one of Mexico's most ancient and mysterious indigenous cultures.
                I like to write mystery/suspense novels, particularly cross -, or inter-cultural mysteries, setting questionable American attitudes and perspectives against those of lesser-known and more modest “foreign” cultures.  I try to write accurately about the cultural landscape that my stories take place in.  Therefore, places are usually real places in real time; settings are real settings.  The characters, action and plot in those places and sets are the fiction.  I like to “preach and teach,” I suppose, but that stuff must be dressed in an entertaining story.  A mystery is first of all an entertainment with characters and a story bigger than everyday life.  It’s a real challenge to put interesting history and culture into a story someone wants to read without realizing s/he is learning something, too.  I can be a boring historian, and the challenge is to make the truth and the facts of everyday life into a compelling tale. A good plot is my biggest challenge, and generally speaking mysteries are plot driven stories.  Cotton Waters is an exaggeration, of course, larger than my life ever was.  I was never tough or clever or cool and controlled like Waters.  The great thing about fiction is that you can recreate yourself in your characters, be and do what you never could in reality. 

            In reality, I'm an historian/writer, living as a hermit most of the year. In 2000, I was awarded the Distinguished Merit Award from the Nebraska Arts Council for my work in nonfiction.  In 2007-8, I was a Fulbright Research Fellow, writing and doing historical research in Buenos Aires.  I recently finished a history book called “Search for the Camino Real: a history of San Blas and the road to get there.”  It’s about this little known historical port in Mexico and my personal search for parts of the old Spanish colonial road across Mexico. 


Marilyn Levinson said...

As a former Spanish teacher who spent 3 months living in Mexico City many years ago, I found your blog most interesting.

Eileen Obser said...

Thanks, Suzi -- and I appreciate your mentioning my blog this week.

James Callan said...

Hi Robert,
I found your blog interesting, as we have a home in Puerto Vallarta and spend 5 to 6 months each year there. Now PV has an active writing community, with a good number of ex-pats. Welcome to the OTP community.