Wednesday, November 4, 2015

For Authenticity, Check It Out

DJ Disco at El Palacio during a break.
Sometimes, ya just gotta go there.

Fearing that my memory might be a little fuzzy, I had an opportunity recently to refresh it. Because I had set a scene at the popular Mesilla watering trough, El Palacio, I was gratified when I ended up there recently to see friends of friends who had frequented the bar while they were students at nearby New Mexico State University.

This bar advertises itself as "respectful." There's a dress code disallowing lowcut tops for women and wife-beaters (undershirts) for men. It has the standard wooden bar backed by mirrors, which multiply the bottles of various types of spirits on offer. It has a pressed-tin ceiling, a jukebox, a tiled floor, and tile on the walls.

The noise level the night I was there was considerable, so it was difficult to hear one's companions over the DJ disco in the room next to the main bar and in the back room, where a live band was playing for those who prefer more traditional Mexican music.

The bar, a fixture in Mesilla for more than seventy years, seems to be a favored hangout for area Latinos of a variety of age groups and philosophies. One often sees motorcycles lined up out front; you might see cowboy hats on the two-steppers and their partners in the disco and elderly folks who want to polka in the back room. I saw tattooed homies in athletic shorts and t-shirts, some older folks gathered at the bar, and my friends, so white they looked pasty in contrast to the majority of the patrons, who by that hour, were so numerous it was practically standing room only.

Frisky liquor advertising "art."
Velia Chavez, owner, says her dad, Pablo Salcido, originally opened the place as a blacksmith's shop. However, one night, her mother decided to have a dance there. "The place got packed," she says. People were asking for more dances, and after another couple of successes, "she told my dad, 'forget about the blacksmith's shop. This is gonna be a dance hall.'" 

Women were not allowed in the bar (except for dances?) until after her father's death in 1991, Velia says, shortly after the main part of the building had burned. After the fire, they had to do something within ten days to avoid losing their nearly sixty-year-old liquor license. The community was on the job to save the bar. It was rebuilt with lots of help from the local folks, and the pressed-tin ceiling puts the new building in synch with its' historical past.

The bar at El Palacio on a busy Saturday night.
My point in giving you this description? I've set a scene in my mystery novel in El Palacio. I wanted to be certain that what I remembered was authentic. It was. When my character encounters "Chuy" there, he is definitely in his element. But if you want to be sure, read my book. Then go to El Palacio and have a few cold ones.


My thanks to Bucket List Bars' July 30, 2011, YouTube video. Additionally, my apologies to those with Spanish surnames who may prefer Mexican-American, Chicano, or Hispanic as descriptions of their ethnicity.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Cartel

Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera fair use
file photo, Wikipedia
Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera of the Sinaloa cartel was arrested in February 2014 and subsequently incarcerated at Altiplano Federal Prison. At the time, DEA officials noted that if Loera was not extradited to the U.S., it would soon be "business as usual," and at some point, he would be allowed to escape.

Big surprise, he did so last July: some say through a tunnel connecting the shower in his cell to a partly built house almost a mile away. Not everyone believes that this is what happened; it is almost as likely that he walked out the front door, some believe with the complicity of the Mexican government.

El Chapo is the model for Don Winslow's Adan Barrera in his recent novel, The Cartel, a book rife with cartel-to-cartel violence that spills over to and includes innocent women and children, journalists, doctors, activists, basically anyone critical of the cartels' modus operandi, many of whom simply got caught in the crossfire. Winslow's portrayal of the degree to which the cartels have devalued human life shows that it falls into the negative end of the scale. They just don't give a rat's ass who they have to kill, as long as they hang on to their piece of the drug trade and, therefore, the income to be had from the mega-buck industry.

Winslow obviously did extensive research to write his gory but engaging look at the "drug war," not to be confused with the "War on Drugs." His characters often state that Americans' lust for recreational substances running the gamut from the seemingly harmless marijuana, to cocaine, meth, and heroin is largely at fault for the bloodbath taking place south of our borders. Have you ever toked up? Snorted a line of coke? Yep, you can claim some credit for the thousands who have died in the cartels' power plays.

I read Winslow's book with interest, as my novel covers similar territory north of the border. What I learned via Winslow is that my take on gang-related violence and drug-trafficking in my own area isn't that far afield. With twenty-nine chapters written, I've been forced to take a breather as other work has cropped up that must be completed first.

You can bet I am anxious to get a grip on Chapter 30, and bring you up to speed with my Murders in the Mesilla Valley.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Time for My Trial By Fire

Vase with flowers, Santa Fe
For many years, I've been saying I was going to write a book. In fact, I started gathering deep background as early as 2009. However, in the spirit of someone I quoted earlier, who advised me "don't quit your day job," I've dawdled, marketed other work, created two books that were definitely NOT mine, and acted as publisher for them.

Now, an advisor tells me, "you're always complaining that you're undervalued in the workplace, that people aren't fair to you. Maybe it's time for you to be fair to yourself." This individual, while he has done many other things, supports himself as an artist. I took his comment to heart and I've spent some time recently doing additional research to flesh out my book. However, prior to that, I'd agreed to help a friend with a project that is important to her. I was feeling uncomfortable about it, but I realized that in order to do what my advisor had challenged me to do, I would have to back out of my friend's project. I sent her a quick email before leaving town for a week, promising to explain when I returned.

Then, I went to Albuquerque to do some research. The research took only a fraction of the time I spent up north. The rest of it I spent visiting friends I hadn't seen for years and spilling my guts about  my book. I guess I'm thinking if I talk about it, that will help to make it real. I certainly hope so. Now, if I don't do it, I will have shamed myself in front of my friends! (But I do believe talking about it helps make it real. I just have to keep telling myself I'm a writer and act accordingly.)

My advisor told me to begin by writing for two hours a day. I didn't time myself today, so I can't prove that I didn't meet my goal. However, it's a start. Blogging had better count (and who's to say that I am not the one who should decide that?) This is where I get to share the frustrations I encounter along the way, the fresh hell of "auto-correct," and test ideas I want to include in the book. Which leads to my next blog post: using one's writing as a way to promote social change. Look out, guys, you could be the next target.

(c) Beth Morgan 3/3/15