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Author Interview: Marc Cortez and A Gangster’s Garden




Marc Cortez began his storytelling career in the third grade, when he entered a school writing contest and won with his story THE ANT WHO STOLE EASTER. Since then he has become a marketing writer and frequent blogger, leveraging his writing skills into success as a business executive and entrepreneur. With A GANGSTER’S GARDEN, he has turned his lifelong passion for storytelling into a full-length novel.

Mr. Cortez studied creative writing at the University of California, Los Angeles, and lives in California with his wife and two children. A GANGSTER’S GARDEN is his first novel.

To purchase A Gangster’s Garden, click here.

To find out more, please visit him at http://www.gangstersgarden.com

Welcome to Between the Covers!  Why was writing A Gangster’s Garden so important to you?

I’ve always been interested in the 4 L’s – language, loyalty, lineage, and legacy – and how those mix and interplay throughout a person’s life.  I grew up in Oakland, and was exposed to gangs and the street’s dynamics from an early age; I remember watching my uncle chase a thug down a street with a baseball bat.  So I was always interested in what goes on in the streets, and how it was different than the regular world.  And then growing up as part of a Mexican family, there was always a language conundrum:  do you speak English, assimilate, and betray your own, or do you commit to Spanish and limit your opportunities?  So language as a powerful force in one’s life became an important theme for me.

When I moved to a mostly-white Denver suburb in high school, I experienced racism first-hand, and I became very protective of myself – not only of my lineage, but also of how my past would show up as I moved forward.  And so the fundamental ties between my past and present and future have always been there for me, and these are themes that resonate throughout my book.

What was the experience like writing A Gangster’s Garden?

When the characters start coming to life, it becomes a bit schizophrenic.  There were many nights when I’d literally wake up with voices talking to me, and I’d have to get up and capture what they were saying and doing.  But that’s when writing is the most fun:  when the people you’ve created  live and breathe and cry, and when their worlds collide.

How did you come up with the title?

At its core, my novel is about the consequences that result from people’s choices throughout their lives, and so in that sense A Gangster’s Garden is the perfect metaphor.  Gang-leader Benicio de los Santos, the book’s main character, has to deal with the consequences of the gangster choices he’s made:  he’s forced to deal with the aftermath of his family’s murder as well as his plans for revenge.  Miguel Rodriguez, another of the book’s main characters, so dedicated himself to orchestrating every detail of his son’s life  – even changing his son’s name from Julio Rodriguez to Julian Ross –  that he’s ultimately left with nothing when his son is murdered on the very streets he fought so hard to overcome.  So A Gangster’s Garden is a metaphor for the arcs in the character’s lives.

The name A Gangster’s Garden also has a literal role in the novel, but I’ll leave that for readers to discover on their own.

Can you tell us more about your main character Benicio de los Santos?

Benicio de los Santos is the leader of The Latin Disciples, one of Denver’s most violent Mexican street gangs, and longs to avenge his wife and son’s murder.  He runs The Disciples with the mind of a general and the trigger finger of an assassin, skills honed through years of Sun Tzu’s teachings.  An although his wife and son are no longer with him, he vows to continue the plans they’d made for a simple, peaceful life up in the mountains, free from the violence of Denver’s Five Points varrio.  But first things first:  he needs to dismember the hated Sureño Daggers by killing their leader, King Diaz.  All it will take is patience and forethought, both of which he has in abundance.

What are his strengths and what are his weaknesses?

Like most people, Santos’ greatest strengths are also his greatest weaknesses.  In a normal context, his ability to love, be loyal and think strategically would be tremendous assets – if he were a businessman, for example – and yet in his twisted gangster world these strengths sometimes work against him.  What good does reading Sun Tzu serve if he’s only using the knowledge to plot revenge?  What good does feeling his family’s love serve if it’s only a reminder of what he’s lost?  And so he’s a rich and vibrant character, full of conflict, and it’s what makes him fascinating.

Are there any supporting characters we need to know about?

Another main character in A Gangster’s Garden is Miguel Rodriguez, the father of the boy mistakenly murdered in the hit on Santos’ life, which takes place in Chapter 1.  He wonders what led his son down to the varrio in the first place, the very streets he’d fought so hard to overcome.  In fact, he’d renamed his son precisely to distance him from their varrio past, despite the repeated protests of his wife Carmela.  Wouldn’t life as a white Julian Ross, mingling with Denver’s elite, offer more than a brown Julio Rodriguez?  They’d fought about the name change for years. And so, with Julian gone, Miguel realizes the only way to find his lost son is to return to his childhood streets.

Can you open to page 25 and tell us what’s happening?

Miguel and Carmela Rodriguez are engaged in yet another discussion about their son’s upbringing – in particular, Miguel’s insistence that Julian not speak Spanish, and that they keep their varrio hidden from their son.  Carmela hates that they changed his name from Julio Rodriguez to Julian Ross, and Miguel’s continual efforts to whitewash their son is the source of ongoing tensions between them.

What about page 65?

Benicio de los Santos is standing atop a church roof looking out across the varrio streets, plotting his takeover of enemy drug turf.  It’s an intense scene because we see his mind in action, strategic skills honed through years of reading Sun Tzu and putting the Chinese general’s teachings into practice.  And it’s also pivotal because we understand the depth of his loss, and how that fuels his need to avenge his family and set the record straight. He’s not a street thug; he’s a general, planning his enemy’s destruction out of love for his fallen family.  And in his own warped world it makes perfect sense.

Now that A Gangster’s Garden has been published, what is your next project?

I’m currently working on the sequel to A Gangster’s Garden, with a working title of Santos, Uncolored.  Benicio de los Santos is a charismatic and complex character, and I want to finish the journey he began in A Gangster’s Garden.  I’m also working on a story of historical fiction, tentatively titled Stalking Zodiac.  Growing up near San Francisco, I was always fascinated by the Zodiac killer, made all the more compelling because he was never caught.  But what if someone knew who he was?

Do you have anything else you’d like to tell our readers?

Stay open to new characters, new genres, and new types of stories, because you never know how a story will touch you.  Does a story about a botched street-gang murder sound like your type of book?  Maybe, maybe not, but you might be surprised at what the storyteller might be able to help you feel.  Inspiration often comes from the strangest places.



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