Spirit Walk is full of detailed border town corruption and often-violent culture clash. What drew you to these themes?
Many of the border issues reflected in the novel are born out of my experience growing up there. The complex makeup of border law enforcement is very oversimplified in Spirit Walk. I only have a couple of agencies involved in the story. Along the Mexican border, however, there are many agencies in force at any given time. Border Patrol, County Sheriff’s departments, city police, DPS, DES, Customs, Mexican Federal Police, and often the FBI are involved in various border incidents. With that many agencies, there is bound to be corruption.
The perpetrators involved seldom get caught, but they are often known to the community. There is a great deal of mythology in Cochise County, starting with the Earps and Clantons of the 19th Century, regarding the covert dealings of shady characters and law men and women. Local stories of corruption involve everyone from someone’s harmless seeming grandmother who is a drug lord to city police chiefs who vacation in Honduras with Cartel bosses. Like most local folk lore, stories are big and substantiation is small. Suffice it to say that the Mexico border region and the law enforcement therein is a rich environment for the spinning of fiction.
You’ve said that Thomas McNally in Spirit Walk is written in your father’s likeness. Which character in your book is most like yourself?
Kevin McNally, but only in the aspects of his rural upbringing and his academic profession. Kevin is scrappy and has a bit of mean streak. I’m generally a nicer, more diplomatic kind of guy.
Which classes are you currently teaching at Cochise College? How does teaching affect your writing? (and/or vice versa)
I teach college composition and creative writing. Teaching has affected my writing positively when I take my own advice that I give to students. I couldn’t name how many times I’ve advised a student on how to develop a story or to “show rather than tell”, when I’ve literally paused mid-sentence and thought, Wow, I need to do that on Chapter 5 in my manuscript. We educators often forget the pearls we offer our students are meant for us as well.
You are Arizona-born and raised: what is it about AZ that keeps you there?
I’ve moved away a couple of times but couldn’t stay away. I wasn’t so much bonded with any city or even this squarish patch of ground designated a state. The chaparral country of this Sonora Desert region has so impressed itself in me that I am not an artist without it. It is the fount of any inspiration in my writing.
What is next for your writing?
I am working on revisions for an epic novel set in southern Arizona between 1880 and 1935. It is a big, labyrinthine book that I hope ends up being more than a doorstop or hidden away in some dusty drawer.
How has landscape shaped you?
It is a big part of what made me want to write. In a scene in Chapter Three of my book, Armando Luna tells Kevin, “We need to tell the story the right way.” They are standing on a hillside on the Escrobarra Ridge, and Mondy has just killed a deer. The experience in the wild is incomplete without the story, and it must be the right story. It is an old theme, really; our hero ventures forth into the wild or across some sea, on some manner of quest, and returns, perhaps without the beautiful Helen, but with a story to tell.