ABOUT MARC CORTEZ
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.
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To find out more, please visit him at http://www.gangstersgarden.com
Q: Thank you for this interview, Marc. Can you tell us what your latest book, A Gangster’s Garden, is all about?
A: Set in Denver, A Gangster’s Garden is a story about a teenage boy killed in a botched street-gang hit, and what happens to everyone touched by the shooting. The hit’s intended target – gang leader Benicio de los Santos – has been planning revenge against his bitter enemy King Diaz since his own family was murdered two years earlier. But when his plans to avenge his family fail and he instead takes an innocent life, he rediscovers his lost faith and searches for redemption.
Meanwhile, across town in a wealthy Denver suburb, Miguel and Carmela Rodriguez struggle to come to terms with their son’s murder in the same neighborhood they fought so hard to overcome. Both Miguel and Carmela go searching for answers on their childhood streets, but with very different outcomes.
Q: Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters?
A: The main character in A Gangster’s Garden is Benicio de los Santos, a gang leader who, after surviving yet another attempt on his life, longs to avenge his wife and son’s murder. He runs The Latin Disciples, one of Denver’s most violent Mexican street gangs, with the mind of a general and the trigger finger of an assassin, skills honed through years of Sun Tzu’s teachings. 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.
The other main character in A Gangster’s Garden is Miguel Rodriguez, the father of the boy mistakenly murdered in the hit on Santos’ life. He wonders what led his son down to the varrio in the first place, the very streets he’d fought so hard to overcome. 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.
Q: Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?
A: My characters are pure fiction, but infused with interesting traits of people both real and imagined. I’m very curious about people, especially about how their histories frame their moral character, and so I find myself constantly asking “why is that person the way they are?” A person’s relationship to their faith, for example, has the power to either build up or destroy them, and so I wanted to capture that struggle. Benicio de los Santos, my main character, abandoned his faith when his family was murdered, and yet he rediscovers it once his plans for revenge spiral out of control. So I’m fascinated by a person’s moral framework, and what affects it.
Q: Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel, or do you discover it as you write?
A: When I first began writing A Gangster’s Garden, I had a very clear idea about the plot and the story I wanted to tell. But once I began creating the characters, a funny thing happened: the characters came to life and took over the story! So at some point the book flipped, with the characters becoming real and deciding their own arcs and the book’s plot. It was a bit schizophrenic, as there were many nights when I woke up with multiple voices thrumming in my head, but I found that the plot really came to life because the characters were the ones who took me there. My hope is that my readers buy into these interesting characters and will join them for the journey.
Q: Your book is set in Denver. Can you tell us why you chose this city in particular?
A: I spent my high school and college years in Colorado, and was always struck by the beauty and contrast of Denver’s landscape. If you looked West you’d see the Rocky Mountains – beautiful, stark and majestic, especially in the winter – and if you turned East you’d see a flat, barren landscape that extended into forever. And of course there is the weather, and how everything changes dramatically with the seasons. Coming from northern California, I had never even seen snow before! And so I remember how life literally changed with the seasons, and I wanted to show that in my book.
Q: Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story?
A: I felt a big cultural gap in moving to Denver from northern California, and wanted to capture that in my novel. The Denver suburb where I lived was predominantly white and upper-middle-class, so being a Mexican from Oakland was certainly an oddity; I was the only one. It was the first time I’d experienced any form of discrimination or racism, and I remembered all the ways I tried to make myself fit in, all the choices I made to assimilate. And yet for all the choices I made, there seemed to be a million more waiting, and there was always a struggle for balance. How far do you change your history in order to alter your future? I’m fascinated by that question. And so in A Gangster’s Garden I took it to an extreme and had Miguel Rodriguez change his son’s name from Julio Rodriguez to Julio Ross, both to reject his past but also enable his future. Would it work?
Q: Open the book to page 69. What is happening?
A: Benicio de los Santos, leader of the Latin Disciples, 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.
Q: Can you give us one of your best excerpts?
A: (This is an exchange between Benicio de los Santos and The Denver Register reporter Francisco Garcia).
“After all this time and violence, why would anyone believe in your desire to change?” Garcia asked.
Santos leaned forward and put his arms on the wooden picnic table. He rolled up his shirtsleeves and revealed his veiny, thickly-scarred forearms. “Mira, look at my arms here. You see these circles?”
“My father gave them to me. He’d put cigarettes out on me, his human ashtray. He said that in order to survive I needed to be tough, that I needed to take the pain without crying. To him that was love, toughening me up for a cold world.
Do you have any idea what that does to your heart? Something inside just dies, a blackness takes root. And you know that El Diablo has arrived, that he’s alive within you. Have you ever felt the Devil in your soul, Garcia?”
Garcia stared straight back at Santos, then nodded.
“Then you know that the only power great enough to kill it is the power of God, the Almighty. So when people doubt my resolve, I tell them that I believe in the power of forgiveness, and of God, because I have seen the Devil.”’
Q: Thank you so much for this interview, Marc. We wish you much success!
A: Thank you very much! A Gangster’s Garden can be found in print and ebook formats, on Amazon or directly from gangstersgarden.com.
Deep in the heart of Denver’s Five Points varrio, an innocent teenage boy is killed in a gang-related shooting.
The intended target, gang-leader Benicio de los Santos, assembles his Latin Disciples into a Denver basement to plot their revenge. Does it matter that the hit planned for him killed an innocent boy? No. What matters is how careless his main enemy, the Sureño Daggers, have become. His cholo brethren demand the bloody removal of their enemy’s chief, King Diaz, and the quick takeover of Sureño drug turf. But Santos recalls a lesson from Sun Tzu – that true generalship destroys rather than counters enemy plans – and so commands his soldados to do nothing. He’ll avenge his wife and son’s murder on his terms, when he decides.
Across town, a family struggles to come to terms with their son’s murder. Businessman Miguel Rodriguez wonders what led his son down to the varrio in the first place, the very streets he’d fought so hard to overcome. 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 now, with Julian gone, Miguel realizes that the only way to find his lost son is to return to his childhood streets.
A GANGSTER’S GARDEN is a story of murder, faith and redemption, set in Denver’s Five Points varrio.