Time: the second decade of the 21st century
As the immigration crisis reaches the boiling point, once-peaceful Latino protests explode into rioting. Cities across the nation are in flames. Anglo vigilantes bent on revenge launch drive-by shootings in the barrios, wantonly killing young and old. Exploiting the turmoil, a congressional demagogue succeeds in passing legislation that transforms the nation’s teeming inner-city barrios into walled-off Quarantine Zones. In this chaotic landscape, Manolo Suarez is struggling to provide for his family. Under the spell of a beautiful Latina radical, the former U.S. Army Ranger eventually finds himself questioning his loyalty to his wife—and his country.
Please welcome Raul Ramos y Sanchez, the author of AMERICA LIBRE. Raul has been gracious enough to vist with us and answer some questions. Please also check out the excerpt from AMERICA LIBRE as well as the video trailer.
A chat with Raul:
My sources tell me AMERICA LIBRE started out with a different name. Tell us about that and the timeline of getting your first novel published.
You’re like James Lipton with these inside sources! Yes, AMERICA LIBRE began life as MANO A MANO. Thankfully my agent talked me out of that title. Like most authors, my path to publication was not easy – or quick. I finished the manuscript in the summer of 2004. AMERICA LIBRE was released by Grand Central Publishing July 29, 2009. That five year span is an indication of how difficult it can be just to find a publisher—and a lot of work remains. Getting published has been a very gratifying experience. Still, I see it as only the first leg of a longer race. I have a lot of work remaining to make sure AMERICA LIBRE is a marketplace success.
How many rejections did you receive?
Wheh! I lost count. What I remember most about my first attempts to find an agent or a publisher was that it seemed the stack of rejection letters was approaching the thickness of my manuscript. Amazingly, after months of mailing query letters without any luck, I went to a writers conference and got offers of representation from three agents in a single weekend. Even after finding an agent, though, a lot of hurdles remained.
What kept you writing?
I’ve always felt the height of a barrier is an indication of the reward on the other side. I knew going in, getting published would not be easy. Nothing worth attaining ever is. But I had an example that helped sustain my perseverance. My mother arrived in the Bronx from Cuba in 1957 with a few words of English, a seven-year-old son, and enough cash to get us through a couple of months. Few people would have bet on her chances of one day starting her own business, much less raising three children who would go to college and become successful entrepreneurs. My mother never gave up. She worked relentlessly to give her children a better life despite many setbacks and disappointments. Her example showed me that the willingness to overcome adversity is what divides those who reach their dreams from those who will always wonder what might have been.
Have you ever thought about doing a film about AMERICA LIBRE and if so, what did you do about it?
One the first reviews of my manuscript came from a professor who told me he could “see” the story even as he read it. Maybe it’s my background as a visual artist, but from the very beginning readers have commented that AMERICA LIBRE seems an ideal story for a film. I never did this consciously, but looking back, the novel has a lot of cinematic qualities: strong characters, romance, lots of action. We’ve already had an option offer from a small indy studio in Los Angeles, which my agent advised against, and a nibble from a major studio. (I should mention these experiences inspired me to post a poll on my author’s site asking visitors to vote on the star they’d like to see in the major roles. For anyone who’d like to vote, go to www.RaulRamos.com and scroll down a bit in the lower left side of the page.) In any case, I would love to see AMERICA LIBRE as a film. I’m hopeful the right deal will come along.
In conclusion, I’d like to thank you, Caridad, for inviting me as a guest on your blog. Hanging out with a New York Times and USA Today best-selling author is a rare privilege. I value your very generous support and wish you continued success with your wonderful work.
Thank you so much Raul for visiting. In chatting with you, I’ve learned what a positive role model you are for people everywhere. I’ve always believed that with hard work and determination you can overcome adversity and you are a true example of that belief in action. I wish you all the best with your writing career!
The origins of any political revolution parallel the beginnings of life on our planet. The amino acids and proteins lie inert in a volatile primordial brew until a random lightning strike suddenly brings them to life.
José Antonio Marcha, 1978
Translated by J. M. Herrera
The trouble had started two weeks earlier. Enraged at the fatal police shooting of a young Latina bystander during a drug bust, a late-night mob descended on a Texas Department of Public Safety complex and torched the empty buildings. By morning, a local newscast of the barrio’s law-and-order meltdown mushroomed into a major story, drawing the national media to San Antonio. Since then, the presence of network cameras had incited the south side’s bored and jobless teenagers into nightly rioting.
Seizing the national spotlight, the governor of Texas vowed looters would be shot on sight. Octavio Perez, a radical community leader, angrily announced that force would be met with force. He called on Mexican-Americans to arm themselves and resist if necessary.
Disdaining Perez’s warning, Edward Cole, a twenty-six-year-old National Guard Lieutenant, chose a provocative location for his downtown command post: the Alamo.
“This won’t be the first time this place has been surrounded by a shitload of angry Mexicans,” Cole told his platoon of weekend warriors outside the shutdown tourist site. A high school gym teacher for most of the year, Lieutenant Cole had been called up to lead a Texas National Guard detachment. Their orders were to keep San Antonio’s south side rioting from spreading downtown.
Now Cole was fielding yet another call over the radio.
“Lieutenant, we got some beaners tearing the hell out of a liquor store two blocks south of my position,” the sentry reported.
“I’d say fifty to a hundred.”
“Sit tight, Corporal. The cavalry is coming to the rescue,” Cole said, trying his best to sound cool and confident. From a two-day training session on crowd control, he’d learned that a rapid show of strength was essential in dispersing a mob. But the colonel who had briefed Cole for the mission had been very clear about the governor’s statement.
“Your men are authorized to fire their weapons only in self-defense,” the colonel had ordered. “And even then, it had damn well better be as a last resort, Lieutenant. The governor wants to deter violence, not provoke it.”
Lieutenant Cole had never seen combat. But he was sure he could deal with a small crowd of unruly Mexicans. After all, he had eight men armed with M-16A automatic rifles under his command. Cole put on his helmet, smoothed out his crisply ironed ascot, and ordered his men into the three reconditioned Humvees at his disposal.
“Let’s move out,” he said over the lead Humvee’s radio. With the convoy underway, Cole turned to his driver. “Step on it, Baker. We don’t want to let this thing get out of hand.” As the driver accelerated, the young lieutenant envisioned his dramatic entrance . . .
Bullhorn in hand, he’d emerge from the vehicle surrounded by a squad of armed troopers, the awed crowd quickly scattering as he ordered them to disperse . . .
Drifting back from his daydream, Cole noticed they were closing fast on the crowd outside the liquor store. Too fast.
“Stop, Baker! Stop!” Cole yelled.
The startled driver slammed on the brakes, triggering a chain collision with the vehicles trailing close behind. Shaken but unhurt, Cole looked through the window at the laughing faces outside. Instead of arriving like the 7th Cavalry, they’d wound up looking like the Keystone Kops.
Then a liquor bottle struck Cole’s Humvee. Like the opening drop of a summer downpour, it was soon followed by the deafening sound of glass bottles shattering against metal.
“Let’s open up on these bastards, Lieutenant! They’re gonna kill us!” the driver shouted.
Cole shook his head, realizing his plan had been a mistake. “Negative, Baker! We’re pulling out.”
But before the lieutenant could grab the radio transmitter to relay his order, the driver’s window shattered.
“I’m hit! I’m hit! Oh, my God. I’m hit!” the driver shrieked, clutching his head. A cascade of blood flowed down Baker’s nose and cheeks. He’d only suffered a gash on the forehead from the broken glass, but all the same, it was as shocking as a mortal wound. Never one to stomach the sight of blood, Baker passed out, slumping into his seat.
Cole couldn’t allow himself to panic; with no window and no driver he was far too vulnerable. Mind racing, he stared outside and soon noticed a group of shadowy figures crouching along the roof of the liquor store. Were they carrying weapons?
“Listen up, people. I think we might have snipers on the roof! I repeat, snipers on the roof!” Cole yelled into the radio. “Let’s lock and load! Have your weapons ready to return fire!”
On the verge of panic, the part-time soldiers fumbled nervously with their rifles as the drunken mob closed on the convoy, pounding against the vehicles.
The window on Cole’s side caved in with a terrifying crash. The rattled young lieutenant was certain he now faced a life or death decision—and he was determined to save his men. With the radio still in hand, Lieutenant Edward Cole gave an order he would forever regret.
“We’re under attack. Open fire!”
When it was over, twenty-three people lay dead on the black pavement beneath the neon sign of the Rio Grande Carryout.
Take a moment to watch the exciting trailer for AMERICA LIBRE. Also, everyone who leaves a comment by midnight EST on Friday will be eligible to win a copy of Raul’s novel.