San Francisco-based award-winning journalist Tony Perez-Gies spent many years living in El Paso, which fueled his interest in the relationship between Texas border towns and Mexico.
His newest book, “Send More Idiots,” which takes place in Juarez and El Paso, was released in January. It’s about a kidnapped American real estate agent and his brother’s search to find him. It’s a fun read, fast paced and stuffed with action. The syntax, images and characters manage to capture and cage the spirit of El Paso, and throughout the book that spirit roars, rattles the bars and in the end, leaves the reader trembling. The “Send More Idiots” book tour kicks off Saturday, March 21 at Hope & Anchor. What’s Up caught up with Perez-Giese and dissected his new book.
Q. The choice of narrator is interesting – a first person narrator that tells the story from a third person perspective.
I had a fancy agent out in New York, and that transition really bothered her. She thought ‘Your reader was going to be confused’ and ‘it was going to throw them off.’ I tried a little bit to change it up, but I thought it added a little hook for the readers to wonder ‘what did happen to this guy?’ In the end I had to keep it in over her objections. I decided to trust the reader enough to get hooked in by those first few pages, to make the transition and keep going. It was something I definitely thought about for a long time.
Q. Your first book “Pac Heights” was focused on money. “Send More Idiots” touches on that, too. Explain how El Paso evolved that thought, and how that came to be in the new book.
I don’t think this book is quite as focused on money, but it introduces that aspect that there’s some serious wealth down in that area, which I don’t think people expect. I’ve been fascinated by that juxtaposition of Juarez and El Paso. There’s a lot of money to be made in the maquiladoras, not to mention the drug trade and all these things. It’s pretty fascinating. When people think of El Paso they think of tumbleweeds and Fort Bliss. [not] legitimate money from the maquiladora industries and real estate. You go down to Cincinnati street on a Saturday night and you can see Ferraris and Range Rovers and Jaguars. It’s like, where is this money coming from in this otherwise sleepy little town?
Q. “Send More Idiots” focuses on soldiers. It’s easy to forget that El Paso is a military town.
Yeah, there’s a huge military footprint. You don’t really see them – the military has their own turf, and you forget that there’s this massive population right there on our doorstep. I thought it was important to include them in it.
Q. I like that you tie the idea of mythology and monsters to the idea of cartels.
It’s gotten to such proportions that you don’t know what’s going on down there. Have you read Roberto Bolano’s “2666?” It’s this guy’s take on all the murders in Juarez, unrelated to the cartel, all the female workers who were killed over the years. Bolano has this mythic realism to him, and I think I was influenced a little by that. The situation has gotten so big that it’s almost as if there’s something more powerful than human beings at work. It’s almost like there’s a greater evil that might be responsible.
Q. That connection is an interesting twist on a common literary theme. Fairy tales always use monsters, but your book has a modern twist. The monster is more of an idea, a mythology.
I wish I could say that I intentionally did that, but I’m glad it came across that way.
Q. It’s interesting how that happens right? How people make their own things from your writing?
I think there’s a subconscious thing going on as a writer and the more you write the more it’ll come out. It’s kind of like playing ball or anything else – if you think about it too hard you’re just going to f*ck up. But if you let yourself go and you’ve done the practice and put yourself in the situation – whether it’s writing a lot or playing ball or whatever – you’re going to do some things that you look back and think, ‘How did I do that?’ You let your instincts take over and cool things like that sometimes come out. Hopefully they come out more often than not. Also you screw up a lot too, but at the same time some good stuff can come from it.
“Send More Idiots” Launch Party
Hope and Anchor, 4012 N. Mesa
Saturday, March 21, 5-7 p.m.