The tragic, comic, and sometimes romantic events in this novel occurred in Arizona Territory over a hundred and thirty years ago, yet they are still so salient in the collective memory of my family that we speak of them as if they happened only yesterday. My people, Mexican and American, were among the first settlers of Arizona, as witnessed by the place names Brawley Wash, Watkins Road, Robles Junction and Dobson, Arizona. I am a direct descendant of the Brawley, Watkins, Robles and Dobson clans, and several of my ancestors were intimately involved in the bloody actions recounted herein. My great-great-grandfather, Captain W.C. Watkins, for example, was the leader of “The Committee of Fifty,” a group of vigilantes responsible for the summary hanging of dozens of outlaws in the Tonto Basin and Mogollon Rim regions, and his sons Abe and Frank were involved in the ambush of the last of the cattlemen in the Pleasant Valley War. Therefore, if I sometimes seem biased in favor of the vigilantes in this story, and the sheepmen in their battle with the cattlemen, it‘s because old loyalties die hard.
Since BLOOD MOON is a work of fiction, many of its names, places, events and dates have been changed. Yet it is based upon real historical occurrences. Some I read about in books such as Arizona's Dark and Bloody Ground by Earle Forrest and A Little War of Our Own by Don Dedera. Others I heard about with my own ears from aged great-grandparents when I was a small boy in the 1940s. My genealogically-minded cousins Joyce, Jan and Dixie unearthed additional parts of the puzzle from old newspaper accounts, survivors' statements, court reports and moldering attic diaries. Certain details, like the oft-told tale that my great-grandmother Letitia was in the habit of cutting the lean off her meat and eating only the fat, I verified with my own eyes. Certain characters, like the pampered sixteen-year-old daughter of a rich and respected rancher who ran off with a notorious outlaw, and the race-baiting cracker from Louisiana who turned out to be one-sixteenth black, are based upon ancestors whose long-concealed histories I discovered by tracing whispered family innuendos to their logical conclusions through the modern miracle of DNA testing.
The odd thing is that some of the most implausible events and characters in BLOOD MOON are real. The Pleasant Valley War of the 1880s, the deadliest land war in the history of the West, truly happened. The cattlemen really did allow feral pigs to devour the bodies of slaughtered shepherds. US Army artillerymen actually concocted a lethal cannon-cocktail of broken glass and sharp pieces of tin to massacre a band of unarmed Apaches. The effete, erudite Coyotero chieftain who who was one of the leaders of the Ghost Dance insurrection in Arizona is a real historical figure, as is the bereaved Pleasant Valley widow who walked into a Phoenix courtroom to shoot the man who murdered her husband.
If ever I had any doubts about my own family's involvement in Arizona's bloody history, they were put to rest in 2008 when I acquired a yellowing 19th Century photograph of my great-grandfather, Milt Brawley, the same old desperado who had run off with the rich rancher's daughter. And he looked just like me.
The actress I would choose to portray SELENA
Galliot, the revolutionary
THE RAP is my gritty Street and Prison novel, pitching a black revolutionary leader against a pair of government-recruited assassins, one a drug-dealing motorcycle gang leader and the other his bad but beautiful Hawaiian girlfriend.
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The summer I was eighteen I got a job in a San Joaquin Valley packing shed. A very pretty, unusually intelligent young illegal alien named Naná Guzmán worked down the line from me, stuffing green tomatoes into boxes that I stacked on a waiting forklift. With nothing to do but chat with each other ten hours a day, we established a marvelous rapport that was just on the point of turning into something more when the immigration police raided the place, tore her weeping from my grasp, clamped a pair of cuffs around her slender brown wrists, and shipped her back to Guadalajara.
Years later, I attended a rally in the Chicano ghetto of East Oakland. It was in honor of a radical labor organizer just back from Argentina, where she had been jailed and tortured. Her name was Olga Talamante, and she entered to the music of Flor del Pueblo, a hot band in farm activist circles of the time, wearing a Nauhautl tunic of red and white with a UFW eagle medallion around her neck. Brown and beautiful, with the look of an Aztec queen, she reminded me of my lost Naná.
Olga was about twenty-four years old at the time, but had the charisma of a woman much older. There was vast experience written on her face, and pain, and incredible resolve. Yet there was something almost flowerchild-like in the way she smiled at people, looked them directly in the eyes, connected with them. And she seemed to be totally at peace with herself, despite her violent struggles in the San Joaquin Valley and Argentina. In short, she had an amazing presence, one of such power and splendor that it seemed to this lapsed-Catholic, part-Mexican writer to rival that of a Medieval Spanish saint. She brought her humble old Chicano fieldworker parents on stage with her, each of whom gave a brief speech in Norteño dialect to praise their daughter’s fortitude in her battle against impossible odds. Then Olga took over, and she was such an eloquent speaker that by the time she finished we were all in her hands. We’d have followed her anywhere.
When the applause finally faded out, she led her audience in a soaring version of “De Colores,” the haunting UFW anthem. Then we all lined up to shake her hand and give her an abrazo, so it took me nearly an hour to reach her. When at last I was in her presence, I lost my ability to speak for a moment, and finally blurted, "I just wanted to say ... you are … beautiful!" The way I said it sounded almost off-color, for I was already half in love with her, so I quickly added, "I mean ... I mean you are great ... really great … estupenda!" Her mother eyed me like I might be some kind of lecher, but Olga understood me perfectly, and bestowed upon me the smile that I still remember, the one that inspired me to write my novel SELENA.
Why I wrote SELENA
MY CAST OF CHARACTERS
SOME MORE REVIEWS OF THE RAP,
AVAILABLE NOW AT AMAZON/KINDLE: : http://amzn.to/1E2N6Im
“…A first rate novel: tough, fastmoving…Don’t miss it.” – Newsday
“I like to dig into a fat, juicy novel a couple of times a year and lose myself for a string of nights. Here’s a good one, by a new author, that had me engrossed for all its pages.” – Saturday Review World
“Brawley’s an excellent novelist who combines a raw plot with raunchy characters.” – Worcester Telegram
“An impressive first novel…what a colorful gallery of characters it has. Not to mention enough twists of plots to keep almost everyone happy.” – Publisher’s Weekly
Little Arvin Weed, the good guard
Moke, the bad girl
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THE STRUGGLE FOR JUSTICE IN THE VALLEY
AS A GIRL
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Deanna, the good girl, with her brother Fastwalking
“They were just itching to tear this Slam apart from one end to another. Take some hostages. Get their boy off on the first hijack flight to Algeria. But he's holding them in line, quiet, holding their righteous anger and wrath right down in check. What for? What for? Why don't he want to bug the Man right now? Put him uptight. What would Wasco do?"
"A MILE OR TWO before the border Arv made her throw out her personal stash of smack. She threw it far out over an irrigation canal and watched the shining plastic bag fall, watched that highly ironic and irrelevant tenth of an ounce of white powder spread like froth upon the brown water, thinking of that other more relevant stash of five kilos of Culiacán brown heroin, of whose existence Arv was totally unaware, packed to the windows in the panels of the Merc. . . ."
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MY PUBLISHER'S TAKE ON SELENA
"Spanning a quarter of a century, from the early 1950s until the 1970s, and set against the social and political turmoil of the San Joaquin Valley in that watershed era, Ernest Brawley’s novel SELENA traces the interlocking destinies of a haunting young woman, driving by a mystical belief in her uniqueness, and two desperate men who have been lifelong rivals.
"From early childhood, when the Blessed Virgin appear to Selena in a vision, she has been certain she’s fated for special accomplishments. Although her poor Chicano family labors in the tomato fields and the packing house of the great Vanducci empire, she dreams of marrying into the landed gentry. When the fansty shatters in her face, she goes on to beocme a spellbinding labor organizer, steeped in the mythology of her ancestors and determined to bring the parvenu landowners—especially the Vanduccis—to their knees.
"Heir to a fortune, Jay-Jay Vanducci struggles—out of his impossible love for Selena—against the claims of caste and clan. His ultimate decision and the brutal scheming of his father ignite a chain of fiolent acts that explode into an all-out class war. Meanwhile, Jay-Jay’s foster brother Delano, half-breed, ex-con and born survivor, schemes and plots his way through a maze of confused loyalties and reluctant treacheries, further complicated by his obsession with Selena and by the knowledge that the Vanducci land was originally settled by his own great-grandfather.
"THE RAP and SELENA are works of American literature that demonstrate a mastery of quintessentially American English, each deeply treasuring our American cultural history. Readers of these works will discover or fan the flames of a passionate love for American writing that revels in the pleasures of language, its sound and rhythm, language that takes pride in the idiomatic meaning of American speech."
Elaine said, "Why do you work there, anyway?" Arv couldn't imagine why not. He needed the money. And even Albert Camus once said: Part of becoming a man is spending time in prison.
"First of all," Elaine said in reply, "that reactionary colonialist Camus didn't have the foggiest notion what real 'manhood' was . . . and second . . . you're not in prison."
"Oh, but I am!" he insisted, "and I've been there all my life!"
“Wasco! He thundered up in a melodramatic cloud of dust, on his way north from a dope run over the Mexican border, spitting fire and smoke and exhaust fumes from the twin pipes of his lacquered black and gold three-wheeled chopper, his giant chopped Hog with the fat chrome rear wheels and the tiny bicycle front wheel leading far out ahead on a fifty-inch fork. A small metallic plaque hanging from the wide stainless steel back axle proclaimed the beast’s name: CHERRYETTE.”
Wasco, the bad guy
Soon to be published by Little Machines Press/Roots Digital Media
THE FARMWORKERS I REMEMBER
"Here’s a published writer of two blockbusting books, an intellectual, revolutionary, theorist, activist, militant and charismatic leader of his people, who actually deigns to have truck with a poor prison hack like Little Arvin Weed. . . .
“I disagree with you entirely,” Galliot said, “but we’ll fight about that another time. . . . Listen,” he said, bending close to Arvin on the tier, cupping his hand, whispering low, “you still going to take that letter for me?
“BECAUSE DEANNA WAS HANDSOME and self-confident, resolute, independent, and had enormous ambitions, and because she would most certainly achieve those ambitions, become a lawyer, practice criminal law, go into politics, through her great strength of will, despite her handicaps as a woman, a mother, a divorcee . . . because Deanna was serious-minded and cautious, because she was the most accomplished and intelligent of the Miniver children, star of her high school and junior college gym teams, Honor Society, sports editor of her J.C. newspaper, because of all that, and because she much more nearly conformed to Lobo’s notion of what a child of his should be like, Fast-Walking liked his sister least of all the people he knew.