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.
Thank you for this interview, Marc. Can you tell us a little about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?
I remember writing as early as the third grade, entering and winning a school writing contest with my story The Ant Who Stole Easter. When I began my career as an engineer, I would often write technical presentations and papers, and this progressed to brand creation and promotion as I moved into business marketing and strategy. And when I became an entrepreneur, storytelling became my lifeblood: I was convincing people to invest in me and my company simply by crafting a compelling story. So writing A Gangster’s Garden feels like a natural progression from the stories I’ve been writing all my life.
Can you tell us briefly what your book is about?
Set in Denver, A Gangster’s Garden is about a teenage boy killed in a botched street-gang hit and what happens to everyone touched by the shooting. The story follows gang leader Benicio de los Santos, the hit’s intended target, as he plots revenge against his bitter enemy King Diaz for murdering his family two years earlier; and as his plans begin to unravel 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, with very different outcomes.
Who is your intended audience? Have you been able to crossover into other audiences as well?
A Gangster’s Garden is primarily a book of men’s fiction, and so has a largely male audience. And yet, since A Gangster’s Garden is in many ways a love story (all of the characters are motivated by love of their families), then the novel will appeal to women as well. Carmela Rodriguez in particular, the mother of the slain boy, is a very compelling character as she tries to come to grip with her son’s murder. The scene when Carmela meets her son’s girlfriend for the first time, a girl she didn’t even know existed when her son was alive, is especially poignant.
Why did you choose your particular genre?
Growing up in Oakland, I developed an appreciation for and interest in street-life from a very early age. And I’m fascinated by what grows to replace the voids left by society – in this case, the formal structures of street –gang hierarchy, the warped yet internally consistent sense of morality, and the almost gravitational-like pull it has on people who can’t escape its undertow. These exist because people can’t find what they need elsewhere, and they often get sucked into a life at a young age simply because there aren’t any other choices. So I’m drawn to these deep, cultural worlds that develop in society’s cracks.
Do you ever experience self-doubts with your work?
I begin doubting my work when the characters seem dull and two-dimensional. When I first started writing A Gangster’s Garden it was too plot-heavy: I knew where I wanted the story to go, and the characters were just vehicles to get me through to the plot’s heart. The result was a story that didn’t quite resonate. So I really fleshed out my characters, and they took control of the story from that point. Once my characters really came to life my self-doubts went away.
Where do you write? Do you have a favorite place?
I love writing in crowded, noisy places, so in that sense I’m probably a very atypical writer. My favorite places are book stores and coffee shops, places that get a lot of traffic. I actually wrote a lot of A Gangster’s Garden on airplanes and at airports. But quiet, serene places begin to drive me a bit crazy. Maybe I need the noise around to force me to dig deep and concentrate.
What kind of research did you have to do during the writing process?
For starters, I read probably every published book written by former gang members. I read everything that Stanley “Tookie” Williams (co-founder of the CRIPS) wrote, including his series of children’s books meant to educate elementary school kids about the perils of gang-life. Louis Rodriguez wrote a number of books about his experiences in Hispanic gangs, and I found those to be particularly insightful. Then I spent countless hours online: researching the Norteño/Sureño dynamic in California, the ties to San Quentin and Folsom prisons, and the multiple signs and tattoos that each set uses. I believe that all this research paid off in my final book.
Who is your publisher and how did you get accepted by them? Did you pitch your book yourself or go through an agent?
I published A Gangster’s Garden myself, in both print and ebook formats. I approached about a dozen agents, but it’s a long and arduous process to get published through a more traditional house. I’ll continue pursuing the traditional route through agents, but until then I self-published.
How are you promoting your book thus far?
I’m currently in the middle of an online book tour, whereby I’m interviewed by dozens of online blogs and book review sites. It’s a fantastic way to get the word out about my book, my characters, and my motivations and background for writing the book. I’ve also produced a video book trailer – an online collection of images, quotes and music – that’s available on YouTube and other sites. It’s a quick, visual representation of the book that gives a potential reader a snapshot of the novel and its main themes.
If you could give one book promotion tip to new authors, what would that be?
Find the resonant themes in your book as soon as possible and distill those down into easy-to-digest chunks. One of the best things about doing an online book tour, for example, is that I’ve been able to really hone in on the book’s main themes and communicate those as succinctly as possible. Many books cross genres, and because of that might be misplaced or positioned incorrectly when it’s being marketed. I’ve found that the more interviews I do, the better I’ve been able to find my core messages.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently working on the sequel to A Gangster’s Garden, with a working title of Santos, Uncolored. Benicio de los Santos is a charismatic and complex character, and I want to finish the journey he began in A Gangster’s Garden. I’m also working on a story of historical fiction, tentatively titled Stalking Zodiac. Growing up near San Francisco, I was always fascinated by the Zodiac killer, made all the more compelling because he was never caught. But what if someone knew who he was?
Thank you for this interview, Marc. Can you tell us where we can find you on the web?
Thank you very much!
To purchase A Gangster’s Garden, click here.
To find out more about Marc, please visit him at http://www.gangstersgarden.com