RJ Mirabal, Southwest Contemporary Fantasy author of The Tower of Il Serrohe, a retired award-winning teacher of Los Lunas High School in New Mexico, is with us today. Former president and rally chairman of the Land of Enchantment BMW Riders, RJ remains active in the club. RJ is a board member of the New Mexico Dulcimer Association which puts on a yearly dulcimer music festival.
“People tend to put themselves in little groups and the groups come into conflict with each other… I think people from different cultures are a bit suspicious of each other. The clans in the book have some elements of New Mexico, but they are also universal; they could be from any part of the world.”
Hello RJ, thank you so much for visiting. First, congratulations for the accolades from your readers so far. They’re all fascinated by your home the Middle Rio Grande Valley, where you have lived most of your life. Please share this this place with us.
The Middle Rio Grande Valley is located in New Mexico midway on its journey from the Rockies of Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico. The river itself is small in terms of volume, but rather exotic as it works its way through mountains, across deserts, and deep canyons all while nurturing its bosque: a narrow band of mostly cottonwood trees, willow bushes, and countless species of plant and animal life. I grew up along the Rio Grande in the small towns of Peralta and Los Lunas and couldn’t think of any better setting for my writing.
You are a retired teacher of the award-winning Los Lunas High School. Come tell us about this school and your time there.
My life’s work was teaching high school students English, Speech, and Drama in Los Lunas, New Mexico. I enjoyed the challenge of helping students communicate more effectively and explore their world. The difficulty was getting students to appreciate their role in their own education. I was able to succeed some of the time, but I occasionally wonder about those I couldn’t reach. I was active in the National Education Association (NEA) at the local level because teachers have to have an equal voice in the direction of education in America. I was humbled when I earned the NEA-New Mexico Excellence in Education award in 2006 two years before I retired.
That’s wonderful! Congratulations!
And past president and rally chairman of the Land of Enchantment BMW Riders, you’ve remains active in the club. How nice! Share with us your adventures with the club.
Being able to ride throughout this beautiful state, country, and world on a motorcycle is an experience for which I’ll always be grateful. And the people I’ve worked and ridden with are among the best!
After retiting, you have pursued writing and music. Playing the hammered dulcimer is a big interest for you and you’re a board member of the New Mexico Dulcimer Association which puts on a yearly dulcimer music festival. Tell us about playing hammered dulcimer, and the music festival.
The hammered dulcimer is a rather unique and little known instrument of ancient origins. It has a very charming and exciting sound because, coupled with the singing strings, there’s a strong percussive element that makes playing and listening great fun. Our New Mexico Dulcimer Festival is a wonderful opportunity for many people to learn more and appreciate the beauty of these unique instruments including the mountain dulcimer which is actually a different instrument.
You enjoy exploring New Mexico’s wilderness areas on his four-wheeler and travelling with your wife, Cheryl. When you’re not writing or promoting your book, you explore back roads and wilderness trails throughout the state on your Polaris RZR four-wheeler. Tell us more about the wilderness trails and the four-wheeler. Which one interest you the most? The wilderness or having fun with the car?
Both the 4wheeler (which is something like a micro-Jeep with a motorcycle engine) and the wilderness are equally attractive. It’s great to get away from civilization and humanity to simply enjoy nature. It’s also fun to go fast, climb hills, and cross difficult terrain. It’s a wonderful blend of the man-made and God-made. Of course, I also believe in preserving the environment and sticking to official trails so wildlife can go about its business without some crazy guy on a Polaris RZR (the brand of 4wheeler I ride) disrupting their day!
What a way to enjoy life! Now tell us about your novel The Tower of Il Serrohe. What compelled you to write this book?
The Tower of Il Serrohe is the result of a lifelong interest in fantasy and fiction stories that have unexpected plot twists. I also wanted to place the story in the landscape of the Southwest where I grew up and now live. It’s fun to find mystery and wonder in the “ordinary” places of our everyday lives. Thus I call it a Southwest contemporary fantasy.
Fantastic! Would you be so kind to tell us about The Tower of Il Serrohe?
Wrenched from a deteriorating lifestyle when his promiscuous wife kicked him out, anti-hero Don Vargas rents a dilapidated casita which – unknown to him, of course – is actually a portal to another world. Vargas takes readers through a dusty portal on a Southwest contemporary fantasy quest into a larger-than-life alternate Rio Grande Valley, where local clanspeople expect him to save them from the wily Soreyes’ mysterious Tower.
Will Don find purpose to his pointless life? Will he find love and friendship in a place he wouldn’t have believed possible? Where will his next beer come from?
Please share your favourite paragraph in this book.
This paragraph ends chapter “fifty two” summing up the nature of Don’s personality and still to be revealed abilities to take on the quest to save the clans of the Valle Abajo. It also makes me laugh visualizing it:
“His (Don’s) departure seemed to create an enormous vacuum in the room. The two clanspeople (Raquela and Nersite) felt this was the closing of a big circle. Don had to be the one to save the Valle. Just look at his heritage and his abilities. That is, in spite of the fact—though they had no word for it—he seemed to be a bit of a prick.”
How long did it take you to write this first volume, RJ?
In total from initial idea and a couple of short stories that gave birth to the much more complex novel it took 30 years to complete this story. Of course, I wasn’t working on it that whole time. I actually spent the last three years writing, editing, and then getting it published by 2012. But the story ideas and my writing style improved over those years. I, of course, read continually taking inspiration and tips from every author I read.
“The places and the people are fully realized and totally involving, and become friends you want to continue to know.”
How real are your characters?
Some of my characters are obviously fantasy, but based on interesting human peculiarities of most every person I’ve ever met. Even Don, though a regular human, is not based on any one person, but a collection of individuals I’ve known and other characters I’ve encountered in literature. I’ve tried hard to “test” my characters—even the fantasy ones—against reality so that I hope readers will find them believable given the setting and plot I’ve created.
RJ, you have said, “People tend to put themselves in little groups and the groups come into conflict with each other… I think people from different cultures are a bit suspicious of each other. The clans in the book have some elements of New Mexico, but they are also universal; they could be from any part of the world.” What message would you tell the world? Does this book have an agenda?
The message is: “All of what we perceive to be reality is a function of our perception which is informed by our normal senses and our emotional and philosophical states of being.” And, as always: evil is bad, kindness is good, and love is essential to life.
No big agenda other than entertaining my readers who will share in my imagination as they read the book.
On the sequel, do you accommodate fans’ requests on your sequel?
I’m trying, but I’m taking some risks, too. I can’t be specific because I like readers to be surprised when they read my work. The main thing is that the story continues. I had originally intended this to be a self-contained story, but I’m enjoying the challenge of developing the story and characters further.
Why is this sequel a must-read?
I want readers to learn more about the clanspeople and the evil Soreyes. Plus, I love sharing more about the landscape.
What is the proposed title, RJ? And how did you come up with this title?
The title is: “Extreme Dust Storms May Exist”. This title is a slight variation of a very strange sign near the setting of the novel along the highway past the real Los Lunas (Rio Luna in the book). Dust and dust storms are a constant reality in New Mexico plus the implications of dust and wind play a part in the story. Also there is a key event at the beginning of the story that involves a dust storm.
Right. In Australia it will be a sign of extreme fire danger 🙂
When is the proposed release date of this sequel? Tell us your latest news.
No idea on a release date. I’m still working on the first draft and haven’t sent it to my publisher to gauge his interest in publishing it. I’m continuing to market and publicize The Tower of Il Serrohe by attending book fairs, signings, presentations to the Southwest Writers (my professional writing association) and doing media interviews like this!
Good luck with your marketing efforts! About writing. What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of a good fantasy?
A good fantasy has to take the reader away from the “real world” into a place and events that fascinate, hence the term: fantasy. Yet at the same time, the world and characters of the fantasy story has to be believable and follow its own internal rules and the normal rules of what it means to be a human being. If a character is totally out of the realm of humanity, then we can’t relate and the story loses relevance.
When did you first know you just had to write?
When I was a kid, I used to entertain my friends making up stories as we rode the bus to school and back home. I didn’t know that meant I was to be an author, but that’s where the impulse started. Plus, I’m an only child, so I had to create stories when I played since I didn’t have siblings.
RJ, you said, “When you have a story, once you’ve developed it into a manuscript, get an editor. No matter how good you think you are, you’re not. Somebody else should look at it who knows what they are doing. You need to have people read what you’ve written, especially people who will be honest.” Now, how did being an English teacher prepare you for criticism?
Being a teacher prepares one for all kinds of criticism from students, parents, administrators, politicians, media pundits, etc. Since I graded writing for a living, it’s not hard putting myself at the receiving end of criticism. I actually welcome it as long as it’s honest and constructive.
How much do you have in common with your protag?
Few of Don’s major characteristics are shared with me such as alcoholism, constant cynicism, being so out-spoken, etc. It was a great challenge to create and maintain a persona very different from me. However, some of the small ways and things that annoy him annoy me, too. Nersite is most like me in my opinion.
Tell us a bit about who and what matters to you.
My wife, my late parents, and the great family of friends I have are most important. Also, enjoying life and spending most of my time doing what is fulfilling to me. I enjoy some attention, but not a lot. I would like more attention paid to my writing which is what I’m working on now.
Yes, I can see you are a very people person with real interest in those around you. Thank you so much for the wonderful chat, RJ. Best wishes on writing Extreme Dust Storms May Exist!
And readers, I hope you have enjoyed meeting RJ Mirabal. He can be found on rjmirabal.com or his current main site rjmirabal.blog.com. Check out the latest news from RJ on Facebook, Google Plus, and Goodreads. RJ’s book The Tower of Il Serrohe is available from Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble . I will let you know when the sequel will be available.
What readers say on The Tower of Il Serrohe:
Mirabal does a fine job of capturing the spirit of the Rio Grande Valley and transporting you to a new dimension with likable characters… What a fresh style for fantasy.
Man, Mirabal sure has some imagination! … I was able to picture so much of it in my mind, even the house north of Rio Luna. The map was a great idea and helped me with my vision as I read.
A fascinating journey to the desserts of New Mexico and the alternate world that parallels it. The whimsical characters remind me of the Hobbit, only with a New Mexico twist. Mirabal’s descriptions of New Mexico sunrises and sunsets are beautiful…The mystery of the other world is carried through to the surprise end, and a satisfying conclusion that stays long after you put the book down.
This book creates a solid new world with the feel of the Southwest, and yet with a difference: The alternate world is strange but haunting—and mysterious. Like the protagonist, you sometimes wonder whether it is real or just hallucinatory. But then, when you get to an explanation of sorts—WOW. Totally unexpected and made me rethink—and want to reread it all.