Award-winning American author, Rudy Ruiz, recently announced the release of his new fiction novel, Valley of Shadows. Set in 1883 on the Texas/Mexico border, the novel follows the journey of a former Mexican lawman Solitario Cisneros. When the Rio Grande shifts course, the Mexican city of Olvidos is stranded on the northern side of the new border between the United States and Mexico. Cisneros, who lives a reclusive life, must rise to the occasion when a series of horrific and mysterious crimes send waves of terror throughout the border city. With the help of Onawa, a Mexican-Apache seer, Cisneros sets off on a quest to overcome the forces of evil, while also battling his inner demons and the shadow of a mysterious curse.
A master of suspense, Ruiz’s fiction possesses a remarkable flow, with rich character development alongside vivid imagery. He recently delighted readers by revealing the process and inspiration behind his new novel and how his childhood experiences have informed many aspects of it.
When asked about the idea and inspiration behind the book Ruiz said:
“A lot of the elements had been floating around in my mind for many many years, because of its setting on the border and its historical context of US-Mexico relations, and also the long fraught history of the relations between the two countries and the cultures. In that sense, I feel like it’s been germinating my whole life. But what sparked me to write this particular kind of novel, which is unique, was strangely my son. He asked me, “Dad, would you write a Western horror story?”
Valley of Shadows is a bold attempt by Ruiz to combine several genres to create a historical fiction novel that introduces itself as a Western horror story with a backdrop of magical realism. To Ruiz, accepting the challenge to write the novel was liberating as it allowed him to have fun and be creative. Ruiz explained how he opted to follow a structured outline while writing the novel, as the mystery and crime element within the plot required him to decide beforehand upon certain aspects of the book. However, not all aspects of the book followed a rigid structure. “You start getting in that zone as a writer where it feels like the characters are speaking through you and the story is flowing. What surprised me or what I enjoyed greatly in how it evolved was that the characters took on nuances, and their relationships took on more depth and directions that I had not necessarily planned or foreseen until I was writing it.”
The novel is divided into three parts and moves back and forth through time, following the life of Solitario Cisneros. The main story is set in 1883 West Texas when Cisneros is a retired lawman but then shifts back to his childhood days in the 1850s, eventually flowing into a period of early adulthood. Ruiz explained how he researched several historical aspects of the era, especially in the buildup to Cisneros’s backstory, where he was a member of a Mexican armed government force called the Rurales. At the time Mexico was faced with a French invasion that looked to replace the Mexican Republic with a monarchy favorable to French interests.
“Another aspect that intrigued me and inspired me to write the book was reading about the Porvenir massacre, which was a tragic historical event that occurred in 1918 in Texas, in a small town in West Texas called Porvenir. The tragedy took place when a group of Texas Rangers and local ranchers massacred a large number of Mexican boys and men who were unarmed,” said Ruiz.
According to him, Westerns have traditionally glorified a certain character archetype based upon Texan lawmen and the Texas Rangers. While writing Valley of Shadows, he was interested in providing a fresh perspective where readers could view the era from the lens of a Mexican hero or a Native American heroine. Through this depiction, Ruiz hoped to highlight some of the realities that people had to endure and the tragedies they had to experience out on the frontier in those days.
Ruiz also spoke about how certain aspects of the novel drew influence from his childhood spent alongside the US-Mexico border. “I was very fortunate to have a binational, bilingual, bicultural experience while growing up.” Ruiz was born in Brownsville, Texas, but spent much of his early childhood living in Matamoros, Mexico, a city that lies just across the border from Brownsville. His daily commute from Matamoros to a school in Brownsville and being raised in a bilingual/bicultural community inspired much of his writing and comes alive in his new novel. “My family is still very close to family in Mexico, especially in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, which is across the border from Brownsville. When I would envision life in this mythical border town during the late 1800s, I would imagine the place where I grew up. What would it have been like 140 years ago? Growing up, I got to spend a lot of time out on ranches with my father and my grandfather. They were both cattle ranchers. I wove a lot of those fond, nostalgic memories, and those experiences, into the fabric of the story.”
Family has always been an important influence for Ruiz. “I feel like my most compelling inspiration always seemed to come from my family because I grew up in a family where there were a handful of very good storytellers. My maternal grandmother was a fantastic storyteller and I loved listening to her tell stories. Even though I was hearing stories that were really true, I felt the desire to take those stories and run with them and imagine the parts of the story that I hadn’t heard.”
Ruiz also paid homage to some of the literary influences that shaped his approach to the Valley of Shadows. He spoke about his admiration for writers such as Cormac McCarthy and Gabriel García Márquez and how in writing the novel he sought to find a delicate balance between the earthy and gritty world-building of McCarthy, while also incorporating the lyrical style of magical realism expressed by Latin American authors such as Márquez.
The novel is expected to be released on September 20th, 2022.