Mexizona by Alan Larson: can love cross physical and political borders?

mexizonaDiego, a Nicaraguan teenager, is determined to get into the United States to get a job so he can send money back to his mother to buy drugs for her TB. He has everything organized and arrives with Maria, his pretend wife, at the border, but she has a panic attack. At the last moment Diego has to escape back to the Mexican side of the border, his plans in ruins. He resorts to paying two coyotes to smuggle him into the US. But things go horribly wrong. Two vigilante teenagers shoot at them and Maria is hit. Water hasn’t been left at the prearranged drop-point so the coyotes flee leaving Diego and the others to their own devices. Most give themselves up to save their lives but Diego won’t give up on his dream.

Once in the US he finds work and makes friends, and bumps into Hannah. Hannah is the Sheriff’s daughter. He’s facing re-election and with his policy of sending all illegal immigrants back home, has been popular in Arizona. However, he faces tough opposition this time. So he brings his pretty daughter in to help his ailing campaign. Hannah has been well trained and begins by trotting out her father’s lines, until meeting Diego changes all that. Life becomes very complicated and very dangerous for Hannah and Diego from there on.

Mexizona is an incredibly impressive debut novel. Author Alan Larson tackles two thorny political issues – illegal immigration and political corruption – and even throws in a good dose of teenage hormones too. The result is a gritty, modern almost-Romeo-and-Juliet story with plenty of political commentary on the way.

Alan Larson’s characters are all believable and fascinating, even the unlikeable ones. His eye for detail is unfailingly keen and he creates authentic, atmospheric settings. His dialogue is punchy and to the point. The whole adventure moves swiftly, gaining momentum as it moves towards its unexpected ending.

This is very thoughtful novel for young adults, but it will appeal to older readers too. With the younger audience in mind, Alan Larson has written the book with the Flesch Reading Ease and Flesch-Kincaid scales in mind which help ensure this book is suitable for that readership. That’s just another indication of the conscientiousness with which the author has tackled this creative, moving, powerful project.

It’s a must read and this is certainly an author to look out for. The book is well presented with striking cover artwork.

Here at Books Are Cool we were so impressed with Mexizona that we interviewed Alan to ask him about why he wrote the book, the hazards of being an author and what his future writing plans are.

Author-photo-aalWhat’s the story behind your book? How did you become interested in the book’s main subjects, which, would you agree, are illegal immigration and racial/political intolerance?

Yes, those are the main themes, especially intolerance. I lived in the State of Arizona for about ten years and there are some horrific things happening there. Laws and policies of the United States cause the deaths of hundreds of people per year in American deserts and thousands more south of the border. These policies desperately need to be changed.

Who are the characters based on?

Most of the characters are like what it says on the mushroom bottle – pieces and stems.  Little bits from different people.  For example, like Diego, my sister can discern every ingredient in a dish from a single bite.

Who’s your favorite character?

I don’t have one favorite character in this book.  However, some of the minor characters were the most fun to write – Marge and Britt for example.  It was hard not to go over the top with them and some readers have told me I pushed too far with the Associate Principal.

How much impact does your childhood or other personal experiences have on your writing?

My childhood had a huge impact on this book.  My opinion is that a lot of bigotry is learned in the home; my parents were the pinnacle of tolerance, acceptance, and caring.

What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them? 

As a vehicle for fostering better understanding, I wanted to show an impartial view of both sides of the illegal immigration issue, but I’m afraid the book ended up skewed to my personal viewpoint.

What are some of the references that you used while researching this book?

First of all, I’ve seen both sides of the border wall in Nogales, Juarez, Mexicali, and Tijuana.  I have been with migrant workers in lettuce fields north and south of the border.  Been hiking in the Sonoran Desert.  Read lots of news articles, especially in the Phoenix NEW TIMES weekly magazine.  Watched nearly two dozen documentaries.  And talked to lots of people:  current local politicians (including a county sheriff), candidates for statewide offices and U.S. Senate, illegal aliens, and Americans who hire illegal aliens.  (I tried to use actual jobs and actual wages for the migrants.)  Most statistics are from government sources.  The data about the for-profit prison agenda came from attending a lecture by Dr. Christina Gomez at the Chicago Public Library.

What was the hardest part of writing Mexizona?

The romance story.  I didn’t think I could pull that off, and if fact, if it hadn’t been for several of my extremely-talented writer friends, that part of the story would be much worse.

What did you enjoy most about writing Mexizona?

I love reading books with unexpected plot twists, so trying to pull that off was the most fun.

How do you feel about ebooks vs. print books and self vs. conventional publishing?

I started off as an accountant and have a MBA, so I tend to look at it from a business perspective.  The conversion to eBooks is inevitable.  Look at complete transformation of the music industry and expect something similar.  As far as publishing, the ease and low cost of self-publishing an eBook allows authors to sidestep the conventional publishing gatekeepers. At the end of the day, readers have always decided what they want to read. Now readers have more to choose from.  Of course, that can be both a good and a bad thing.

What do you think is the future of reading/writing?

I don’t know, but I sure hope people keep reading books.

What authors do you like to read?

For thrillers, I’ve been hooked on Daniel Silva ever since I read THE MARCHING SEASON over a decade ago.  I luckily happened to take the same week-long University of Iowa summer writing class as Audrey Niffenegger when she was writing THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE.  I got to read the first draft of that entire manuscript two years before it was published. Of course, it was wonderful and I truly expected it to win the Pulitzer Prize.  I must also mention – Nell Harper Lee – To Kill A Mockingbird (my all-time favorite), and I loved Suzanne Collins – THE HUNGER GAMES (read it five times).

Are there any occupational hazards to being a writer?

Sure.  I’ve been writing forever and never sold or published anything until now when I self-published – MEXIZONA.  I may still not sell anything.  You can’t count on writing to feed you and you have to be willing to accept a lot of rejection.

What are you writing now?

As soon as I can get back at it, I’ll be revising the first book in my Gypsy trilogy, THE LAST GYPSY PRINCESS, for hopefully a late spring or early summer ePublication.  (My friend, author Karen Duvall, has dubbed it – “The Gypsy version of THE GODFATHER.”  I wish.)

Any last thoughts for our readers?

Yes.  I want to warn your readers that my future suspense/thrillers will not have any big political agendas or themes.  My future thrillers are just for fun…at least for now.