When you have grown up amid Mexican music, film, and fascinating accounts of the Mexican Revolution, it is hard to remain a bystander. San-Antonio based author, Rudy Ruiz grew up in a family that treasured the art of storytelling.
His maternal grandmother, who died a centenarian, was born in the year 1900 and lived through a tumultuous era in Mexican history. As a teenager, and later as a college student, Ruiz would pay regular visits to her equipped with a voice recorder. Those recordings, although lost, carried within them fascinating tales narrated by a woman who witnessed everything from the Mexican Revolution through to the signing of the NAFTA treaty in 1993.
Ruiz’s father also had inspiring and entertaining stories of growing up in the 1950s along the border. The son of Mexican immigrants, he was the first in his family to attend college and worked tirelessly in pursuit of the American dream.
Born and raised along the US-Mexico border, in Brownsville, Texas, Ruiz lived vicariously through those evocative family stories. Some days he imagined himself transported back in time, calling for an end to dictatorships in Mexico and the abuse of Mexicans in Texas; while at other times, he would visualize his great-grandparents migrating from Spain, Italy and Germany to Mexico, where they intermarried with Indigenous people.
“Early on in life, I realized I had to write,” said Ruiz. “I felt inspired by their true stories to fictionalize and build on them. I started writing stories in elementary school. Eventually, I came to feel a hunger and a responsibility to share their stories to keep their memories and dreams alive.”
While Ruiz began writing at a young age, it wasn’t until his college years at Harvard, that he discovered magical realism writers such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, whose magnum opus, One Hundred Years of Solitude is revered by millions. Latin American greats such as Garcia Marquez, Laura Esquivel and Isabel Allende have formed the backbone of Ruiz’s inspiration to write novels where magic and realism intertwine seamlessly. Ruiz has also been inspired by several American authors, such as William Faulkner, Ralph Ellison, and James Baldwin. This blend of influences has led to the development of a unique style of writing, where through a combination of culture and magical realism, Ruiz captures dimensions of American life that have not been written about before with great frequency.
Authoring and contributing to six books, including two award-winning novels, Ruiz possesses a remarkable ability to weave intricate tales that transcend the boundaries of reality. He enchants readers with his lush prose and vivid imagery, while a unique blend of magical and everyday elements creates an ethereal atmosphere, where the ordinary becomes extraordinary, and the extraordinary becomes ordinary.
His latest novel, Valley of Shadows, was inspired by a request from his son, who asked, “Dad, would you write a Western horror story?”. Having never written a Western or a horror story, Ruiz was curious about exploring and merging both genres with his own unique style and voice. “I found it very inspiring and very stimulating to explore these genres,” he said. “The challenge pushed me beyond my comfort zone, and for any artist that usually yields one’s best work.”
While Ruiz’s writing ranges from magical realism to science fiction and from social commentary back to realistic literary fiction, much of his work explores life along the U.S.-Mexico border as well as within diverse multicultural communities. His novels delve deeply into the complex and multifaceted lives of individuals who live along borders or risk their lives crossing them, offering a unique and thought-provoking perspective on this dynamic region and its inhabitants as well on the indomitable spirit of immigrants who come to America to seek a better life. With a keen eye for detail and a profound understanding of the cultural and social nuances at play, Ruiz brings to life the struggles, aspirations, and interconnectedness of border communities, immigrants, and the children of immigrants born in America.
Leveraging historical fiction to portray these themes and their enduring challenges, Valley of Shadows is a visionary neo-Western that delves into the dark history of injustice, isolation, and suffering along the US-Mexico border. Through evocative prose and introspective reflections, author Rudy Ruiz transports readers to a bygone era and a remote landscape, where the eternal struggle between good and evil unfolds amidst the enigmatic shadows of magic and mountains. Ruiz’s novel not only depicts the hardships and adversities faced by individuals navigating life along the border, but also celebrates the resilience, strength, and vibrant spirit of its inhabitants, reminding us that only through collaboration can diverse communities find productive ways to solve problems and build a future together.
The main protagonist, Solitario Cisneros, is a man whose life seemed to have ended long ago and has himself immersed in a world of loss and desolation. The shifting course of the Rio Grande left his town Olvido stranded on the Texas side of the border, taking away his wife, family, and homeland. Retreating to his ranch, Solitario embraces solitude, seeking solace among his horses and the lingering spirits of the past. However, when a series of gruesome crimes plague Olvido – a volatile community comprising Anglo, Mexican, and Apache settlers – Solitario is reluctantly compelled to confront the perils of life. Venturing into the desert alongside Onawa, a gifted Apache seer, Cisneros embarks on a journey that forces him to confront timeless questions about the human condition. In the process, he must also unite a disparate group of villagers to save their fractured hometown from annihilation.
“I set many of my stories along the U.S.-Mexico border or in the Southwest, from Texas to California and everywhere in between,” said Ruiz. “I always advise young, aspiring writers to look for the stories in their own lives as a starting point. People often overlook the amazing stories that reside within their own family history. If these stories and characters and culture are taken for granted, they will be lost forever. It can be very rewarding and empowering to write those stories, build on them, and share them with others so they can better understand us, where we come from, and what we’re all about. That burning desire to build bridges through stories about dreams and loss, family and friends, and the borders we seek to cross as human beings is what got me started and it still keeps me going.”
While breathing life into the stories narrated by his father and grandmother has inspired Ruiz’s writing, there is also a social purpose that drives him. “Growing up on the border, I was enamored with the idea of building bridges between cultures and nations. Since I’m not a construction worker or an architect or an engineer, I build bridges through writing and ideas that grow empathy between people of different backgrounds,” he said.
Even though Ruiz writes fiction, he considers it socially engaged fiction and believes that his writing can inspire people to see new perspectives on enduring issues. “The more that diverse groups collaborate on solving the problems that plague our country and our world, the faster progress will come for us all,” Ruiz concluded. “Sharing stories rooted in culture and family can help us all better understand not only our differences but also the common values and aspirations that will enable us to effect positive change together.”