Ravenblond.com | est. 1993
by Phoebe Gloeckner
this picture: woman fixing car near Jardines de recuerdo, ciudad juárez
He's got a boyish grin, smiling gray-green eyes, and the broad, heavily-muscled shoulders of a weight lifter. He resembles a more finely chiseled version of “el Barbie," the high school football star from Laredo, Texas, who moved on to join the Beltrán-Leyva cartel. Mr. Paxton, however, is no “Narco,” but an author of crime fiction. He has written three books so far: Cartel Rising, The Plaza, and Wilted Lily, all falling into a genre called “Narco Noir.” His books, which are "almost" self-published, chronicle the trajectories of assassins, cartel leaders, prostitutes, corrupt police and self-serving government officials in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.
An author needn't invent horrors to convey the damage wrought upon Ciudad Juárez, ravaged by cartel wars between 2007-2011. In 2010, there were an estimated 3500 murders (about 3100 officially reported) in this city of approximately 1,500,000 inhabitants. Life in Juárez during this period was far more dangerous than even fictional accounts can imply, and the public lived in justified fear. It was a protracted violence that robbed the population of any sense of security or hope that the government (in its various factions) could or would protect them.
Readers familiar with news headlines in Ciudad Juárez will recognize many of the situations in Paxton’s books. He calls what he writes “faction,” fiction based on fact. He takes liberties in developing his stories, which nevertheless can seem so close to reported truths that the boundaries between reality and artifice are unclear. He clearly knows the streets of central Juárez intimately. As another author writing about the border, I wanted to know, “Who is Guillermo Paxton, and why is he so familiar with the lurid back-story of recent events in Juárez?”
ABOVE: GUILLERMO PAXTON
Paxton, 43, supervises a group of salespeople selling extended car warranties in Fort Worth, Texas, where he lives with his wife, Lucy Torres, and his young sons. We spoke over video chat. Guillermo sat at his kitchen table, intense and serious, yet brought to laughter easily. Lucy could be seen preparing dinner behind him. Every now and then, a mischievous, grinning boy would run to the refrigerator, or peek around the kitchen door to have a look at the screen. I asked Guillermo how he found the time and privacy to write. “I write whenever I can and wherever there is space and shut everybody out of my head, mostly at the kitchen table or on the couch. Sometimes I write when others are asleep, but my family has early/late hours so that is rare.”
Paxton has no formal training as a writer, but has always liked to read. He says he often returns to work by Cormac McCarthy, Charles Bukowski, Kerouac and Ginsberg and other Beat generation writers. Not surprisingly, he also enjoys reading contemporary crime novels. Paxton started writing in 1996 while working as a narcotics agent. "I found it therapeutic. A lady I worked with read some of what I was writing and she said, “You should do this for a living. It took me forever to actually write my first book. I was busy carousing, fornicating and working undercover."
Although he began publishing his work later than some authors have, he's spent plenty of time living the life he writes about. He says that much of his material, besides being tied to current events, comes from his personal experience. He served in the United States Air Force. Later, as a law enforcement official, he worked undercover as a narcotics agent in New Mexico. He encountered gun-runners, drug distributors, addicts, and assassins -- all members of violent gangs that had a presence in the area. He remembered their stories. When undercover, he became part of their stories.
Born in Hawaii to troubled parents who were ill-equipped to care for him, Paxton was raised by various relatives in El Paso's El Segundo Barrio and Ciudad Juárez. "My formal education was in the United States, but my informal education was definitely in Juárez.”
I asked Mr. Paxton whether he identifies as Mexican or American, or both. "I’m good with either, and I’ve been called worse. I truly love both countries, all kidding aside. Officially, I'm a United States citizen." And despite the persistence of crime in Mexico, “I feel an immediate sense of freedom when I get there. It’s a different culture, the stresses are different. I feel very comfortable there.”
Paxton describes himself as "about as bi-lingual as they come," and says he thinks and dreams in both Spanish and English. His books are written and published only in English, however. "This is really because I don't want to spend the time translating them myself. I've already written them -- it would be like going backwards. I'd rather spend my time writing. And I can't afford to pay someone for a translation. If I had a regular publisher I'd hope that would be something they'd do for me."
The staccato rhythm of Paxton’s narrative echoes the rat-a-tat-tat of the “Cuerno de Chivo," or MK-47, the Narco’s weapon of choice. His books move quickly and frenetically, surging and crashing and swelling like the fearsome wave of homicides that inundated Juárez over the past decade.
Paxton relocates his characters, many of which are based on real people, from newsprint to the pages of his novels, where they are given new life. One of the narrative threads in The Plaza was inspired by the last few months in the life of José Armando Rodriguez Carreón (“el Choco”), a journalist for El Diario who was assassinated in November of 2013, shortly after reporting on an alleged connection between a relative of the Chihuahua state attorney general and organized crime groups. “Armando Rodriguez didn’t hesitate to report what needed to be reported, whether everyone liked what he said or not,” says Paxton. “El Choco was one of my heroes. He is the inspiration for the character Saul Saavedra. It was important to channel his voice in my story.”
Novels based on current events are often seen as capitalizing on the sensational. Written quickly, with more emphasis on shock than artistry, this type of book has more in common with PM than El Diario, the two daily newspapers in Juárez. PM presents a more voyeuristic, salacious and blood-thirsty approach to reporting the news, while El Diario attempts to be more objective and analytical.
“I use a bit of both approaches,” says Paxton. “The Plaza was completely accurate in its depictions of the characters and the violence. Make no mistake, however, it was designed to shock and move the reader."
IMAGES : El Diario and PM Magazine, two major newspapers in Ciudad Juárez. Each publication has its unique style of reporting the news. They are owned by the same company. The PM cover shows two women accused of kidnapping and murdering another, flanked by a photo of the "girl of the day."
EL DIARIO de ciudad juárez
While Paxton was actively researching The Plaza, he says there were times when he presented himself as a member of the press. "That was the only way I could get close to a crime scene to see what was really going on. The papers rarely reported on all the details." I asked whether that was dangerous. Paxton replied, "Yes. But you do what you have to do."
Guillermo Paxton's second novel is Cartel Rising, which intertwines the lives of two young men, Lalo and Memo, who share similarly bereft childhoods, a talent for boxing, and careers in law enforcement. Lalo and Memo ultimately take divergent paths, each losing connection with and faith in institutionalized justice. They use their acquired skills and experience to take the law into their own hands for very different reasons.
Paxton says that Cartel Rising is his most personal book, and that Lalo and Memo represent conflicting parts of his own psyche. This is, however, not a simple morality tale. Rather than a duality of good and evil, Paxton presents us with two shades of black.
"I think that authors have to relate to the characters in their books," says Paxton. "I tend to feel like I am the character that I am writing at that moment, which sometimes is pretty harrowing, especially when the character is particularly heinous."
Guillermo Paxton's most recent book is Wilted Lily, a “lesbian erotic novella.” He wrote this book under a female pseudonym (his wife’s name, Lucy Torres). “I used a pen name,” says Paxton, “because I felt that if the book was perceived as a novella written by a woman, it would likely be seen as more authentic.”
Wilted Lily is a tragic romance about two women inextricably entangled in borderland narco-culture. It is the shortest of Paxton's three books, with about 150 pages. It is Paxton's least rangy book, the most concise and probably the most readable of the three. Like Cartel Rising, the story focuses on two people whose lives intersect with fatal results. Lila is an aging prostitute working in downtown Juárez. Julia is the young girlfriend of a drug boss, Omar. Both women are beautiful. While Julia counts each crumb of food she eats, Lila studies the lines in her face and the subtle loss of elasticity in the skin of her body. Their personal obsessions with physical appearance should not be construed as simple vanity. In order to survive in this milieu, Lila and Julia must preserve their sexual appeal. In their world, commodification of the individual in currencies of "ass, grass, or gas" is the norm. Their sexuality is their value, and these women have learned how to please men and how to pretend to be pleased by them. But when Julia and Lila meet in their first unlikely encounter, it is clear that there will be no need for pretense between the two.
An Alabama missionary was inspired to build houses for the poor in Juárez after reading The Plaza. I was surprised to hear this, since the book reads like a violent thriller. Paxton explained, "It impressed this man so much that he started taking his mission from Alabama to Juárez every year to build houses for people. He just wanted to do something positive for the people there. I couldn't think of any better response to my work. I love the idea of changing the world somehow, and helping Juárez."
I asked Paxton if there were outcomes other than changing the world that might also please him. "Yes," he replied. " I think my books would make great movies."
On his blog, Paxton describes his excitement when he actually received an email query regarding film rights. He writes that he was contacted by "an editor at Televisa, a major media company and television station in Mexico, regarding a possible contract for rights for The Plaza. I was skeptical, but like any author, elated at the idea that my break may have come, finally.”
Paxton says, "I called the office number in the email and after a lengthy discussion with the editor, Angel Villascar, I was convinced that this was the real deal. We had even set a date for me to fly to Mexico City at their expense to meet and discuss the details of the possible acquisition. A ticket to fly to Mexico City appeared in my inbox."
As it turned out, Paxton discovered that although the invitation to Mexico may have been genuine, it's purpose was questionable. The plane ticket was only one-way, and the man who sent it never worked at Televisa, and after several attempts to call the phone number Villascar had provided, Paxton reached a recording saying that the number had been disconnected.
Paxton wonders, "What was this man's intention? His rather elaborate scheme to get me to Mexico City was well thought out, and obviously he had invested (some effort) into it. I think it is easy to determine that I am by no means a rich man, so I have to believe that perhaps the purpose was far more sinister. The Plaza, while fictional, is based on true events, and is by far more truth than fiction. Perhaps I wrote something that someone didn't want revealed."
Paxton's suspicion that the promise of a movie deal may have been a ruse to lure him to Mexico City, perhaps to kidnap or even murder him, is not so outrageous, considering the high incidence of such crimes. He says, "I have since contacted the United States federal authorities and am awaiting a response from them."
Paxton continues to write about the border and cartel crime. “I love writing about Juárez. I read the papers, I think about what’s going on, it’s what I’m immersed in.” He is currently working on a book about a United States veteran who is deported to Juárez where he loses his wife to a human trafficking ring.
Guillermo Paxton is a diamond in the rough. He is driven and inspired to write, and he has three books under his belt. What would his future look like if his work were acquired by a main-stream publisher, polished up, and re-released? I imagine that future would look quite bright.
this picture: cyclist and merchant, ciudad juárez
ADOBE MUSE CC STARTER