The idea for my novel A Gangster’s Garden came from a conversation completely unrelated to writing.
About 10 years ago, a friend and I were talking about an article in the Los Angeles Times regarding gang violence. The article was discussing the results that local law enforcement were having in slowing down gang violence in South Central L.A., home of the infamous Bloods and Crips, and how much money was being spent to try and curb the violence. And while I found the reporter’s discussion about the inner workings of the gangs fascinating, I was transfixed by their leaders. Many of them were smart and motivated and capable of strategic thought, and they certainly knew how to lead others towards their own (if very warped) goals. I remember thinking: imagine if these same men, with their same skills, were put into a different context. Would they be as successful building businesses as they were in leading their gangs? And so a novel was born.
The original premise of A Gangster’s Garden was quite different than how the novel eventually turned. In my original novel, Miguel Rodriguez, wealthy father of the boy murdered in a botched street-gang hit, decided that the best way to honor his fallen son was to sponsor a project to renovate Denver’s Five Points varrio – led by Benicio de los Santos and King Diaz, the two gang leaders involved in his son’s death. He offered up $10 million to rebuild his childhood varrio, convinced both the Mayor and Governor to match his funding, and then ultimately persuaded the judge to pass his innovative sentence onto both gang leaders. Once I had the basic premise, I then set about to put together the details of how the project would work.
Sounds great, eh? The father of a murdered boy decides to sponsor a varrio reclamation project to honor his murdered son, led by his son’s killers – and joined by both political and judicial leaders! Who wouldn’t want to read about something so far-reaching and honorable as that?
Well, my UCLA writer’s group, for one. As wonderful as the plot sounded, there was really no way to make the characters and their motivations believable. What would inspire a father to forgive his son’s killers and instead give them money to rebuild their neighborhoods? As a father myself, I just couldn’t get there; if the same thing happened to my children there would be no way I could muster up the fortitude to forgive the murderers. And if the father couldn’t muster up his own internal resources, how would he ever convince professional politicians to do the same? They were questions that I ultimately couldn’t answer, and the harder I tried the more my writer’s group explained how it wasn’t working. They just didn’t believe that something like that would happen, and they couldn’t buy into my novel. So I ended up throwing away probably 100 pages of story line, and redirecting my story to its current form.
So how did Miguel Rodriguez end up finding peace with his son’s death? And how did Benicio de los Santos, leader of The Latin Disciples, ultimately find his redemption? You’ll have to read A Gangster’s Garden to find out.
Marc Cortez began his storytelling career in the third grade, when he entered a school writing contest and won with his story THE ANT WHO STOLE EASTER. Since then he has become a marketing writer and frequent blogger, leveraging his writing skills into success as a business executive and entrepreneur. With A GANGSTER’S GARDEN, he has turned his lifelong passion for storytelling into a full-length novel.
Mr. Cortez studied creative writing at the University of California, Los Angeles, and lives in California with his wife and two children. A GANGSTER’S GARDEN is his first novel.
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