Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Craig McDonald's "El Gavilan"

Edgar®-nominee Craig McDonald is an award-winning journalist, editor and fiction writer. His short fiction has appeared in literary magazines, anthologies and several online crime fiction sites.

Here he writes about the actors he could see playing his characters in an adaptation of El Gavilan, his new novel:
El Gavilan is my first standalone novel following four entries in the Hector Lassiter series.

The Lassiter books are historical thrillers. El Gavilan is a novel about illegal immigration and a single murder committed in an Ohio town grappling with waves of undocumented workers.

The time is now.

The setting is, by-and-large, a re-imagined version of my hometown: Call it Main Street USA spilling over into an adjacent metro area-become-a-barrio.

The book—and any movie that might one day be made from it—is a kind of mash-up of a western and John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. It’s an oater with Dodge Rams and vintage Impalas set to a soundtrack of sad border ballads and narcocorridos.

The novel tracks the investigations and conflicts of three very different brands of lawmen and the small town reporter who covers their efforts in the local weekly newspaper. Moving between the cops and the journalist—binding them in some ways—is a pretty young “legal” named Patricia whose family owns and operates the town’s favorite Mexican restaurant.

Here’s my dream cast:

I favor actor Timothy Olyphant of Deadwood and Justified fame to play the book’s “hero” Tell Lyon, an ex-Border Patrol agent whose family was murdered by a vengeful cartel chief.

In the part of Tell’s uneasy ally Able Hawk—the county sheriff whose nickname supplies the book’s title—I envision Jeff Bridges.

Rounding out the cast of key cops, I imagine a bark-knuckled and paunchy Russell Crowe as neighboring county sheriff Walt Pierce, a man given to escalating rather than diffusing tensions.

The plot of El Gavilan is fired by the murder of a widowed Latina mother named Thalia Ruiz. Thalia is not a mystery novel or potboiler’s throw-away crime victim: We get to know Thalia over the expanse of the novel, and we witness her family’s harrowing migration from southern Mexico across “The Devil’s Highway” and onto into the United States, and, eventually, to central Ohio.

In a perfect world, Thalia would be played by Salma Hayek. Her parents, Sofia and Francisco Gómez, would be played by the equally iconic Elizabeth Peña and Antonio Banderas. Those three famous actors would be tasked with embodying the deadly passage made—successfully and unsuccessfully—by generations of unknowable thousands of illegal immigrants.

My heavily compromised small town reporter Shawn O’Hara, the character whose story arc is arguably fiercest, would be personified by Chris Pine.

Patricia Maldonado, the young woman who is at points caught in a kind of crossfire between Tell, Able, Walt, Shawn and her larger Latino community—legal and illegal—is a pivotal and a harder piece of casting for me to settle on in my mind. One hour has me preferring one actress, the next another. That said, the actress I seem to return to most often when musing over this issue is Jessica Alba, so we’ll go that direction here.

That’s the cast, more or less, that populates the dusty, sun-drenched movie that runs in my head as I dip back into the book from time to time for a public reading or to prep for an interview.

Roll the credits…to the tune of Tom Russell warbling “Across the Borderline.”
Learn more about the author and his work at Craig McDonald's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue