Mexico is pretty much the only thing I think about these days.In my last novel, Point Dume, I had a character named Felix Duarte who came across the border to grow marijuana in the hills of Malibu for a Mexican drug cartel.Felix did not live to see the end of that book and frankly his death broke my heart.It also broke the heart of his girlfriend Violeta, his mother, sisters and brothers, and all of his friends.They never found out about the fire that killed him.He was used and discarded by an organization that does not value human life.His loved ones didn’t even know where Felix was when he died.He left home one morning and disappeared from their lives forever.The story of Felix’s life and death is a very common one.Mexico is in a state of complete chaos and the reality of day-to-day life for the average person is hard to comprehend.

My new book starts off with Felix’s girlfriend Violeta trying to get on with her life.She struggles with the reality of the drug wars that plague every town, the corruption, the poverty and the atrocious place that women hold in the Mexican culture.She is a powerful woman without a voice.She is angry and driven and heart sick over the loss of the man she loved.And so she decides to go look for him.

I’m not sure I have the intelligence or skill to write Violeta’s story.I sit here on the other side of the border in my comfortable chair and my expensive reading glasses, working on my state-of-the-art computer trying to imagine the hell that she goes through every day.One of the ways I try to get inside her head is by viewing the various “Border Blogs” that report cartel activity in Mexico.I follow five different blogs, both in Spanish and English.Most of the posts are anonymous and they do an excellent job of keeping up with crime—hour by hour.On a daily basis I look at decapitated bodies hanging from bridges, dismembered torsos, pools of blood, mutilated faces.Men, women and children.It’s all there, if you’re interested in looking.But be careful, you will never be the same.I look at these images that are the reality of Violeta’s life then I jump in and try to guide her through another day.

Depression is a fairly common element in most writers’ lives.I think it goes along with the territory and finding a balance between work and life is one of the primary challenges we all face.I was losing my balance with Violeta.I felt myself slipping into her dark world and I wasn’t having much success pulling myself back out at the end of each workday.Then one morning I turned on my computer and came across yet another cartel story.This one had exceptionally good photos.Two men had been killed the night before.Who knows what their crimes were, it could have been anything.Their heads were cut off and placed on a grassy strip in front of a children’s museum.In the photo you can see dinosaurs in the background.The arms and legs are hacked off the body and the hands are separated from the forearms.There is a poster board sign left on the sidewalk, the lettering done in Marks-A-Lot, sloppy and childlike.The corners of the sign are held in place by the severed hands.The translation reads:

“This happened for being a rat and the other for assaulting a taxi. This will happen to all who wish to follow this path. Attentive: El Nuevo Cartel de la Sierra!”

I finished reading the article, turned off my computer and left the office.I drove home and went surfing.I have been hiking and swimming and surfing everyday.I’m going backpacking next week up in the Sierras by myself and I’m not coming home until I’ve built myself a sturdy shield of beauty. I don’t know when I’ll go back to work.I am not strong enough right now.I don’t have the distance or perspective to understand what it is I’m trying to say.I need to go out and refuel. Once I have my armor in place I will sit back down and continue Violeta’s story but right now I’m no good to anyone.I gotta get out of here.I wish I could take Violeta with me.

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KATIE ARNOLDI has published three novels. The first, Chemical Pink, was a national bestseller. Her second novel The Wentworths was a Los Angeles Times bestseller as was her most recent book, Point Dume, which was published in May 2010 and released in paperback on 4-20 2011. Katie was the 1992 Southern California Bodybuilding Champion. She was also a competitive longboard surfer, an enthusiastic backcountry survivalist, fanatic scuba diver and a constant traveler. She has an extensive knife collection and is currently writing another novel.

17 responses to “My Struggle With Mexico”

  1. dwoz says:

    It’s damn near impossible to imagine atrocities worse than those that have already been tried on real people.

  2. I covered a lot of “pot in the mountains” stories in the southern Central Valley. The cartels have planted billions in the mountains, have lonely dregs with pistols who tend to them and destroy mountain flora, and don’t get caught themselves. Only the occasional henchman.

    It’s a sad cycle that involves many real lives. It bothered me as a journalist and I can see is tearing you up as a writer.

    What is it, something like more than 12,000 people have been murdered by cartels in Mexico this year? I’m probably undershooting here. I don’t remember. I just know it’s some incredible number.

    Anyways, I also agree that writers have to face depression. We think and think and think some more, and then get blamed for thinking. But we can’t help if we do what others consider over-thinking. It’s what we do.

    • katie arnoldi says:

      Hi Nick, I worked on operation LOCCUST a couple of summers ago up there near Visalia. It was that big sting operation. Did you cover it? Something like $1.3 billion worth of plants recovered. I’ve been in those sites you’re taking about and based my character Felix on those terrified, lonely guys with the pistols. The environmental impact of those grows is horrific. So upsetting.

      Over-thinking is part of the job description for a writer. Nothing we can do about it.

      Thanks for the thoughtful comments.

    • juan says:

      Please read statistics of Mexico violet death Vs. many American cities, Mexico’s Crime rate is lower than Detroit, Memphis, St. Louis, Baltimore, Atlanta, Wahingto, Etc.

  3. katie arnoldi says:

    Yep and now there seems to be some kind of sick competition between rival cartels to see who can commit the most atrocious crimes. The violence keeps escalating. There is no end in sight.

    • And it’s affecting all this gang warfare in Central California, where even the little towns are the biggest hotbeds for violence and drugs. It’s terrible.

      I hope you are able to get back to your book and slam dunk it.

      • katie arnoldi says:

        I know that cartel issues in Mexico are up here too. They are operating all over the country. We are the market so it’s no surprise. Recently I saw a truck with a sticker that said, “Beltran Levya”. That was a disturbing surprise.

    • juan says:

      Please see statistics, you will find them in Wikipedia,

      Mexico’s Crime rate is also lower than Detroit, Memphis, St. Louis, Baltimore, Atlanta, Wahingto, Etc.

  4. dwoz says:

    while I understand the need to save people from themselves, I think the world will heave a collective sigh of relief when pot is legalized and it’s more lucrative to smuggle avocados over the border, than bales of weeds.

  5. Richard Cox says:

    Wow, this was a powerful and moving piece, Katie. I appreciate how you relayed the writing of such a story with real world horrors and how it affects a writer on an emotional level. And that’s just writing about it, let alone living it. I’m not ashamed to admit that I can’t even conceive of that kind of daily tragedy.

    There was a story on the local news last night about a “grow house” here in Tulsa that was busted by the cops. The authorities suspect it was an operation run by one of the cartels. A local law enforcement agent went on the air to say how “they” were going to show those Mexican cartels that they’re not welcome to do business in Oklahoma. Or something to that effect. And I all I could think about is how utterly ridiculous that statement is, like is this guy in touch with reality? You, local dude, are going to put a stop to a multi-billion dollar industry, like your “giant” bust is going to change anything? Anyone interested can go find pot anywhere, at the drop of a hat, and they do, and this is Tulsa. Oklahoma! The most conservative state in the entire country.

    And further I couldn’t stop thinking how if they would just allow me or anyone to grow a few plants in our own yards for our own use, so much of the madness would stop. Not completely, I understand that, but people are dying over pot? Pot?? And I’ve only smoked it a couple of times in my entire life. I don’t really care for it very much.

    That it is illegal for citizens of the United States, land of the free, to privately grow or ingest pot is simply unfathomable to me. I’m a fan of legalization and taxation of almost all “illicit” drugs, but put that aside and just think about how alcohol and cigarettes are legal, they’re killing thousands of people every year, but pot is illegal. I understand the economics and politics behind it but the reality is simply ridiculous. Ridiculous.

    (End rant)

    Incidentally, Katie, you and I share a literary agent, I believe. 🙂

    • katie arnoldi says:

      Richard, I agree with you completely. It is absurd that pot is illegal. And the arrogance of our country’s drug policies are ridiculous. Kind of makes me crazy. Yes, we’re really “showing” those cartels what’s what by continuing to demand the products they’re offering. Legalization would change everything!

      So cool about Matt. Love that guy!

  6. JSBreukelaar says:

    Katie, sounds like Violeta, and her story, are in good hands. Funny how much we feel we owe our characters.

  7. Katie arnoldi says:

    You are so right! I feel incredibly protective of all my characters and I feel guilty when bad things happen to them–or most of them. Some characters deserve the very bad things. Thanks for the vote of confidence.

  8. Matt says:

    Oh, man.

    Living as close to the California/Mexico border as I do (here in San Diego), it’s almost impossible to open the paper or turn on the radio/TV news and not come across reporting on the most recent cartel violence. It’s only going worse. And the frequently unspoken, dirty little secret is that much of it is being fueled by the demand of the American market.

    It’s always seemed to me that the violence and instability of Mexico is a far greater threat to our national security than anything going on in the Middle East, yet we as a society tend to just shrug our shoulders and say, “Ah, it’s Mexico.”

    Happy hiking. Hope it helps you get a clearer head. And if your characters are anything like mine, they’ll rather doggedly – if discretely – follow you whereever you happen to go.

  9. Lorna says:

    It is so sad what humans are capable of doing to other humans. Being from Southern California and knowing that it is one of major drug trafficing border, I wonder why our country turns their back on the issue. The cartels are bound to infiltrate into the US, yet we want to ignore the need for security of our borders? Also, I’ve never been one to agree with the legalization of pot, but after reading Richard’s comment, it sort of does makes sense. However, these cartels don’t just smuggle pot across our borders. They smuggle people and guns as well.

    I wish well on your hiking and connecting back to some sort of sanity.

  10. juan says:

    This sentence is absurd:

    “Mexico is in a state of complete chaos and the reality of day-to-day life for the average person is hard to comprehend.”

    Please review violent death rate statistics, you will be surprised:

    Iraq has a lower crime rate than Wahington, Baltimore or Atlanta.
    Mexico’s Crime rate is also lower than Detroit, Memphis, St. Louis, Etc.


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