Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Q&A with Tony Levario

Tony Levario is the pen name of a 33 year veteran of a large Los Angeles law enforcement agency. He worked a wide variety of positions throughout the county from patrol to detectives, retiring at the rank of Captain.  After retirement he was a professor at a Cal- State University and also practiced law.  He is currently preparing to retire from his current position as Chief of Police for a small Southern California law enforcement agency. 

He grew up in a barrio outside of Los Angeles with his 11 brothers and sisters and Mom and Dad. He resides in Southern California with his wife of 35 years. They have two adult daughters.
1.       What inspired you to write The Last Pachuco?
My brother, whose photo is on the cover, was the original inspiration. He led a very troubled life and in the end overdosed on heroin. I felt his life was more than what people viewed him. He loved our Mom and Dad and tried to help me with my life and goals. His addiction overcame his true nature. He was more than what he appeared to others.  I had to place him in a position in the story where he could show his worth and intent to better himself. So I placed him into the environment of the 1985 Night Stalker killings in Los Angeles and created the fictional killing of prostitutes that he investigates. It was a time I was familiar with and comfortable in trying to re-create in a fictional story.
2.       How would you describe the relationship between Frank and Beno?
Initially the relationship is teacher – student but it does evolve into a friendship. In many cases police partnerships last longer than marriages, and over time, the partners respond to each other just as married couples do. The partners learn each other’s likes and dislikes and take on certain roles and characteristics.
3.       How would you describe Chuco's character and how did he evolve in the story?
Chuco is confused and alone. He is trying to find his way. He is learning to be a religious Jew without any background in the faith. He is trying to get a head in life by going to school. He has goals and demons – his addiction to heroin and his constant battle to stay clean.  His friendship with Big Homie and the neighborhood he grew up in leads him into unusual situations and relationships. Add to that his developing relationship with Ruth and it compounds his life.
I think that Chicano kids growing up today find themselves in awkward positions of having to choose between their lifelong friends and doing the right thing, as opposed to being forced into making bad decisions by the same friends. This happens every day in every Barrio in the U.S.
4.       Did you do any kind of research for this book? If so, what?
The majority of the research was focused on the Jewish religion and customs. I spent a lot of time learning more about it and I still didn’t get it all correct. It was very difficult to look into this area for me with very little knowledge and background and discovery that there is so much to try to understand.
5.       What's your definition of pachuco?
My thoughts of a pachuco represent a transition from the 1940’s Zoot Suiter into a more secretive image and very tightly controlled clan like groups. Almost every Barrio had a small group of pachucos. They did not voluntarily interact with the neighborhoods. They were self contained.   There were very few “real” pachucos as I grew up. Everyone I knew was afraid of them. They were the genesis for the Chicano street gangs that we have today. They evolved into car clubs, neighborhood gangs and eventually violent street gangs.
6.       What do you hope readers will gain from your book?
First, I would like the readers to be entertained and enjoy the story and the interplay between characters. Secondly, for those outside the Barrio, I hope they learn that there is a pulse and life to these Barrios. It is not all gangs and bloodshed, that there are real people with the same goals and ambitions as every other American, despite the circumstances of their lives. Lastly, for those readers inside the Barrio, I hope that I represented the environment, customs and culture in an accurate light.
7.       What do you like best and what do you like least about being a writer?
I enjoy the writing process, telling an entire story with a beginning, middle and ending, having to make the story interesting enough to hold a reader’s interest. Developing interesting characters is a challenge. It is very therapeutic for me. I haven’t done enough writing to not enjoy all of it completely so for me there is no downside yet.
8.       Who are some of your favorite authors?
Michael Connelly is my all-time favorite, along with John Sanford and Lawrence Block – all mystery/crime writers. I read military history books with a strong interest in the Civil War. Although I like police detective stories, having lived it for most of my life I try to enjoy more diverse books.
9.       Are you working on anything right now?
I am doing a follow-up to The Last Pachuco to clear up those issues that were not resolved. Also, I’m researching a non-fiction story of a local (Los Angeles) Chicano who forged his parent’s signature and entered the U.S. Army at age 15 immediately after Pearl Harbor. At age 16 he, and 4 friends, were in the Philippines where he won a Silver Star and 3 Purple Hearts. After 3 months he was involved in the Bataan Death March and was held a prisoner for two years before being rescued. He refused to immediately return to the U.S. and went into the Army Air Corps, flying bomber escorts in the island hopping campaign. A real Chicano hero - his story, along with thousands of other Chicano kids who entered WWII, has never been heard. He returned after the war, married and quietly raised four kids. He is now 88 years old and wants to share his story with others.
10.   If your book would be turned into a movie, who would you imagine playing the part of Chuco?
I would love for it to be a movie. For the part of Chuco I could see someone like Michael Pena play that part. The more powerful part, in my opinion is Frank Ortega. This may seem a very unusual choice but I can see George Lopez playing that role – in a dramatic way. He’d be a perfect fit.
11.   And, finally, what do you think is in store for the future of Latino literature?
I would hope that all Latino writers pick up their pens or keyboards and WRITE. If they feel they have a story to tell – tell it. Culturally we have the most interesting customs and stories. Growing up Latino is both funny and sad and everything in between. I would hope that the young Latinos are heard because they all have a voice in our cultura.
Up next: A review of The Last Pachuco

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