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Transformation of a barrio vagabond is a tale for all New Mexicans

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Rudy J. Miera is a rara avis in the arts world because he wears so many hats. Miera is an Albuquerque actor, poet, painter, essayist, playwright, songwriter and screenwriter.

“One field fuels the other,” he said.

bks_j12feb_miera2That’s certainly been the case with his latest creative endeavor. What started as a screenplay 20 years ago morphed into a novella. Over the past 10 years, the novella evolved into a novel.

Miera’s debut novel is the recently published “The Fall and Rise of Champagne Sánchez.”

“Champagne Sánchez” naturally fits in the long Spanish tradition of the picaresque novel.

The antihero Sánchez, an Albuquerque North Valley barrio vagabundo, fights his inner demons and tries to make something of himself. In the first half of the novel, Sanchez hasn’t done much to disprove the community’s labels of bum and loser. And he fears he’s living under a curse.

At times, Santos ——his given name ——wants to better himself. He makes good decisions that turn sour through no fault of his own. Like starting a home-style Mexican restaurant next to a busy Northeast Heights mall. Great location, artistic signs, appetizing menu. No customers.

Go figure.

Or Sánchez makes blatantly bad choices. Like deciding to drive a big rig loaded with marijuana from Ciudad Juárez to Albuquerque. He doesn’t tell his wife, Maribel, what he’s up to. Afterward, he shows her the payoff —— a fat roll of $50 bills. He wants to use the dough to buy a new car, a bigger home and a washer and dryer. She wants none of his ill-gotten gains.

Watched by corrupt cops, Sánchez is later arrested and convicted of other charges and ends up in the state pen. However, his time in the pinta gives him a chance to think how he could, and should, turn his life around. He uses his dealings with the prison’s Mexican gang bosses and his knowledge of corruptible corrections officials to his benefit and an early release.

The novel is sprinkled with Chicano street lingo and a few longer passages in Spanish. Though the story is told bilingually, English readers can manage.

Miera said that when the novella transitioned into a novel, he added more characters and more subplots. The novel presents the culture of a barrio filled with extended family members, friends, curanderas, priests, and the ever-present sentinel, old, deaf Mr. Gallegos.

The barrio has the feel of a small village within the city. The story is set mostly in the late 1970s and early ’80s. One of the principal characters is Sánchez’s cousin Adelita. Through notebook entries, she conveys a strong feminine voice as a budding journalist. Adelita’s insightful comments on Sánchez make her voice a kind of Greek chorus. The notebook also acts as her personal diary. Adelita and several other characters experience parallel yet unexpected transformations that are uplifting. It’s a novel that should have special appeal to Hispanics, but in general to all New Mexicans.

Rudy J. Miera discusses and signs “The Fall and Rise of Champagne Sánchez” at 3 p.m. Feb. 26 at Bookworks, 4022 Rio Grande NW.