Acclaimed author Rudy Ruiz has carved out a distinctive niche in the American literature landscape. Born and raised in Brownsville, Texas, and Matamoros, Mexico — neighboring cities divided by the Rio Grande — Ruiz’s early life was deeply influenced by the ebb and flow of existence along the border. This vibrant crossroads of cultures and identities laid the foundation for Ruiz’s literary journey, especially in his award-winning second novel, Valley of Shadows, out Sept. 19 in paperback.
Valley of Shadows came to life during the pandemic when his son asked, “Dad, would you ever write a Western horror story?” Challenge accepted.
“It’s many things,” Rudy Ruiz told San Antonio magazine. “It’s a Western horror story and it’s also in the magical realism style that I like to write in. It’s set back in the 1880s, mostly in West Texas, and so it kind of goes back and forth through time.”
Valley of Shadows takes readers on a captivating journey through a world where genres converge and the supernatural is intertwined with crime and mystery. The story follows Solitario Cisneros, the former sheriff of Olvido, a town that lost its status and geographical identity when the Rio Grande shifted course. As a lawman with a unique ability to communicate with the dead, Solitario is drawn back into the world of crime-solving when a series of gruesome murders shakes the town. With a blend of historical context, otherworldly elements, and a touch of cultural tension, the novel delves into the complexities of solving crimes in a diverse community.
The border region’s history and the characters’ diverse backgrounds mirror the complexities of today’s world, offering readers a thought-provoking commentary on societal issues. Solitario must navigate the various perspectives within Olvido to solve the most sinister of problems.
Valley of Shadows is a testament to Rudy Ruiz’s storytelling prowess and ability to create a narrative that transcends genres. The novel’s unique blend of historical accuracy, uncanny elements, and cultural insights provide narratives that challenge conventions. Whether you’re drawn to Solitario’s quest to break the family curse or his determination to uncover the truth behind the crimes in Olvido, this novel offers a compelling read that aligns with an audience that appreciates diverse storytelling.
Rudy Ruiz’s Socially Engaged Fiction
Ruiz has often engaged with issues of cross-border migration in his writing. “Even though I write fiction, I consider it what’s called socially engaged fiction. And some people might even have called it like protest literature,” he said in an interview. “I want to help readers see new perspectives or different perspectives on some of these issues, some of these communities, whether it’s Latino immigrants, the border, the refugee crisis on the border, some of those types of things, and humanize some of those issues for them, because sometimes in the news, it’s just very politicized and it’s very negative.”
One of the events that inspired the story and setting of Valley of Shadows was the Porvenir Massacre of 1918. Situated on the U.S.-Mexico border, the small village of Porvenir, Texas, was tainted by violence when a group of Texas Rangers and U.S. Army soldiers descended upon the town, mercilessly killing 15 unarmed Mexican American men and boys.
Not only did it take a century for the crimes to be acknowledged by the state, even today mainstream media looks to reinforce prejudices and misconceptions that enabled such atrocities to take place. Through his writing, Ruiz aims to turn the narrative on its head.
Awards and Accolades
Valley of Shadows’ immersive storytelling has earned plenty of praise, including a starred review from the American Library Association’s Booklist, which states:
“Ruiz’s engaging tale, peppered generously with Spanish words and smoldering with racial tension and classism, is immersive and atmospheric and features an interesting cast of characters with rich backstories. Ruiz deftly combines elements of romance, historical mystery, horror, and magical realism to deliver a richly satisfying adventure.”
Winner of the Texas Institute of Letters Jesse H. Jones Award for Best Work of Fiction and recipient of two International Latino Book Awards, the novel has become a favorite of critics.
“That’s been fantastic,” Ruiz told MySanAntonio in reference to the Texas Institute of Letters honor. “It’s a very prestigious organization and a lot of great writers belong to it. So, when you get that kind of feedback from your fellow writers, it’s personally very rewarding. You know, you feel like your work has been appreciated and understood, and so that’s been fantastic. And then of course, it gives additional exposure to the book so readers can kind of take an interest in it.”
The Border Looms Large
Ruiz’s talent for crafting characters that mirror the complexities of the human condition is evident in his upcoming work, The Border Between Us. The novel transports readers to the 1970s and 1980s, following protagonist Ramón Lopez’s journey from childhood to adulthood.
“I think it’s an interesting time period because the border’s always changing, and there’s been a lot of change over the last 30 to 40 years. So, in a way, even though it’s more recent history, it still feels like a little bit of a time travel to the border that doesn’t quite exist in that form anymore,” said Ruiz. “But I think it also very much is the story of a person growing up on the border and trying to find their place in the world and kind of trying to figure out how they can kind of reach for their goals and aspirations without losing a sense of who they are and where they come from.”
Various sections of The Border Between Us were previously published as stand-alone short stories in prestigious literary magazines such as Gulf Coast, New Texas, and The Dillydoun Review. Notably, the short story “That Boy Could Run” secured the esteemed 2017 Gulf Coast Prize in Fiction. Additionally, both “Limes” and “Allegiance” emerged as finalists for the Texas Institute of Letters’ Kay Cattarulla Award for Best Short Story.