We asked our reviewer Tiffany Matsis to review The Governor’s Wife then come up with some questions for the author. Tiffany and Mark are both former lawyers making her the perfect interviewer to get right under the skin of what makes this writer – and his latest novel – tick.
The Governor’s Wife is in bookstores now. See a description of the plot of this novel on the publisher’s website.
(Tiffany) Reading about the colonias is quite an eye-opener for a New Zealander who is quite literally half a world away and living in a country that doesn’t have any land borders. It’s difficult to even imagine, although your book was very educational. How much of your description of the harshness of life on the border is real and how much is fiction?
(Mark) Unfortunately, it’s all real. The poverty and violence along the border is a way of life for the residents of the colonias. And a new development has been the rise of colonias farther north, outside Houston, Austin, and Dallas as Mexican workers have moved north. Colonias will soon spread to other parts of the US.
Do you see any solution to the quite dire immigration, and subsequent financial, issues facing Texas and California, and other border states?
Not in a presidential election year. The parties have staked out extreme positions to excite their bases, so the candidates are constrained to venture outside those positions. The solution is somewhere in the middle.
How aware is the average Texan of the brutality of life in the No Man’s Land between the border fence and the River? Is it something people know and care about?
Most Texans don’t know about the situation and, frankly, don’t care since most residents of the colonias are Mexicans residing there illegally.
Your Texan characters are at times quite scathing of their Californian neighbours. For those of us not familiar with American culture, what is the relationship between the two states? Does it go beyond the obvious Republican/Democrat divide and neighbourly rivalry?
There’s always been a liberal vs. conservative political divide between the two states, but with California experiencing terrible economic times and many California companies moving to Texas, which is doing much better in terms of jobs, the divide has become economic and much wider.
You’re very forthright, some might say cynical, about the role that campaign donors play in politics. Will this year’s presidential election be won by the team with the deepest pockets?
No, because both teams will spend an equal amount of money, estimated to be $1 billion each. I personally don’t care how much money someone gives to a political campaign so long as there is disclosure, but I do care that that money buys political favors, such as Wall Street enjoyed with lax regulation that led directly to the 2008 financial collapse.
Several of your characters comment, some jokingly, some seriously, that George W Bush’s record as president has meant that there will never be another Texan in the White House. Do you think someone like Bode Bonner (the main character in The Governor’s Wife) could change the public’s views of Texan politicians?
I don’t think so. The dislike of Bush in the blue states runs very deep. Also, in order to be elected state-wide in Texas, a politician must be a hard-core conservative, which makes it very difficult to move to a national stage.
Church-going, family loving, Enrique de la Garza seems almost too good to be true, with the obvious exception of his violent tendencies. Are there likely to be drug cartel bosses in Mexico that are as noble and charitable as he is? Have we, as Enrique claims, been brainwashed by the American Government to believe that all drug lords are the convenient bad guy?
I researched the drug cartels extensively. They give billions of dollars to the church and communities, probably to buy loyalty, but many Mexicans view the drug lords as Robin Hoods. The founder of one cartel employs an honor code very similar to Enrique’s code. I do think we in the US have a tendency to point the finger at Mexico rather than accepting responsibility for our role in the drug trade. We tell Mexico to keep the drugs out of the US while we send $30 billion a year and thousands of weapons to the cartels. We can stop the drug war today if we’ll stop using drugs. When writing Enrique’s character, I tried to imagine an educated man whose family’s land had been taken by the US during the Mexican-American War, whose country is collapsing from corruption and poverty, which many Mexicans blame on America, who sees America from the other side of the river; might he view the selling of drugs to the gringos as not an immoral act?
Your novel is so action packed and fast paced that it is not at all difficult to imagine it being made into a movie. Have you been approached about the film rights?
I have, but the California vs. Texas divide derailed it. A TV producer with many credits contacted me about turning THE GOVERNOR’S WIFE into a series, but when she went to her studio, she said she didn’t get past “Texas.”
If you could play casting agent, who would you envisage best playing Bode Bonner and his wife Lindsay?
Josh Brolin and Diane Lane (who are married).
The book ends with a bit of a tease as to a possible sequel. Will we see Bode and Lindsay again?
There are obvious similarities between Bode and Lindsay Bonner and Rick and Anita Perry. Both men are long-serving Republican governors of Texas with dreams of the White House, both women have backgrounds in nursing. How much did the Perrys provide inspiration for the characters of the Bonners? Do you worry about what the real life counterparts will think when you loosely base characters on them?
I had thought about this book for at least fifteen years. Then, back in 2005, I participated in the Texas Book Festival in Austin. At a coffee for the authors held at the Governor’s Mansion, I turned a corner and walked right into Anita. And seeing her face at that moment, I knew the book would be titled THE GOVERNOR’S WIFE and that the first lady would be the central character. Anyway, it turned out that Rick had been reading THE COLOUR OF LAW the night before in bed. So Anita introduced me to him. We had a wonderful conversation. They were both smart, articulate, and gracious to a fault. And although we do not agree on everything politically, they both care deeply about Texas. But while Anita inspired the character, I did not write the book about them. However, if they do see themselves, I would hope that they see the positive in each character.
How has a legal career prepared you for writing? Do you treat writing as a “job”, committing to regular hours at the computer, or is it more free-flowing than corporate life?
Practicing law is my job, but writing is my passion; so I write whenever and wherever I can. When I’m engaged in the story, as I am now with my next book, I’m constantly running dialogue and scenes through my head. Practicing law taught me to research, even when I think I know something. So I research my books extensively and travel to the settings. I just returned from Marfa in far West Texas, where my next book will be set, and learned much that I could never have known without being there.
You are frequently compared to John Grisham, another lawyer turned writer. Is that a compliment?
Absolutely. It’s like being compared to Jack Nicklaus. (My other passion is golf, but I’ve never been compared to Jack.)
Thank you to Mark Gimenez for answering our questions and to Hachette NZ for organising this author interview.
The Governor’s Wife
by Mark Gimenez
Published by Hachette NZ
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