Review: Winds of Wildfire
Ron Chavez’s first foray from poetry and the short story is just that and more. Winds of Wildfire is set in Taos County and Chavez indeed found a different way to tell the story of three cultures that also openly speaks about the challenges of all artists.
Artists, Hispanics and Native American view to the world so differently than Western European society. It is precisely that difference that makes those lucky enough to live nestled between the Rio Grande and the Sangre de Cristo Mountain seven more unique.
Amee Brooks is a smart, competent and most sure of herself protagonist. Donato Atencio is a character with the true heart and soul of a poet and I saw many glimpses of Chavez in this fine character. Billy Stonewolf’s Tiwa heritage is the starkest contrast of the three to Western culture and his desire to see the needs of others above his own ego or greed is a trait so sorely lacking in today’s world. Chavez’s characters have risen above the cultural and ethnic divisions that define racism today.
I spent a gorgeous spring morning over coffee and tea with Chavez to talk about his new book, “Winds of Wildfire,” but there is no way to talk about the book and not delve into the man himself.
Ronald P. Chavez did not grow his craft by coming through academia. In fact, Chavez has the story of his education that has all the earmarks of the genius. He was told in high school that it would be in everyone’s interest if he just left school. By his own admission, he wasn’t even much of a reader—couldn’t spell and didn’t know grammar. That was until he was living in Monterrey California and someone suggested he read “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” by Ernest Hemingway.
Chavez then took a beginner English course at a Monterrey Peninsula Junior College and was quickly surprised, “Low and behold we had a real professor,” Professor Armanasco. After two or three classes, Armanasco asked Chavez to remain after the bell. Chavez just knew he was going to be told, you don’t belong there. He asked Chavez, “You are clearly dominating this class, what is it that you want to accomplish?”
Chavez stated that he wanted to write. The perceptive professor told Chavez that he was indeed in the wrong place and gave him a plan that was sure to make him a writer. He instructed the young Chavez to read a book each week of different subjects and to write down three words a day with the definition. He did that every day for 10 years.
Hemingway showed Chavez that he could write about his own people and culture and Armanasco empowered him to go out and do it. After Chavez published Time of Triumph which was nominated for the 2008 New Mexico Book Awards, he wanted to reach out to the professor who had ignited his launch but learned that he had passed away.
Nonetheless, Chavez soon found his recognition. After Michael Wallis’ publication of “Route 66: The Mother Road,” where he was featured, he soon became a Route 66 icon and appeared in “Searching for 66—Route 66 Guide Book” and “Route 66 Cookbook.” Then the mainstream media discovered his unique genius and began making appearances on Good Morning America, “Eye on LA,” PBS American Playhouse, “Ford on the Road,” Tom Brokaw News Hour and Radio NPR in San Francisco plus a myriad of newspaper articles from the Dallas Morning News, Chicago Sun-Times, Denver Post, Santa Fe New Mexican and Entertainment Weekly. The author then added, “And then I landed in Taos where I rewrote myself—family and all and vowed to devote my life to writing.”
Over the last 15 years, Chavez has done that and so much more and offered, “I started to write about my own people because there are so few of us doing it.”
Chavez reacquainted with someone from his hometown, Rudulfo Anaya of whom he has a close relationship still today. And at 74 years of age, Chavez is still writing new material. “When we have our ups and downs and we don’t fall into a phantom-less depression—then we have stories to tell, otherwise you’re just manufacturing stuff. And no one was more surprised than me by all of the recognition because I had no background in writing.”
Chavez’s book of short stories and poems, “Time of Triumph” was a 2008 finalist in the New Mexico Books Awards and has multiple publications of poems in Spanish and English. Chavez has published and publicly read his works internationally, approaching the age of 75, is working on his second novel. His working title is “Ten Cents a Shine: A Route 66 Odyssey drawn from his past life as a Route 66 Icon. Please visit his site.