About Pico Alto


The first time Carlos invited me to his beach house in Punta Hermosa, we immediately went body surfing.  The water off the coast of Peru is surprisingly cold, so when we got out of the water, we warmed up under the afternoon sun on the porch.  The beach season hadn’t started yet, so we had the porch to ourselves.  He loved to spin yarns about Pico Alto.  Those conversations inspired the description in Tocayos.

Here it is, in the voice of the narrator, Carlos:

It is a terrible wave, Pico Alto. Sullen from its long slumber, it rises heavily into a deep blue wall four stories high, eager to punish the mortal who has dared to awaken it. It takes a special man in an unusual state of mind to paddle his board into the path of Pico Alto. As the wave rises beneath him, he must thrust his arms into the water and paddle down the catapulting mass with the frenzy of a madman so he can reach the crest with enough speed to hop onto his fluttering board before the wind rips it out of his hands. As he slaps his bare feet onto the board he is suspended in a wind-blown burst of sea spray for a heart-stopping moment of weightlessness. Then he drops into the concave abyss yawning open beneath him.

If you are a big-wave surfer, you dream of this moment. You can imagine what you will do, but until you put yourself in that place and time, you cannot know what you will do. You might drop fast enough to slip under the collapsing tonnage, and with a menace of unbelievable proportions rising behind you, find the courage to dig the rail of the board and carve a stream of starlight into immortality. O, to share heaven with the gods! To roar back up the shoulder of the wave and burst into the sight of your friends with your arms straight in the air and your shorts stiff with bravado! To know, as the board skids across the water and slows, as you drop to your chest and paddle slowly back into the lineup, that you are a Great One.

Or perhaps not. It can be something as tiny as a drop of sea spray in your eye. Or a hurried waxing that allows your foot to slip on the wet board. Maybe you cannot quite find your balance. Or your nerve. The top of Pico Alto is a bad place to lose your nerve. The gods watch with disinterest as you fall that great distance with your board twisting and turning around you like a leaf in a whirlwind. When you slap into the surface of the water forty feet below, they turn away as the brute force of the wave crushes your twig of a body, thrusting you down, ten meters beneath your next breath, pinning you in a swirling, lung-bursting tumble for thirty seconds before it lets you crawl to the surface for a single gasp of foam-filled air. Only one. Because while taking that breath your panicked brain realizes that you are now in Poseidon’s Anvil, where you will experience the singular terror of turning to face the next wave unfurling four stories above you.

The picture of Pico Alto, above, is from National Geographic.

You can download Tocayos for $4.99 here.  (You can read the first 20% for free.) I’ll have a print version available from Tattered Cover Press soon.


Little Brother and Tocayos In the Principal’s Office


At a book signing in Denver’s Tattered Cover bookstore last weekend I bought Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother.  I usually read slowly, but I inhaled Little Brother.

The novel I recently published, Tocayos, takes place in Lima, Peru, in the late 60’s.  Little Brother takes place in San Francisco in 2008.  Both stories include a scene in the principal’s office.  I though it would be cool to compare them.

Here’s Cory’s scene, reproduced from this site according to the Creative Commons, license:

“I ambled the rest of the way to Benson’s office and tossed him a wave as I sailed through the door.

“If it isn’t Double-you-one-enn-five-tee-zero-enn,” he said. Fredrick Benson — Social Security number 545-03-2343, date of birth August 15 1962, mother’s maiden name Di Bona, hometown Petaluma — is a lot taller than me. I’m a runty 5’8″, while he stands 6’7″, and his college basketball days are far enough behind him that his chest muscles have turned into saggy man-boobs that were painfully obvious through his freebie dot-com polo-shirts. He always looks like he’s about to slam-dunk your ass, and he’s really into raising his voice for dramatic effect. Both these start to lose their efficacy with repeated application.

“Sorry, nope,” I said. “I never heard of this R2D2 character of yours.”

“W1n5t0n,” he said, spelling it out again. He gave me a hairy eyeball and waited for me to wilt. Of course it was my handle, and had been for years. It was the identity I used when I was posting on message-boards where I was making my contributions to the field of applied security research. You know, like sneaking out of school and disabling the minder-tracer on my phone. But he didn’t know that this was my handle. Only a small number of people did, and I trusted them all to the end of the earth.

“Um, not ringing any bells,” I said. I’d done some pretty cool stuff around school using that handle — I was very proud of my work on snitch-tag killers — and if he could link the two identities, I’d be in trouble. No one at school ever called me w1n5t0n or even Winston. Not even my pals. It was Marcus or nothing.

Benson settled down behind his desk and tapped his class-ring nervously on his blotter. He did this whenever things started to go bad for him. Poker players call stuff like this a “tell” — something that let you know what was going on in the other guy’s head. I knew Benson’s tells backwards and forwards.

“Marcus, I hope you realize how serious this is.”

“I will just as soon as you explain what this is, sir.” I always say “sir” to authority figures when I’m messing with them. It’s my own tell.

He shook his head at me and looked down, another tell. Any second now, he was going to start shouting at me. “Listen, kiddo! It’s time you came to grips with the fact that we know about what you’ve been doing, and that we’re not going to be lenient about it. You’re going to be lucky if you’re not expelled before this meeting is through. Do you want to graduate?”

“Mr Benson, you still haven’t explained what the problem is —”

He slammed his hand down on the desk and then pointed his finger at me. “The problem, Mr Yallow, is that you’ve been engaged in criminal conspiracy to subvert this school’s security system, and you have supplied security countermeasures to your fellow students. You know that we expelled Graciella Uriarte last week for using one of your devices.” Uriarte had gotten a bad rap. She’d bought a radio-jammer from a head-shop near the 16th Street BART station and it had set off the countermeasures in the school hallway. Not my doing, but I felt for her.

“And you think I’m involved in that?”

“We have reliable intelligence indicating that you are w1n5t0n” — again, he spelled it out, and I began to wonder if he hadn’t figured out that the 1 was an I and the 5 was an S. “We know that this w1n5t0n character is reponsible for the theft of last year’s standardized tests.” That actually hadn’t been me, but it was a sweet hack, and it was kind of flattering to hear it attributed to me. “And therefore liable for several years in prison unless you cooperate with me.”

“You have ‘reliable intelligence’? I’d like to see it.”

He glowered at me. “Your attitude isn’t going to help you.”

“If there’s evidence, sir, I think you should call the police and turn it over to them. It sounds like this is a very serious matter, and I wouldn’t want to stand in the way of a proper investigation by the duly constituted authorities.”

“You want me to call the police.”

“And my parents, I think. That would be for the best.”

We stared at each other across the desk. He’d clearly expected me to fold the second he dropped the bomb on me. I don’t fold. I have a trick for staring down people like Benson. I look slightly to the left of their heads, and think about the lyrics to old Irish folk songs, the kinds with three hundred verses. It makes me look perfectly composed and unworried.

And the wing was on the bird
and the bird was on the egg
and the egg was in the nest
and the nest was on the leaf
and the leaf was on the twig
and the twig was on the branch
and the branch was on the limb
and the limb was in the tree
and the tree was in the bog —
the bog down in the valley-oh!
High-ho the rattlin’ bog, the bog down in the valley-oh —

“You can return to class now,” he said. “I’ll call on you once the police are ready to speak to you.”

“Are you going to call them now?”

“The procedure for calling in the police is complicated. I’d hoped that we could settle this fairly and quickly, but since you insist —”

“I can wait while you call them is all,” I said. “I don’t mind.”

He tapped his ring again and I braced for the blast.

“Go!” he yelled. “Get the hell out of my office, you miserable little —”

Here’s the scene from Tocayos:

“A junior at Del Pinar does not behave like a 2-year old throwing his toys around the room,” Brother Bernard said to Charly, in a tone of voice that made everybody listening think he was very bored.

This was Charly’s impression. But it made no sense to me. As the school principal Brother Bernard had an obligation to display outrage. How could he fail to do this? Perhaps he was employing a traditional yanqui trick: pretending not to care. This has been a custom between American men for many years, yes? John Wayne, after he and Roy Rogers, they shoot 20 indians between them and save the hair of the people of the town from being removed by the indians, they say to each other…

“Howdy Roy Rogers.”

“Howdy John Wayne.”

“Nice day, no? “

“Yes. “

“Another day, another town saved from a fate worse than death. “

“Yes, excuse me while I yawn.”

“Well, got to go, Roy Rogers.”

“So long, John Wayne.”

Ha! If it had been me who had beaten the Immaculada boy bloody, Brother Bernard would have screamed at me so hard that the veins in his neck would have looked like dancing serpents. Fat serpents. Doing the mambo. Chaka-chaka-bum. And Papito would have done the same. And Mamina. And my older brother would have also, just to practice.

This behavior, however, was not applied to Charly the American. Even by his own mother! She arrived a few minutes late. On purpose. She apologized with an obvious lack of sincerity. Another yanqui trick, perhaps? She then proceeded to dodge all of Brother Bernard’s questions about Charly’s father. No, he was unable to attend the meeting. Why? You ask me why? Because he was out of town, of course! Rescheduling the meeting for another time would not help, no, because he traveled very much. His business made many demands on his time, but his family understood. Yes, her son would prefer to have more contact with his father, but what teenage boy would not? Her understanding, however, was that in the incident in question, her son had merely defended himself from a personal attack, so her question to Brother Rudy was, “Why doesn’t the Catholic Church in general and La Virgen del Pinar in particular do a better job of protecting the children entrusted to their care?”

Brother Bernard, he exhaled and sat back in his chair. A boy’s mother is a formidable adversary, no? Even for the principal of a Catholic High School. Brother Bernard stared at Charly for a long time. Then he turned to Charly’s mother and explained to him, while talking to her, that it was the burden of a Catholic man to endure suffering and injustice. Provocation would come. Injustice would find us. They were tests of our faith in God’s justice. It was a weighty burden, heavier on the shoulders of the young, but it had to be borne. And it was certainly no excuse for trying to violate the Sixth Commandment.

I am not ashamed to say I had to look it up, too. “Thou shalt not kill,” Moses carved into the book made of rock. This is the sixth commandment. I do not believe Charly was trying to kill the Immaculada boy, but high school principals, they like to be dramatic. Besides, there is no commandment that says, “Do not pound a boy’s face into massamora, no?” To be honest, the New Testament is not much help, either. “The meek shall inherit the earth?” Noooo, this is madness. “Turn the other cheek” is not a philosophy full of appeal to a teenage boy. Perhaps if they had let me write one of the gospels …

Carlos 6:1-7

1 If a pendejo, he come unto you and violate unto your person’s
honor and dignity to the cheers of his pendejo hijo de puta friends,
2 Yes, this huevon he deserve a beating at your hands, but no,
you cannot give him a beating because the adultos I have
anointed to raise you will beat you in return.
3 You know this, yes? Is this fair? No. Of course it is not. It is stupid.
4 But like you, I was a teenager once, and so I made some mistakes.
5 Nevertheless, I am God now, so please trust me.
6 You run out now and go laugh, you fall in love, you take
long siestas in the shade. 7 One day, when the time is right,
I will smote that pendejo and together, you and I, we will share a high-five.

Let me know what you think.

Where to buy or download the books:

How I Met the Real Carlos


In the novel Tocayos, Carlos describes meeting Charly in class:

I continued to move down the aisle, banging my metal lunch pail and my old leather book bag against the desks and shoulders of my fellow students. Some moved over, some shoved me into my fellow students on the other side of the aisle. It was pleasant mayhem until I saw Charly the American. He was sitting in the last seat next to the window, his desk tipped on its back legs in exactly the same way that I liked to tip my desk. Not only this, but contrary to not only school rules but school custom, he had discarded our school jacket, he had loosened our school tie, and he had rolled up the sleeves of our school uniform’s light blue shirt. His head was lodged into the corner, looking out at the gardens. He turned it slowly and rested his eyes on me.

I met the real Carlos in basketball practice.  Shortly after we both made the team, I found out he took the bus to get home, and had to walk a half mile home from the bus stop.  At the time, I lived a block away from school.  I wanted an excuse to drive the car, so I told him I’d give him a ride if he would claim it was too late to take the bus.

We owned a 1967 baby blue Chrysler 440 Coronet similar to the one in the picture above, and a white Rambler station wagon.  Showing up at dinnertime with Carlos in tow put my Mom on the spot.  She had to either interrupt dinner preparations to drive him home, or let me drive him.  She gave me the keys to the Rambler.  I didn’t have a license, but in those days, you first learned to drive, then you got your license.

That’s how I learned to drive, and how I became friends with the Carlos on which the narrator in the story is based.

Tocayos is available for $4.99 from Smashwords.  You can read the first 20% for free.


I Published Tocayos


After receiving one too many kindly worded rejection letters from agents and publishers, I decided to self-publish Tocayos:

Tocayos eBook $4.99

It’s an old-school story, which means you have to read a bit before something explodes, but if you read it slowly enough, I promise you’ll enjoy it.  I can’t write a pitch later that would get my own mother interested in reading it, which might explain all the rejection letters, but if you want to get a feel for the story, here’s the Prologue.  The Smashwords site will also let you read the first 20% for free.


I am Carlos. I sit under the red umbrella on top of the wooden tower painted white, searching the waves with my binoculars. The waves arrive in many shades of blue. When the light from the sun is just right and the water is clear, the color can be so beautiful it breaks your heart.

I also have a whistle, a baggy red bathing suit, a round hat, and a jeep for chasing the seagulls off the beach in the evening, when most of the people have gone home.

Yes, I am the one who was in the newspapers. When everyone was calling the helicopters, I was swimming into the big waves to pull out the people who should not have gone into the water. That day I pulled out six people. The mayor of Malibu Beach, he gave me a medal. He called me a hero, a man of courage, and then he talked for thirty minutes. I am not a hero. I am not a man of courage. I am simply not afraid.

They are different things, no?