Continuing our “Meet the Authors” series, let me introduce you to bestselling independent author Anna K. Sargent…
Fiction is a mirror, reflecting back the author’s true self
Who is Juan Miguel? Who is he based on? People often ask me about the main character of my fiction series. They look puzzled when I have to tell them that I am Juan Miguel. As writers, we just cannot escape ourselves. All of the characters, the motives, the feelings, the thoughts, and the language belong to the author.
The trick is to reveal yourself to yourself and everyone else while telling someone else’s story. Then it’s interesting. Then somebody cares.
Some people discover their authentic selves through therapy, others through art and music. I found myself through writing and studying the place where I live. Lucky for me, Texas has an amazing history, full of characters and adventure and extremes of weather and landscape. How people dealt with this place—and how they still deal with it—is the interesting part.
Because I am Texan through and through and part of every person, battle, tall tale, and twist of history that led us to where we are, I want to explore Texas’ mythical past. I do it while looking through the eyes of Juan Miguel del Valle, the son of a wealthy Tejano rancher who falls in love with the wrong woman and goes on a wild and bumpy ride.
Juan Miguel is no ordinary hero. He is a shape shifter, a man who has the uncanny ability to change identities and make others believe. In spite of his ability to change, he always remains true to himself. He is always in character, so to speak, no matter what disguise he employs or mask he wears.
We’re all familiar with the traditional Texas hero. He is straightforward, plain spoken—the strong, silent type. He steps out front and faces the music like a man, stands up for what he believes, tells it like it is and saves the day, taking the weak and stricken along with him. Juan Miguel turns part of that formula on its ear. He is without a doubt strong and brave as all good heroes are, but he’s also smart, articulate, urbane, sensitive, and in touch with his feminine side.
There’s an old saying in writing, “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” And that’s certainly true when writing fiction. You learn early on that motivation is revealed through action and dialogue and your characters’ motivations are often yours. Their problems and solutions mirror your own in an eerie way. You also learn that a character can think about his motivation all he wants but it has to be revealed by what he does and what he says. There’s a disconnect if the character isn’t truly who we’re told he is. So it is in stories. So it is in real life.
Yes, we want what’s real to come shining through but we also want heroes and villains. We want stories that teach. We want suspense and we want the good guy to come out on top. We’re rooting for the hero. The hero’s journey, however, often begins with a misstep.
When he is only seventeen, the young Juan Miguel takes an earth-shattering misstep. He falls in love with the older wife of a rich Anglo rancher, his father’s principle rival. In spite of the dangers, Juan Miguel and his love, Marguerite, embark on a relationship destined to create havoc in their world. Their fatal attraction triggers Juan Miguel’s tortured journey of passion, love, loss, and redemption.
The story begins in Texas in the late 1800s, at the height of Texas’s border wars with Mexico, when competition was fierce between Anglo ranchers who arrived after the Civil War and the Spanish noble families who had been there for decades. The Legend of Juan Miguel is a hero’s journey that plays out against the backdrop of the emerging West where it is sometimes hard to tell the difference between reality and myth.
Unjustly deprived of his family’s rancho and his good name, the hero seeks revenge by conning the very people who took them from him. He fools even the most powerful and wins back his position and his good name with his charm and intelligence. In a classic story of love, betrayal and revenge, the clever hero takes on an array of personas to pull off an elaborate con. He becomes an early-day superhero, a charming chameleon who uses his powers of persuasion to conquer Texas’ most prominent rancher and win back his birthright and the woman he loves.
In The Passion of Juan Miguel, the hero’s journey continues nine years later. Not only has Juan Miguel lost his love, Marguerite, but he also has buried several of his identities. Primo the bandito is dead and he no longer uses his real name, Juan Miguel. But he has found it useful to climb back into the skin of Martin Zamora, a worldly dandy, whose smooth, elegant exterior provides a haven in his time of grieving.
He’s been traveling the world for a year when he lands in Galveston to see a performance by the great actor, Edwin Booth, where he runs into an old friend who talks him into helping striking dockworkers in their struggle against the greedy and corrupt shipping magnates. Taking on the identity of a Cajun fisherman, he is soon embroiled in the fight. The story of the uncommon hero continues with Juan Miguel’s love of opera, his exploits with a rowdy fishing crew, and his struggle to keep his real identity a secret.
As time goes on, Juan Miguel finds it more and more difficult to juggle his many identities, especially after Marguerite’s death. He reveals to a priest that his identities are really just different sides of his persona. He is “split up into parts,” he says. That is true of all of us. Those of us who write fiction have the privilege of exploring motivations and identities and what they reveal about us.