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In the Streets and Swamps of Miami Lies Danger—and Salvation

A Spotlight on Author Alejandro Nodarse

By Neil Nyren

Book Cover: BLOOD IN THE CUT“There’s no rehabilitation in prison. You just become more of whatever landed you in there.”
“That so? Then what did you become more of in there?”
“A hunter.”

Miami, 2016. Cuban-American Ignacio Guerra, 23, is home after three years in jail for assaulting a police informant who set him up for a bust. In Alejandro Nodarse’s BLOOD IN THE CUT, a lot has happened in those three years. His mother is dead, hit by a truck while crossing the street at night. The family butcher shop is about to go under. A rival shop, owned by “some trust-fund white boy from Boston,” is about to open up nearby. And his father, Armando, has been disappearing in the middle of the night and coming back covered in blood.

Determined to right the ship, Iggy throws himself into the butcher shop, but he has no idea what he’s getting into. The account books are filled with mystery money. A shady Everglades rancher knows much more about his family than he should. A shadowy figure variously described as a poacher, a vigilante, and a demon haunts him. And then there is his father. And that blood.

The answers, he is sure, lie out there, in the Glades, though he doesn’t know what they’ll turn out to be: “That land was dark and deep, and it kept more secrets than it answered questions.” Men died out there. Bodies got fed to alligators. “Now that you’ve seen how we deal with our enemies,” he is told, “I trust you won’t do anything to become one.”

But Iggy is a hunter now—and he keeps his knives sharp.

Author Photo: Alejandro Nodarse

Alejandro Nodarse

BLOOD IN THE CUT is a galvanizing debut, filled with crackling danger and atmosphere, with the sights and sounds of Miami we don’t often see. As Guerra is drawn ever deeper into the streets and swamps, revelations await, truths turn into lies and back again. But there is no stopping now.

“Like much of my writing,” says the author, “BLOOD IN THE CUT began with things I’m interested in: the Everglades, butchery, street art, animal rights advocacy, muscle cars, community building and gentrification awareness, environmental conservation—all of which are things that, for better or worse, are part of life in Miami. I guess you could say that everything begins and ends with Miami. I was born and raised here, and while I’ve left it several times throughout my life to live or study elsewhere, she always lures me back.

“But not everything that makes this city shine gets enough attention on the page or in our national consciousness. When most folks think of Miami, they think of beaches, sun-kissed bodies, and nightlife. And while those make up a legitimate version of Miami, there’s much, much more.

“More than anything, I wanted to capture the day-to-day rhythms of life down here. What’s commonplace to us doesn’t always make its way onto the page, so little things like morning rituals around coffee, the time spent driving in traffic, and even the interactions between individuals and different neighborhoods—the meaningful yet often-overlooked moments, they had my attention.

“I also wanted to capture the way some of us speak. The way that Spanish and English intertwine to form Spanglish. Crazy as it sounds, I wanted to capture just how American communities like mine are. There are myriad definitions of what it means to be American, but unless your ancestors are Native, you’re in this country because of immigration, exile, or some sort of diaspora. Unless you’re Native, your family got here the same way as mine. Our Americanness shares a similar origin story. And no matter where your ancestors are from, if you’re in this country now, you have to work hard for the little you’ve got, just like those of us who are first-generation Americans who live in immigrant-heavy communities.

“As to the Everglades, I’ve spent a lot of time in there, as a child and as an adult, and it’s a place I know well. But because of the nature of the Everglades, no one will ever know it completely. Much like Miami, the Everglades evolves, forcing you to reshape your understanding of it often. I’m enamored with observing this evolution and capturing it on the page while it’s here. We’ll likely be under water in a hundred years, so anyone who is curious about what Miami was like will hopefully be able to pick up BLOOD IN THE CUT and get a glimpse of it.”

As much as he knows about the city, however, there was still more he needed to know, about butchery, the muscle cars, the Glades: “I love research. I love getting out into the world, and I look for any excuse to spend time doing things that will teach me something or that I find interesting. Butchery is something I’m familiar with, as my family roasts a pork every year for the holidays, but I did confer with my sister, who is a classically trained chef, to get the butcher shop scenes right. In the early days of drafting this novel, I tagged along with her as she walked students of hers through meat-packing plants and butcher shops. I also took a few butchery workshops.

“Everything that I needed to know about the cars I picked up from my father. He inspired my love and appreciation for old-school muscle cars, even though he’s a Volkswagen Beetle guy. And, full disclosure, I watched every movie in The Fast and the Furious franchise back-to-back-to-back for inspiration for some of the scenes in the novel.

“As far as the seedier side of the Everglades, it’s an open secret if you know someone that knows someone. It’s best to just stick to the trails.”

Besides his family, Nodarse knows a lot of someones, and they all helped make the book what it is. First of all were the people in the many writers’ groups, workshops, conferences, and seminars he was a part of. The most valuable thing they provided: “Community. Without a doubt. Writing is an inherently solitary venture, so having a space and place that encourages camaraderie between writers is invaluable.

“This book wouldn’t exist without writers’ workshops like Las Dos Brujas and VONA, and I would have never been plugged into them had it not been for time with the University of Miami’s MFA program. Not everyone needs an MFA (I did), but everyone needs community. And throughout my career, I’ve been ridiculously fortunate to have found mentors and champions like Cristina García, Evelina Galang, and Chantel Acevedo, who have guided and encouraged me. I owe an incalculable debt to my tribe.”

And a debt as well to all the many other influences that shaped him: “Picasso’s Guernica is a masterpiece that is spliced into my DNA. It mutated me in the best way possible. I remember standing before it as a child and being broken open by its overwhelming weight. I felt as though I was in the presence of a living, snarling Tyrannosaurs Rex that was deciding whether or not to consume me. I tried backing away from it and bumped into my mother. She explained to six-year-old me what had inspired the painting, what Picasso hoped to capture, and why the piece was so important. She’s been the single most important influence on me, especially when it comes to my development as a writer. She was a professor of Latin American literature for years, and our home was always filled with books. My father nurtured my love for the outdoors, which is an excellent accompaniment to a life of the mind. It balances me out.

“But even after my mom explained a bit about Guernica to six-year-old me, the painting didn’t cease being the terrifying-yet-alluring colossus that it is, and as I stood awed in its presence, I intuited that I’d best be brave while at its feet since I’d never be able to outrun it.

“Obviously, I wasn’t able to articulate any of that for many, many years, not until I read Camus. He says that, ‘A man’s work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.’ I’ve been chasing that visceral, terrifying, and cathartic high ever since. And I’ve been fortunate enough to have encountered it again. Those encounters shape me. Motivate me. Become me. I’ve found those moments of becoming often enough that they’ve made a conduit out of me. Guernica instilled a sense of wonderment in me. Recreating that moment is my obsession, my purpose. I’m a writer because there’s nothing else for me.

“The work of James Baldwin and Toni Morrison teach me something about myself, humanity, and writing every time I read them. They have irrevocably shaped me. So has the music of Nas and Outkast. Camping out in the Everglades at night and staring at the infinity of stars overhead evokes a primal, necessary, and calming response in me. It affirms my existence somehow.

“Hugging the ancient Roman aqueducts in Segovia makes me feel like I’m part of humanity, like I’ve time travelled. Walking through The Alhambra in Granada, Spain, plugs me into the universe. Gardens do that to me. So do bookstores and libraries. Heaven is a library that opens onto a garden.

“I get a similar buzz from watching street artists spray-paint murals. Shows like The Simpsons and Downton Abbey, and the movies Clue and Rear Window create a sense of calm and wonder in me. Playing through Red Dead Redemption II, GTA V, or any of the Assassin’s Creed games unlocks a sense of depth and breadth I desperately need. They give me hope.

“The poetry of Natalie Díaz, Hanif Abdurraqib, Danez Smith, Ross Gay, Solmaz Sharif, José Olivarez, Mai Der Vang, Rachel McKibbens, Jennifer Grotz, Pablo Neruda, José Martí, Patrick Phillips, Rigoberto Gonzalez, Tacey Atsitty, Layli Long Soldier, to name a few, make me feel like a linguistic live wire. Eating Peruvian ceviche, doro wat, arroz con pollo, or spaghetti carbonara make life worth living. So does a good cigar and a glass of scotch.

“But as I was writing this novel, I read and read a lot of books. Some that come to mind are S.A. Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland, Razorblade Tears, All the Sinners Bleed (basically everything he’s written), Steph Cha’s Your House Will Pay, Karen Russell’s Swamplandia!, Karen Dionne’s The Marsh King’s Daughter, Cristina García’s Dreaming in Cuban and Vanishing Maps, Katie Gutierrez’s More Than You’ll Ever Know, Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City, Chris Whitaker’s We Begin at the End, Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and Tar Baby, James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, and Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones.

“For a while, I worked at an independent bookstore called Indigo Bridge in Lincoln, Nebraska. The most salient realization that comes from being a writer who works in a bookstore is the knowledge that if you keep writing, one day, your work will be on the same shelves as all the books you spend your days with. The thought of my books being spine-to-spine with my favorite authors thrills me.”

The next book to go spine-to-spine: “A novel titled Exit One. It’s about a man named Cesar Peñate who learns of his sister Nayeli’s disappearance from his estranged half-brother, Xavier. Cesar reluctantly comes home and, at his mother’s insistence, agrees to put his differences with Xavier aside and work with him to do whatever it takes to track down Nayeli.

“But soon Caesar realizes that the best way to find his sister is to clandestinely join the criminal underworld that seemingly swallowed her. The thing is that Cesar is good at that gangster shit. Really good. As his reputation grows, Cesar sinks deeper into a world of corrupt cops, greedy real estate developers, exploited migrant workers, and enraged community organizers, only to find that if he doesn’t mend the wounds he inflicted on his brother, he might lose himself, and Nayeli, forever.”

It’s a fate Nodarse himself need never worry about. Because it turns out he’s good at this writing shit. Really good.


Neil Nyren

Neil Nyren is the former EVP, associate publisher, and editor in chief of G.P. Putnam’s Sons and the winner of the 2017 Ellery Queen Award from the Mystery Writers of America. Among the writers of crime and suspense he has edited are Tom Clancy, Clive Cussler, John Sandford, C. J. Box, Robert Crais, Carl Hiaasen, Daniel Silva, Jack Higgins, Frederick Forsyth, Ken Follett, Jonathan Kellerman, Ed McBain, and Ace Atkins. He now writes about crime fiction and publishing for CrimeReads, BookTrib, The Big Thrill, and The Third Degree, among others, and is a contributing writer to the Anthony/Agatha/Macavity-winning How to Write a Mystery.

He is currently writing a monthly publishing column for the MWA newsletter The Third Degree, as well as a regular ITW-sponsored series on debut thriller authors for and is an editor at large for CrimeReads.

This column originally ran on Booktrib, where writers and readers meet.


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