‘Mysteries with a Mission: As Part of Lambda LitFest LA, Michael Nava, Lay Your Sleeping Head, in conversation with Alicia Gaspar de Alba, Desert Blood: The Juárez Murders

Friday, March 10th at 7:00 p.m.

Thirty years ago, writer Michael Nava set out to write a mystery that would pay homage to classic crime fiction but also upend the genre. The character he created, Henry Rios, a gay, Chicano criminal defense lawyer became the central figure in a celebrated seven novel series. In this ‘Queer Plática’ ( a Spanish word for the kind of deep, engaged talk you might have over cafecitos in a Mexico City cafe) held in tandem with Lambda LitFest LA, writer-scholar Alicia Gaspar De Alba, Desert Blood: The Juárez Murders, will explore how one approaches writing a ‘mystery with a mission’ as Nava celebrates the recent publication of Lay Your Sleeping Head, his new iteration of the original novel he wrote three decades ago. Delve into how to write sex scenes, navigate homophobia, and revisit a work after many years in this talk, reading, q&a and signing.

layyourIn a brilliant re-imagination of The Little Death, first of the Henry Rios series, Lay Your Sleeping Head retains all the complexity and elegance of the plot of the original novel but deepens the themes of personal alienation and erotic obsession that both honored the traditions of the American crime novel and turned them on their head. Henry Rios, a gifted and humane lawyer driven to drink by professional failure and personal demons, meets a charming junkie struggling to stay clean. He tells Rios an improbable tale of long-ago murders in his wealthy family. Rios is skeptical, but the erotic spark between them ignites an obsessive affair that ends only when the man’s body is discovered with a needle in his arm on the campus of a great California university. Rios refuses to believe his lover’s death was an accidental overdose. His hunt for the killer takes him down San Francisco’s mean streets and into Nob Hill mansions where he uncovers the secrets behind a legendary California fortune and the reason the man he loved had to die.

“…[S]exier and starker than its original… both a poetic character study of the first queer Chicano lawyer in Latino letters and a mystery with a mission that uses the noir genre to expose family secrets such as incest, depression, and addiction, as well as the rampant homophobia of both mainstream and Latino culture.”-Alicia Gaspar De Alba

desertbloodDesert Blood: The Juarez Murders is set in the summer of 1998. For five years over a hundred mangled and desecrated bodies have been found dumped on the Chihuahua desert outside of Juárez, México, just across the river from El Paso, Texas.Even as the rapes and killings of “girls from the south” continue-their tragic stories written in desert blood-a conspiracy covers up the crimes that implicate everyone from the Maquiladora Association to the Border Patrol.  El Paso native Ivon Villa has returned to her hometown to adopt a baby. When Ivon’s younger sister gets kidnapped in Juárez, Ivon knows that it’s up to her to find her sister, whatever it takes. Despite the sharp warnings she gets from family, friends, and nervous officials, Ivon’s investigation moves her deeper and deeper into the labyrinth of silence.

michaelnavaMichael Nava is the author of an acclaimed series of seven novels featuring gay Latino criminal defense lawyer Henry Rios which won six Lambda Literary Awards.  In 2000, he was awarded the Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement in LGBT literature.  The New York Times review of the last Rios novel called him “one of our best.” His most recent novel, The City of Palaces, was a finalist for the 2014 Lambda Literary Award for best gay novel and was awarded the 2014 International Latino Literary Award for best novel. His new novel Lay Your Sleeping Head, is a reimagining of the first Henry Rios novel published 30 years ago.

aliciaAlicia Gaspar de Alba , a native of the Juarez/El Paso border region, is a Chicana lesbian radical feminist Professor of Chicana/o Studies, English, and Gender Studies at UCLA. She has published 11 books, among them a Lambda Literary Foundation-Award-winning mystery novel, Desert Blood: The Juárez Murders (2005), as well as historical novels, poetry, shortfiction, and academic books and essays. Alicia was on the Steering Committee of the First Annual Lambda Litfest 2016.  www.aliciagaspardealba.net.