Richard Charles wanted to give something back to his hometown Weslaco, and he knows of no better gift than a good, chilling revenge story.
Charles took what he loves most about the city — its amiable community, its rich culture, its beloved citrus groves — and made it the setting of volume one of his first book series “Feminism, Oranges and Witchcraft.”
“This is my home and I love my home,” Charles, an AP calculus teacher at IDEA Quest College Preparatory, said of Weslaco. “I love the people here, I love the culture here, I love everything about it and I wanted to put it all into a book — my ode to where I love, my ode to Weslaco, my ode to the Valley.”
The book was made available to purchase on Amazon earlier this month.
The magic and horror book follows the narrative of a Weslaco family in the 1970s who find themselves at the center of a deadly scheme of greedy grove men. After discovering that a local citrus company has been using cheaper, poisonous pesticide on its oranges, and after more than 100 people inexplicably die, it is up to the Zapata family to expose the crooked businessmen to save the Rio Grande Valley.
The venture filled with backstabbing, heartache, murder and friendship takes many grisly turns.
Ana-Luica Zapata, the book’s main character, turns to the city’s curandera — a female Mexican folk healer who uses spells — for guidance, unleashing avenging, merciless magic in Weslaco that has the power to wake the dead.
In the book, death is when the action begins.
“I love a revenge story, and at the foundation, that is what this is,” Charles said. “It is a revenge story about love — honest to goodness love, a family love — against capitalism greed.”
He added that despite the supernatural parts of the book, it’s the story’s most realistic concepts he hopes makes readers feel “uncomfortable.”
“In all honesty, I don’t think it’s a scary book,” he said. “It’s not like ‘The Exorcist’ scary, it’s not that type of scary. It’s the idea that the themes that are in the book are very much real that is the most unsettling part. We are dealing in a world where the ability to make as much money as you can might be ripping apart the fabric of our society.
“I think that is an idea people can relate to today and that is definitely an idea that should scare you and make you feel uncomfortable.”
After graduating from Weslaco High School, Charles traveled around the state with a rock band for several years before studying mathematics at the University of Texas-Pan American, now UTRGV.
Charles said he remembers hearing stories about curanderas from his grandmother and the other children on the street, and mixed with his admiration for horror films, he was inspired about six years ago to produce a scary short film.
The film never went into production, but Charles said he had so much fun writing the script, he decided to make it into a book instead.
“I remember that one of the happiest times during that process was the writing,” he said.
Charles always knew he wanted to do something to honor Weslaco, but he never thought he would do so by writing a book.
“Up until then, if it wasn’t a textbook, I probably didn’t read a book,” he said.
So, he began to read and study horror books, such as H.P. Lovecraft’s short stories, J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series, along with the works of Stephen King and Edgar Allan Poe. Charles’ favorite work of Poe is his short story, “The Cask of Amontillado.”
He said the same way King’s fictional town Derry, which is the setting of several of his works, Charles hopes to shine a light on Weslaco.
“I’ve read books about the Valley where culture is the main focal point, which is great, that’s awesome. But I’ve never read something that was just fiction, that was just fiction just for entertainment,” he said. “This is just set in the Valley, the focus wasn’t anything on the Valley, it is just a story that took place here.”
Though the story has taken many shapes in the four years it took to write and edit it, Charles said he has always intended for the heroes of the book to be women in honor of the two people he cherishes most: his mother and grandmother.
“In the Hispanic culture, it’s very patriarchal,” Charles said. “The man is the head of the house and whatever he says goes, but that definitely was not the case with my grandmother or mom. They definitely were the head, if anything happened it was only under their good graces.
“They were the first feminist that I was ever exposed to, they were just strong women and they lead the family.”
In the dedication page of the book, Charles wrote it for anyone “who has ever entertained a suicidal thought… to those whose salvation could only be found at the bottom of a bottle… to those who could only see their nightmares as a sign of weakness and not of strength.”
Charles said he has lost family members and friends to suicide and alcohol additions, the latter of which he has struggled with himself.
He dedicated the book to people facing those challenges because he “wanted them to know that this is for them, because a lot of times they feel like no one is thinking of them. They think ‘it is just me, I am the only one who worries about myself’ and that is never the case.”
With the first volume of “Feminism, Oranges and Witchcraft” out and the second already written and in the editing process, Charles said he hopes he inspires his community to have pride in where they are from.
“I just want people to read it and enjoy it and know that it was written by a Valley kid,” he said. “If by the end of the day I get that, I’ll be really, really happy.”