Interview with Carmen Amato - Author of The Beast

Can you tell us a little about your books and yourself?

I’m originally from New York but love to travel and experience new cultures and new ways of thinking about the world. I’m lucky enough to have had the opportunity to live in Mexico and Central America for several years and what I saw there inspired me to start writing mysteries and thrillers, after several years writing adventure stories for my son. I’m probably best known for the Emilia Cruz police procedural mystery series set in Acapulco, including CLIFF DIVER, HAT DANCE and the collection of short stories MADE IN ACAPULCO.

Emilia is the first and only female detective on the Acapulco police force, taking on both Mexico’s drug war and culture of machismo. Readers can get a free download of THE BEAST, the story that reveals how beat cop Emilia Cruz fought her way into the detective ranks at

Like most mystery writers, my favorite beverage is coffee. I spend far too much time on Twitter but am still happily married with two grown children. We own 5 Kindles and more than 2000 print books.

What inspired you to write your books?

We lived in Mexico at a time when the drug wars were really beginning to heat up. One Christmas a junkie stumbled into midnight Mass. Father Richard was leading us in the Prayer of the Faithful when a man staggered up the center aisle, his limbs jerking as he alternately murmured and shouted incomprehensible words. We all shrank back as he made his way towards the altar, an unexpected and volatile presence.

As the congregation looked on in growing panic, the man accosted Father Richard. The priest didn’t move or stop the prayer, just dug through his robes for a pocket. He pulled out a few pesos and pressed them into the man’s hand. By that time several of the male congregants had come onto the altar as well and they gently propelled the drug-addled man back down the altar steps and through the church to the rear door.

Christmas mass continued and the addict remained nameless to the shaken congregation. But he stayed with all of us, evidence that Mexico’s own drug problem was growing as more and more drugs transited the country en route to the insatiable United States. 

He reminded me of the drug war raging just outside our happy expatriate bubble. We were an American family in Mexico City, embracing a new culture, exploring a vibrant city, and meeting people who were to impact our lives for years to come. But we always knew that the bubble was fragile and as if to prove it, Mexico’s news grew worse in the new year: shootouts in major cities, multiple drug seizures, rising numbers of dead and missing, the murders of mayors, governors and journalists.
When we moved back to the United States, I was surprised and saddened by how little of what was going on made it into the news. Especially as the number of people missing in Mexico continues to climb, I’m hoping a mystery series can raise awareness of what’s going on in Mexico, with plot elements straight out of the headlines, an authentic dive into one of the most beautiful settings on earth, and a little salsa fresca from my own years living in Mexico and Central America.

Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?

I knew a lot about Mexico and the drug war violence before I started writing but have learned much more over the past few years. The official Mexican government count remains elusive, but most news outlets report that at least 60,000 people have been killed or have been reported missing due to Mexico’s drug violence over the past decade. While most think that the casualties are rival drug cartel members fighting each other for control of the lucrative smuggling routes, known as plazas, too many of the victims are those simply caught up in the violence.
In the Emilia Cruz series, she keeps records of women who have gone missing in Acapulco and her hunt for one of them continues through all the books. Emilia calls them Las Perdidas—the Lost Ones. Her list is also a nod to the murders of over 340 women in the Cuidad Juarez area, on the US-Mexican border. More bodies are found every few months and no one has ever been held accountable.

What are some challenges that you faced while writing?

My biggest challenge is not to take on too many big projects at a time. There are so many things an author can do these days, from running a Facebook or Goodreads group, participating in book clubs and review groups, taking on research projects--the list goes on and on. I’m enthusiastic about so many things, but am gradually learning how to pare down and only tackle projects I truly enjoy.

Who or what in your life would you say influenced you the most?

My grandmother is definitely the person who has been the biggest influence in my life. She was strong minded, well-read, fashionable, and most importantly, knew how to build community. She was the core of my extended family. She also taught me the value of a good handbag and I still have her collection of evening purses.

What are your hobbies and interests away from the desk?

Apart from writing, I love to travel. Last summer my daughter and I drove all the way from central New York to Prince Edward Island in Canada. We visited colleges, kept on the watch for moose in the road, and saw the house that inspired L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables books. Later I realized we’d driven the whole way without turning on the radio. We were too busy enjoying each other’s company and the incredible scenery through New England and Canada.

What do you get passionate about?

I was inspired to write about Mexico because of what I believe to be a very unequal social situation there. To some extent, Mexico has a caste system. In my view, that inequality encourages the drug cartels. The money to be made from drug trafficking enables people to attain a lifestyle that is otherwise denied under that caste system. It’s heartbreaking to see how drug violence is eroding the beauty and culture of Mexico.

What does "success" mean to you?

What a great question! Success as an author today is about building a community of readers and fellow authors who share the same interests. We connect to share ideas, views, and experiences. I love being able to connect with that community on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. One of the most exciting projects I’m involved in brings together authors who all write mysteries set in Mexico. The Mexico Mystery Writers Cartel website will be live in a few weeks and I think the combination of four different author perspectives will be the core of a vibrant new online community.

In more concrete terms, success means being able to give back. In 2014, I’m donating $1 from the sale of each Kindle book I sell to, the charity co-founded by Matt Damon to bring clean water and decent sanitation to communities worldwide. Fellow authors Sharon Lee Johnson, Norm Hamilton and Jerold Last have helped me form the Writing for Water team. With all this help, I’m hoping to be able to raise enough through book sales to provide 25 people clean water for life.

What are your current projects?

DIABLO NIGHTS, the third full length Emilia Cruz novel is in the works and slated for a late June 2014 release. In it, Emilia finds a relic from Mexico’s Cristero War of the 1920’s, when the government tried to suppress the Catholic Church. Emilia’s efforts to determine the authenticity of the relic leads to her into a labyrinth of drug smuggling, police corruption, and murder.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Don’t fall in love with your first draft. Fall in love with your characters, in the setting, and in the plot twists. Keep editing and rewriting until your manuscript is as good as it can be. Learn to be a ruthless editor of your own work.

In addition to political thriller The Hidden Light of Mexico City, Carmen Amato is the author of the Emilia Cruz mystery series set in Acapulco, including Cliff DiverHat Dance and the collection of short stories Made in Acapulco. Originally from New York, her books draw on her experiences living in Mexico and Central America. Connect with Carmen on Twitter @CarmenConnectsfind her books on Amazon and get a free copy of the first Emilia Cruz story, The Beast at

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