Title: The Beautiful Ashes of Gomez Gomez
Series: Ballads of Paradise, Book 1
Author: Buck Storm
Publisher: Kregel Publications
Release Date: July 21, 2020
About the book:
Literary Americana fiction filled with humor and heart
When his wife, Angel, is killed in a head-on collision, Gomez Gomez feels he can't go on--so he doesn't. He spends his days in the bushes next to the crash site drinking Thunderbird wine, and his nights cradling a coffee can full of Angel's ashes. Slow, sure suicide, with no one for company but the snakes, Elvis's ghost, and a strange kid named Bones.
Across town, Father Jake Morales plays it safe, haunted by memories of the woman he left behind, hiding his guilt, loss, and love behind a thick wall of cassock and ritual. Then a shady business deal threatens the town--and his good friend Gomez Gomez--and Father Jake can't just stand by and watch. But what happens when the rescuer is the one in need of saving?
The Beautiful Ashes of Gomez Gomez is quirky, heartfelt, and deeply human. Lives and hopes collide in the town of Paradise, stretching across decades and continents in this epic story of forgiveness, redemption, and love.
Read an excerpt from Kregel by clicking here.
It took me awhile to get into Gomez’s story but if you keep
reading it begins to take shape and come to life. Storm has a way with writing
a story to have it flow so smoothly like poetry.
This is definitely a Four Star Read!
Q: From the title alone, we can tell that The Beautiful Ashes of Gomez Gomez is going to be a unique tale. How would you describe your new release?
A recent article in AFA Journal about the book said I was a “little crazy.” I had to laugh. I’m not much of a planner when I write. I tend to take a few steps, see where the trail goes, and try my best not to trip. I have to say, with Gomez Gomez it was quite an interesting hike. It’s certainly not your typical faith-based novel. It lands in the literary fiction genre (like most of the things I write), and I’d say it’s a bit funky, sometimes over the top, and rarely going where you’re expecting it to go.
It’s definitely a character-driven tale, but once in a while a character comes along who probably shouldn’t be behind the wheel. Gomez Gomez is one of those guys. Best to just buckle up, hang on, and keep your hands and feet inside the vehicle at all times.
Q: Without giving too much away, tell us a little bit about the story itself. Who is Gomez Gomez?
It’s essentially a quirky David and Goliath match up, pitting an eccentric, homeless widower against a wealthy and influential businessman. Gomez Gomez has lost his wife, Angel, in a head-on collision and, grieving, he’s moved into the bushes next to the crash site to basically drink himself to death. It’s sacred ground to him.
He’s always been a little (or a lot) out there, and alcohol certainly doesn’t help the situation—thus the talking to snakes and the stars and the sequined, jumpsuited Elvis who occasionally turns up. Sonny Harmon, who owns the car dealership next door to Gomez Gomez’s vacant lot, wants the land to expand. Sonny wants Gomez Gomez gone yesterday. He basically doesn’t even consider Gomez Gomez human. The town squares up and takes sides. Hopefully, so does the reader.
Q: Readers find Gomez Gomez at the beginning of the story in a pretty sad condition. He’s drunk, soon to be evicted from a pitiful shack, and talking to snakes. Can you share more about the driving force behind his alcoholism?
Grief, pure and simple. At least as pure and simple as grief can be, I guess. He’s heartbroken at the loss of Angel. For years he was a black sheep, traveling the rodeo circuit and making trouble. When he met Angel, a waitress at the Space Age Lodge in Gila Bend, Arizona, everything changed. Somehow—a miracle in his mind—she saw something good and fine in him. She picked him out of a group of men he felt inferior to. She loved him unconditionally. She showed him what love is, unconditionally. She also introduced him to God. Not in an overhanded way, but by living love out every minute of every day. When she dies, Gomez Gomez simply can no longer get his arms around reality. For him, an Angel-less world is not a world worth existing in.
Q: As much of a lead player in the story as Gomez Gomez himself is Father Jake Morales. He doesn’t quite seem like your typical priest. Is he?
Once, back when I was touring a lot, I saw a priest wearing an old cowboy hat. He was drinking a beer in an airport bar. I don’t know why, but the image always stuck with me. I wished I would have talked to him, gotten his story. I know both the man and the hat must have had a few tales to tell. But I didn’t get his story, so I did what I’ve done more times than I can count—made one up for him. Father Jake has shown up in some of my previous work, and I felt it was time to bring him out to center stage. He’s always been serious and quiet. Kind of a Gregory Peck cowboy, collar, and cassock sort. This story pulls him out of his safety zone.
I think we often consider clergy, especially ones who live a conspicuously set-apart life, as existing on another plane than the rest of us mortals. It’s ingrained in us even as kids. Of course, we know they’re really only human, but we still find ourselves taking that reverent step back. I wonder, What are their thoughts? Their dreams? Favorite songs? What did they dress up as on Halloween when they were kids? Who were their first crushes? Who were their heroes?
And, in Jake’s case, what if he fell in big, fat, messy, miserable love?
Q: Did Father Jake join the priesthood for the wrong reasons? Was he struggling with grief in a different way?
I’d put forth that all of us do almost everything for the wrong reasons all the time. After all, in this life, our flesh, our self, has an influence no matter how hard we fight. No matter how spiritual we consider ourselves. As followers of Christ, we want to do His will—and we do—but we’re not God, so every decision naturally comes with an element of our humanity attached. In books, the very best characters are the ones who are the most human. In this novel, Father Jake has certainly run to the priesthood more as a place to hide than as a true calling. We find that out almost immediately. Not that he doesn’t do his best to honor the commitment, but life presses no matter how high a person builds their spiritual wall.
This, by nature, was a touchy subject to write about. I’m not Catholic, for one thing. So I guess that makes me either the exactly wrong or exactly right person to write a novel about a priest struggling with his calling. I did talk with Catholic friends. A situation like Jake’s isn’t an uncommon occurrence. I wound up doing quite a bit of research and learned a lot. It was fascinating, really. In the end, I had to just follow the story.
Q: At the risk of sharing a bit of a spoiler here, why did you put a priest in the middle of a love triangle?
Who better? It’s built-in conflict. At the foundation of every good story is a great big what-if. What if a huge shark shows up and terrorizes a small beach town? What if the unsinkable ship isn’t actually unsinkable? What if a farm-boy nobody on a distant planet finds a message in a cute little droid?
So . . . what if a priest falls in love? Or what if he’s always been in love but situations drove him to hide from the fact behind a collar? It’s a natural and interesting conflict because on first look it’s essentially unsolvable. What can we do with this guy? I found it a very interesting conundrum to explore.
Q: The phrase “just an imperfect believer” keeps popping up. Is anyone not an imperfect believer?
No, and really that’s the point. We all struggle. We all fight our battles and demons, both real and self-imagined. And we all blow it at times (or, if you’re like me, a lot). In Gomez Gomez’s case, he’s angry and grieving. He feels too weak to handle any of it on his own. The fact that he considers himself a long, long way from good scares him because he feels it might hurt his chances of being reunited with Angel. The good news to the imperfect believer, of course, is that even though we’re not perfect, God’s grace is. And that’s beautiful.
Q: Friendships play a big role amongst the somewhat large cast of characters in the book. What are some of the lessons in friendship readers will see through the story?
That’s true. When I think about it, friendship is a theme that runs through a lot of my work. Maybe because in life real, have-your-back friends are rarer than we’d like to think. Self-sacrifice and loyalty are wonderful and attractive things. And I find friendship is something that resonates with readers. I know it resonates with me. It always has.
As far as lessons go, I suppose there are several spiritual parallels a reader could consider if they wanted to look. After all, Jesus said, “I no longer call you servants but friends.” In my life, God’s relentless press to draw us closer to Him no matter what it takes or how far He has to chase us is undoubtedly the most beautiful reality there is.
Q: There is literally a story within a story in your book. Why did you have Father Enzo share outtakes from his own attempt at a novel within the main story?
First, I just loved the second story line. It felt very poetic and natural to me. I’ve toured through the Greek islands a couple of times and really wanted to explore them through prose. I enjoyed doing it with a 1960s approach. Sometimes, as a writer—maybe this comes from making my living as a songwriter for so many years—it’s so satisfying to just relax back into the language and see where things go. The good news is the parallel story in Gomez Gomez definitely serves a purpose. But you’ll have to read the book to find out what it is!
Q: Is Angel, or at least her memory, somehow a symbol pointing to a spiritual takeaway for readers?
Angel is an interesting character in that she dies before the story even starts but is still an essential part of it. In a way, both Angel’s life and death drive the whole book. Angel represents everything that’s pure. Something, especially for Gomez Gomez, that’s otherworldly and unattainable. Hers is an always-giving, unconditional love. So for Gomez Gomez, Angel is a standard impossible to live up to but also impossible to live without. Angel isn’t God in the book but, for me, that’s who God is.
Q: What message do you hope readers will find in The Beautiful Ashes of Gomez Gomez?
I almost never start writing a book with a teaching theme or message in mind. For me, starting out with that kind of weight on my shoulders bogs down the whole process. It allows too much of me in. Too much thought. And that invariably gets in the way of the story. I personally feel a little taken advantage of when I read a sermon thinly disguised as a novel (whatever the faith, political bent, or agenda might be). It’s okay for books to just be books, stories to be stories, even if they exist in the faith-based market.
But that being said, as authors, artists, songwriters, etc., we all have soul-themes that will insist on finding their way into our work. They won’t be quiet. I love God. I love Jesus. I love His love. So, by nature (I hope) these things will find their way into anything and everything I produce, whether it be prose or song or even how I love my family and neighbors. If I’m honest in my work and let things flow out of my personal relationship with God, then His relentless pursuit will resonate in a reader’s heart in an authentic way.
In the end, there is a beautiful hope in everything.
Q: Can you give a tease of what readers can expect from the rest of the series?
I really enjoyed writing Early Pines’s character in The Beautiful Ashes of Gomez Gomez. He’s big, loud, and confident in his own slightly off-the-rails way. So I’ve taken him further in book two, The Sound the Sun Makes, as a central character. It’s another quirky romp. And be ready for a lot of plot twists! It will release next year.
Book three will be Venus Sings the Blues. It will definitely take readers in some unexpected directions. You know what? I think I’ll leave that one a mystery for now.
About Buck Storm
Buck Storm is a critically acclaimed author and musician whose stories have found friends around the world. His nonfiction work includes Finding Jesus in Israel and Through the Holy Land on the Road Less Traveled. Storm’s novels include The List, The Light, Truck Stop Jesus, and The Miracle Man. The latest, The Beautiful Ashes of Gomez Gomez, launches his new series, Ballads of Paradise.
Storm and his wife, Michelle, make their home in North Idaho and have two married children.