'Curse the Names'

    Ashland transplant Robert Arellano has a habit of writing about place. In his latest novel, "Curse the Names," the place is Los Alamos, N.M., where Arellano lived before accepting a position at Southern Oregon University.

    "As I look back over my six novels, every one of them is about a place, and is set in a real place, and is in some ways a love letter to the places I lived or spent a lot of time in," says Arellano. "They also all have to do with some kind of human tragedy."

    "Curse the Names" follows the story of James Oberhelm, a reporter who discovers that New Mexico is on the brink of an apocalyptic disaster.

    "He's having nightmare visions of the real tragedy to come," Arellano says. "He believes he's an unwitting prophet. His dreams are taking on the reality that is falling down all around him."

    Arellano will speak about his latest book and sign copies at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 26, at Bloomsbury Books, 290 E. Main St.

    "I want to just invite people to come to New Mexico with me, through the story," he says.

    Inspired by the dynamic landscape and uniqueness of Los Alamos, "Curse the Names" explores some of the oddities of New Mexico, such as radioactive waste leftover from the atomic bomb tests of the 1940s that is stored in drums stacked three deep under tents in Los Alamos.

    "Where I lived, you knew bad things were coming out of there," he says.

    Arellano also notes that at one time New Mexico was ranked as the 48th poorest state, while having one of the wealthiest counties — largely because of scientific labs that employed educated scientists.

    "There are more Ph.D.s per capita because of the people that work in the labs," he says, "but the support people that work there can't afford to live there."

    It was here Arellano lived for years with his wife, Jodie, while restoring a 200-year-old adobe house. "I couldn't help but use some of what I saw and read as the texture of the novel," he says.

    "Curse the Names" is described as "New Mexico noir" by Arellano and his publisher, Akashic Books. This is the second noir novel he's written.

    "It's a hard-scrabble community, making due and getting by however they can, and that's the stuff of noir," Arellano says. His first book, "Havana Lunar," is classified as "Cuban noir" and earned a spot as a finalist for an Edgar Award.

    Now that Arellano is the director of the Emerging Media and Digital Art Center in addition to being an associate professor for creative writing at SOU, he has been amazed by the local support for writers.

    "There's writers in them there hills!" he says, laughing.

    The Ashland Mystery Readers has asked him to speak in the spring, and he's been in communication with the Southern Oregon Willamette Writers.

    Since Arellano often writes about where he lives, one can imagine his next novel being an "Ashland noir," but Arellano says it takes him about three to five years before he writes about a place.

    "I think it's nice to acknowledge that this is my home," he says, "not just where I live, but my academic home and creative home."

    Mandy Valencia is a reporter for the Mail Tribune. Reach her at avalencia@mailtribune.com.

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