San Antonio writer explores the enduring legend of the city’s ghost tracks

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Celso Hurtado received good reviews for his first novel, but the most rewarding came during the early stages of the editing process.

“The editors who worked on the book from the start told me that after reading the book, they all wanted to come to San Antonio,” Hurtado said.

That compliment resonated because San Antonio is at the heart of Hurtado’s book, “The Ghost Tracks,” which is released Nov. 2 by Inkshares. The city not only provides the setting for the book; it is also the muse of Hurtado.

Hurtado, 46, is from San Antonio. He took Japanese lessons with Julián Castro at Tafolla College, was Joaquin Castro’s first chief of staff at Texas House, played guitar on the St. Mary’s Strip in a punk rock band. (with the irreverent name of The Illegals) and currently manages the arbitration writing for USAA.

For his first experience writing fiction, he opted for a story that would incorporate one of San Antonio’s most enduring legends: the ghosts of children supposedly killed on the South Side when a freight train crashed into their school bus, saving people from a similar fate. by pushing their vehicles on the same tracks.

The story is apocryphal, apparently rooted in a December 1938 railroad crash in Salt Lake City which was the worst bus crash in the country’s history until that point, killing 23 children as well as the bus driver.

The Utah tragedy has garnered considerable press attention across the country, including in San Antonio, where its details gradually turned into a local urban legend.

Hurtado’s fascination with the history of ghost trails dates back to his own youth, when, like so many other San Antonio children, he made a Halloween pilgrimage to the trails.

“There was a time we went that there was a wreck,” Hurtado said. “This big truck came and was wrecked in the brush. It was a weird experience and it stuck with me. We saw it unfold and it was scary back then.

“I’ve always thought, ‘Can I fit this into a story somehow? So with every iteration of ‘The Ghost Tracks’, it was there. It’s just what happened around it that changed a lot.

“The Ghost Tracks” tells the story of two bright and nerdy teenagers from San Antonio, Erasmo and Rat, who form some sort of paranormal detective agency (which they advertise on Craigslist) and find themselves drawn into a series of strange and disturbing mishaps.

Hurtado’s consciousness in San Antonio springs from every chapter of the book, with its many references to Woodlawn Lake, La Villita, HEB, Fredericksburg Road, Boneheadz Sports Pub, and various other local identifiers.

Hurtado is an engaging conversationalist with unwarranted modesty when it comes to his own writing skills.

For example, he praises the audiobook version of his novel, narrated by Dallas-based actor Ivan Jasso, praising Jasso for “covering up a lot of my writing sins with his good acting. actor”.

Hurtado said the first part of his process of creating the book involved learning the basic concepts of how to build a story.

“I have no training in writing. So part of that was teaching me to write, to do certain things, ”he said.

“If I had to transition between beats and do it seamlessly, I didn’t know how. So I had to do some research and figure out how to do a lot of techniques that I had no idea at the time.

In Julián Castro’s 2018 memoir, “An Improbable Trip,” the former mayor of San Antonio wrote about the genesis of his friendship with Hurtado.

Castro recalled that the Hurtado teenager wore “large Buddy Holly style glasses”. He said the two school friends practiced Japanese with each other and bonded with a mutual love for slasher and Nintendo movies. Castro also said that he and his brother Joaquin admired Hurtado’s social skills because he was more naturally outgoing than they were.

Hurtado, who studied political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio, was involved in Julián’s first city council campaign in 2001. He also served on Joaquin’s staff during a 2003 legislative session in during which more than 50 House Democrats, including Joaquin, rushed. for Ardmore, Oklahoma to protest a controversial Republican redistribution effort.

“The Sergeant-at-Arms came to our office,” Hurtado said. “They knocked on the door and came and yelled at us, ‘Where’s your boss? You have to tell us.

Hurtado thanks the Castro brothers for giving him the confidence to make the intimidating leap into long-term fiction writing.

“I wanted to see if I could do it,” he said. “I thought I could, but you still want to test yourself.

“In a lot of ways, they’ve always been kind of an inspiration in that you have to push yourself beyond what your limits are until you try.”

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