In a recent item in this space, I mentioned that Albert Correia, a Tracy native who lives in Costa Rica, is working on his third novel. And it will be based in Tracy, Albert told me.

As I thought about what he said, my mind quickly reminded me that Albert’s novel wouldn’t be the first centered in Tracy.

It was in 1979 that Ernest Brawley, a Tracy High graduate, had his second novel, “Selena,” published. Just recently, the book is being republished and is available with two other of his novels on Amazon in hardcover and Kindle editions.

I should note that the Brawley novel has nothing to do with a later nonfiction book, “Selena’s Secret,” a recounting of events leading up to the murder of popular Mexican America singer Selena Quintanillas in 1995.

But back to Brawley’s “Selena,” which he describes as “my tragic novel about a beautiful Latina farmworker union organizer named Selena Cruz. Spanning a quarter of a century, from the early 1950s until the 1970s, and set against the social and political turmoil of the San Joaquin Valley in that watershed era, this sexy, historical romance traces the interlocking destinies of a haunting young woman who believes she’s been chosen for greatness, and the two desperate men who have been lifelong rivals for her love.”

And no, Tracy, isn’t mentioned by name, but anyone reading the novel can easily detect that the principal town in the novel, “Calmento,” is Tracy.

A couple of excerpts from “Selena” will remove any doubt about that. Here they are:

Page 148 — when one of Selena’s suitors is traveling eastbound over the Altamont Hills:

From the top of the Altamont, where the air was so dry, the sun so hot, that the grass was bleached silver-white and the Herefords never strayed a mile from their trucked-in water, Range (the character) could look down three thousand feet and survey his native valley all spread out before him like a green and brown crisscross quilt on a gigantic well-made bed. The sky was absolutely opaque now, a hot white dome, the roof of an enormous geodesic greenhouse.

At the edge of this colossal valley, four miles from where the irrigated lands ran into the yellow hills, there was a large agglomeration of buildings, houses, streets, water towers, grain elevators, a junction of roads and freeways, railway lines and hydroelectric power lines, rivers and canals. That was Calmento, the town his great-grandpa had laid down.


Agricultural center And Transportation Hub of the Great Central Valley

Population 10,000

“Not Just Another Wide Spot in the Road”

Watch Us Grow

But as they say in the TV commercials, “Wait, there’s more.” Here’s the narrative on Page 174:

Down MacArthur Road he (Del, another suitor) drove her (Selena) over the Southern Pacific embankment. The Calmento cop car fell off their tail, and a San Joaquin County Sheriff’s car picked them up.

Selena could see the face of the driver in the rearview mirror. So could Del. It was Donnie “Prettyboy” Pombo, the undersheriff of the Calmento substation. They knew each other well. They had all gone to high school together.

And then on Page 175:

… Now they reached the Western Pacific tracks, bumped over the high embankment. Del turned and drove into the hamlet of Carbona, past the Banta-Carbona Irrigation District office, past the Vanducci packing shed that they both knew so well. “Cafone Brand Fresh-packed California Tomatoes,” the sign still said out front.

Past a Mexican labor camp painted turquoise blue. Past a big old wooden water tower. Past the WP station (an air-conditioned aluminum house trailer, pulled up by the side of the mainline track). East on Valpico Road they drove, past walnut orchards, almond orchards, peach orchards, tomato fields, vineyards. Houses were scattered around the orchards, low modern houses….

Obviously, Ernie knows the Tracy territory. His dad, also Ernest Brawley, was a captain at Deuel Vocational Institution, and young Ernie went to Tracy High.

He earned a bachelor’s in English and master’s in creative writing from San Francisco State University. He was a correctional officer at San Quentin and worked for the Southern Pacific as a brakeman. In addition to “Selena,” Ernie also authored “The Rap,” based on his experience at San Quentin.

On his web page, he reports spending his life “writing, teaching and traveling the world.” He has taught at the University of Hawaii, New York University and Hunter College in New York and the Sorbonne in Paris. He and his wife, Kanchana, a native of Thailand, have a daughter, Lucia, an actress.

And, of course, I can’t fail to mention that Ernie’s sister, Lenor Madruga Chappell, now living in Oregon, has written two books and is working on a third.

Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-423 or by email at

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