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Sunset Author Publishes New Book About  the Mexican-American War

By Erin Bank

While traveling in Mexico City, Sunset resident and author William Vlach became fascinated by statues of military students fighting the United States Army during the Mexican-American War. He did a little research and learned that these students were called San Patricios. They were Irish expatriates who joined the Mexican Army. 

William Vlach’s Irish ancestry and his fascination with the Mexican-American War led him to write a book about the Foreign Legion of Patricios, Irish immigrants who fought for Mexico. Courtesy photo. 

Many had originally immigrated to the United States during the Great Irish Famine and enlisted in the United States Army. Due to the many injustices they faced as Irish immigrants, a portion of them deserted or defected and became the Foreign Legion of Patricios (San Patricio translates to Saint Patrick).

Due to his own Irish ancestry (from both his adopted and biological families), Vlatch immediately felt a connection to the San Patricios. He used their stories as a backdrop for his new historical fiction novel, “The Guns of Santa Muerte: A Tale of the San Patricios.” 

The creative cover of Sunset resident William Vlach’s new book about the Mexican-American War. Courtesy image.

Vlach grew up on a ranch near Fort Chicago in the East Bay before moving to San Francisco in 1967. He has always been drawn to westerns and history, and has dabbled in creative writing and poetry throughout his life. 

After putting some projects “away in the garage,” Vlach published his first novel in 2014. “The Golden Chalice of Hunahpú: A Novel of the Spanish Attack on the Maya” was inspired by his wife’s Guatemalan heritage and anthropology work. This book, too, almost went into the garage, until his wife’s cousin (who eventually did the artwork for the front cover) pestered him about it and told him to keep going.

“Intuitively, certain stories attract me, and I let the characters work it out and see where it goes,” Vlach said,

Of course, since he writes about historical events, Vlach always knows what and when major events happen in real life; the fiction comes with the characters and scenarios he creates in a historical backdrop. 

Vlach says writing through a historical lens not only lets him satisfy his innate curiosity, but it also helps him distance himself from trauma and to write creatively but objectively about events.

If this sounds like a very self-aware and astute observation, it is most likely due to Vlatch’s formal training and career as a clinical psychologist. After a morning of writing, Vlach still practices at his Inner Sunset clinic in the afternoons. Although Vlach said his graduate training hurt his creativity during that time, now his career helps him with his writing by giving him a way to connect with historical figures and his characters.

“I get an idea of where they’re coming from,” Vlach said. 

In both writing and psychology, he adds, there is a mix of intuition, empathy and craft. Combining his creativity with his attention to detail and systemic thinking allows him to do the extensive research and fieldwork needed to authentically describe history, while weaving a fictional story into real-life events.

Through all his stories, Vlach strives for balance. 

“It’s more complicated than good guys and bad guys,” he said. 

He doesn’t make direct analogies to current events, but emphasizes the importance of understanding history to put our present lives into context.

The pandemic is ever-present in our lives right now, and writing through it has been “complicated and frustrating,” Vlach said. 

It is an experience shared by many and addressed in his collection of prose poems, “Sagacity of the Nose: A Year of Living Covidly.” 

He previously launched books at the Odd Mondays reading series at Folio Books, which wasn’t possible for “San Patricios.” Vlach looks forward to when he can do readings and lectures again in person. He is thankful that he has been able to return to his writing “office” at The Beanery on Ninth Avenue in the Inner Sunset. 

Vlach is currently working on another historical novel. This time, the historical events are inspired by his own life, seeking to identify his biological family in Greece. Vlach has worked on-and-off on this personal project, which consists of a series of fictional vignettes, for 15 years. 

“I want it right,” Vlach said.

To contact Vlach or to purchase his books and learn of upcoming events, go to williamvlach.com.

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