Friday, January 22, 2016
La Bloga Interview: Alex Segura
Alex Segura writes crime fiction -- the reluctant private investigator sub-genre to be more precise. His first novel, Silent City: A Pete Fernandez Mystery, was published originally in 2013 by Codorus Press. The Miami Herald said: “Segura’s command of tight plotting and realistic characters keeps this energetic debut on track.”
Alex's debut quickly found an eager readership and his hero, Pete Fernandez, attracted plenty of good press. The second book in the series, Down the Darkest Street: A Pete Fernandez Mystery, is set to be published in April by Polis Books. Polis will reissue Silent City in a new edition in March.
Alex also has written comic books, including the best-selling and critically acclaimed Archie Meets Kiss storyline, the “Occupy Riverdale” story and the upcoming Archie Meets Ramones.
RAMOS: First, give us a brief synopsis of each of your books, Silent City and Down the Darkest Street. What can readers expect from a Pete Fernandez mystery?
SEGURA: Pete Fernandez is a washed up journalist. His dad just died, forcing him to move back to his hometown. He’s working a dead-end copyediting job at a Miami newspaper. His fiancée, fed up with his drinking and antics, has left him. He’s pretty much hit bottom. This is where we find Pete at the beginning of my first novel,Silent City (March 15, Polis Books). When a colleague reaches out to Pete, asking him to help find his missing daughter, Pete leaps at the opportunity to get out of this self-imposed rut. What he finds is much more than he bargained for. His search for the missing woman drags him down into the Miami underworld, and face to face with an urban legend known as the Silent Death – a mob killer of killers who’s identity has haunted the city for years.
Down the Darkest Street (April 12) finds Pete recovering from the events of Silent City trying to get his life in order. Pete is trying to live a quiet, nondescript life. But that’s not possible in Miami. As a series of murders stuns the city, Pete discovers a deadly connection between the current flurry of deaths and the city’s own, dark past. But as Pete and an unexpected partner get closer to unearthing the truth about the serial murderer cutting a deadly swath across Miami, Pete must also overcome his own demons – before they consume him.
RAMOS: Why crime fiction? And in 2016, why a private eye? Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I’m curious about the thinking behind your choice of genre and the protagonist’s occupation.
SEGURA: The question is posed as if the decision was purely intellectual/tactical, as opposed to instinctual, or from an emotional place, which is more accurate, for me at least. I write crime fiction because I love the genre – I love the possibilities it opens up that go far beyond “Who killed so-and-so?” Crime fiction is about social commentary, setting as a vibrant character and exploration of people through challenging situations. To me, if we have to talk about boxing your writing into a space, crime fiction gives you the most room.
And, not to quibble, but Pete isn’t a PI per se. At least not in Silent City – and that’s by design. I didn’t want to write about someone like Marlowe or Archer – that’s been done and done better than I could. I didn’t want to find the detective fully-formed. I wanted to write about someone who was still figuring out how to be a detective, or if they even wanted to be one. Which isn’t to say he won’t be a PI. By Down the Darkest Street, we see him embracing it a bit more, but I was less interested in the case-of-the-week and more in the journey. The creation of Pete was inspired by books like George Pelecanos’s A Firing Line, Dennis Lehane’s Darkness, Take My Hand and Laura Lippman’s Baltimore Blues. Flawed protagonists who might not want to be detectives, or aren’t very good at it yet. I like origin stories and I like heroes that, while striving to do the right thing, might make mistakes on the way.
RAMOS: I understand that you are a native of Miami, now living in New York. Correct? Your books take place in Miami, but it’s not a Miami that many of us are familiar with, or that we think of when we’re planning a vacation. Pete Fernandez’s Miami is a boozy and very corrupt soiled dove. How much of the setting of your stories is based on your own relationship with the city? And has there been any blowback from the Miami Police Department or the city fathers because of the bleak and gritty picture you paint about the department and the city in general?
SEGURA: Yes, I was born and raised in Miami. I’ve lived in New York for almost a decade, though I make frequent trips back home to visit family and friends. In terms of my portrayal of the city, no, there hasn’t been any blowback that I’m aware of. I just wanted to write a book that showed a different side of Miami than the version I think most people are exposed to on TV – the palm trees, beaches, fruity drinks and so on. There’s much more to it, and not just in the sense of crime. It’s a big, spread-out, culturally diverse and layered place. It can be gritty and dangerous and menacing, too. There are dangerous corners and parts of the city that aren’t on a beach. All that said, I didn’t start Silent City as a manifesto – I wanted to write about the Miami I knew growing up, which, just by the nature of being a native and not a visitor, is different.
RAMOS: Let’s talk about Pete’s drinking problem. Or maybe you don’t think he has a problem? The guy stumbles from one hangover to another, one sleazy bar to another. It’s not an admirable trait. He also tends to get beaten a lot and has more than once ended up in the hospital. Do you worry that readers will react negatively to your hero because of his faults? Is that even a concern?
SEGURA: It’s not really my place to decide whether he has a drinking problem – it’s up to him, and that’s the journey we’re on, and part of the story explored in Silent City and Down the Darkest Street. Obviously, it’s affecting him. It’s hurting the people around him, too. He’s not perfect and we’re watching him make mistakes and learn as he goes. That’s interesting to me. To see a character confront his problems and decide – gradually, sometimes – to change is a story that I want to tell. I’d be more worried if readers wanted a character that wasn’t flawed. I think people want to read about people that are like them – maybe not identical, but definitely not perfect. I can only write about what I find interesting, and that means writing about characters that struggle and don’t always make the right choice. Who, yes, do get beat up but find a way to stand up and fight again. That’s Pete.
RAMOS: How would you describe the role that the Cuban American community plays in your books? Is the portrayal of that community important to your writing?
SEGURA: It’s part of the story, but it’s not in your face – which is how I grew up. You were Cuban-American, you knew about the struggle your parents and grandparents went through to get to the US and to freedom, but it wasn’t something you yourself struggled with. It was in your DNA. That’s where we find Pete. He was born in Miami and didn’t have to fight for his freedom the same way his father did, but it’s always on his mind. The community is part of the fabric of the books, of the Miami I want to show, but the politics of the exile community aren’t front and center. But that is something that will change by the time we get to book three…
RAMOS: Your comic books carry intriguing titles, like Archie Meets Kiss, Archie Meets Ramones. How would you compare writing a novel with working on a comic book in terms of process, time, research, etc? Which do you prefer to work on – comic, short story, or novel, and why?
SEGURA: Comics stretch different writing muscles than prose. I don’t like one over the other, because they’re so different. Comics are collaborative – you work closely with an editor, artist, letterer, etc. You’re more part of a team and you’re jamming to create something greater than what you could do on your own. Prose is much more solitary. You spend big chunks of time sitting alone, typing on your laptop and dealing with the insecurities that come with that. By the time you’re ready to share a draft of a novel, you feel like you’ve lived in the work for a lifetime. With comics, in terms of a script – you’re putting pieces together. Breaking down panels and pages and fitting in dialogue and directions to the artist and trying to play to the strengths of your fellow creators. Both are fun for different reasons and I find that one serves as a good form of therapy when recovering from working on the other. So it evens out nicely.
RAMOS: What’s the future look like for Pete? Do you intend to continue with this series? Any other Pete Fernandez books in the pipeline?
SEGURA: Yes, definitely. I’ve finished a draft of the third Pete book, Dangerous Ends and I’m well into the fourth. I also have a rough idea for a fifth. So, no plans to leave Pete just yet, which is good, because I like the guy.
RAMOS: How about other projects – what can we expect to see from Alex Segura in 2016 – 2017?
SEGURA: Well, Bad Beat, a short story featuring Pete and Ash McKenna, the series character of fellow Polis Books author Rob Hart is out now. It’s a prequel story detailing some of Pete’s time as a reporter in New Jersey, and a nice intro to his world and the world of Ash, who stars in his own novels by Hart (check out New Yorked and City of Rose– both great PI capers). In terms of my novels, Silent City is reissued in March and Down the Darkest Street hits in April, which should take up a big part of the year for me. Archie Meets Ramones, a one-shot crossover comic I’m doing with co-writer Matt Rosenberg and artist Gisele hits later in 2016 and the third Pete novel, Dangerous Ends, is slated for early 2017. So, I’m keeping pretty busy, which is nice!
RAMOS: Thanks, Alex. Always great to learn more about crime fiction and a fellow crime fiction writer.