I'm so excited to bring you an interview with Alex Segura today! Segura is both an uber-talented crime and mystery writer and one of my favorite people to 'event' with. (He's also one of the nicest and most hardworking guys in the business...) Blackout, Segura's fourth novel to feature Miami PI and anti-hero Pete Fernandez, keeps the hits coming as Pete now finds himself entangled with both cult leaders and politicians, all set in front of a steamy South Florida backdrop. When you're done reading, be sure to check out Segura's website for information on his upcoming tour dates, including a stint with me at Books & Books on May 23rd. And be sure to pick up a copy of Blackout, hitting shelves May 8th.
“Alex Segura one of the writers who reminds me why I fell in love with PI fiction and wanted to write it.” ―Laura Lippman, New York Times bestselling author of Sunburn
What drew you to the genre you write in?
That’s a great question. I’d always been a fan of mysteries and crime novels – I think Mario Puzo’s The Godfather was one of my earliest pulp novels, at the tender age of eight or nine. So that kind of set the tone. I was also an avid comic book reader. By the time I was in my mid-twenties, I’d moved to NY from Miami and was working in comics, doing PR. When your hobbies become your job, the tone is different. I was now working in what was once a realm of fantasy. I turned to crime novels as a form of escape – building off masters like Chandler and Jim Thompson and discovering people like George Pelecanos, Laura Lippman and Dennis Lehane. Those novels were so seeped in setting, too, that it got me to thinking about Miami – a place I was very homesick for – and how cool it’d be to have a Miami PI that was as flawed as Tess Monaghan, Nick Stefanos, Pat Kenzie or Moe Prager. I didn’t have any luck right away, so in an act of hubris, I though, “I’ll write one myself!” That’s kind of how Pete Fernandez was born. To more directly answer your question – I think crime fiction, if we have to get into the genre debate – is the most authentic space if you really want to showcase the world as it is, and present it in an honest way, warts and all. The best bits of social commentary and reality have come to me by reading crime fiction, which often presents us with a raw, unfiltered look at the world around us, and I find that really appealing as a writer.
Is there anything in the novel that you wish more readers noticed?
I put a lot of little hat tips and in-jokes in the Pete books to keep me entertained, so it’s always fun when people catch them. I gave a sleazy lawyer the same name as a reporter friend and one of the baddies shares a surname with an editor I worked with at DC Comics.
In terms of bigger picture stuff – I hope the themes are clear. That’s the struggle for all writers, right? That your message comes across? All the Pete books have been about Pete’s personal struggle as he tries to solve a case. Some of the cases are direct pulls from his father’s files. Others tie into his family’s life in Cuba. This one – Blackout – is all him. A case he failed to solve, because he was a raging drunk, has come back to haunt him and it’s collected a ton of deadly baggage on the way. This book is about Pete’s realization that there’s more to recovery than just not drinking – it’s a pass to a new life, and in this book, hopefully, he realizes that and takes it. At least that’s what I was going for. Fingers crossed people get it, too.
Do you have a set routine as a writer?
My only routine is that I jump on pockets of time when they arise. I have a full-time job, I have a family (including a rambunctious toddler) and everything else that keeps people busy – so I do my best to prioritize writing. I was listening to Attica Locke speak at the Virginia Festival of the Book last weekend and she said something I completely agree with and will paraphrase, but basically – you don’t have to write every day. But you do have to write. Don’t let the idea that you have to write every day prevent you from writing, because there is no one, clear method to succeeding as a writer. That said, you should stay engaged as a reader and think about your writing as much as you can. My routine, then, is to be mindful of when I have time to write – usually at night, after dinner and after the kid is asleep – and make the most of those times. It’s worked for me so far.
Stephen King’s On Writing is invaluable – a heartfelt memoir of the craft that is loaded with good advice and lots of humanity. I reread that book every few years and always feel reborn after. So, that’s a cheat, but there you go. Elmore Leonard is spot-on when he says not to spend too much time describing places and people. A book is a mental contract with a reader and, I feel, you have to meet them in the middle – give them just enough to paint a picture in their head and go on this journey with you. If you bog the book down by describing how many notches a belt has or the kind of soda bottle you’d find in the backseat of a car, you might lose them. Especially if you’re writing a crime novel that relies on the propulsion of plot.
Another bit of advice that comes to mind, that I’ve been going back and forth with fellow authors and thinking about a lot lately is “focus on the work.” There are so many damn distractions in life today, especially for writers – promoting your book, building a brand or platform, campaigning for awards, creating the right look for your website, whatever…but none of it matters if the book isn’t good. That should be the focus, first and foremost. You have to hope the rest will fall into place, but your main concern as a writer should be the work.
What do you wish more readers would ask you about?
I’d love to talk about Pete’s supporting cast! I really enjoy writing them – sometimes more than Pete, to be honest. Kathy Bentley, Pete’s partner, is a big part of the series and really interesting to me. I hope readers enjoy how we push them forward – Kathy, Dave, Harras, Jackie – in the next book and beyond.