Monday, May 16, 2016

Not Just Another Day At The Beach: The Spicy Miami Noir Novels of Alex Segura- An Interview

I’m excited to bring you an interview today with Silent City and Down the Darkest Street author Alex Segura. While our conversation focuses primarily on Segura’s debut novel in the Pete Fernandez series, be sure to check out the second installment as well, which just hit shelves last month. Enjoy!

Steph Post: Silent City is a Miami novel through and through. Although the noir premise could have any setting for a backdrop, I think that the location of Miami, and how authentically you portray it, is essential to Silent City. Do you think Pete's story could have taken place anywhere else? And how important to you was it to get all of the setting details right?

Alex Segura: Well, first off - thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed Silent City. I’m also glad you felt Miami was essential to the story, because that was really important to me when writing the book. When I first started writing the book, I had no idea how a novel was created. But I knew what I wanted to write - and it was something close to the books I’d been reading and enjoying. I wanted to create a PI who maybe wasn’t yet a PI - I wanted to show readers his origin story. I also wanted the setting to be different. I’d read so many NY PI novels and I wasn’t sure I was ready to write that kind of book yet. And I’d really been enjoying PI series that featured really strong and evocative settings - like George Pelecanos’s Nick Stefanos DC books, or Dennis Lehane’s Pat and Angie Boston/Dorcester books or Laura Lippman’s Tess Monaghan Baltimore books. Those characters took me on tours of their cities, and I felt like I was exploring new areas while hanging out with some really compelling people. It made for great reading, and I wanted my entry into the genre to hit similar notes.

So, to answer your question - no, I don’t think Silent City could happen anywhere else, and that’s by design. I wanted to show readers my Miami, not the idea people see elsewhere. A city that’s flawed, has crime, is experiencing some major growing pains and isn’t just a beach. There’s a lot to it, and I wanted to welcome people in and give them the sites they might not see on a tour bus.

The details were really important. I wanted the book to feel genuine and also to show off parts of Miami that I felt were important. I let a few things go - there are some bars that are now closed that I kept open for the purposes of the story, and I also created spots wherever anything too terrible happens. So, if you’re reading a scene in a Pete book happening in a fictionalized restaurant or bar, you know something terrible is about to take place!
SP: The protagonist of Silent City, Pete Fernandez, is down-and-out and on the verge of wallowing in self-destruction before he finds his purpose as a private detective. When we first meet Pete, in fact, he is waking up with a hangover and hazy memories of the night before. I'm not sure how many people would want to BE Pete, at least at the start of the novel, but readers are obviously drawn to him. Why do you think this is so? Do you think that readers just love messy characters, or is there something else going on here?

AS: I think a love for flawed, messy characters is part of it. But I also feel like Pete rises above that - he’s not just a screw-up. He shows flashes of smarts and is very much heroic, even if it’s sometimes in a stubborn way. He’s not afraid to take a risk if it gets him to the answer faster. As a reader, I’m drawn to messed-up characters. Not just in terms of addictions, but in general. It could be anything. I just don’t want to read about bland characters. I want them to be flawed or to be struggling with something. Preferably something relatable and compelling. The goal with Pete, for me, was to create someone I could personally relate to and that allowed me to tell a version of the stories I loved reading, but involving a protagonist that grew up in Miami and was very much a product of that city.

SP: Although, as stated, Pete is a mess, in more ways than one, he's also part of a long line of newspaper reporters-turned-detective in the classic noir tradition. Were you consciously tapping into this element of the genre? Or does the reporter-PI connection lend itself so naturally that it rises above a literary hallmark?

AS: It seemed to fit, so I tried not to question it too much. Like I said earlier, I love the Tess Monaghan books, and something that struck me early on was that being a reporter made a lot of the research of the PI life a bit easier and more believable. It’s nice to have a foundation and some tools. I also feel like the mind of the PI and the mind of the reporter are similar - they come from a curious place and both have this desire to resolve things. By the time you meet Pete, though, he’s burned down his reporting career and is riding a desk. But he still has the tools the newspaper provides him, so as he starts to investigate the central crime of the first book, you see him become reenergized and more engaged, which dovetails with his arc as a character. Making him a newspaper person helped that along. I also, as a former newspaper person myself, wanted to showcase that world a bit. That vampire existence. You really live in an alternate reality, almost. Sleep in the day, work all night, stay out late with coworkers. You feel like you’re on a different frequency. There’s also a language and rhythm to newspaper that’s unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced. It’s really addictive.

I also feel like spending time as a journalist or reporter for any length affects you - your work ethic, how you see the world. I wanted to showcase that a bit in Pete.

SP: One of the unique trademarks of Silent City is its constant inclusion of music and musical references. Whether a character is playing the jukebox or the narration is using a song for invocation, music is everywhere in the novel. Why is this so?

AS: I love music. I wanted Pete to also share that, and I felt like there weren’t - at least, based on my limited reading at the time - enough PI books that featured a strong musical element. The Pelecanos books do, and Connelly’s Bosch loves jazz and Rankin’s Rebus loves the Stones. But I wanted Pete to be a bit of a music nerd, and have his tastes inform the world around him. It also gave me an excuse to create soundtracks for each book, too!

SP: In addition to being a novelist, you've also worked on comic books. How is the writing process for both genres different and the same? Do you think that your Pete Fernandez series would lend itself to being adapted as a comic or graphic novel?

AS: I’d be open to a Pete graphic novel, sure. I think - depending on the artist - it could work really well. That’s the big difference in terms of prose vs. comics. Comics are much more collaborative. You have an artist who basically takes your script and gives it life, in the same way a director visualizes a screenwriter’s words. It’s less about turning a phrase or description and more about direction and pacing. Obviously, the writer is still very important, but you’re part of a team hoping to join forces to create a stronger whole. With a novel, you’re sitting alone in the dark and are completely in control. Sure, there are editors and agents, but they show up toward the end of the process. You’re the one driving the car for most of the journey in terms of creation. I love both methods and I find that they reinvigorate me for the other. I’m finishing up the script for Archie Meets Ramones now, and it’s completely different from what I was working on before - the first pass of Pete book 4, tentatively titled Relics. It keeps me fresh. I’ll always have a foot in each world, I think.

SP: Down the Darkest Street, the sequel to Silent City, just recently debuted and continues the story of Pete Fernandez in Miami. Are there other works planned for the series? Would you ever consider taking Pete out of Miami or is the setting too essential to his character?

AS: I’m about to hop into the third Pete book, Dangerous Ends, for a revision. I’m also halfway through the fourth, Relics (tentatively), and I have a really creepy idea for the fifth that I’m hoping lines up okay. I feel like Pete will be around for a while, as long as I think I can believably tell his story. From the beginning, I always wanted Pete to be the kind of guy who evolves from book to book. I didn’t want his adventures to be evergreen. I’m just not interested in telling those kind of stories. I want the Pete you see at the end of each book to be notably different from the one you met at the beginning. And, so far, that’s worked. But at a certain point I also feel like he’ll come to his senses and realize he might not want to put his life on the line so much. Thankfully, he hasn’t yet - and I’ve built a really interesting cast of people around him, so that keeps me engaged, too.

As for setting, that’s a great question. I feel like every book will deal with Miami in some way. Dangerous Ends zooms out a bit and looks at Cuba as Castro took over and different eras in Miami while also placing Pete somewhere else for part of the story. That worked out fine, I think. I feel like as long as Miami is a strong element in the story, then Pete can move around. I know book 4 plays around with it more. The fact is, I don’t live in Miami anymore. I spend a lot of time there - I visit friends and family every few months. But I also live in New York. It changes my perspective on the city a bit. When I started Silent City, I’d just moved to New York and Miami was all I knew, and I was homesick and wanted to tell stories about my home. Since then, things have changed and I may want to take Pete in another direction for a case or a bit. That said, the books will always have a lot to do with Miami. Miami pulls Pete back no matter where he is.

SP: And just to throw you a curve ball here, out of all of the private detectives in the noir genre (go back as far as you like) are there any you would want to be?

AS: Oh wow, great question. So many choices! I guess if I had to pick just one, it’d be Lew Archer. I love the Ross Macdonald books and I feel like Lew is just a stand-up guy. I’d probably have a different answer on a given day, though. Tomorrow it might be Spenser. Thanks so much for having me!
Thank you, Alex! Readers be sure to check out Silent City and Down the Darkest Street and also keep an eye out for Bad Beat- Segura’s collaboration with Rob Hart incorporating both Pete Fernandez and Hart’s Ash McKenna. All are available now from Polis Books. Cheers and happy reading!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for your comments!