Posts Tagged ‘Alex Segura’

Alex SeguraAlex Segura’s debut novel, “Silent City,” recently redefined Florida noir. Alex agreed to answer a few questions for “Chamber of the Bizarre.”

Q: Can you give us some background about yourself?

A: Happy to! I’m a comic book publicist by day, crime writer by night. My first novel, “Silent City,” came out late last year from Codorus Press. It’s a noir tale set in modern day Miami and features washed up journalist Pete Fernandez as he’s swept up by the search for a missing woman, which involves a much deeper — and deadlier — underworld conspiracy. When not writing crime novels, I write comics — mainly at Archie — and spend time with my wife and cats. I live in New York.

Q: What inspired “Silent City?”

A:I got into crime fiction in my early 20s, somewhat late. I read the classics — Chandler, Hammett and so on, but it was a copy of George Pelecanos’s excellent “A Firing Offense” that showed me that you could have a very flawed and relatable protagonist. It opened up a world of possibilities for me, not only in terms of what I could read, but also got me thinking about maybe writing myself. I point to Pelecanos, Dennis Lehane’s “Darkness, Take My Hand,” Laura Lippman’s Tess Monaghan books, Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder stories and Ellroy’s LA Quartet as the books from modern writers that made me think about possibly doing this myself. I should also note that I’m continually motivated and driven to keep at this by the work of other great writers, like Megan Abbott, Greg Rucka, Michael Connelly, Kelly Braffet, Reed Farrel Coleman and many more.

Q: Who are some of your influences, and how do you think they played out in the story?

A: Like I listed above, Pelecanos, Lippman, Lehane, Ellroy, Lawrence Block and older authors like Chandler, Jim Thompson and Ross MacDonald were huge influences. Pelecanos, Block and Lehane show up mostly in Pete — he’s definitely a distant cousin of Nick Stefanos, Matt Scudder and Patrick Kenzie, though there’s some Tess Monaghan in there, too. I think I learned a lot about mood from people like Chandler and Thompson, with Ellroy really showing me how important a role setting can play in a story. Which isn’t to say my book does anything in the same galaxy as these authors, but they definitely inspired and motivated me to be better, which I’m eternally grateful for.

Q: Why do you think Miami has proven so attractive to crime fiction writers?

A: It’s tropical, sexy, beautiful but with a dark and dangerous underbelly. It’s the perfect contrast — a beachfront paradise that houses the most dangerous criminals and killers. It’s full of possibilities, and can cover a wide range of genres even in mystery fiction — from hardboiled detective novels like John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee books to the funnier Carl Hiaasen stuff to Vicki Hendricks’s underrated, disturbingly dark and amazing “Miami Purity.”

Q: Was there anything distinctive you were trying to bring to a Miami-set crime novel that you feel other writers may have missed?

A: I think so. I think that was a big reason I wanted to set the Pete books in Miami. I felt like so many authors had done NY stories already that it’d be silly of me to take a stab at that out of the gate. I also had just moved to New York, so I didn’t feel as comfortable writing about it. Miami was my home and I felt like I knew it pretty well. I also didn’t feel like my Miami had shown up much in fiction — the suburban sprawl, the nooks and crannies I remember exploring as a kid. Those were fertile ground for me.

Q: What do you think makes for a good crime thriller?

 A: I think it starts with a good character — and the feeling of risk and potential threat. I’m drawn to characters that evolve. One series I really love are the Moe Prager books by Reed Farrel Coleman. They focus on an ex-NY cop who becomes a private eye. But each book pushes him forward — some even jump five years into the future, so you always have a new set of circumstances that are still true to the character. Good crime books keep readers on their toes while shining a light on society’s own problems. I feel like crime fiction can be the most socially conscious — because crime and criminals really show the cracks in the system and where government and society have failed. So, I guess I like my hardboiled stories to have some kind of message, too.

Q: Do you have anything in the works?

A: I’m hoping to have news on my second Pete novel, “Down the Darkest Street,” soon. I’ve got a few short stories in the works and my most recent Archie issue, #659, hit this month with #660 following in October. Keeping busy!

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I had a great time this past weekend at Enigma Bookstore in Astoria, N.Y., at a panel discussion with fellow Codorus Press authors Wayne Lockwood, author of Acid Indigestion Eyes: Collected Essays and Musings on Generation X and Alex Segura, author of Silent City. First off, the bookstore was really cool. They specialize in science fiction, fantasy and mystery. You could just tell by browsing the selection that the owners have a genuine love for — and excellent taste in — the aforementioned genres. It’s the type of bookstore I’d make a roadtrip just to visit. And I really enjoyed sitting on the panel and talking about writing with Wayne and Alex, too. It was funny. We got so engrossed in our talk that somebody had to remind us — hey, you guys might want to sell some books, as long as you’re here.

One element of our discussion that I found particularly interesting was a conversation about how a story comes together. This mainly had to do with fiction. And while “Acid Indigestion Eyes” is nonfiction, Wayne is currently working on a novel so he was able to share some insights as well.

While I’d read and admired “Silent City” (see my review here), Alex and I had never met or discussed the writing process before. So I found it interesting that he also experienced a phenomenon I encountered numerous times when I was writing The Freak Foundation Operative’s Report. It’s the moment when my characters did something I hadn’t expected. And the book took a turn that made me say: “Whoah! Didn’t see THAT coming!” That was kind of unnerving, since I was WRITING the freakin thing! (more…)


As you’ve probably gathered from this blog, I read a lot. But I pick my reading material in kind of a haphazard way, so I can’t claim to be up on the latest trends or have comprehensive knowledge of any particular genre.

So maybe this isn’t as rare as I think. But here’s the deal. With his debut novel, Silent City, Alex Segura has written a crime thriller set in Miami populated by … get this … actual human beings.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big fan of what Dave Barry has called the “bunch of nuts in South Florida genre” of crime fiction. Love Tim Dorsey. Carl Hiaasen is like a god to me. (Jeff Lindsay’s “Dexter” is a bit more problematic. And I stopped following the TV series, which I hear jumped the shark big-time after I wrote this post. *Sigh*)

Much of the fun of the aforementioned writers is their over-the-top style and zany characters. I also admire the way that Hiaasen manages to get in touches that humanize even the most eccentric of his characters, such as the hirsute thug “Tool” in “Skinny Dip.”

That being said, you can overwork even the most appealing story elements, as I wrote about here. I love it when I’m reading a detective story published in the 1940s, and a dame who looks like trouble walks into a private dick’s office. I cringe when the same thing happens in a book published in 2013. Sometimes there’s a fine line between paying homage to a classic convention, and kicking it to death in the alley out back.

Segura’s book has many of the elements of a vintage hard-boiled detective novel. A missing woman. A mysterious killer. A hard-drinking hero with one last shot at redemption, and a cast of characters as apt to drop false leads as they are to provide clues.

And Miami’s no safer than it is in the conventional crime thriller set there. It’s still the Wild West on crank, full of drug runners, killers-for-hire and corrupt cops. This is no cozy mystery.

But “Silent City” feels refreshing in large part because the characters ring true. They’re motivated by recognizable emotions, and behave in believable ways when thrust into desperate situations. The story is set around a newspaper. And as a former longtime newspaper reporter myself, I can verify that Segura nailed the different personality types who haunt newsrooms.

One of those is the hero of the book, sports editor Pete Fernandez.

Pete’s on a downward spiral. He’s still licking his wounds from a broken relationship, mourning the recent death of his homicide detective father, and barely managing to choke back his anger at the smarmy corporate types gathering at his newspaper like hyenas to feast on newspaper journalism’s corpse.

He’s drinking heavily, sabotaging what remains of his career and pissing off his few remaining friends.

Then a dodgy columnist from his paper approaches him with an unusual request. He wants Pete to look into the disappearance of his daughter — an investigative reporter who was working on a piece about a mysterious underworld assassin known only as “Silent Death.”

Dangerous complication arise, as they will in this type of story. Nobody’s giving Pete a lot of credit. But he learned a trick or two from his father, and may have more grit and resources at his disposal than either friend or enemy suspects.

In the best noir fashion, the ensuing mystery dredges up some ghosts from Pete’s past. And it has the requisite double-crosses, edgy characters and twists.

I guess really, that’s the challenge for any writer of genre fiction. Hitting the beats that make fans love the genre in the first place, without hitting them so predictably that they’re drained of all vitality. Segura manages that balance admirably.

And he ends the story with a promise of more to come. That’s good news for fans of quality crime fiction.