Posts Tagged ‘Dashiell Hammett’

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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continental opI’ve been checking out a few online lists of overused cliches in crime fiction. Interesting, amusing, and — being a writer myself — occasionally cringe-inducing.

I’ll readily admit to being guilty of a couple with my debut novel, “The Freak Foundation Operative’s Report.”

A trait that showed up on a lot of lists was the hard-drinking detective. And the investigator in my novel certainly fits the bill. He even carries a flask around with him to take swigs at appropriate or grossly inappropriate times.

Not sure if I have a problem with that, though. Or with any cliche, necessarily.

Keep in mind, I’m aware that all of this might be an elaborate self-justification. And to be fair, most of those lists specifically stated that a cliche isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if used in a creative manner.

Cliches are kind of tricky when it come to genre fiction. Because readers of genre fiction expect certain elements. Let’s take the anti-cliche mindset to an extreme. “Why does every thriller need to have a crime in it? That’s so overdone. How about a thriller where the sole conflict is the hero’s attempt to complete a batch of cupcakes in time for the church social?

True, wouldn’t be a cliche. Wouldn’t be much of a thriller, either.

Another example: Why does the hero in every single martial arts movie have to be a martial arts expert? Isn’t that a cliche? Maybe. It’s also the reason we watch martial arts movies, so I’d just as soon that one stay around.

But I’m certainly sympathetic to readers who get fed up with cliches. The kind that make you groan and say “not THIS again!” One of my least favorites is the meet-cute between the male and female characters who initially hate each other, but who are obviously gonna hook up before the end of the book. In fact, pasted-on romantic subplots in general are kind of tedious for me. Can the hero foil the criminal plot without getting laid in the process once in a while?

Recently read a novel — Won’t name it here. My policy is to name only the books I like. — where I felt like the writer was working though a checklist of crime fiction cliches. We-don’t-like-each-other-but-I-guess-we’ll-have-to-work-together-to-solve-this-case relationship with a colleague? Check. You-may-be-brilliant-at-catching-criminals-but-your-personal-life-is-a-mess talking-to by an exasperated colleague? Check. You get the picture. I finished it out of obligation, bored and annoyed the whole time.

But I guess it’s subjective. Because if you don’t like a story element, it’s a “cliche.” If you do like it, it’s a “convention.”

Not long ago, on a whim, I picked up a book on writing the modern mystery novel. In it, the writer decried the cliche of detectives with no apparent personal lives whose only role in the book is solving the case. Modern readers, this writer insisted, demand complex detectives with well-developed back stories, home lives and romantic histories.

With all due respect to that writer, I disagree. I happen to like the old-school detective whose only role in the story is solving the case, and maybe delivering some wisecracks and punches to deserving jaws along the way. Call me insensitive, but I don’t really care about the lead inspector’s conflicted relationship with her father, unless it’s tied into the case somehow.

We didn’t even need to know Columbo’s first name. Or his relationship to his wife — who in all likelihood didn’t exist, and was a ruse he employed to put suspects off balance. (And don’t tell me about the later seasons where he had phone conversations with her, or the defilement that was the “Mrs. Columbo” spinoff. That was bullshit.)

The name of my book’s protagonist, the Freak Foundation operative, is never provided. That’s a tribute to Dashiell Hammet’s Continental operative, the employee of the Continental Detective Agency who’s never given a name and doesn’t need one.

I also like hard-drinking, emotionally troubled — troubled, but not self-pitying and whiny — detectives. Not just as a throwback to the old-school, hard-boiled detectives, though that’s a factor. It strikes me as a logical outgrowth of the who they are and what they do.

A lot of people who deal with violence, death and its consequences in the course of their jobs drink and have emotional issues. If protagonists are seeing death and violence all the time and AREN’T emotionally affected by it, they’re probably screwed up in a different way.

I guess the whole idea of cliche is subjective, and changes with time, anyway. For example, I just watched the first season of “Hannibal,” and it was great. Ten years ago, if you’d asked if I was interested in watching some popular entertainment about an investigator playing a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with a brilliant serial killed, I might have actually physically assaulted you.

“Enough!” I’d have cried, while slapping you about the face. “That whole thing has been driven into the freakin ground!”

But somewhere in the intervening time and pop culture’s obsession with other matters — boy wizards, vampires, zombies, etc. — that convention appear to have lost its stale quality to some extent. So I guess I can enjoy it for now.

Until it becomes cliche again, and the circle of life continues.

TeelHere’s an earlier post about my meeting with Teel James Glenn — author, stuntman, martial artist and all-around awesome individual. Teel agreed to an interview with “Chamber of the Bizarre.”

Here’s the abridged version of his bio:

Teel James Glenn
Winner of the 2012 Pulp Ark ‘Best Author of the Year.’ Epic ebook award finalist. P&E winner “Best Steampunk Short”, finalist “Best Fantasy short, Collection” Author of bestselling Exceptionals Series, The Maxi/Moxie Series, The Dr. Shadows Series, The Bob Howard Series and others.
visit him at Theurbanswashbuckler.com
And here’s the interview:

Q: Could you talk a little bit about your background?

A: I was born in Brooklyn though I’ve traveled the world for forty years as a stuntman, fight choreographer, swordmaster, jouster, book illustrator, storyteller, bodyguard, carnival barker and actor. One of the things I’m proudest of is having studied under Errol Flynn’s last stunt doubles and continue to teach swordwork in New York.

I have had short stories published in Weird Tales, Mad, Black Belt, Fantasy Tales, Pulp Empire, Sixgun Western, Fantasy World Geographic, Silver Blade Quarterly, Another Realm, AfterburnSF, Blazing Adventures and scores of other publications. (more…)