The Word Nerds met Alex Segura at Murder and Mayhem in Muskego and we’re glad to have him as our guest this week with a great Q&A. His first book, SILENT CITY, released late in 2013 and he’s here today to talk writing.
WN: Where did the idea for SILENT CITY originate?
SEGURA: It started out as more of a desire for a kind of book that then merged with my own belief that I could write a book. I’d always written stories – poems, short stories, comics, you name it. But I was bad at finishing my work, easily distracted and also trying to pursue a career that, while related to writing, took up a lot of time. When I moved to NY I rediscovered crime fiction and realized it really spoke to me. I read the classics – Chandler, Jim Thompson, MacDonald and more. I loved them. But it wasn’t until I got my hands on George Pelecanos’ A Firing Offense that it all kind of fell into place. The protagonist of Pelecanos’ first three novels, Nick Stefanos, wasn’t a polished detective that drank bourbon and had an office in a swank part of LA. He was a screw-up working in an electronics store that got high with his coworkers, drank too much and had no idea what he was doing. It inspired me and showed me that crime fiction was not only more than what I’d read, but it could be pretty much anything. Crime as a genre is almost unlimited. You can do social commentary, historical fiction, more light-hearted stuff – it’s wonderful. So, along with that realization, I also got it into my head that I could write my own novel. So I asked myself, what kind of book would I want to read? Is there a kind of book that I don’t see out there that I’d enjoy? And I instantly gravitated to writing about Miami, my hometown, and about this character that had shown up sporadically in my early attempts at fiction. The names were different, but he was around my age, a bit of a failure, definitely a drunk and while smart, not really at his best. This guys eventually became Pete. So once I merged my desire to write a crime novel – after some fits and starts, including an ill-advised Cuban mafia family saga – with the character that would eventually become Pete, I had the ingredients for Silent City. The first scene I ever wrote, which stayed pretty much the same until it was published, was the first chapter where we meet Pete, hungover and regretting something he did the night before. That was the best way, I thought, to bring readers into Pete’s world. By showing what his day-to-day had really become.
WN: How is Pete Fernandez like you and how is he different?
SEGURA: We’re both from Miami. We’re both of Cuban descent. I think we’re around the same age. Like Pete, I have a lot of friends I’ve known for a decade or more. That’s kind of where the similarities end. Oh, and he has great taste in music! I think he went down a darker path than I did, life-wise. He’s obviously experienced things I never hope to in terms of violence and loss. He’s much more daring than I am in real life. He’s also more prone to making rash (i.e. dumb) decisions than me. When piecing Pete together, I really wanted to create a character I could see myself hanging out with in college – someone I could see myself knowing. I hope I succeeded.
WN: You work in publicity for Archie Comics. How did that work help you become a novelist?
SEGURA: I’ve worked in comics for about a decade now, which is weird to say. First in the press as a reporter and editor, then as a publicist. I think journalism and publicity are wonderful training grounds for writing. It teaches you to be succinct, focused and thoughtful with your words. You meet a lot of creative people and I always find that energizing, and you’re writing all the time. So, the idea of cranking out thousands of words for a novel didn’t seem as ominous as I think it does to someone in another field. Comics are a visual medium, and that really helped me think of Silent City in terms of what the camera sees, and how it’d look on a screen, panel or in someone’s head. I tried to be mindful of being overly-descriptive, and a lot of that comes from comics – having written a few myself – where you have to leave some room for the artist to interpret your words. You can’t detail or explain everything because that takes some of the fun out of it.
The comic book industry is a vibrant place and I’m really grateful to be in it. I’ve made many great friends and it’s a constant source of inspiration for me.
WN: What’s your favorite word and why?
SEGURA: This is going to be extremely cheesy, but “Thanks” is probably my favorite word. When used properly! I feel like I have a lot to be thankful for, and I am constantly trying to remind myself of that. I also think if you take a minute to remember the good stuff, it makes whatever’s annoying you in the moment seem fairly trivial.
WN: What’s next for you as a writer?
SEGURA: Well, I’m revising the second Pete Fernandez book, DOWN THE DARKEST STREET. Hopeful that will see the light of day soon. I’m contributing to a science fiction short story anthology titled APOLLO’S DAUGHTERS with my co-writer and dear friend Justin Aclin. I’ve got a few irons in the fire in terms of comics. I’m also in a band, so we’re always trying to write new songs.
WN: What book(s) have captured your attention lately?
SEGURA: I absolutely loved Kelly Braffet’s Save Yourself. I read it in a few days. One of my favorite books of 2013. The characters were so well-defined, the themes really strong. I wanted to meet these people, even though they were mostly frightening and damaged. The best books make you jealous as a writer. Steve Weddle’s Country Hardball was also a recent favorite. It’s a “novel-in-stories” and paints a bleak picture of a town during the recession, with one main character as the thru-line for the whole thing. Reminded me of early Woodrell. I read Alissa Nutting’s Tampa a few months ago and thought it was a really daring and powerful read, and I really admired how unafraid as a writer she was to just go for the jugular with her story. While on vacation over the holidays I read most of Reed Farrel Coleman‘s Moe Prager books, which are really a master’s-level course in PI fiction. No one does it better than Reed.