So, an experiment – sort of, not like this hasn’t been done before. Though, I wanted to start an author Q&A series that wasn’t so ‘canned’, something where writers can shoot the shit while giving them the room to talk about whatever they’re pimping OR whatever strikes their fancy.
For the first installment of what I’m calling FROM THE HIP, we’ve got Alex Segura, the author of the Pete Fernandez series of books and a slew of awesome Archie comics. His latest, DANGEROUS ENDS, is dropping April 11th, 2017 from Polis Books, so I decided to use him as guinea pig and try my best to throw him off his game.
Our chat took place on 2/8/2017 – there’s been some light editing to improve the flow of conversation and to cover up Alex’s shocking opinion about pre-fab flooring.
ANGEL: So, to reiterate, loose convo. This is going on Shotgun Honey, so we know our audience. They’re fucking degenerates.
ALEX: Keep it CASUAL
ANGEL: EXACTLY. You ready for the snowstorm coming our way? Do you have French Toast reserves?
ALEX: I’m hoping it snows so I don’t have to drive to work! How about you guys?
ANGEL: Kids already got cancelled school and my job is cool with working from home, so we’re pretty much stuck at home the next two days.
ALEX: Not bad! G is turning one soon, so Eva’s running around prepping for a family thing this weekend
ANGEL: The big 1! That’s on Valentine’s Day, no?
ALEX: Yeah! Crazy! Valentine’s Day will never be the same
ANGEL: It’s an awesome time. Hell, we’re both going through the same stuff; Kid 2 is just a month older.
ALEX: We need to get them together again
ANGEL: I WILL TALK TO THE WIFE
ALEX: YEAH…Same here
ANGEL: For real, I have no idea what’s going on at all without her. So….WRITING
ANGEL: You’ve been busy, dude. About a year, two books out with Polis, Archie Meets Ramones, ANOTHER Archie book and Pete Book 3!
You ready to take a breath?
ALEX: Not yet! Yeah, it’s been busy – but good. It’s like I’m working on two tracks, which is fun and keeps my brain clicking.
On one hand, I’m writing fun, all-ages comic book stuff, which is what first got me hooked on comics and reading, and on the other, I’m telling these really dark crime stories set in my hometown.
I can’t believe DANGEROUS ENDS is my third. It hasn’t really clicked in yet.
The comics happen faster – you write a script, then you start seeing artwork and before you know it, it’s on the stands
Novels are a much slower, more thoughtful process
ANGEL: I’m excited about this next one, Dangerous Ends. Having read it in an earlier state (VIP, YO) I really enjoyed the link to Cuban history. Pretty timely too! I never assume that folks pull directly from their family history, but is it safe to assume that here?
ALEX: Yeah, for sure. And I’m glad you got to read it early. Don’t worry, you’re duly thanked in the back! (Spoiler alert). The Cuba flashbacks sprung out of a conversation with my aunt one day. We were at a family gathering and Cuba came up, as it does, and she said there were a lot of family stories that I didn’t know and that she’d have to share with me sometime. Well, I couldn’t wait, so while everyone else is having a jolly good time I’m huddled with her talking about Castro, how our family got out of Cuba and the challenges a lot of them faces. It really made me want to paint a picture of Pete’s family.
But I also knew I didn’t want to just steal stories from my family’s past and switch names. I did a lot of research, about Cuba and Cuba-US relations and where the country was before Castro took power.
But that was fun research, and the kind of stuff I could do while still writing.
I also knew that I wanted the mystery from the past had to intersect with whatever Pete was investigating in the present, and at the end he had to leave the book changed and have some progression as a character.
I didn’t want him or his friends to be static.
ANGEL: I got a firm sense of that underlying tension and rage that is sort of a burden for a lo of Cuban Americans to bear. Did that inform how you wrote the flashbacks? Was it difficult to find a balance? Not to say Castro’s sins should be looked at objectively, but how do you pull back when trying to tell the story as it happened?
And to add a little perspective, I grew up with a lot of dudes who were first gen. Getting stories about their parents coming on the boats in the late 70’s / early 80’s. All different, but hell if that general mood is the same. It’s dark and hopeful.
ALEX: I tried to be objective in my research and how I presented what was going on, but I also used specific POVs, so you’re inherently biased. The first flashback is told from the perspective of Pete’s grandfather, a government official who’s at odds with the new regime. So, you’re already starting from slanted view.
But I did try to show some balance and not make it seem black and white, because it isn’t. We’re all human and even if you’re for the good guys, you can make mistakes and sometimes get corrupted by power or money or whatever.
The challenge was to show the Cuba parts accurately but also write a compelling mystery while still propelling the present narrative forward, which was tricky but I think it paid off.
And Pete, like me and many guys or ladies my age, isn’t immersed in the exile story. I mean, I grew up hearing stories about Cuba and it was ever-present, but I didn’t go there or visit, so my connection to the island was very cerebral. It’s the same for Pete. So I wanted to give readers a sense of what his connection is without literally taking him there.
ANGEL: And it’s all so timely. Over the past year, I think a lot of us have forgotten how shook up Cuba’s been. Did that help to inform any changes/edits for the book?
ALEX: The changes for Cuba happened as I was finishing up a polish of the draft, so I tried my best to keep the book as timely as possible. When I first wrote it, Castro was still alive, for example. So, on revision, there’s a mention of his death. Things like that. A lot of the heavy plot lifting had been done, but I wanted to interject as much about current events as I could. There’s mention of the softening relations and the loosening of travel restrictions, and it gives readers a chance to peek into Pete’s head and see what his take on all of it is.
ANGEL: Would you take a trip out there if you could?
ALEX: You know, this came up recently – as in, a literal invite to go, expenses paid. And I couldn’t do it. Not until the Castros – plural – are gone and no longer in power and an actual democracy is in place. I just can’t bring myself to know that my money is going into their pockets. It’s a simple view, I know, but sometimes we can only work in broad strokes.
I’d love to see the country, explore, visit the house where my parents grew up and so on, but I also know how desperately my family struggled to leave Cuba while Castro was in power, so I don’t think it’d be respectful of me to take a pleasure cruise now because it’s easy or convenient.
ANGEL: That makes sense. With all that history (mostly negative) I can see it being difficult to just dump money into the pockets of bastards.
ALEX: Right. And Raul Castro is not an innocent. Not Being Fidel doesn’t exonerate you.
ANGEL: And speaking from parallel experience with my own Caribbean roots, it’s not easy to see the places you come from – especially when it’s pretty much 3rd world.
ALEX: Right. I can’t expect the picture I saw, from the 60s, to be reflected today. I definitely want to experience it at some point, though, but I also have to know when the time is right.
This isn’t a diss on anyone who goes to Cuba. We all have to make our choices and I know people have close family there. I have some distant cousins and other distant relatives, so the urgency for human reasons doesn’t exist. But I can understand that.
ANGEL: THIS IS A HAPPY CONVO – Way to make a political book.
ALEX: CHEERFUL EVEN
It’s funny, because when I set out to write it, I was in a very Ellroy state of mind, but the book became something else.
Which is what you want, I think.
ANGEL: I meant to ask you, especially in light of Pete’s musical tastes AND your work with Archie. You’re obviously a big music guy, but what’s YOUR background. Were you in a band? Play an instrument? Become a master of triangle?
Also, I’ve been drinking – SURPRISE
ALEX: Ha! I am a triangle guru! Drink up, pal
Yeah, I’ve always loved music. I was in a few bands in Miami, though bands might be a stretch – we never played shows. But we had fun, wrote songs, practiced a lot. I was in a few bands in NY, most recently a group called Faulkner Detectives. We put out an EP and played a handful of gigs in and around NYC. The band is on a bit of a hiatus – kids, jobs, life – but we’ve talked about playing again. I loved being in a band and I really think songwriting is a helpful tool for any writer, so’s poetry. Learning to be compact with your words, and being able to tap into a feeling instead of just mechanically moving from plot point to plot point is important and not easy to teach.
Songwriting is unique in that you have to paint a picture or tell a story with a few words or lines and then support those words with a musical backdrop. It’s a fun challenge, and I think songwriting helped my prose and vice versa. Same with comics.
ANGEL: Shot in the dark – bassist?
ALEX: No! But the bass was my first instrument when I was a teenager. Then I discovered I wanted to write songs, so I needed a guitar. I played guitar and sang some songs in the last band.
ANGEL: Nice. I could never nail guitar down, so I played bass for a while and gave up. It’s been almost 20 years since I touched one that wasn’t a Rock Band instrument.
ALEX: I haven’t played much lately, either. It’s tough. One thing having a kid does is it makes you really focus your time across the board. I play guitar with the kid sometimes and that’s fun, but it’s been a while since I sat down and tried to write a song.
ANGEL: I play conga occasionally.
ANGEL: Nope, straight up LPs – donkey skin and all.
ANGEL: So what’s next? You’ve got that special coming soon that focuses on The Archies (is that the current Waid canon?) and then what?
ALEX: Yeah, THE ARCHIES is in the updated Archie-verse, which is cool. That’s the first time I’ve worked there and it’s been a blast. I’m co-writing it with Matt Rosenberg. We wrote ARCHIE MEETS RAMONES, and it’s drawn by Joe Eisma, who was the artist on the main ARCHIE title, which is neat.
After that, I have some ideas (and about 50k words) for another Pete book or two, I’m working on this weird, horror/thriller thing that wouldn’t leave my brain and I have a few other comic book things in various stages.
I’m also pecking away at a few short stories I need to finish for anthologies and such.
ANGEL: The new Archie stuff has been a ton of fun. I still need to check out Riverdale. Chances are high now that wifey and I are done with Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
ALEX: It’s a funny show! Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, I mean. Riverdale can be funny, but it’s surprisingly noir and stylish, so I think you guys will dig it.
ANGEL: So you’re working on next steps for Pete. You’ve had the dude go through the ringer, alcoholism, death of loved ones, massive betrayals. What else can you do to this poor bastard?
ALEX: Man, I don’t know. I joke and say “Poor Pete” all the time when promoting the book, but it’s true – he’s been through a lot of shit. I knew, going into the writing of DOWN THE DARKEST STREET, the second book, that I wanted it to be, well, dark. I wanted it to really bring him to his knees, not only in terms of the mystery but his own personal demons. For DANGEROUS ENDS, I wanted to show him having progressed, at least in terms of his alcoholism but also his experience level. The Pete we meet in DANGEROUS ENDS knows the basic of what he’s doing. But I also didn’t want it to feel like “Pete Case #453,” y’know? So there had to be personal stakes for him. Each Pete book works on two levels for me – it’s about The Case, and The Mystery – but it’s also about Pete and his quest to not only be a better detective, but a better person. And that, as we all know, involves a lot of missteps and pitfalls. It’s not a straight line.
DANGEROUS ENDS, without spoiling too much, leaves Pete in a completely new situation/status quo, and I’m excited to explore that. I never want a book in the series to feel like it doesn’t matter or like it’s a holding pattern.
Which is tough, because then I think your series becomes finite, automatically
You can only pull the guy through the fire so many times.
When I finished the book, I figured we were in a good place to try something a little off the path he’s been on. Still, things should blow up again – explosions are cool.
Yeah, it sets Pete off on a new path, which I think is good, and it’ll keep readers (and me) on their toes. It opens up new story possibilities.
ANGEL: But there will be explosions, right?
ALEX: For sure. Lots of them.
ANGEL: Holding you to that.
ALEX: For a series, though, it’s tough because you have an inherent expectation, but you also want to keep yourself interested as the writer.
ANGEL: Absolutely. I get that. I’m not the hugest fan of the IDEA of writing a series? On a personal level. If I can pull it off, sure, but like you said with Pete, there has to be a place where you can surprise yourself, right?
ALEX: It’s a cliché, but I believe it because it’s what I do: I write the book I want to read. I wanted to read a detective series that really featured Miami as the setting. I wanted to read about a PI who maybe wasn’t super-great at his job. It didn’t exist, so I wrote it.
That applies to the other books, too. I wanted to read a serial killer book that was a little different. So that’s what I wrote. I wanted a wider-screen look at the Cuban exile experience wrapped in a nice mystery/thriller packaging. It’s more instinctual at first – like, what am I interested in the moment? What stories get me jazzed? – but you see it in your rearview as you move on to the next thing. Oh, OK. That’s what I wanted to write.
ANGEL: I think you’ve nailed it and I think folks are going to be surprised with Book 3, Dangerous Ends is really enjoyable.
Thanks man! I’m glad you liked it. This was a challenging book to write but also the most fulfilling.
ANGEL: So beyond self-promotion (selfish bastard), what have you been reading/hearing/watching/eating/whatevering?
ALEX: Great question. In terms of mystery novels, I really dug Reed Farrel Coleman’s WHAT YOU BREAK, the sequel to his Edgar-nominated WHERE IT HURTS. I love the Moe Prager books, and when Reed announced his deal to do the Jesse Stone novels, the bit that jumped out at me most was the fact that he’d be starting a new series. Gus Murphy is a great, flawed protagonist and Reed just makes it look easy. I’ve been on a big Stephen King kick lately, which might be due to all the insanity happening in the world. Who would have thought that reading about killer clowns, worldwide plagues and crazy, rabid dogs would be soothing in comparison to The World Today, but it has…
ANGEL: Where It Hurts was fucking great. I need to pick up What You Break.
ALEX: In terms of TV, I finally got around to watching The Night Of, which I thought was great. But aside from that, we’ve been on a fairly disciplined West Wing re-watch. Babies also prevent you from having lots of TV time. So does novel-writing.
In terms of comics I’ll buy anything by Brubaker/Phillips, Rucka, Fraction, Snyder, Lapham, DeConnick…the list goes on. I was doing a fairly epic Uncanny X-Men/Claremont re-read, too, but that tapered off when the team got to Australia.
Also big shot out to Azzarello and Risso’s new one, MOONSHINE. Great supernatural noir shout out
ANGEL: With X-Men, Wasn’t that whole Siege Perilous thing?
ALEX: It’s not bad, per se, it just lost me and I wasn’t sure I was ready to go through it (SEE WHAT I DID THERE?) again.
ANGEL: WELL DONE
ALEX: It did make me want to revisit the Simonson run on X-Factor and the Sienkiewicz New Mutants stuff, so that’s good.
You know, in all my free time.
ANGEL: Alex, speaking of children, terrible Claremont runs, and my drinking, I’m gonna break here and thank you for letting me run this little experiment.
ALEX: Thanks for having me! This was fun.
ANGEL: WE’RE CUTTING EDGE AT SHOTGUN HONEY
ALEX: NICE WORK ANGEL – Thanks a lot, seriously!
ANGEL: No doubt! Good luck with Snowmaggedon and we will set up baby playdate. NOIR AF
ALEX: yes! Soon! GOOD NIGHT!