The past couple of months have brought a double dose of multi-talented author Alex Segura in the form of Polis Books re-issuing SILENT CITY, his first novel featuring Pete Fernandez, along with a new book - the follow-up - DOWN THE DARKEST STREET. I really enjoy Alex's take on the PI, and it's a pleasure to have him stop by and answer a few questions regarding his latest releases. Here we go!
Chris: The PI story is classic - one that countless authors take on each year. With SILENT CITY and now DOWN THE DARKEST STREET, you've received high praise from the likes of Megan Abbott, Laura Lippman, Brad Meltzer, Reed Farrel Coleman, and more. Who's this Pete Fernandez? What's drawing readers to his story?
Alex: When we meet Pete in SILENT CITY, he's hit bottom. He's lost his father, his fiance has left him, he's moved back to his hometown of Miami in shame, he's working a dead-end job and he's basically fallen from grace, career-wise. He's gone from being an on-the-rise sports reporter to being a mediocre copy editor. He's also drinking himself to death. He's got only a few friends left and is floundering. But then he gets pulled into a missing persons case and finds that spark again - and as he pulls and tugs at the thread, he finds it leads to a bigger, more dangerous mystery. Unfortunately, being inspired or motivated doesn't solve our problems, so he's still kind of a fuck up. His story isn't just about solving the crime - it's about fixing himself, and that's something I think anyone can relate to.
We see him fail and stumble, but we also see him use his smarts and experience to help others. He's a flawed person and a conflicted hero, and I think that's part of the appeal. He's not your polished PI with a stack of cases and the office. Hell, you should see where he ends up by the middle of DOWN THE DARKEST STREET. These are the formative moments for Pete - we're not meeting him in the middle, we're starting at ground zero with him.
Chris: You mention the setting of Miami and Pete's job as a reporter - two of my favorite aspects of the first book as both are foreign to me and I found your take to be very engrossing. How did these pieces find their way into the story? Have you set stories in Miami, or featured reporters as characters before? If so, how has the place/person evolved in your writing?
Alex: First off, I'm glad you liked the setting and Pete's job. I really wanted to showcase the Miami I remember and know, as opposed to some commercialized version. Whenever I see Miami portrayed on TV or in movies, I tense up - because I've had so many experiences where the Miami I see on the screen just doesn't ring true. I wanted to show Miami as a sprawling, complex, dangerous and off-the-rails place. Not a tropical getaway, even though it can be that to some people. I wanted to show the Miami residents see, as opposed to the one tourists see. I worked in newspapers for a big part of my early professional life, so I knew that world, and I love newsrooms - the sense of urgency, the workmanlike vibe, the flow of information. It struck me as the perfect place for someone who would eventually evolve into being a private eye of sorts. I toyed with having Pete be a reporter at first, but realized that someone like him - basically destroying himself slowly - wouldn't be able to hack it. That's why I set him up as a kind of fallen star: a former reporter relegated to desk duty and hating every second of it. This opened the door to him tapping into his inquisitive skills to do other stuff, like investigating a murder mystery, for starters. Most of my crime fiction is set in Miami, including a few short stories - the bulk of it comes via the Pete books, though. But my interpretation of the city evolves because Miami itself is always changing. I live in New York now, and while I come home to Miami 2-3 times a year, I'm always amazed at how much it's changed. I try to be as true as I can when researching stuff, and usually take time out of trips back home for fun to do some legwork for the next book - but I also want to preserve Miami as I remember it, too, so the Miami of the Pete books may not be identical to Miami as it is now, but it's my riff on it. (I hope that makes sense!)
Chris: Totally. Do you think it has gotten harder or easier to write about Miami since you left? Does your ability to see the city as an 'outsider' give you more insight or flexibility than if you were still in the weeds?
Alex: Different. I mean, I started SILENT CITY after I'd left, but Miami was fresh in my mind. Now I've lived in NY for over a decade. But I go back to Miami pretty regularly. But it means more research - more keeping up with the news and trying to keep up with how the city's changed or evolved. That said, I write fiction, so there's some wiggle room. I can keep a bar or restaurant open longer in Pete's Miami, even if it's closed in real life. I can tweak things as long as I'm in the ballpark. But it is a bit trickier to write about Miami now, so it's something I'm very mindful of and work hard to stay true to
Chris: Let's talk crime fiction for a moment. With your day job at Archie Comics you are exposed to slice-of-life, horror, super heroes, high school intrigue - you name it. What draws you back to crime, again and again? Feeling the itch to tackle another genre?
Alex: I have a few comic book ideas I want to explore, but they're in the very early stages. I've always had a soft spot for sci-fi, and I've written a few things in that genre. I would love to do a Star Trek novel or comic, if that ever comes to pass. I'm a sucker for that universe. But crime fiction is my main wheelhouse. I don't see it as a limiting genre - there's so much ground you can cover, you know? Hardboiled to cozy, noir to humor. It really allows you to explore the human condition and showcase the stuff people are dealing with through the prism of a crime. At its best, crime fiction rises above just a caper or a whodunnit - it gives you a sense of the struggles people are experiencing, of place and how everything fits together. I'm hesitant to even minimize it by trying to keep it in one big crime fiction box, but yeah, it's the most liberating kind of story to write.
Chris: Speaking of outside the genre - any writers/creators outside the genre who influence or inspire your work?
Alex: Great question. I love Don DeLillo, Philip Roth, Cristina Garcia, Stephen King, Cory Doctorow, Kelly Braffet, Junot Diaz, Jonathan Lethem, Michael Chabon, Marisha Pessl, Chuck Wendig...those are just a few off the top of my head!
Chris: If Pete Fernandez had to leave Miami today and go elsewhere for your next book, where would he go?
Alex: He ends up going somewhere in Book 3, but it's still a Miami book. I've toyed with New York or Vegas for certain stories, but I think Miami has to always be an element. It's too big a part of him.
Chris: Any readings/convention appearances scheduled for 2016?
Alex: Yup! I'll be kicking the Down the Darkest Street tour at The Mysterious Bookshop on 4/12, which is also release day. After that I'll be doing appearances around New York, like Word Brooklyn and The Astoria Bookshop. I'm doing a few events in Florida, one at Books & Books and another at Murder on the Beach in Delray, in early May and I'll be at Bouchercon and Murder and Mayhem in Milwaukee, to name a few. The full list is at my site, alexsegura.com.
Chris: What's next for Alex Segura?
Alex: Finishing up revisions on the third Pete book, Dangerous Ends, and powering through the first draft of the fourth, untitled Pete book. And ARCHIE MEETS RAMONES! That's hitting later this year, with art by Gisele and co-written by Matthew Rosenberg.