Interview with Alex Segura

In Blackout, Alex Segura’s latest book to feature Pete Fernandez has the PI operating in New York, but brought back to his Miami home to find the missing son of a business man politician, mainly because he resembles a young man who went missing when he was last seen with Pete’s high school crush before she was murdered. Alex will be joining us for a discussion and signing of Blackout on May 18th, but we got in touch with him ahead of time for an early grilling.
MP: Blackout has a great hook of a premise with Pete hired to track down a missing person who is tied to a murder of an old crush. It gives you both a promise in plot and emotion. How did the initial idea come about?
AS: That’s a good question – I really want the mystery to harken back to not only Pete’s drinking days, but his youth – to give readers a longer glimpse at him in his formative years. In past books, we’ve explored cases that had some roots in the past, either cases Pete’s homicide detective father didn’t get to resolve or stuff that dates further back, but I wanted this book to completely center on Pete, and to really impact him emotionally. I wanted it to be the case that always haunted him. Growing up in Miami, there were a handful of crimes that just felt ever-present – missing students or kids, constantly being discussed on the news, missing for years, so those two ideas came together, and I made the victim someone that Pete knew and felt an emotional connection with. I also wanted to give him the added baggage of having failed at it once – when he was a mess, drinking heavily and of no use to anyone. So he felt like he’d already struck out twice trying to solve this case. So, when a chance to fix that arises, he jumps in fully, despite the risks involved in returning home, and the damaged relationships he’d have to repair. It’s the crux of the entire book – can you come to terms with your past in order to live out your future?MP: The mystery of Blackout forces Pete to deal with the past, something he has been trying to avoid. What did you want to explore with that idea?

AS: I’ve always liked the idea of telling a story about recovery, as opposed to just spotlighting a hard drinking PI. I wanted to show the steps and stumbles he takes toward getting better. When we find Pete at the beginning of Blackout, he’s not desperate for a drink – in fact, he seems to be in good standing with AA and living a pretty functional life. But that’s on the surface. He hasn’t really dug back into his past and cleared the wreckage. He’s still haunted, and that’s driven a wedge between him and his friends – like his partner, Kathy Bentley, and other supporting characters. So, to answer your question, I wanted to show that Pete’s journey is an ongoing one – he’ll never be completely fixed. No one is. But this book is a big step for him because he’s given an opportunity to make something right, and that, in turn, might allow him to move on, to not be clouded by this guilt and shame, and to maybe embrace being alive. Unfortunately, he has some obstacles to overcome before that can happen – like a deadly cult with its sights set on Pete for meddling in their affairs.

MP:  Usually with modern PI novels the author usually goes an action route that sacrifices emotion and character or a character approach that remains mainly internal. In Blackout you strike a perfect balance of both. How aware of the balancing act are you when writing?AS: Thanks for saying that. It is something I try to be mindful of. For me, it all springs out of character – where do we meet them and where are they at the end of the book? That helps define the journey of the novel. I knew I wanted Pete to reach a turning point at the end of the book that would forever change him and his status quo, so it became a matter of crafting action that pushes him down that path. From my perspective, Blackout is pretty intense – there are few slow scenes, but I try to coat those moments with some emotion and introspection. You get a sense of how these intense scenarios are affecting Pete and Kathy. I never want it to feel clean or without consequence. I like the Pete books when they wallow in the gray areas of life, which feels more real to me – complicated, conflicting, messy. That’s where you get the most genuine stuff.


MP: You’ve mentioned one of my favorite private eye authors, Ross Macdonald, in some of your other interviews. Is there anything from reading his work, you’ve applied to yours?
 

AS: I love Macdonald, so I’m glad you bring him up. I revisited all the Lew Archer books before writing Blackout. And while it wasn’t intentional research, I felt like a lot of that managed to sneak into the writing of the new book. He was a superb plotter, which, to contrast a bit, wasn’t Chandler’s strong suit. And while Lew Archer is unlike Pete in that he doesn’t really experience major, seismic changes from book to book, when you zoom out on the series, you do notice some things, especially when Macdonald plays with themes like the humanity of evil, the environment, or what have you. Those books helped me drill deep and create more compelling “bad guys.” The best villains don’t think they’re villains at all.And, like I said, the Archer books are so tightly plotted. That aspect is often ignored because Macdonald was such a great wordsmith – you can very easily get lost in his language and descriptions. But the books always move at a good clip. Nothing ever feels wasted or like filler. That must have subconsciously nudged me in that direction with Blackout.

MP:  As someone who has friends that have dealt both successfully and unsuccessfully with alcoholism, I thought you portrayed that aspect of Pete in a realistic way. What do you keep in mind about that part of him when you’re writing the books?

AS: I try to be honest. Recovery isn’t a linear process, and it doesn’t stick with everyone. I think a lot of people just assume that once you get into AA or some kind of rehab, you’re okay. It’s silly to type that, but I’ve met people who think it’s like going to a doctor. It’s not. It’s a journey fraught with pitfalls and detours and, for many, relapse. So, I wanted to showcase Pete’s quest to get better with that in mind. Just because he’s not drinking doesn’t mean he’s not thinking about it, or thinking about his past as a drinker. He’s a haunted character, and that applies to many people who deal with addiction. It’s a lifelong struggle.

MP:  You’ve more or less stated that your putting Pete to rest at least for a while after the next book. Do you already have other stories or another series character in mind?

AS: I have at least one more Pete novel in me, which I’m starting on now – Miami Midnight. I’m having fun with that and might find myself at the end wanting another Pete. But as I see things now, I think I’ll at least give him a break. I don’t know if I’ll dive into another series just yet, though I do have an idea for a character. The two strongest ideas sound like standalone to me, though, and touch on subjects I haven’t gotten to explore with Pete.

Q&A with JULIA HEABERLIN

MysteryPeople interviewed author Julia Heaberlin, author of Paper Ghosts. Julia Heaberlin is also the author of the critically acclaimed Black-Eyed Susans, a USA Today and Times (U.K.) bestseller. Her psychological thrillers, including Playing Dead and Lie Still, have been sold in more than fifteen countries. She will be here at BookPeople on Thursday, May 31 at 7pm. This is one you won’t want to miss!

 

 

Mystery People: What are you reading these days?

 Julia Heaberlin: The Smiling Man by British noir writer Joseph Knox, King Zeno by Nathaniel Rich, How to Talk Like Ted: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds (but people who come to the BookPeople event shouldn’t expect that I have mastered this).

 MP: What books did you love as a child?

 JH: Harriet the Spy, who has been my Facebook icon for years, head down, scribbling her little reports; Anne of Green Gables because I wanted to BE Anne with an E; Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, which inspired my dream to write gothic thrillers; From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (I still want to sleep in a museum on the sly and survive off of coins I pick up in a fountain); Little House in the Big Woods, because my mother read it to me with my head in her lap. And an adaptation of the play The Miracle Worker, maybe from Scholastic. I learned the sign language alphabet from the back cover, which I’ve never forgotten. 

MP: What’s the hardest thing about writing?

 JH: Creating a great ending that lives up to yours and readers’ expectations. A disappointing ending ruins the whole book.

 MP: What’s the best thing about writing?

 JH: The euphoria of putting together a really good sentence.  On a personal, how-it-affects-my-real-life level, it has been meeting people through my research, which I was reminded of while doing an interview for my next book (after Paper Ghosts!), which includes a girl with only one eye.  

 I was talking to a beautiful teen-ager who has a prosthetic eye so perfect no one knows it but her best friends. I asked her mother, who sat with us, to describe her daughter, as I sat there with my pen and journal. She didn’t hesitate. These words spilled out in this order, like she was reciting a poem.

 Resilient
Strong
Resourceful
Tender
Kind
Empathetic

 This is why I research. It’s a gift to myself. People never fail to remind me how beautiful the world is.

 MP: What’s your favorite word?

 JH: Out loud, anything with a– in it. Kicka–. A–hat. That’s a–. On paper, the word “fate.” Or “dark.” I like simple, four-letter words with power.

MP: What’s a sentence you’ve loved and remembered from a book?

JH: “I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice—not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God.”— A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving.

MP:Do you have any weird writing habits?

JH: I’m unable to survive a deadline without Whataburger Dr Peppers.

 MP: Who are your literary influences?

 JH: Alive: John Irving, Jess Walter, Tana French, Thomas Harris. Dead: Emily Dickinson, Daphne du Maurier, Edgar Allan Poe, Patricia Highsmith.

 

MP: What’s your favorite place to write?

 JH: In my mind, oceanfront to the sound of waves; in reality, at my kitchen table with the washing machine as background (and the dog snoring).

 

MP: What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer?

 JH: Photographer. You will see my love of photography’s haunting power in Paper Ghosts.

Review Of Blackout by Alex Segura

Alex Segura has slowly made a name for himself with his Pete Fernandez series. The sports writer turned private detective, who battles his inner demons and the bottle as much as the bad guys, is steadily grabbing fans. I’ve been reading to the series for the past couple of years and his visit to BookPeople on May 16th gave me the opportunity to read his latest, Blackout. He now has a new fan.
Blackout finds Pete with an office in New York, staying away from him Miami home and the past. A client comes in, drops it on his desk anyhow. A businessman running for Florida senate wants him to find his missing ne’er do well son. Pete refuses until he sees a photo of the missing person. He resembles a young man who was seen with Pete’s high school crush before she was murdered. Pete heads back down to Florida and with the help of his former partner Kathy Bently get involved in a mystery dealing with a cult, the mob, and old wounds.
What impressed me about Blackout was how as a first time reader of the series, I understood Joe and his world so thoroughly. I knew him as well as Lew Archer, Sheriff Walt Longmire, Moe Prager, or any of the other fictional slueth I’ve read more than a dozen books of. Segura gives us enough history from the previous books and gives us Pete’s connection and emotional point of view to them, showing how they connect to is current actions. He also defines him through his interactions with other series characters, who come off both believable and caring.
Segura balances action and emotion in Blackout like a master craftsman. He carries the reader along with an engaging plot and likable if damaged hero. You root for Pete both to save the day and save himself. I’m looking forward to reading his next case as well as the one before.

Murder in the Afternoon Book Club Celebrates Texas Mystery Writers Month!

Our Murder In The Afternoon book club celebrates Texas Mystery Writers Month with a detective tale with tons of Lone Star flavor. The Do-Right by Lisa Sandlin is a wonderful mystery novel with layers of intrigue and characters who can only be found in Texas. As part of our discussion, Lisa will be joining in, via conference call.
The Do-Right has two protagonists both in the middle of a life change in Beaumont Texas during the early Seventies. Delpha Wade, on parole after getting out of prison for killing one of her rapists, needs to find a job. Her parole officer sets her up as a secretary for his buddy Tom Phelan. Tom lost a part of his finger on an oil rig, With his workman’s comp, he started a private eye firm. Delpha proves to be Tom’s match as they each take separate cases that entwine.
The Do-Right gives us a lot to talk about, Texas in the Seventies, the Watergate Hearings used in the backdrop, role reversal in detective fiction, and you’ll get to ask the author herself. We will be meeting Monday, May 21st at 7PM. The book is 10% off for those planning to attend.
For June we will be celebrating World Fiction Month with the second book in Jean Clad Izzo’s Mareille trilogy, Chourmo.  

3 picks for May

In May the private eyes take over the month. From the iconic to the new, differing in age, race, and sexual preference, all three of these detectives prove the vitality of the genre.

Robert B. Parker's Old Black Magic (Spenser #47) Cover ImageRobert B Parker’s Old Black Magic by Ace Atkins

Spenser is hired by a prestigious museum  to solve a twenty year old art theft. With help of his mob-connected ally Vinnie Morris, our Boston PI has to delve into a history of gangsters, art dealers, and double crosses that has resurfaced in the present with deadly consequences. Atkins delivers Parker’s iconic hero into one of the more intricate plots he or Robert B. Parker came up with.

 

What You Want to See: A Roxane Weary Novel Cover ImageWhat You Want To See by Kristen Lepionka

When a possible cheating fiance Roxanne Weary tails end up murdered, her client becomes the main suspect. In an attempt to clear his name, she comes up against a real estate scam that literally strikes close to home. This follow up to Lepionka’s brilliant debut, The Last Place You Look, and proves she and Roxanne have what it takes for the long haul.

 

 

Blackout: A Pete Fernandez Mystery Cover ImageBlackout by Alex Segura

Pete Fernandez returns to his Miami home to locate a politician’s missing son who resembles someone who disappeared after he was seen with Pete’s high school crush before she was murdered. To unravel the mystery, Pete has to deal with the mob, a political assassination, and old wounds. The book is a great balance of action and emotion. Alex Segura will be at BookPeople May 16th.

 

Q&A with Ricky Bush

Ricky Bush puts his love and knowledge of the blues into his crime fiction. In his latest, The Oaxacan Kid, blues collector Foster Cane is on the hunt for a recording performed by a Latino harmonica player. His search leads to a human trafficking ring and his father’s killers. Billy will be joining author and filmmaker John Shepphird May 5th at 2PM, but we caught up with him earlier to discuss writing and music.

The Oaxacan Kid Cover ImageMysteryPeople Scott: Which came first, the character of Foster Cane or the story about the Oaxacan Kid?

Ricky Bush: My story germinated around the idea of a collector of rare blues records intent on tracking down an obscure bluesman. So, I guess I fleshed out Foster Cane first. During the ’60s a folk music revival was afoot and a lot of musicologists began discovering early blues recordings and started scouring the Mississippi Delta looking for those musicians. They recorded them and brought them out of obscurity, which launched a blues revival. The Oaxacan Kid became Foster’s target. Since few Hispanics have recorded blues, I thought I’d add that twist.

MPS: The blues world serves as a back drop for your books and you are an accomplished harmonica player. What do you want to get across to the reader about the music?

RB: Blues music reflects the human condition. The music is much more bipolar than some people realize, swinging from sad and lonely to upbeat and joyful. Yeah, there are a lot of blues about losing a good woman (or man), but plenty more about finding a good woman (or man), and all life experiences in between.

MPS: Do you see anything it has in common with crime fiction?

RB: Crime fiction is all about the blues. The genre reflects the human condition in much the same way. Plenty of blues recordings are crime stories personified. Check out Pat Hare’s version of ‘I’m Gonna Murder My Baby’ from 1954. Sad thing is that he did just that. Another good example is Lazy Lester’s ‘Bloodstains On The Wall’. That’s crime fiction.

MPS: Family runs through the novel with Foster and his antagonists both having to deal with their relations. What did you want to explore in those dynamics?

RB: You’re right. Family dynamics drive the plot and theme throughout The Oaxacan Kid. The Morenos are as tight knit as the Cane family. One is more intent on the preservation of criminal enterprise and the other is intent of the preservation and safety of the family. ‘The Godfather’ and ‘The Sopranos’ explored those dynamics in depth. The ‘Breaking Bad’ series dove into the same waters. I think just exploring how far one will go for love of family, whether it’s controlling criminal territory or the attitude of ‘not with my family, you won’t’ will always create the tension needed to drive a story.

MPS: You use Houston well. Other than familiarity what does the city provide you as a writer?

RB: I grew up sixty miles south of Houston and have lived ninety miles east of Houston for over thirty years. My wife’s from Houston, so I know pretty much know the city. Spent tons of time in the excellent blues venues in Houston and my first protagonists are blues harmonica musicians who gig in Houston and those blues clubs serve as models for my first three books. Houston is constantly dealing with human and sexual trafficking and historically has been a conduit for drug smuggling from Mexico. The Oaxacan Kid explores those themes.

MPS: If you were introducing someone to the blues, what three albums would you tell them to listen to first?

RB: Gotta start with the roots. ‘The Complete Recordings of Robert Johnson’ is essential because he’s the most influential for those that followed. Muddy Waters ‘His Best 1947-1955′. He took the blues from Stovall Plantation to Chicago, amplified it, and created the greatest blues band ever. He introduced the world to Little Walter, the greatest harmonica player-ever. Howlin’ Wolf ‘The Definitive Collection’. The Wolf’s blues is gritty, down in the alley, gut bucket blues on par with Muddy’s influence on the genre.

Q&A with John Shepphird

John Shepphird is not only an award winning crime author, he also has spent years as a director of movies in the low budget arena for cable networks like SyFy and ABC Family. He puts that to use in his latest novel, Bottom Feeders. A put upon director struggling to shoot a period drama on a shoe string budget not only has to put up with a diva of a leading lady and tight schedule, but soon someone is knocking off members of the cast and crew with a bow and arrow. It’s a classic whodunnit with a fun insider’s look at the temporary community a film crew forms. John will be here on May 5th at 2PM with fellow crime writer Ricky Bush. We found some time to talk with him earlier about crime fiction and film making.

Bottom Feeders Cover ImageMysteryPeople Scott: As somebody who worked on film sets in the past, you captured the weird bubble of a society it creates. What did you want the reader to know about film work?

John Shepphird: You rarely see the actual world of low-budget film-making represented and I thought I’d write what I know. Having directed nine TV/straight-to-video movies and hours of television, I’m part of the community of artists that create entertainment found on the fringe of your cable guide–SyFy Channel, Lifetime, USA Network and ABC Family. Contrary to what people are led to believe, there is very little glamour in movie making. You have to get up very early. The hours are brutal and schedules change day-to-day. This is especially true in low budget. There have been plenty of books, movies and TV shows depicting the world of stars, agents, limos and personal assistants. That’s all so cliché. I wrote about the people who aspire to bat in Hollywood’s major leagues.

MPS: While edgier, the mystery is in an Agatha Christie amateur-sleuth. Did a tale with a non-professional investigator in the lead present any sort of challenge?

JS: I love a whodunit. It’s the perfect balance of structure and character. That was my jumping off point. The cast and crew on a set becomes a temporary family with many similar dynamics found in an actual family, including all the dysfunction. I like to put my characters in a pressure cooker, then take a deep-dive into their best and worst behavior. Sondra, the San Bernardino County Deputy Sheriff, is the one outsider, a professional investigating the brutal murders — but she is not the primary focus to drive the mystery. She has challenges and flaws of her own and it’s her perspective that serves to escalate enlighten the story.

MPS: While the book has a unique voice and take its roots are hard planted in the traditional whodunit. Did you draw from any influences?

JS: I’d met author Michael Nethercott at the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention in Albany just as his first novel The Seance Society came out. It paid homage to Agatha Christie, but also Arthur Conan Doyle and Rex Stout. I don’t necessarily read cozies. I write dark suspense and noir, but I liked the book so much I bought copies and gifted it to friends and family. I’d been thinking about starting a whodunit but it was this book that inspired me to take a crack. Bottom Feeders started out as an exercise, then the characters took on a life of their own.   

MPS: Which character is the closest to you or someone you worked with?

JS:. Every character is derived from people I’ve worked with, and not necessarily on the films I wrote and directed but also the projects I was hired on as a crew member. Director Eddie’s perspective is probably the closest to mine as he tries to navigate the treacherous waters, and not go down with the ship. There’s a lot of things to worry about, believe me. Many who work in film and TV are very passionate about what they do. I have great respect for them. We’re all a little crazy, sure, and most of us will admit it. I dedicated this book to them.

I dedicate this novel to the legions of hard-working craftspeople and performers who have carried sandbags, set lights, cobbled together wardrobe, swung microphones, memorized dialogue, painted sets, dusted faces, pulled focus, teased hair, coordinated chaos, hit their marks, and built it all up only to tear it down again—making something out of nothing. To the dreamers and the schemers in the low-budget trenches, this is for you.

MPS: Did writing about a subject you knew so well actually present any challenges?

JS: If anything I wanted to include more of the details baked into low-budget filmmaking but they don’t necessarily advance the story. Once the action kicked in I couldn’t slow the pace to explore nuance. The technology has changed, but the fundamentals of motion picture production has remained the same–cut to the chase.      

MPS: How many times have you wanted to commit murder on set?

JS:. I’ve never had urge to kill cast or crew because they’re like family. There are a few executives and producers I’d considered taking a swing at back in the day. Ultimately nature took its course. In the span of my career three executive producers have been incarcerated for securities fraud including Jordan Belfort, the actual “Wolf of Wall Street” depicted by Leonardo DiCaprio in the film. Another producer was jailed in a surrogacy/medical-tourism scheme. The world of independent film is ripe with personalities. There are hidden agendas. Get movie professionals together and horror stories will be swapped. We’re all just crazy enough to jump back into the flame.