MysteryPeople Q&A with Christopher Irvin

~post by Molly

We’re proud to have Christopher Irvin‘s novella, Federales, on our shelves. It’s a tight, violent, hard-boiled story that looks at the Mexican drug wars. I caught up with the author to ask him a few questions.

MYSTERYPEOPLE: The moral center of your story, Eva, is consistently portrayed as an enigma, seen through the eyes of the much more problematic detective Marcos. Did you decide to distance the readers from Eva because her actions are so moral as to be difficult to identify with?

CHRISTOPHER IRVIN: Yes, that is part of it for sure. Eva demonstrates an almost mythical level of perseverance and sacrifice that I think would be difficult to grasp/believe from her perspective without a long narrative. I tried to walk a fine line on Eva being a very strong character, but not irrational or unlikeable. Readers get to view and perhaps come to understand Eva through Marcos’s skewed vision.

I think this helps ground her character, especially since the book is a novella, with limited time to develop Eva and her struggle. I also really like to use a close third person point of view, and while Federales is both of Eva and Marcos’s story, I thought Marcos was the best window (albeit clouded) to tell it through.

MP: The story’s inspiration comes from the real life murder of anti-cartel campaigner Maria Santos Gorrostieta, yet the story focuses more on the relationship between her, her daughter, and her protector. Was this mainly so as to set the story within the detective novel conventions? What inspired some of the major differences between the story and its inspiration?

CI: It’s interesting that you bring up detective novel conventions, as the book definitely has some, though it’s not consciously what I set out to do. My aim was to tell a character-driven story to get at the heart of the struggle in Mexico, and on a low enough level that it feels real. Marcos came to mind when I first read about Gorrorstieta (more on that below) and I think he drove the major differences between the story and its inspiration. I didn’t want to recount Gorrostieta’s life, though Eva does take on much of her past.

I don’t think it is too much of a spoiler to say that from the beginning the reader has a good idea of where the story is headed and what the fates of Eva and Marcos might be, so I think the relationships between the two and Eva’s daughter were more important than ever to drive the story. If the reader knows what’s coming, how can you make them stick with it and hopefully) surprise them a little? In hindsight, that question drove a lot of my thinking and edits.

MP: How did you come upon Gorrostieta’s story, and what in this story made you want to turn it into a novel?

CI: I make a point to read about Mexico in the news. It’s a fascinating country and the level of violence that exists is as baffling as it is unsettling. That said, I actually stumbled upon Gorrostieta’s story on report of her murder. Gorrostieta’s crusade against the cartels is both inspiring and terribly tragic. While searching for more detail, I found it difficult to learn about her life aside from the summaries reported at the time of her death.  As I mentioned earlier, around this time bits of Marcos began forming in my head, and once the two came together I just felt like it was a story that I had to write.

MP:  As a follow-up, what do you hope for people to take home with them, from such a timely novel?

CI: I hope readers take away a glimmer of the toll of corruption and violence on Mexico. Federales is a work of fiction, but you can find the essence of the book in the news almost every day. Here in the United States, the Southern border and immigration issues dominate the headlines, keeping our neighbor and her people mostly out of sight, out of mind. I think it can do good to put a face on the struggle.

MP:  I was so intrigued by the ending. I have to ask, it seemed to me that most of the novella is a particular narrative about a policeman protecting a politician and her daughter. At the end, however, the story gets much more symbolic and filled with dramatic irony.

Did you set out with the intent of telling a particular story and then get a bit more literary as you went on or was your initial intention to have the main characters as stand-ins for the larger historical drama?

CI: A bit of both (if I can shoot for the middle.) I think the novella is very much a tale of two halves, with the latter half organically growing a bit more literary because of where the book turned. I did intend for the characters to represent some of the larger picture, and I’m happy if some of the readers–yourself included–came away with that. The larger context came about after a decision to challenge myself to add more layers to the book. My first idea (read: never go with your first idea) was more of a straight revenge tale, but it was boring and felt done to death. Elements of the first idea made it into the final book, but they ended up being very different works.

I think most importantly, the ending felt honest and true to me – the only place for the story to go. I’m proud of how that turned out, and I think readers are picking up on it.

MP: Since that last question was a bit long, I’ll just finish up with a short one – what’s next?

CI: Thanks for asking! I’m working toward completing a novel (very different from Federales) and I’ve outlined a spiritual sequel to Federales, tentatively titled “La Milicia,” centering on the militias in western Mexico. I’m also working on Expatriate, a comic series with artist Ricardo Lopez Ortiz (should have more to share on that soon, here.)

As for stuff on the horizon, I’ll have a short story in the latest issue of Needle: A Magazine of Noir, which drops on April 15th, and a short story in Trouble in the Heartland: Crime Fiction Inspired by the songs of Bruce Springsteen, edited by Joe Clifford.

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Federales is available on our shelves now and online via bookpeople.com.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Carlos Cisneros

If you like legal thrillers, then this is the month for you.  Practicing attorney and author Carlos Cisneros presents his third novel, The Land Grant, the follow up to his debut novel The Case Runner.  He’s been called the Latino Grisham, an honor and comparison that Cisneros doesn’t take lightly.  Cisneros will appear here at Book People in conversation with Mark Pryor this Friday, September 27th at 7:00 p.m. to discuss their latest novels.  We caught up with Carlos and asked him a few questions.

MYSTERYPEOPLE:  The Land Grant is your third legal thriller, and it also takes place along the Texas-Mexico border.  Why are you so interested in the border area?

CARLOS CISNEROS:  Shows like Breaking Bad and The Bridge have brought to the forefront what folks like me – folks that grew up on both sides of the US-Mexico border – already know.  The border is a unique place, with its unique set of problems and its fair share of interesting characters and stories.  And there also happens to be two thousand miles of it!  There’s a little bit of everything: corruption, drug and alien trafficking, money laundering, narco violence, the clash of cultures, the language, music, the food and everything in between.  It’s really magical and scary, all at once.

MP:  Why legal thrillers?

CC: I love the thriller genre.  Guys like Patterson, Baldacci, Gimenez and Grisham are some of my favorite authors.  And you have to write about what you know.  So, I like to write about the things I’ve witnessed down at the courthouse and in legal circles.  If the public only knew!

MP:  It looks like Alex del Fuerte, the main character in The Case Runner and The Land Grant, might end up having his own series.  Is that something you did on purpose?

CC:  Even though Alex is a baby lawyer that has much to learn, I felt he could have his own series because the readership really liked him and wanted to learn more about him, plus he’s got room to grow.  So, the idea was to write different thrillers with different characters and story lines, but also continue the Alejandro “Alex” del Fuerte series.  The departure novels have been The Name Partner and The C.I., which should come out next Spring.

MP:  Is the legal thriller genre something you plan to stick with?

CC:  Yes, for the most part, but I’ve also started work on a fusion novel.  It blends romance, suspense and elements of the legal thriller.

MP:  Your novels have won 1st place at the International Latino Book Awards in New York and 1st place at the Books into Movies Awards, a competition sponsored by Hollywood Actor Edwards James Olmos.  What is the significance of the Books into Movies Awards?

CC:  Mr. Olmos, and others in the movie business, feel that Latinos are not being fairly represented in Hollywood and on TV.  The idea is to promote the winning novels and showcase them to the decision makers in Hollywood in order to get them to the big screen.

MP:  What is The C.I. about?

CC:  The Confidential Informant is about a female attorney that gets appointed in federal court to defend a member of a drug cartel and learns of a plot to assassinate the chief justice of the US Supreme Court.

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Copies of The Land Grant are available in-store and via bookpeople.com. Come down to BookPeople to meet Carlos Cisneros and hear him talk about his book on Friday, September 27 at 7pm.