Sunday, January 3, 2010

Author Interview with LEIGHTON GAGE

Booklist has this to say about Leighton Gage’s Chief Inspector Mario Silva crime series: "An outstanding series...Gage's talents include not only captivating characters and realistic plots, but also an intensely realized sense of place and an urelentingly fast pace that yanks the reader from beginning to end, unable to stop or pause, just as the cops are unable to take a day off. Silva just may be South America's Kurt Wallander."

Why write crime novels instead of, say, romances or science fiction?

I write what I read. When visiting a bookstore or library, I gravitate to the mystery section. And, even there, I have preferences. I’m most likely to choose historical mysteries, or mysteries set outside the United States.

What prompted you to create your series character, Chief Inspector Mario Silva?

In a past life, I used to do documentary films. I read once, in a São Paulo newspaper, about a Brazilian cop who’d attended the FBI’s National Academy (that’s the one that gives advanced training to police officers, not the one that creates special agents). I went to interview him, thought about doing a film, decided not to.

But it set me to thinking about what his work must be like. Later, I met an old law-school colleague of my brother-in-law. He ran, until a short time ago, the (850 man strong) homicide squad for the city of São Paulo. By then, I had pretty much decided that I’d give mystery writing a shot. I was able to convince the homicide super cop to let me tail along on a number of his cases. But he worked in one city and dealt with only one kind of crime – murder. For my projected series (I was thinking of a series by then) I wanted to increase the scope by writing about different kinds of miscreants.

In Brazil, there is no DEA, no Secret Service, no Department of Homeland Security, no Customs and Immigration Service, and most of the police departments don’t have an internal affairs department. All of it, and more, is done by the federal cops. So I decided to make Silva a fed. And there was an additional advantage to doing that: their mandate is national. I’d get to take my readers all over the country.

That decision made, I had to find out about how the federal cops operated. Fortunately, my wife has a huge family (62 first cousins). And guess what? One of them turned out to be a federal cop.

Shortly thereafter, Silva, an amalgam of many different law-enforcement officers, began to emerge on the screen of my computer.

The crimes in your three novels are all very real, as are the settings. Share with us why you chose the crimes and the settings.

My choices always stem from personal exposure to the subject matter. In Blood of the Wicked, for example, I deal with liberation theology and the invasion of property by the landless. I count a liberation theologian, an ex-priest, among my friends. I have a relative whose ranch was invaded. And, yes, you’re right, the situations are very real. Each book ends with an author’s note in which I set down the facts that underlie the fiction. Some folks find it more interesting to start their reading there and not with chapter one.

What is the biggest challenge you face as a writer?

The next book; it’s always the next book. I want to make each successive novel better than the last, yet I find myself fearing I won’t be able to make it nearly as good. Remember this: no one is a good judge of their own work. We depend on the playback of agents, editors, critics and readers. I really only begin to know that I’ve succeeded with a book when the reviews start coming in.

What is the title of your most recently published book? Briefly tell us what it’s about and let us know where we can buy it.

Dying Gasp is my latest, (January, 2010.) In it, Silva and his colleagues travel to Manaus, the self-styled capital of the Amazon. There, they take on the people who force young girls into prostitution. Some of those kids aren’t more than ten or eleven years old.

As to buying the book, I’m a big supporter of independent booksellers. My web site links to a page that enables folks to search for one near them. Failing that, my books can always be found at any of the online booksellers, like Amazon, or the big chains, like Barnes and Noble. And, if you can’t afford to buy one, you’ll find my books in many a public library.

What are you working on now and when/where do you expect it to be available?

I’ve recently completed the fourth book in the Silva series. That one is called Every Bitter Thing, and it will be in bookstores in January of 2111. Currently, I’m working on the fifth. The working title is A Vine in the Blood.

Writers, especially new writers, are always looking for tips and helpful information. What is the single most important “tip” you can give a new writer?

It’s this: Join organizations like Sisters in Crime (yes, they do take males), and go to conferences. Those are the premiere opportunities, for those as yet unpublished, to learn about the harsh realities of the industry. And those realities are just as important as learning to string words together. People will tell you it’s tough to break in, but I don’t think there are many fledgling writers who realize just how tough.

Fact: A publisher who releases a hundred books a year is likely to be receiving as many as one thousand submissions a week. The bigger publishers receive as many as ten thousand. What are your chances? Do the math. And, once you’ve finally published your first book, then what? Are you in? Not necessarily. Not yet. Many debut authors get less than mediocre sales and sink without a trace. When that happens, your chances of getting a second book published are severely diminished.

The competition for readers’ time is fierce. There were almost three thousand titles published last year by publishers on the Mystery Writers of America approved publisher list. (If you plan on writing mysteries, and you don’t know what that is, you’d better go to the MWA’s web site and find out.)

Fact: If your publisher isn’t on that list, you’re going to find it hard to get your book reviewed, hard to get it distributed, and you’re not going to be able to get onto panels at any of the mystery conferences. Those are all profoundly important ways to get the word out about your baby. You have to get the book talked about in the press and on the internet. You have to get it on the bookstore shelves for people to pick up and leaf through, and you have to get yourself noticed as an author. If you don’t do all of these things, it’s virtually certain that your book won’t rack up significant sales.

Fact: There are a lot of people out there who prey on newbie writers. Check out the predators and editors web site to help you avoid them; become aware of the scams, and don’t pay an agent to represent you. Ever.

Fact: Self-published titles (of mysteries, at least) far outnumber the titles brought out by royalty-paying publishers. But, as a percentage of total mysteries sold they are insignificant. As a rule, and with very few exceptions, they don’t get reviewed, they don’t get distributed and, for every case of self-publishing success, there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of disillusioned authors with garages, attics and cellars full of books that will never be read by anyone. You want to get your self-published books into a shop? Good luck. First, you’ve got to make them available at the standard discount. Second, they have to be one hundred percent returnable. The book business is a consignment business. You could ship a thousand copies and have all one thousand returned to you. Are you prepared to take that kind of a financial hit? Print on demand isn’t the answer either. Booksellers don’t go out of their way to sell things they haven’t got in their shop. E-books? They may be the future, but at the moment, they only represent about five percent of all books sold. There are a few authors that manage to make a living from them, but they are all people with a big backlist. If that’s the way you elect to go, you’d better start thinking about writing ten books instead of just one.

I’m guessing that since you travel on a regular basis, you’ve learned to adapt and can write anywhere. Or are you a creature of habit, hunching down over your laptop in precisely the same spot every time you write?

I adjust my writing hours to the environment. Right now, I’m writing from a daughter’s house in Florida where I do most of my work in the mid-afternoon. In Paris, I tend to split it up into two sessions, one in the early morning, and one from five in the evening until about seven. At home, in São Paulo, I write from early in the morning until lunchtime and then take the rest of the day off. I don’t much care if I have a view out of a window. I can easily work in a room with no windows at all, because I get so involved in my writing that I don’t pay much attention to where I am. I cannot, as some writers do, work with music playing. I love music, and I tend to listen to it. And that winds up distracting me. I also get distracted by people. Writing in a coffee shop, for example, is something that I’ll only do if there is no quiet alternative in the place where I happen to be sleeping.(like visiting the daughter who has three grandkids and another one on the way). If I can’t find a place with near-absolute quiet, I need earplugs. I always have them with me. I buy those silicone ones in boxes of twelve. One thing, though: I do believe that a routine is important. My advice to any writer would be find best thing for you – and then stick with it.

Being a world traveler, with children and grandchildren scattered across the globe, must affect your writing—in both creative and business aspects. Care to share any of the details?

You know, it doesn’t really. My wife and I love travel, and we’re used to being gypsies. We actually get itchy feet if we’re in one place too long. In early October, for example, we got up one morning and Eide (my wife) said, “You know what? I’m getting tired of Paris.” (We’d been there since March, with only a short side trip to the UK to attend Crimefest, in Bristol.) I laughed, hit her with that line of Samuel Johnson’s (“If you’re tired of London, you’re tired of life.”) But, then, I started thinking. I was getting a little tired of the place myself. Look, don’t get me wrong. I love Paris. Right now, I’m looking forward to getting back to Paris. But at that moment, it was as if we were getting into a rut. Both of us concluded we were ready for a change. I’m beginning to feel the need for another change right now. So what do we do when that happens? We pack up, move on, and settle in somewhere else. We spend the first few days visiting friends or family. And then I slip into my writing routine. If I’m not in Brazil, I read the Brazilian newspapers on the internet every morning and the Brazilian newsmagazine, Veja, once a week. I’m on Skype to Brazil at least once a day. I can be in Europe, or the United States, but I feel the need to stay plugged-in to what’s happening back home. It’s the source of my inspiration.

FUN QUESTION: What do you prefer, a tropical climate or the snow and cold, and why?

I prefer the tropics, many times over. My wife is the cold freak of the family. I think that’s because she still views snow and cold as a curiosity. The first time Eide ever saw snow it was a long way away, up on a peak in the Andes. She was twenty two years old at the time. She actually didn’t put her feet into snow until she was twenty-five. On tour last year, we got snowed into a motel up in Vermont. She loved it! I was not as pleased.

What are the addresses of your website(s) and blog(s):

The Website is:
The blog is:

The blog is a new endeavor (we started in late November) that I’m doing with five other authors who write books set outside the United States. Mostly, we don’t post about books. We post about curious aspects of the cultures we write about. We have a lot of fun with it. I’m hoping that whoever reads this will drop in and give us a try.

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