Alex Segura is a man of many talents. He spent some time in charge of DC Comics' public relations and is currently overseeing PR for Archie Comics. Segura also wrote one of our favorite Archie stories--Archie Meets Kiss, along with some other issues. He's also writing the upcoming Archie Meets Ramones story.
When he's not working in comics, he's writing novels. Segura's first novel, Silent City, is being re-issued on March 15 and introduced us to Pete Fernandez. A sequel, Down the Darkest Street, is due on April 12 through Polis Books. Silent City is a mystery novel set in Miami. Segura gave us an interesting and flawed protagonist along with an intriguing mystery. It was a great read that kept you guessing and contained many suspenseful moments and some nice twists.
Because we enjoyed the novel, we took the opportunity to talk to Alex about his books.
COMIC VINE: Where did the idea of Pete Fernandez come from? What inspired his creation?
ALEX SEGURA: I've always loved mysteries, crime fiction and true crime - I vividly remember watching as many gangster movies as sci-fi or comic book stuff as a kid. By the time I'd moved to NY to work at DC, I was reading more modern crime fiction, featuring protagonists that were seriously flawed, and not extremely experienced PIs just yet. Like the Nick Stefanos novels by George Pelecanos, or the Pat and Angie Dennis Lehane books. Those two, and Laura Lippman's Tess Monaghan books, were huge inspirations. Here were characters that weren't perfect or didn't fit the mold of the grizzled private eye. These books also screamed with location - DC, Boston, Baltimore. I felt like I was really spending time in those cities. I think Pete came about as a combination of my excitement from reading those books, my own desire to write and a big dose of homesickness for Miami, and using the writing of Silent City to kind of remedy that.
CV: Did his character change at all in your mind over the course of writing ?
SEGURA: Oh, a lot. I don't think I envisioned him as a series character at first. It was just an exercise in writing a short story. Then it got longer and more detailed and his world started to get wider. He eventually developed into the guy you read about now - flawed, good-hearted, smart, stubborn and with his fair share of problems. I really wanted to write about someone who was still learning how to be a detective, and also figuring out if he even wanted to be one. He reminds me of the kind of person I could have known in high school or college, someone I could have hung out with at some point in Miami growing up.
CV: Do you establish what his strengths and limitations are before diving into the story?
SEGURA: I had a rough idea of who he was. I knew he'd have some newspaper background, because that strikes me as fertile ground for a mystery. I wanted him to be Cuban-American, because I think that's such a big part of Miami and something I could write about comfortably. I also knew he was going to be dealing with a lot - not just in terms of his alcohol intake, but stuff like the death of his father, his recent breakup with his fiancé and unhappiness with his job and so on. I didn't want to meet someone who was light on his feet. Pete, when you find him at the beginning of Silent City, has hit bottom. And then it gets worse.
CV: When writing a mystery, do you iron out the end and fill in the gaps as you go along or do you let the story flow on its own?
SEGURA: A lot of people talk about being an outliner vs. a pants-er, meaning you write by the seat of your pants. I'm somewhere in the middle. For me, the novel starts with a visual. For Silent City, it was the picture of Pete, passed out in his bed, groaning awake to face another day. That's when I met Pete and realized I wanted to tell his story. For the sequel, Down the Darkest Street, it was Pete getting beat up outside a bar and crossing paths with the enemy he'll face later in the book. It happened for Book 3, Dangerous Ends, too. So, I start with the visual, jot down some notes and start outlining. Midway through the outline, usually at the point where I have a very rough idea of where it ends, my characters take the wheel and the book starts going off on tangents and in its own direction. Eventually, it finds its way to the end, but the journey is much more interesting than the outline I'd written. I think you have to be flexible, because inspiration doesn't come when you want it to. I had a major plot thread hit me for Silent City as I was writing one of the final chapters. It just made perfect sense and solved a ton of logistical problems. Same thing happened with Down the Darkest Street. If you let the novel guide you, you end up with a better book. Don't let the format limit the creativity. That was a lesson I learned early on.
CV: How much of yourself do you put into your writing? Pete has an affection for cats, music is very important to him, etc?
SEGURA: There's a little of me in Pete. There's a little bit of people I know in him, too. And in all the characters. I think there's some truth to "write what you know," but it's not an absolute rule. I don't know how to fire a gun or survive a car chase, but I know enough to research stuff like that. Like I said earlier, I wanted Pete to be someone that felt familiar to me - a classmate, friend, that sort of thing. So I did give him a lot of traits I saw popping up in my circle of Miami friends. I wanted him to feel real to me and real to the reader.
CV: What did you learn after seeing Silent City in print? Can you talk a bit about the reissue?
SEGURA: Polis Books, the publisher that's putting out Down the Darkest Street in April, is reissuing Silent City the month before, in March. So you can dive into the series from the ground floor in advance of the new book, which is very smart on their part and a great opportunity to have both books launch together. I have to give major props to Jason Pinter and the entire team at Polis - they're smart, savvy and know what they're doing. I feel like Pete is in really good hands.
In terms of lessons learned - I know this sounds simplistic, but I feel like I got better. The experience of writing that first book was invaluable, and it allowed me to approach the second one with more confidence. I knew I wanted the sequel to be even darker, more layered and less linear - which is tricky, especially considering how well-received Silent City was. But I think it worked out, and the end result is a more complex book that builds on Silent City but also stands on its own.
CV: What can you tell us about the upcoming sequel, Down the Darkest Street? Is Pete staying in Miami? Are there any returning characters?
SEGURA: Down the Darkest Street hits April 12 and finds Pete still recovering from the events of Silent City. He's in Miami, trying to get his life back in order and also trying to live a bit under the radar. But all that goes out the window when Pete finds himself looking for a missing girl, paired up with an unlikely partner and caught up in a series of murders that tie into Miami's own dark history. It puts a strain on Pete, who is still having trouble keeping his life together, and brings him face to face with his own demons. A battle he has to win if he wants to save his friends and himself.
Check out Silent City if you haven't already and be sure to look for the sequel. You can pre-order both books below: