Although he is best known for his work as a publicist for DC and Archie Comics (the latter where he currently serves as Editor of the company’s gritty Dark Circle Comics imprint), Alex Segura is also a novelist whose just released second book, Down the Darkest Street, available from Polis Books, is a dark and mysterious follow-up to his debut, Silent City, that is infused with some serious noir flavor.
In conjunction with the novel’s release, Segura took time out from his busy schedule to discuss the Miami-set work, its complicated protagonist, the future of his Archie Meets Ramones project, and more topics. Here’s what he has to say:
To most people, Miami seems like an absolute paradise. Having your roots there, when did you realize that there was such darkness within the city and what made you want to write about it?
Alex Segura: I think as a resident, you get a different perspective. You’re not spending every day like it’s vacation. You go to class, to work, whatever.
Like any other big city, Miami has its share of crime and corruption. I was always a newspaper kid, so I’d keep up with stuff that way, and it became more interesting to me the more crime fiction I read. So, it’s been something on my radar since I was a kid – that Miami was much more than a tropical destination. It was layered, complex, and had a dark side worth exploring.
Tell us a little bit about the genesis of Pete Fernandez as a character. What traits did you want to infuse him with, and did you look to any noir characters for inspiration?
The books that directly inspired me featured two things – protagonists who weren’t perfect or polished and a strong sense of place. So strong that you almost feel like the setting is a character in the book.
I loved the classics, like Chandler, but this new crop felt much more alive and real to me. Books like A Firing Offense by George Pelecanos, The James Deans by Reed Farrel Coleman, and Baltimore Blues by Laura Lippman – they made me want to visit their respective cities, and by the end of it, I knew I wanted to write my own book. Those novels and the others in their respective series got me to thinking about Miami, and the kind of protagonist that would spring from there, and what kind of detective he’d be. That’s where Pete started.
I wanted Pete to be flawed. I wanted him to not know for sure what he was doing yet – I needed him to make mistakes and stumble as he went. I also wanted him to be the kind of person I knew growing up. Cuban-American, like me, too.
I also wanted him to evolve. He couldn’t be static from book to book. The Pete you’ll eventually see in Book 3 is different from the one you meet in Book 1. That keeps it interesting for me and hopefully for the reader, too.
With Down the Darkest Street just getting released, Pete’s life is more complicated than ever. How long did it take to write this book, and what were some of the creative challenges you faced to craft this new installment?
Yeah, things don’t get easier for Pete. I wanted that to be clear from page 1. At the end of Silent City, without giving anything away, you’re left with a glimmer of hope that Pete will get his shit together. But by page one of Down the Darkest Street, you realize things have just gotten worse. It’s the story of an external challenge that Pete has to overcome – but he can only do that if he deals with his internal struggle. Those two tracks fuel the story.
I knew by the middle of writing Silent City that I wanted to write a sequel, and that I wanted it to be darker and denser than the first book. To me, the best sequels kind of bask in the world you create with the first installment. First novels are a lot of setup. The second, to me, could now explore that world a bit more and really get into the gray areas we all see in life. It took me, start to finish, about two years to write, edit, revise and now see come to life.
First novels are fun because you’re flying blind and learning as you go. You don’t have the novelty anymore with the second one – the shine is off. So you have to keep yourself interested and write the book you want to read. I also had some trouble putting Pete through the ringer. I felt bad for the guy! But I had to realize that putting Pete through his paces and really pushing the limits of what he can take would make for a better novel. There were definitely a few times when I had to get up and take a break from writing, take a walk. You get emotionally invested.
While your novels obviously are far removed from Riverdale life, their stories would fit right in with what Dark Circle is doing. I was wondering if you could discuss your love for these kind of darker stories and why you think they are so appealing to readers.
I like good stories – period. Funny, dark, sci-fi, crime, literary, what-have-you. I’m drawn to a story that features compelling characters and a twist-y plot. I just get more of a kick out of crime stories. While you might think it’s limiting to just stay in one genre “box,” crime fiction can be anything – from a cozy mystery to a hardboiled PI story to an international thriller. There’s so much range and so much you can say, including using crime as a tool for social commentary and taking a minute to spotlight people that are often ignored by other kinds of stories, it’s hard to not want to keep playing in that box.
Speaking of Dark Circle, how are things going with the imprint? What is next for it, and what, if any, new titles can we expect?
Things are going well – it’s always a challenge to launch new superhero titles in this market and to be honest, we’ve had some timeliness issues we’re trying to correct. But I’m excited to see how people respond to the finales for Hangman and The Shield, and we have big plans for The Black Hood, too.
Please give us an update on Archie Meets the Ramones, as several of us here at Den of Geek are clamoring for it.
I’m finishing the script as we speak! I cannot wait to see (illustrator) Gisele’s take on the band. Time travel opens a lot of doors. That’s all I’ll say.
Will you be writing any Dark Circle books anytime soon?
Nah, I think that’d be a little strange. There are so many great creators I want to work with and so many characters for them to choose from, I’d feel like I was cheating if I gave one of those plum assignments to myself.
Any parting thoughts for our readers?
If you’re looking for a dark, engaging mystery novel set in a Miami you might not have imagined, give Silent City and Down the Darkest Street a shot. I hope you enjoy them.
For more information on Alex Segura, visit http://www.alexsegura.com.