Welcome to the Tuesday Author Interview series at The Writing Life, where I have the great pleasure of chatting with my fellow authors across genres, which is always interesting. Today I’m happy to welcome Gabriel Valjan.
Gabriel Valjan is the author of the Roma Series from Winter Goose Publishing, as well as numerous short stories. He lives in Boston’s South End, where he enjoys the local restaurants, and his two cats, Squeak and Squawk, keep him honest to the story on the screen.
What is the genre of the book you’d like to discuss?
Corporate Citizen is the fifth book in the suspense/thriller Roma Series from Winter Goose Publishing.
Briefly describe what Corporate Citizen is about.
Bianca, our former analyst for the covert agency Rendition, is called to Boston to help clear a friend framed for a double homicide. All her Italian friends except for her boyfriend come with her. The murder investigation uncovers a drug ring for synthetic heroin, which Rendition may or may not have an interest in. Bianca continues to receive help from inside Rendition through a mysterious agent named Loki. There’s a troubled vet and a love interest and a criminal mastermind, unlike any Bianca and her gang have ever encountered.
How did you come up with the title and what inspired you to write this series?
The title is a buzzword from the business world. Corporations, like people, have ethical, legal, and social responsibilities. I am intrigued as to who is responsible when corporations commit crimes. A CEO might be the face to an organization, but decisions are far more complex when there is an obligation to shareholders and the ultimate objective is profit. What do you do when you are a citizen and your country behaves like a corporation? Bianca left Rendition because of the necessary evils she witnessed. She learns that one can never leave Rendition.
What do you do when you are a citizen and your country behaves like a corporation? This is a question many Americans are asking themselves right about now.
Does your main character resemble you? If so, in what ways?
Yes and No. Bianca may resemble my younger self, when I was more logical than Mr. Spock. Like her, I acted that way as a coping and defense mechanism. With age, I allowed myself to relax. Where we differ is gender and I do hope that I was successful in putting across a woman’s perspective.
Is Bianca in all five novels?
Bianca is in all 5 novels. The graphic above depicts the book in chronological order.
1: Roma, Underground takes place in Rome. Bianca is enticed to participate in a sting to capture thieves stealing cultural artifacts from the city’s underground. A real group of amateur archaeologists are mapping the city beneath Rome and I let my imagination run with that idea.
2: Wasp’s Nest. Bianca returns to Boston under the pretense of helping a contact within Rendition, but she is fearful of the growing intimacy between her and Dante. I tried to showcase lesser known parts of Boston. The inspiration behind this outing was what if someone disrupted the pharmaceutical industry, particularly cancer research, with an invention that did away with chemotherapy and radiation.
3: Threading the Needle. Bianca and her gang tackle political terrorism in Milan. The inspiration here was what the Italians call The Years of Lead, which was a series of terrorist attacks from 1969 to 1984. The height of terror culminated in the kidnapping and murder of Prime Minister Aldo Moro. Speculation exists as to who funded and directed far-right groups to destroy the Communist Party in Italy.
4: Turning To Stone. Bianca is caught between the Camorra and the Sicilian mafia in Naples. The Sicilians are hatching a plan to destabilize the world currency market to their advantage. The Fiscal Crisis of 2007 provided the basis for this novel.
5: Corporate Citizen. Bianca is back in Boston to help a friend framed for murder.
Thanks for including the brief synopses. What do you find is the most challenging aspect of writing?
I worry whether I have seeded the story with just enough clues so that it is not predictable. Am I too obvious? Was I too obscure? The reader is a god, who must be appeased, and yet should still be surprised with the creation. It’s kind of like looking at a platypus and scratching your head. There’s logic to the design.
Great questions to ask during the writing process. Did the writing process uncover surprises or learning experiences for you? What about the publishing process?
My characters have a life of their own. When I write it is like meeting old friends. I’ve been fortunate to have a collaborative relationship with my publisher. I have a say in the editing process and in cover-art design. I believe the first sentence of A Tale of Two Cities describes today’s authors and publishers. Indie publishers have proven they can put quality out there in the market. The Big Five and literary agents are not necessarily gatekeepers for taste and talent. Self-publishing, while not new, is a hit or miss. Amazon has created both the markets and the platform. Readers are feasting and authors are like matchstick children hoping for a kind soul and a sale.
I found myself nodding at your answers above. What was the last book you read? What did you think of it?
Walter Tevis’s Mockingbird. In a post-apocalyptic future where machines do everything and reading is illegal, an android named Bob Spofforth runs the world — and he is suicidal. Another character, Paul, is a conformist who teaches himself how to read. He falls in love with Mary Lou, a rebel who lives in a zoo. This is not Humanity versus the Machines story. Knowledge has slipped away. Watching Paul learn and then teach Mary Lou how to read is a reminder of why we read and why we are human. Tevis will reduce you to tears.
Another book for my reading list, thank you. Who are some of your favorite authors?
Tough question. Margaret Atwood. Jane Austen. Louise Brooks. Raymond Chandler. Eduardo Galeano. William Faulkner. Dashiell Hammett. Dorothy Johnson. E.J. Levy. Gabriel García Márquez. William Maxwell. Carson McCullers. Flannery O’ Connor. Victor Hugo. E.B. White. Richard Yates.
What authors or person(s) have influenced you as a writer and why?
Dashiell Hammett and William Faulkner. Though these two writers polar opposites in style, they worked language in ways I envy. If you research Gertrude Stein, you’ll discover that it was Hammett — not Hemingway — who was responsible for the spare minimalistic style. Hemingway learned his craft from journalism (being shot at is excellent motivation for brevity) and reading Hammett. Faulkner – read his Nobel Prize acceptance speech (557 words) – and ask yourself this, Is not compassion first and foremost a necessity to being a better human being and a great writer? His novels are challenging but rewarding.
Is not compassion first and foremost a necessity to being a better human being and a great writer? Great question. For me, the answer is yes. I’m off to Google Faulkner’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech.
Tell us something personal about you people may be surprised to know?
I have an MA in Medieval Studies.
Gabriel, what is your favorite part of writing?
The beauty of a series is I have a cast of characters and each one has a personality and quirks. Corporate is a long, hard look at Bianca and what makes her tick. I enjoyed those moments when she surprised me with something she said or did. Bianca is guarded and she allows herself some vulnerability when she meets Nick.
Do you have a favorite place to write? To read?
I write in my bedroom, where one or two cats stare at me and count keystrokes. I like reading in bed.
What do you hope readers will gain from your book?
The Roma Series is classified as genre fiction, but I hope that readers see each novel as an exploration of friendship and love, that what matters most in life is how we treat each other. Each novel takes place in a different city because I want readers to see how Europeans see the world, and how an American deals with a different mindset. I ask questions about culture and society throughout the Series. Do you work to live, or live to work?
I like the idea of offering readers an opportunity to see the world through different lenses. Looking back, what did you do right that helped you write and market this book?
It depends on the definition of success. Sales have not made me a household name, but I have developed a small following. Social media has allowed me to meet other writers and for them to know me. If ‘success’ is word of mouth, then I would say other writers, established and struggling, know that I am a supportive and encouraging person. It costs nothing to be kind and positive. I think what I have done ‘right’ is be myself and let my name stand for something. I go to readings to support others, I tweet to get the word out on writers I know, and I’ll write reviews. The best community for me has been other writers.
I agree with your definition of success. I met you through your generous tweets of my book, so I can attest to your support of other writers.
What didn’t work as well as you’d hoped with your books?
It’s hard to tell because I believe everything is cumulative. The problem is you don’t know what will work. I have had mixed feelings about PR firms. They are expensive and I think they are figuring it out along with the rest of us. It’s been a learning experience.
Any advice or tips for writers looking to get published?
Read and learn from the writers you enjoy. Take apart; analyze what you admire. Be consistent, persistent, and tenacious about improving your skills. Set aside your ego and write because you have a story to tell. Respect your reader’s emotions, intellect, and their time. To paraphrase Carver, your job is to capture the heartbeat and the ‘human noise.’
Well said. Website and social media links?
Where can we find your book?
Amazon Author page: http://amzn.to/2pORYMH
What’s next for you, Gabriel?
Winter Goose Publishing will release the first book of another series in late 2017. The Company Files: The Good Man is what I would call historical noir. The story takes place in 1948 Vienna and it’s the early days of the American intelligence community. Jack Marshall is asked to find former Nazis in Germany’s atomic program before the Russians do. Someone is killing them and Jack has to put a stop to it. For touchstones for the writing, think of Joseph Kanon, Phillip Kerr or John Le Carré, and yet different.
Vienna and the American intelligence community. We will have to chat about that another time! Thank you for visiting today, Gabriel. All the best to you.
Puerto Rican-born Eleanor Parker Sapia is the author of the award-winning historical novel, A Decent Woman, published by Scarlet River Press. Her debut novel, set in turn of the century Ponce, Puerto Rico, garnered an Honorable Mention for Best Historical Fiction, English at the 2016 International Latino Book Awards with Latino Literacy Now, and was selected as a Book of the Month by Las Comadres and Friends National Latino Book Club in 2015. Eleanor is featured in the anthology, Latina Authors and Their Muses, edited by Mayra Calvani.
A writer, artist, and photographer, Eleanor currently lives in Berkeley County, West Virginia, where she is working on her second novel, The Laments of Forgotten Souls, set in 1920 Puerto Rico.