Gabriel’s short stories and some of his poetry continue to appear in literary journals and online magazines. Ronan Bennett short-listed Gabriel for the 2010 Fish Prize. Gabriel won first prize in ZOUCH Magazine’s inaugural Lit Bits Contest. Winter Goose Publishing publishes his Roma Series: Roma, Underground (February 2012), Wasp’s Nest (November 2012) and Threading the Needle (October 2013). Gabriel lives in New England.
Q: What’s inside the mind of a mystery/suspense author?
A: Curiosity and a perverse sense of observation. We live in interesting times. There’s Wikileaks and the World Wide Web. Big Brother might be watching your cache or collecting your cookies. Financial scandals ripple like aftershocks across several national economies. Social media reminds us that we are connected 24/7 and yet we are existentially disconnected or redefining public and private space. All of these topics hint of conspiracy, deception, and secrecy. Truth is stranger than fiction? Mystery/suspense fiction is practically writing itself.
Q: Why do you write?
A: Because I have a story to tell and I happen to have a lot of fun writing. I feel alive when I write. Write because you love to write. No matter how great you think the writing is, please have someone edit it for you. Respect your reader and try to understand that not everyone will like you; that criticism, while an opinion, is an opportunity for improvement. Just keep writing, whatever your reason.
Q: How picky are you with language?
A: Very. Here is the thing: diction and style are ethical decisions. It might seem philosophical or abstract, but all literature, all storytelling is a con job, so the foundation of the creative act is predicated on fraud. Each story has to have its own tone and idiom. In the Roma Series I established a strong female protagonist, Bianca, and readers would know immediately if I were to have her do or say something out of character. Her actions and speech contribute to her authenticity and my credibility. If I were to suddenly go noir the reader would know it is wholly inappropriate. Why? One half of that is the reader’s own literary diet and the other half of the answer is that the author has broken the contract.
Q: Do you get the feeling you’re playing God when you write fiction?
A: Yes and No. I say ‘Yes’ because I killed a character. It was calculated, premeditated as it gets, and quite honestly: it felt good. I say ‘No’ because I don’t feel that I am creating character so much as I am conveying observations that I have made of other people over the years. My characters are a mishmash of people I have known, either well or in passing. I’d go so far as to say that many of the characters have elements of me in them. God or Creator? No. Creative? Yes.
Q: When you write, do you sometimes feel as though you were being manipulated from afar?
A: If I understand the question properly, I believe that the question is asking if I’ve ever felt swept up in writing such as that time passed and in reading what I wrote I say, “Did I write that?” The answer is ‘Yes.’ I have had moments where I’ve surprised myself either with a turn of phrase, or I have a character say or do something shocking but consonant with his or her personality and temperament. In the second book of The Good Man Series, my character, Walker, confronts an underaged girl who tries to seduce him. He knows her and he knows why she is acting inappropriately, but he also knows it is morally wrong. For a second he is tempted but he stops and he rejects her. She is upset and leaves. He is mad at himself for always doing the right thing. He throws an object at a wall and utters a profanity. It is the only time a reader hears Walker curse and it is the only instance of profanity in the three volumes of the noir story, which makes it all the more powerful. When I wrote it, the scene wrote itself.
Q: What is your worst time as a writer?
A: Rejection. It happens. The form letters suck, but they are understandable since journals are inundated with submissions. I dislike the fact that it takes a very, very long time to get a response. I appreciate the rare constructive criticism, but the worst is when you get a nasty email from an editor. It happens and I wonder whether they don’t realize it discredits them.
Q: Your best?
A: I took a chance and submitted a sequence of poems. First, I thought it had zero chance for publication because the sequence was too long, but I gave it a go, attached it and pressed Send. A month later I saw the email and I mumbled and prepared myself for the rejection. The editor not only accepted the piece, which shocked me, but he wrote a lengthy email in which he explained why he and the editorial staff liked the poem. It was clear that time and effort had been put into the communication. I was moved.
Q: Is there anything that would stop you from writing?
A: No. I hope that I remain in good health and nothing physically prevents me from writing.
Q: What’s the happiest moment you’ve lived as an author?
A: In Threading the Needle, a very difficult period of Italian history is part of the plot. The ‘Years of Lead,’ was a period from the late sixties to the early eighties in which all of Italy lived under the threat of daily acts of terrorism. A friend who is a native speaker, who came of age during that time, and who has acted as my editor on cultural matters throughout the Roma Series, wrote me that Threading not only disturbed him as a literary work, but that it had left him amazed that someone from outside of his culture could capture the mood and tension so well. The ‘Years of Lead’ was for many years a taboo topic in Italy. His compliment and judgment meant a lot to me.
Q: Is writing an obsession to you?
A: Only when I’ve started a project. I am disciplined and driven. I know what I want to accomplish and nothing stops me. Discipline plays a major role from inception to completion of a working draft. I consulted my notes. I began Threading the Needle on January 20, 2012 and completed it February 13, 2012. The novel is shy of 90,000 words. The math works out to 25 days of writing, on average of 3,600 words per day and, with standard formatting of one-inch margins all around, double-spaced with Times New Roman 12-point font, that is approximately 250 words per page, about 14 pages a day. While this is all matter-of-fact computation, the reality is that some days I wrote more and other days, less. The point is I sat down every day and I wrote, committed to the story inside my head. Pure persistence. The hard work of editing and revising came later.
Q: Are the stories you create connected with you in some way?
A: Yes. I think it is clear to readers of the Roma Series that I adore Italy, its culture, food, and literature. In July, 1992, when I was in Milan, I saw a poster of two men in friendly consultation. The slogan beneath the portrait said: “Non li avete uccisi, le loro idee camminano sulle nostre gambe!” “You did not kill them: their ideas walk on our legs.” Those two men were Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, who had been assassinated months apart for their work against organized crime. These two men were iconic figures in Italy for their creative legislation and clever prosecutorial strategies. That poster and its poetic and angry slogan had inspired me.
The Roma Series is personal in the sense that I have invested each character with some aspect of my character and personality. Like Bianca, I can be analytical and difficult to know. I’ve been known to have a bad temper like Farrugia. I am moody and somewhat cynical at times like Gennaro and Clemente. Alessandro is a younger version of me. The boss characters and bureaucrats in the Series are drawn from life. The character Silvio is an exception, for he is my homage to Catarella, the bumbling, walking malapropism that Andrea Camilleri created in the Inspector Montalbano series. Readers will discover Camilleri shows up now and then as a dog, a cane corso.
Q: Ray Bradbury once said, “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” Do you agree?
Gabriel Valjan’s Author Page at Winter Goose Publishing: http://wintergoosepublishing.com/authors/gabriel-valjan/
Pinterest for Threading the Needle: http://pinterest.com/gvaljan/threading-the-needle/
Rachel Anderson of RMA Publicity represents Gabriel Valjan. Rachel can be reached at email@example.com