Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Interview with Author Gabriel Valjan

Hello, Campers- today we have an interview with author Gabriel Valjan, who you'll find interesting.
I read one of his books and really liked it, and I'm picky.  He's got a new one out, The Naming Game, and you can pick it up now.



He's also the author The Company Files and the Roma Series with Winter Goose Publishing. His short stories have appeared in numerous publications, including several Level Best anthologies. Gabriel is a lifetime member of Sisters in Crime and lives in Boston’s South End, where he enjoys the local restaurants.

Let's find out more...

Q. So how did this novel come to be? Was it envisioned from the start as a bigger canvas, or did it expand organically out of an idea? Please tell us a bit about the origin.

A. Years before I’d drafted the novel, I read journalist Griffin Fariello’s Red Scare, where I was horrified at the overwhelming pressure within American society to conform to a rigid, undeviating and bland set of rules and opinions. For a country founded on certain liberties, it was unsettling to read how careers and reputations were irretrievably broken and destroyed in the midst of McCarthy’s hunt for Communists. I became intrigued by how Hollywood studios found creative ways to get films written and produced. Money had to be made, and The Naming Game explores how the studios did just that.

Q. What do you feel is the main theme(s)?

A. Friendship. History. Writing.

Friendship. I wasn’t aware of it at first, but the theme of friendship is threaded throughout all my books. Whether it is Bianca and her friends in the Roma Series, or Walker and Jack and Leslie in The Company Files, I place my characters in difficult situations, often where they have to rely on their wits and trust each other.

History. An undercurrent throughout The Company Files series is the rivalry between the CIA and the FBI. Company Files Book 1. The Good Man takes place in 1948 Vienna, and 2. The Naming Game begins in Los Angeles, in 1951. The National Security Act, signed by Truman, created the CIA in 1947. The CIA is an international intelligence-gathering organization that reports to the Director of National Intelligence, who reports to the President and the Cabinet. The Department of Justice governs the FBI, and its Director reports to the Attorney General, thanks to President Theodore Roosevelt’s design. I make it clear in The Naming Game that J. Edgar Hoover wanted to control both domestic and international spheres of law enforcement.

Writing. In The Naming Game, I seed the idea that Walker is slowly realizing his true vocation, which may or may not put him in conflict with his superior and employer, Jack Marshall and the CIA. At Jack’s behest, Walker has gone undercover as a screenwriter at a major Hollywood studio. Walker is not the most confident person, but I want to develop his character and a long arc that he’s a writer. There is a long history of writers who have been spies, or gathered intelligence for their countries.
Why do you feel this is important, and what would you want a reader to take away from reading this book?

I’ve tried to create stories about difficult decisions without imposing any one interpretation. I’d like for my readers to reach their own conclusions. The Naming Game serves up issues that are relevant today; issues such as Censorship; Conformity; Blind allegiance to authority; Race and Gender roles. We may have technology, think ourselves as modern and advanced, but it’s important that we know our history. It may sound like clever marketing, but I’ve called The Company Files series ‘historical noir’ for a reason.

Q. What makes a good book or engaging story?

A. The answer varies from author to reader, and vice versa. People read for a variety of reasons: escapism, to discover ‘other,’ just to name a few. Some readers desire comfort, the familiar checklist of genre expectations, while others search for a character they love to hate: the antihero, or some dislikeable but yet admirable character. A reader may like Watson more than Holmes. I prefer Moriarty to both. To paraphrase John Gardner, good writing sustains a Lie for a long time.

Art is about artifice. We the reader know that what we are reading is fiction and, in the hands of a good writer, we suspend disbelief and subscribe to all aspects of the reality in an artificial creation. While I enjoy conflict and action, the occasional sex and violence in my literary diet, I’ve grown to appreciate subtle implications and nuances in a conversation or in an interaction between characters in a scene. There’s a certain elegance to suggestion and ambiguity. I think, for example, this is why the sense of unease works so well in Kafka and Stephen King. You can’t describe it, but it’s there and, more importantly, it works.

Q. Are there writers with similar themes to yours? Who are your influences (can be writers, or even artists, musicians, or others) and what is it about their work that attracts you?

A. Almost all writers of crime fiction cite Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett as influences. I’m no different. I can’t deny Chandler’s influence, but not for a reason as obvious as his creation of Marlowe the cynical PI. Like Chandler, I started out writing poetry so the habit of describing the unseen relationships between people, situations, and things in a creative turn of phrase are a feature of my writing. Unlike Chandler, I don’t overdo the similes, and I’ve learned to curb the description without affecting the story. Like Hammett, I prefer a spare and minimalistic style.

Q. Is storytelling mostly entertainment, or does it serve other functions? Do you have particular goals other than telling a good story?

A. I think several of my answers so far have hinted that I try to encourage readers to think beyond the surface of the story and hash out their own conclusions.

Q. Any other goals you’ve set for yourself, professionally or personally?

A. It’s important to me as a writer to grow and challenge myself. I want readers to know me for more than crime fiction, whether it’s contemporary (the Roma Series) or historical (The Company Files). I’ve received attention for my short stories, appearing in several Level Best anthologies, with the Fish Prize in Ireland (finalist in 2010 and shortlisted in 2017 and 2018), the Bridport Prize in England (shortlisted in 2017), and an Honorable Mention in the Nero Wolfe Black Orchid Novella Contest (2018).

Q. Some writers write fast and claim not to rewrite much. Do you do this, or painstakingly revise? When you send the book off to the publisher, are you happy with it, or just tired of it?

A. I think I can answer this question by tracing the creation of The Company Files. I completed the initial draft of 1. The Good Man in April 2009, and 2. The Naming Game in 2011. The Good Man took longer to write because work at the time ate up my free time, and then I had several close calls with agents and one publisher who bailed at the last minute, which put The Good Man in purgatory. In the end, revisions to TGM involved line editing and adding two scenes: one to deepen the relationship between Walker and Leslie, and the other to provide depth to Tania’s character. The Naming Game is about as close as I’ve ever gotten to a minimum of revisions. I took a chisel to the novel every few months over the years, but I’ve never had the need to alter the plot. I added and subtracted sentences and fretted over others before I finally had to let it all go. My editor at Winter Goose, Joey McMahon, asked for an extra scene around Jack Warner. I wrote it and we were done. 

I’m considered prolific—however that is defined. I can draft a 200-300-page novel within four to six weeks, but I do spend a longer amount of time revisiting and revising it. Writer’s block has never been an issue for me. Insecurity about the idea and the quality of my expression are another matter. The longest I’ve spent on a novel is six years; it’s the first in a trilogy, set in the-Gilded Age, and I’m shopping that (the first book) with agents now.

Q. Do you have good editors, and if so, how do they help you? Do they look for particular things? Do you have different people for different editing levels?
A. I work with four editors, but allow me to explain. With all my books, I have my friend Dean Hunt doing the first round of copyedits and general edits, looking for his input on character development and plotting. Dean has also helped me with languages where they’ve cropped up in my writing: Italian (the Roma Series), German and Russian (The Good Man) and Spanish (a novella I wrote for a recent contest). With the Roma Series, I’ve been fortunate to have the input from what I call a ‘cultural editor.’ Claudio Ferrara, in addition to being a native speaker of Italian, is a linguist, a translator, and possesses an encyclopedic knowledgeable of Italian and European history. With his help, I’ve avoided the clich├ęs and pitfalls of an American writing about Italian culture. Last but not least, Dave King, author of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers with Renni Browne, has helped me with line-editing, a type of editing that’s difficult for me to explain, but Dave has that special gift for ‘flow’ and sensing what works and what doesn’t.

Q. If a writer came to you for advice, how would you help?

A. I may sound prosaic saying this, but don’t give up. Hone your craft and find your Voice, which is unique to you and your relationship to language. Read widely, read what you enjoy, read outside your experience (diverse writers, foreign literature in translation), and appreciate another writer’s influence but be yourself. Take chances and don’t subscribe to formula. There’s an audience out there for you. Write to learn something about yourself. If I had to say one thing that is critical, set aside your ego. Be humble and be grateful. Success—whatever that means to you— is subjective and often a crap shoot. There will always be someone better than you but there will be only one You.

Q. Stories can be told by using a different medium. Can you see your book as a film, audio, etc.? How would that alter the telling?

A. Funny that you asked this question, but The Naming Game advanced to the quarterfinalist round in the Screen Craft Most Cinematic Book Contest. I entered the contest on a lark, though I believe all good books offer something visual to the reader. What I mean is a reader can visualize the action or conversation on the page in their mental auditorium, inside their heads. It goes back to the lie made real, as John Gardner described it in The Art of Fiction. While I’ve read my dialogue aloud as part of the writing process, I have no idea how The Naming Game or any of my other books would sound as audiobooks. I think audiobooks are another artistic endeavor altogether.

Q. What’s the next step in your writing world?

A. I’m writing the third novel of a series set in Shanghai, in the Thirties. In my down-time, I’m doing research on an Alt-History novel.

Q. Tell us some fun facts about yourself.

A. Fun facts…I can throw, and write well with both hands (yes, cursive).

English was not my first language, so I’m self-conscious about my grammar and how I pronounce words. A gun to my head and I can’t spell ‘rhythm’ without confusing Spell-check.

Also, I’m hearing-impaired and wear hearing aids, though I’ve been told they are hardly noticeable. Being hard of hearing has made me reliant on observation and reading lips. For years, people assumed I was arrogant or stuck-up because I was a) quiet or b) didn’t answer them, only to realize that I was neither. If I didn’t answer them, it was because I didn’t hear them. I can’t, for instance, hear anything behind me.

Another quick fact about me is that I can’t talk for very long because only one of my vocal cords works, and my voice becomes gravelly when I talk for too long. Think of the actor Jason Beghe (Voight on Chicago PD). I sound like him.

I’ve worked as an applications engineer, as an RN, and I’ve competed in several triathlons.

Q. Any other information you’d like to impart?
A. I’m a regular attendee at conferences, such as Bouchercon, New England Crime Bake, and Malice Domestic, so please say hi if you see me.

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