My guest today is suspense author Gabriel Valjan. Gabriel’s short stories and some of his poetry have appeared on numerous literary journals and online magazines. His third instalment in his Roma series, Threading the Needle, has just been released by Winter Goose Publishing. Visit his website to find out more.
Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Threading the Needle. When did you start writing and what got you into mystery/suspense?
I started writing in 2008. I didn’t intend on writing genre fiction; it just turned out that the Roma Series fit the definition of mystery/suspense. I write the story that is in my head. Before 2008, I didn’t think I had the stamina to sustain an idea, let alone a plot and a cast of characters, but I did it. After that initial novel, it became easier and easier. I have since written 12 novels, not including a collection of short stories and a translation. Winter Goose Publishing published Roma, Underground in February 2012, Wasp’s Nest in November 2012, and now, Threading the Needle. I have already written two more novels after Threading. I always include a chapter at the end of each Roma book for readers to get a taste of the next installment.
Did you have a mentor who encouraged you?
No. The encouragement came later, from editors and friends who enjoyed my work, commented on what they liked, what worked or didn’t work for them. I draw sustenance from them and from my own decades of reading.
Did you have any struggles or difficulties when you started writing?
Insecurity. I have had my own moments of self-doubt, whether I am good at it, or if anyone will read what I have written. It is daunting and discouraging when you read the statistics of how many titles come out each year and you wonder how any author can rise up out of the vast sea of books out there. It is also disconcerting when poorly edited books receive hundreds of reviews and yet writers struggle for recognition. I do try to ignore it. At the end of the day I’ve come to realize that I enjoy writing and I’d do it regardless of the outcome. I can only do so much to promote my book myself and get the word out, but beyond that I’ll continue writing.
What was your inspiration for Threading the Needle?
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 inspired me.
Do you have any plotting secrets? Do you use index cards or special software?
No. I think the term is “panster.” That is what I am — I write by the seat of my pants. I may scribble a reminder to myself, but invariably I write the scenes that are in my head. My energy is getting the story down on the page or up on the screen. The hard part is revision, shaping it, and then editing it for structural integrity, copy-editing for grammar, punctuation, and syntax. I’ve hired out a professional line-editor and, after he has had his say, I’ll submit the work to Winter Goose, where the novel will undergo a few more rounds of editing. I’d say that all of my novels have endured six to eight rounds of critical scrutiny.
What do you tell your muse when she refuses to collaborate?
If you are speaking about “writer’s block,” I can honestly say that I have not had that problem. Knock on wood. If you mean “difficulty,” as in the words not coming out the way I’d like them, then I can say that I have had that problem, but I find that that is more a function of perfectionism. I try not to backtrack and get mired in the pages. I get through it and remind myself to put something, anything on the page. Sort it all out later. The essence of language is groping, refining, and finding shape to your intent.
Many writers experience a vague anxiety before they sit down to right. Can you relate to this?
No. When I sit down I already have the first scene in my head. I know exactly what I want to write. I approach writing with a purpose and determination. That said, however, I usually don’t know what direction I will take the initial impetus, but I’ve discovered once I start writing the ideas, the images, the dialog flows.
Do you have a writing schedule? Do you set yourself weekly goals for your writing?
I am a morning writer. I find that writing first thing in the morning when the mind is receptive is best for me. On a great morning, I’ll write 20 pages, but I average eight to 10 pages. In terms of word count, accounting for standard formatting, I’d say that is 2,500 to 5,000 words a day.
How do you celebrate the completion of a novel?
I take a few days off before I start my next project.
What do you love most about the writer’s life?
The sense of accomplishment. Whether I am read or not, I know that I have sat down and created something that it is some part of me. The act of writing is democratic in that it requires a pen and a piece of paper, or its technological equivalent. The language is mine; the characters are my creations, and the plot and dialog are aspects of my creativity, my sense of play with language and tradition. There is a liberating sense of being at play that I find addictive and rewarding.
Anything else you’d like to tell my readers?
Support your local bookstore and indie publishers. If you go to a reading and like someone’s work, tell them. A compliment goes a long way and it is remembered on those days when you question your existence as a writer. If you enjoy a writer’s work, write a review because it helps a writer achieve visibility.