Gabriel Valjan is the author of the Corporate Citizen, the latest instalment in the “Roma Series” from Winter Goose Publishing. Also the author of numerous essays and short stories that continue to appear online and in print, Gabriel lives in Boston’s South End, where he enjoys the local restaurants. His two cats, Squeak and Squawk, forgive him for enjoying long walks near the South End’s dog park.
Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Corporate Citizen. When did you start writing and what got you into the mystery-suspense genre?
I started writing six years ago, focusing my efforts on short stories. The scale and effort of the novel had intimidated me at the time. A colleague had challenged me to write a strong female protagonist because she believed that men were incapable of writing women. The show Alias was popular at the time, so there was some external influence there. I had had such fun writing that short story, which was entitled Alabaster, that I found the courage to write a novel. Where the first novel in the “Roma Series” differs from the short story is that I have Alabaster go abroad using an alias. I think the reason mystery-suspense is a popular genre is because people like to see how another mind works, how it makes sense of the world, and the satisfaction that comes from solving the puzzles.
What is your book about?
Corporate Citizen has Bianca returning to Boston. She was last there in Wasp’s Nest (Book 2). She’s here to help the cantankerous Clemente, who entices her with a cryptic reference to her past employer, the covert agency named Rendition. While in Boston, Bianca will confront her past through a new member to the team, a former soldier with PTSD. Readers will learn more about her past, what makes her ticks; this installment will present major revelations.
What was your inspiration for it?
There were several inspirations for the novel. In world news, we’ve witnessed how powerful corporations have become, whether it is a fiscal scandal or lobbyists influencing political campaigns. ‘Corporate personhood,’ the notion that a corporation should be a responsible member of the community intrigued me. Which community is that, especially if it is multinational?
Secretive experiments on soldiers and plausible governmental deniability are discussed in the book. This last point is a personal one for me, as I had a relative who died from exposure from exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. When I was a kid, he wouldn’t talk explicitly about combat but he did mention that he and other selected infantry soldiers had been given large doses of Dexedrine, an amphetamine, and on one occasion, LSD.
What do you hope readers will get from your book?
While each volume of the “Roma Series” presents a mystery, I hope that readers sense the relationships between the characters. The world is a complicated place and we need each other to negotiate it, especially at a time when people cocoon and withdraw to the safety of their handheld devices, or the comfort of hiding behind a screen. The “Roma Series” explores the lengths to which friends will go to protect each other. Bianca is our intelligent alter ego who navigates and negotiates the ambiguity and the dangers one can face to survive in a compromised world.
How do you keep your narrative exciting?
A writer manipulates what the reader sees and knows (or doesn’t know). I also try to do what most writers do and that is figure out a pace. Each story has its own internal rhythm. In the “Roma Series”, I try to shift the focus and attention around, from character to character. I’m not talking about head hopping, but revealing how a character thinks and feels by what they do or say. Silvio, for instance, is reading books about cats and linguistics in Corporate and he makes mental connections between what he is reading and hearing others discuss. I don’t have a lot of meal scenes in Corporate, but I have used them before as a roundtable discussion for strategy, which is keeping to Italian culture. The dinner table is a focal point of Italian life.
Many writers experience a vague anxiety before they sit down to right. Can you relate to this?
Not so much anxiety as uncertainty. I’ll start with an idea, think I know where I am going with it, but then the character, a scene, or something else takes me in a different direction. That part is a lot of fun.
Do you have a writing schedule? Are you disciplined?
I write three to four hours a day, in the morning, and I conclude my writing with a long walk. The walk helps with stiffness from sitting in the chair and also as a way to review what I accomplished and where I think I should go next with my story. I average a page an hour. A good day is four to five pages and a rare, but fantastic day is fifteen to twenty pages, although that output will tire me out.
What was your publishing process like?
Winter Goose Publishing has been my publisher since the inception of the “Roma Series”. In terms of editing, James [Logan] will read the entire manuscript and place comments using Track Changes. He knows my writing and the way I think, and I like to think he knows the characters well. Like any superlative editor, he has saved me from some major gaffes. I’m also fortunate that Winter Goose Publishing has allowed me to collaborate on the cover art. I know other authors who have little to no say about the cover art, or even any of the editing.
I need to mention that there is another layer to the “Roma Series” before a novel is sent to Winter Goose. Dean Hunt has been copy editor and proofreader since I started writing. His attention to detail allows me to hand Winter Goose an extremely ‘clean’ copy. When I am finished with Dean’s edits and I think the story is as good it’ll be, I’ll send it to another good friend Claudio Ferrara, who is Italian and a talented writer and translator.
He does what I call ‘cultural editing.’ Simply put, there is a point where, despite all of my research and empathy, a native speaker helps with authenticity – whether it’s an Italian word, or a detail about a place. You would be surprised how little culture editing is done. Italians websites, including those of newspapers, have made a sport of ridiculing what Dan Brown gets wrong about Italian cities. Where was the editor?
How do you define success?
Knowing that I get better with each book. Looking back at my first book, there are things that I wish now I had written differently. For example, I feel now that my exposition was a bit long, or the dialog could have had more snap to it, but I see with Corporate Citizen how much I have improved. Also, knowing I ‘got it right’ means a lot to me; it meant a lot to me when Claudio told me that as an outsider, as an American, I recreated the psychological dissonance he and other Italians felt during the Years of Lead. He compared it to what we would feel and think like if 911 had happened daily for two decades. [The Years of Lead (Gli anni di piombo in Italian) alludes to prolific acts of terrorism and assassinations that roiled Italy between 1969 to about 1980.]
What do you love most about the writer’s life?
Vicarious experiences: you can say and do things that you wouldn’t or shouldn’t. I enjoy visiting a character’s mind and seeing the world through their eyes. As a writer, I’ve come to admire other writers and see how they use the tools of the trade. I just finished reading Lyndsay Faye (Timothy Wilde novels) and I feel that there is a lot I can learn from her.
Where is your book available?
Corporate Citizen is available in paperback and in digital format from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
What has writing taught you?
When language is your tool, you become acutely aware what others do with images and words, especially politicians and the media. I try to be optimistic. I’ve learned that human are wired to tell stories and we use language to understand the world and themselves.
Anything else you’d like to tell my readers?
Please visit Winter Goose Publishing’s website and sign up for their newsletter and you’ll receive a free novella that I wrote. Throughout the year, I will be providing Winter Goose with a novella about one of the Italian characters in the Roma Series. Each story visits a different part of Italy and predates Roma, Underground.
Photo and cover art published with permission from the author.