Saturday, September 26, 2015

Remembering Leighton Gage


Leighton Gage wrote the Chief Inspector Mario Silva series, crime novels set in Brazil. His work has been praised by the New York Times, Booklist, Library Journal, Kirkus and a variety of other publications as well as by numerous online reviewers. He was interviewed following the release of his novel, Every Bitter Thing, released in December of 2010 by Soho Crime.

When asked what had taken him to various parts of the world during periods of upheaval?  And was he a working journalist, he said:

No, it wasn't journalism. It was curiosity - and wanderlust. My maternal grandfather was a Yankee sea captain, like his father and grandfather before him, and when I was a little kid, he used to sit on my bed and regale me with stories about the places he’d been and the things he’d seen, He introduced me to a poem from Kipling, a stanza of which became my mantra:                                                                                                                                    


It's like a book, I think, this bloomin' world,
 Which you can read and care for just so long,                         
 But presently you feel that you will die
 Unless you get the page you're readi'n' done,
 An' turn another likely not so good;
 But what you're after is to turn 'em all                                            

That was some sixty years ago. I have spent the years since trying to turn all of the pages.

Why did you decide to settle in Brazil and set your novels there?

I’m a Brazil nut. I went there first in the mid-seventies. I was supposed to stay in São Paulo for two years. But, in a sense, I never left. I fell in love with the country. And then, somewhat later, I fell (even more deeply) in love with a girl. She became my wife. She and I have been together, now, for thirty-three years. She is the great love of my life, my constant companion, my soulmate. Oh, we go away every once in a while. Two years in Australia in the eighties. Nine months last year in Paris. But we always go back. It’s our base, our anchor. The language we speak at home is Portuguese. I know Brazil better than any other place and, believe me, I know a lot of places. So, when I sat down to write a crime novel, it just came naturally.

Briefly tell us about your Chief Inspector Mario Silvia crime series.

Mario is a federal cop. In Brazil, there’s no DEA, no ATF, no Secret Service, no Customs and Immigration Service, no Department of Homeland Security. And most police departments don’t have internal affairs departments. All of those functions, and more, are within the purview of the Brazilian Federal Police. And their mandate is national. So Silva and his colleagues get to travel all over the country and deal with every conceivable kind of crime. That gives me an opportunity to make each one of the books very different. Example: Blood of the Wicked, the first in the series, deals with issues like liberation theology, and the land wars, the battles between the haves and have-nots. Dying Gasp, the third, deals with the sexual exploitation of minors in Brazil’s northeast, while book four, A Vine in the Blood, involves a serial killer and is a more conventional mystery.

What prompted you to begin writing? And for whom do you write?

Don’t we all want to write books? I always did. It just took me a half-century or so to sit down and get to it.

In the beginning, I thought I was writing for a male audience. Then I toured the first book. And discovered what I should have known all along. Most mystery fans are women. Discovering that had an effect on what I write. I’ve toned down the graphic violence, and I’m introducing an element of romance.

As to why I write, remember what Samuel Johnson said? “Anyone who writes for anything except money is a fool.”

Yeah, that’s what I thought too. I wish it were true. But with the pittances we writers earn, I gotta admit, I do it for glory.

Tell us about your novel, Every Bitter Thing.

Every Bitter Thing begins with the murder, in Brasilia, of the son of the Foreign Minister of Venezuela.

It’s a high-profile crime, with diplomatic overtones. Chief Inspector Mario Silva of the Brazilian Federal Police is under considerable political pressure to bring the case to a speedy conclusion. And, initially, because there is an obvious suspect with a strong motive, that seems likely to happen.

But then it’s discovered that similar murders committed with exactly the same (somewhat unusual) M.O. have been committed in other cities in the country. And it turns out that the solution of the mystery isn’t simple.

I might add that all four of the big trades (PW, Kirkus, LJ and Booklist) have chosen to review it and all four responded most favorably. (Yeah. Even Kirkus.)

And Glenn Harper thinks it’s my best one yet. Here’s what he had to say:

What’s your writing schedule like?

I get up in the morning, check my emails, do an hour on an exercise bike and get down to it. I write until about two, have lunch with my wife and take a nap. After the nap, I write some more and knock off at about seven PM. We dine very late, often as late as ten, and seldom go to bed before one or two in the morning. I don’t write on weekends, except for the blog I do with five other writers who set their stories outside the United States.

Do family members serve as first readers or sounding boards during a work in progress?

Never. I believe that good books aren’t written. They’re re-written, and re-written and re-written. So I don’t like to plague anyone with my scribbling until an editor gets through with me.

How difficult was it to find an agent?

Probably the toughest thing I’ve done in this business. In comparison, writing the first book was easy. I shudder to think how much tougher it must be now that the bottom has dropped out of the market. But, ya know, I truly think there’s an agent out there for everyone. You just have to find her (him). And that may mean you’re going to have to query a couple of hundred people. Seriously. A couple of hundred. If you’re a new writer, and you hit the jackpot within the first dozen or so, consider yourself blessed.

Advice to fledgling crime novelists?

I’ve read the advice of the other authors to whom you’ve asked this question. All of them are right – in part. You do have to read at lot, write a lot, persist, persevere and be committed. But, if I was sitting down with an aspiring writer, just the two of us, I wouldn’t presume to answer the question without knowing:

(a) Whom I’m talking to and

(b) What kind of a writer they want to be.

And those are questions, Dear Fledgling Crime Novelist, that only you can answer. Early on, in this interview, I inserted a quote from Kipling.

Rudyard, as most of us know, was the poet of empire, a man of the world, a social lion, who traveled everywhere, met everyone. He was widely-read in his lifetime. He was the youngest recipient (ever) of the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Contrast him with Emily Dickinson. Emily the introvert, the recluse, the woman who led a solitary life, never made close friends, hardly ever traveled at all, never married, lived out most of her life in one small town.

If I was sitting down with Emily, and she told me she wanted to write an international thriller, my advice to her would be to steer away from it. Kipling might have been able to do it, probably could have. But Emily? I doubt it. I’d suggest she stick to cozies.


Jean Henry Mead said...

Welcome to Mysterious Writers, Leighton. It's good to have you with us.

Jesse said...

Hey Leighton,

Your books like a good read. I'll be looking for them.


June Shaw said...

Leighton, what an interesting life you've been leading. Sounds like great fun. I'm so happy that you - and I - are joining this group.

Ben Small said...

Leighton, it's no nice to see you here. Keep those Taurus products coming, please. I own several and plan to buy more. And I'm going to add some of your books to my reading list. They look interesting, fascinating, really. So much about Brazil I don't know.

Carola said...

My niece and nephew were born in Brazil (brought up in England). I'll have to tell them about your books as well as look for them myself.

Earl Staggs said...

Most interesting, Leighton. I envy the traveling you've done. Best wishes for continued success.

Mark W. Danielson said...

Nice interview, Jean. Leighton, we look forward to hearing more from you. Best, Mark

Leighton Gage said...

Jesse, June, Ben, Carola, Earl, Mark:
I'm overwhelmed by your warm welcome and kind comments.
And thank you so much, Jean, for inviting me.

Helen Ginger said...

Great interview. I really enjoyed reading it. And Leighton is so right - be prepared to query many, many agents.

Other Lisa said...

Hi, Leighton! Greetings from a Soho label-mate (well, I'm not Soho Crime but they let me hang out with you guys occasionally). I don't know very much about Brazil, which is one reason I'm looking forward to reading your series. Hope to see you at a Bouchercon or some such event in the near future!


Lisa Brackmann

Leighton Gage said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it. And that you've added your voice to mine on the agent issue. Too many aspiring writers, I find, give up on agents and royalty-paying publishers too soon - and opt to self-publish. It's an option, I admit, but a very hard row to hoe.

Hi Other Lisa,
Aren't we lucky? I love Soho. And I miss Laura

Speaking as a reader, I can't think of one Soho author whose work I haven't enjoyed. Their logo on the spine is like a stamp of approval.
Laura Hruska, mentioned above, was their long time publisher and editor-in-chief. She died, in January, after an illness she'd been concealing from all but her most intimate friends and family.
It was an honor to have known her.
The "Other Lisa", Lisa Brackmann, published ROCK, PAPER, TIGER, in June.
It's her debut, and it's a great read!
You can read a review here, in The New York Times:

Other Lisa said...

Hey, thanks for the plug.

I never got to meet Laura. I really wish I'd had the opportunity. One thing that really struck me: she did an interview in a Texas paper (Houston, I think) talking about, I think it was Ghosts of Belfast. She managed to blurb just about everything in the next catalog too! And this was not very long before she passed away. I thought there was something really awesome about that.

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