Interview: Author Alex Segura Sheds Light On His Latest Novel BLACKOUT
If you are in any way a fan of crime or detective fiction you need to pick up the Pete Fernandez series by Alex Segura. In three (now to be four) books Segura has taken his hero, a formerly burned out investigative sports reporter, on a journey that has put him on a collision course with everything from mob hitmen, psychotic serial killers, Cuban enforcer gangs and most recently a dangerous religious cult. All while also having Pete battle his own personal demons; family issues, alcoholism and his own self-destructive tendencies. Blackout, the fourth book in the series (due on May 8th from Polis Books) and Alex once again sat down with us at TuffGnarl.com to give some much-anticipated information on the novel.
TuffGnarl.com: First of, thanks once again for taking the time to talk to us at TuffGnarl.com! I really look forward to always diving into Pete’s world with you. So for those folks unlucky enough to not have yet read Blackout, can you briefly tell us where Pete Fernandez is when the book starts?
Alex Segura: Happy to be here. Thanks for your support of the series. It means a lot.
When we find Pete at the beginning of Blackout, he’s in exile – living in Rockland County, NY. He’s opened up his own P.I. firm and he’s going through the motions of life, but he’s completely isolated – from his hometown, from his friends, from basically everything. He’s still sober, but things are not going well for him. When we saw him last, he and his partner Kathy had escaped to Manhattan to avoid the remains of a deadly Miami drug gang they’d taken down. But things have changed for the worse since then. When the wife of a rising-star politician, Trevor McRyan, approaches Pete to find their errant son, Pete demure. He doesn’t take Miami cases anymore. But a piece of evidence crosses his desk that sends his mind back to his early days as a P.I. – and a Miami cold case that’s haunted him for years because of his own failure to solve it.
What made you decide to focus on cults for this book? Any specific story?
I like telling stories that have roots – that weave into the history of not only the characters but the setting. So, I’m always thinking about Miami and things I remembered as a kid or young adult and playing with that. I knew once I finished the third Pete book, Dangerous Ends, that I wanted Pete to face off against something intense and obsessive and dark. I remember Yahweh Ben Yahweh’s organization and the trial that brought him down as a kid, and that always stuck with me, so I started toying with the idea that the cult went underground but was still operational to some degree. I did some reading and research on other cults and cult-like groups and started to get a feel for this fictional organization, La Iglesia de la Luz, which, by the time of Blackout, has gone dormant. But I liked the idea of this corrupt organization that, maybe at one time, started out doing good things but got somehow twisted because their leader wasn’t who he represented himself to be, similar to Jim Jones and The People’s Church. I also toyed with the idea of a cult that had once been so popular in Miami that celebs joined and sang its praises…what would that be like decades later? It was really an exercise in the things that were obsessing me as I prepped to write the book.
This book seems like it required a lot of research? What’s your research process like?
Yes and no. If it’s not fun, I don’t do it. I don’t treat research like homework. 95 percent of the time I’m reading a book for “research” because I’m obsessed or interested in the subject and that in turn finds its way into the book. I was on a cult kick, so I knew I wanted to write about one. I’d also – over the years – read a ton of political books: conspiracy theories, campaign trail stories and that kind of thing. That made me want to inject a political angle into the story. And I’ve always been an avid true crime reader, so I wanted to play with the idea of a Miami cold case that has not only haunted Pete but haunted the city – similar to Adam Walsh or Shannon Melendi. The kind of story that is painful would for the community until it’s put to bed.
A question I have always wondered about is the timeline? How long has it been for Pete now in the P.I. world.
That’s a good question! In Blackout, we jump back to four years before, or thereabouts – Pete has just finished his first case – chronicled in Silent City – and is starting to take some P.I. assignments off the books. He hasn’t fully formed a partnership with Kathy or settled into his office in the Book Barn because he hasn’t met Dave. I’d say, overall, from the first scene in ‘Bad Beat’, the prequel story I co-wrote with Rob Hart, up to Blackout, it’s been about five years. But it’s worth noting that Pete has only been an official P.I. for a few – since Dangerous Ends. I’m glad you asked that because I think about it a lot – especially because I like taking detours or writing stories that fill in the gaps – like ‘Bad Beat’ or ‘Shallow Grave’, the novella I co-wrote with Dave White that sits between Down the Darkest Street and Dangerous Ends. Eagle-eyed readers will notice that a character from those two shorts makes his first “novel” appearance in Blackout – Francisco Rivela, the aging New Jersey police detective.
I actually missed that! Blackout also really has great use of Pete’s growing cast of supporting characters. Did you always intend for Harras, for example, to become so important to the series? Or Ash who returns from Silent City?
No, the characters kind of force themselves into things, which is fun. Kathy Bentley, who is basically the co-star of the whole series, was just meant to be in Silent City – but as I wrote those final scenes in the book with her, and as I had them working together at the end, I realized there was some chemistry there and I wanted her to be much more than just the damsel in distress, so I made them partners. Emily, Pete’s ex-lover, was supposed to be gone after the second book, but she popped up in Dangerous Ends because it made sense, and it gave them an even cleaner break. Harras is a similar example. I didn’t think I’d use him again after Down the Darkest Street – but I realized that Pete, by saving Harras’s life, had made a connection with him. But it took a second. Early drafts of Dangerous Ends featured another version of a new character serving in the grizzled cop/mentor role, and it just made sense to use Harras – why fight it? Or why shoehorn a new character when we have one with history and we can deepen that dynamic? Now I feel like Harras is an integral part of the team. Jackie Cruz is another one – she was meant to show up as Varela’s ex-attorney in my last novel, but I wove in some history between her and Pete, and that plays out in an even bigger way in Blackout.
Who else can we expect to keep popping up?
Well like you saw – Ash, the bar owner from Silent City pops up for a fun cameo. Dave Mendoza, Pete’s ex-con friend plays a big part in Blackout, too. I’m also working on another novella, set between Dangerous Ends and Blackout, that teams Pete up with another author’s P.I.. More on that soon!
Another aspect I love is the coming storm. What is it about that pre-hurricane build up you found so enticing?
That hysteria – you know it, I bet! – is hard to describe. It’s just this weird sense of chaos, like you know that your life might be turned upside down in a few hours – whether it’s loss of power, having to evacuate, scramble for food, or just hunker down. It’s a very primal thing, and it almost feels like the air around you has a different energy, tinged with fear. I wanted to add that layer over the concluding chapters of the book, to kind of turn up the volume. Not only are Pete and Kathy trying to solve this case as it gets more complicated and dangerous, but there’s this force of nature heading right at them. I hope it worked.
What other South Florida/Miami centered things or history have you wanted to explore?
I’d love to do a prequel novel, with Pete’s dad, Pedro Fernandez, set in the 1980s/Cocaine Cowboys era. I’m still figuring out how that might work. But maybe I’ll do that after I’m done with the next Pete book, Miami Midnight.
Would you ever want to take Pete somewhere different for a whole story? Any plans for a Pete to visit to ‘La Patria’?
I’d love to do it as a short story, if I felt like it made sense, because I think that’s a unique and compelling idea. I had the chance to interview Cuban crime writer Leonardo Padura Fuentes a while back and we joked about having Pete meet his detective, Mario Conde. That would be neat. But it’d have to fit in Pete’s overall story and make sense timing-wise, so I’m not sure.
Not to spoil anything, but you seem to have some on-going plans for Los Enfermos right?
I guess you could say that. I don’t want to spoil anything about the last two books, but they’re part of the fabric of Pete’s Miami, and the next – potentially last – Pete novel, Miami Midnight, drills down into the criminal landscape of Miami…so it’d be weird if I ignored Castro’s favorite drug gang, huh?
What it your intention to always tie the books together so closely?
I always knew I wanted it to be a series that saw Pete change from book to book. I didn’t think when I first started, that I’d have leaps of time between the books, but it started working out. I really like how Reed Farrel Coleman wrote his Moe Prager novels – each novel jumps ahead in time, sometimes a month, sometimes years. And part of the fun of the book is figuring out what’s changed since we last saw Moe. I try to channel that a bit with Pete. It also gives me room to write stories between the books and introduce other lost elements that might come into play later. I certainly didn’t want the books to pick up within days of each other.
You essentially write Pete in three different periods in ‘Blackout’. Are there any other periods in Pete’s life you want to explore?
I’d like to write a short story or something set before Dangerous Ends before Pete and Kathy have to run to New York. Where Pete is kind of at full power – licensed, with an office, working with Kathy in Miami. The introductory chapters to Dangerous Ends make it clear that some of the cases he’s dealing with around that time are boring, paper-pushing things, but I’m sure I can sneak in a few good ones to fill out that space.
Was it a challenge to balance multiple timelines?
It was tricky because it wasn’t linear – I didn’t write each timeline in order and then you’re in the present, you know? I shuffled the deck by design. I wanted to keep the readers on their toes and also give context before we pushed forward in the present. It was really a matter of revising and rereading for consistency, and also revisiting the earlier books to make sure my timeline was right – did Pete know Jackie at this time? Where was Kathy? When did Pete hold up that liquor store as a kid? That kind of continuity stuff.
From other interviews I have seen and read, I know you are developing the series for TV. I know how much you love a good crime TV show, so tell us a bit about this if you can!).
I can’t really say much beyond how excited I am that the series has been optioned. I’m really excited to see what Ryan and Eduardo cook up because I think they’re very well suited for this. We all share a Miami background and know the area and I know they’re fans of the books, which is supremely important. They know and appreciate the material. I’m optimistic about it and hope I have more to share soon.
What’s next for Pete Fernandez?
Not to be glib, but I think fans should read Blackout first and tell me what they think is up next for him! But seriously I’ve got another Pete novel in the works – Miami Midnight. I don’t want to reveal too much about it yet, beyond what I’ve already said, but I’m having a great time piecing that together now.
Do you have an endgame in mind for him or the series?
I do, yes. I always treat the book I’m working on as potentially the last one, and I think you can see that in the epilogue-like closing chapters of each. I think Pete’s too smart to do this forever, and I think the best series are finite – they have a curtain call, whether it’s happy or not. I have a clear vision of what Pete’s final scene is, but I’m still making my way there.
Make sure you pick up Blackout when it hit’s bookshelves on May 8th, 2018. You can also pick it up and all the other great Pete Fernandez books at the official Polis Books website.
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