Gabriel Valjan is the author of the Roma Series from Winter Goose Publishing. His fourth book in the Series came out 15 June 2015. Gabriel writes short stories, which are available online and in print. He lives in Boston with two surly cats, Squeak and Squawk, who act as editors and arbiters of good writing and food.
Turning To Stone is Book 4 of the Roma Series from Winter Goose Publishing. Bianca is in Naples this time. Loki, her mysterious contact, is now giving her baffling anagrams. They seem to lead to a charismatic entrepreneur who has a plan to partner with organized crime to manipulate the euro and American dollar. Against a backdrop of gritty streets, financial speculation, and a group of female assassins on motorcycles, Bianca and her friends discover that Naples might just be the most dangerous city in Italy.
Were you an avid reader as a child? What type of books did you enjoy reading?
I read voraciously and my parents made sure that I had an unrestricted library card, allowing me to borrow any item without adult permission. I started out reading every book that I could find on dinosaurs. I thought it was cool to be a scientist, scholar, and detective all in one. I regressed from land to sea, reading what I could find on marine biology. In terms of “literature,” a relative had given me a Signet Classics trio that included Lord Jim, Animal Farm, and The Jungle Book. I made no claims to understand Orwell at the time, and Conrad was depressing, although not as dark as Thomas Hardy. Another dear gift to me in childhood was from a woman named Tess, who worked the cash register at a restaurant my family frequented. She encouraged my reading. She gave me Edith Hamilton’s Mythology. Now that I am older, I will read just about anything regardless of genre. A good story is a good story. Now that I write books I try to help other writers by leaving reviews on Amazon or Goodreads. I also blog about neglected authors. Every little bit helps.
Tell us a bit about your latest book, and what inspired you to write such a story.
Several streams flowed into the river for Turning To Stone. Roberto Saviano’s Gomorrah was influential for giving me a sociological portrait of the Camorra and Naples, although I’ve been to Naples. The Financial Crises of 2007 and 2008 also inspired me. While I’m not paranoid or susceptible to conspiracy theories, I never subscribed to the analyses that American media outlets offered the public about the financial debacle. Watch the news and, on any topic, you will see that the news anchors use the same phrases verbatim. I dug deep into the post-mortem on the Fiscal Crises.
Journalist Andrew Sorkin’s corpulent Too Big To Fail, at 500-plus pages, is considered the definitive post-mortem on the Fiscal Crisis of 2008. While I was writing Turning, UMass Amherst graduate student Thomas Herndon and Professors Michael Ash and Robert Pollin came along and exploded Harvard duo Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff’s pro-austerity argument. R & R said that a country would collapse when its public debt hits 90% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Herndon et al. proved that the hypothesis and the methodology were specious, the result of faulty thinking. I probably enjoyed the plate-glass at Amherst trumping Harvard’s red bricks more than I should have, but needless to say, economists everywhere took a black eye for not having seen the storm on the horizon, not having sounded the bell, or having it explained it adequately after the fact. I opened Turning with Italian bonds being downgraded because rating agencies are owned by the same entities they’re supposed to rate objectively.
The currency in your pocket means something because we all assign a value to it, so what if someone came along and redefined that value for you? That is exactly what happened in 2007 and 2008. In stark terms, one casualty of the Crises was home ownership, the symbol of the American Dream. Someone came along and said that your home is relatively worthless, but you still have to pay the mortgage and property taxes based on the original appraisal that no longer exists. In terms of consequences today, the news will talk about austerity measures, but doesn’t tell you about the suicides as a result of unemployment in Greece. Just this morning I was reading about a doctor in Greece who had worked a 12-hour shift, dealing with such suicides, only to end his shift seeing a body bag that contained the body of his son who had killed himself.
My process is disciplined. I write daily, and I constantly ask myself, Will this make the reader turn the page? In the first go, I try to get the story down. With a series, the characters are in your head and they have distinctive voices and quirks such that I put them in situations and record how they react. So I guess that is stream-of-consciousness writing once the characters are established. I do, however, make the characters evolve from one book to the next. My characters are flawed, but they are not dysfunctional; they care about each other because they live and work and are dependent on each other because it is a matter of life or death.
The hardest part in starting a novel is that first scene. Readers have to have enough information, but not too much; they have to have a compelling WHAT so they turn the page to understand HOW and WHY. In shoptalk, it is ‘the hook’ and I find that often the best strategy is not to have a wind-up, but to throw the reader in medias res. In the first scene of Book 3:Threading the Needle, a student is murdered execution-style. In Turning, there is an assassination, but the mystery starts with the arrival of a package of five books.
Do you have another book in the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects?
Book 5 of the Roma Series has been written. Bianca is back in Boston for Corporate Citizen to help an old friend. She doesn’t care about the dead hooker, about the drug overdose, or the other body at the scene. She does care that her former employer is implicated. Her enemy Lorenzo Bevilacqua has made startling revelations about U.S. Attorney Farese and Loki. Confused, shocked, and with little time to think, Bianca must save lives: her own, the lives of her friends, and that of a new ally, a troubled military veteran, who may just have the key to Rendition’s true purpose and Loki’s real identity.
I’m shopping an historical noir series with agents and publishers. The Good Man series is about the early days of the CIA; it starts abroad in Vienna, and returns stateside, where The Agency endures a contentious rivalry with the FBI. The Series is inspired by true events. I’m editing a novella set in Boston, circa 1975. I’ve spent the last two years editing and shaping an ambitious family saga that spans eighty years of American history. The Gilded Age / Progressive Era is a fascinating slice of history that offers parallels and relevance to contemporary issues such as racism, injustices, and disparities in rights and wealth.
Agatha Christie got her best ideas while eating green apples in the bathtub. Steven Spielberg says he gets his best ideas while driving on the highway. When do you get your best ideas and why do you think this is?
Inspiration for me comes from chewing on incidents that have happened, or happened recently. In Book 1: Roma, Underground, I had read about an art scandal in Sicily in the early 80s, and I combined that with the moral debate on archaeological sovereignty that we find in the case of the Elgin Marbles. For Wasp’s Nest, I had read that a pharmaceutical company was about to lose its patent on its flagship drug, a lucrative statin, a medication that lowers cholesterol. I merged that news with a ‘what if question’ about cancer research. Threading the Needle was another curious mix of ideas: the Aldo Moro kidnapping and subsequent murder, the election of Nichi Vendola, one of Italy’s few openly gay Italian politicians (he’s the Governor of the Apulia Region) and both Catholic and leftist. I created a character who was openly gay, Catholic, and Communist, a ‘cattocomunista,’ in Italian. Real life does lend itself to fiction, so why not?
What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
Do your best to tell the story, leave the ego out of it, and then move on because it will never be perfect. Learn from others and strive to improve yourself 1% each day.
As an author, what is your greatest reward?
Knowing that my readers spent their precious time reading what I had created. I’ve been working with a well-known editor for the last five years. He has decades of experience, wrote a successful book about editing, and about three books in I gave him the first novel that I had written. I was very apprehensive because that novel was not genre fiction and I had thought of it as an early, immature work. I sent it to him and waited. He told me that it was a powerful story and one of the few books that he had read that made him break down and cry. It doesn’t get any better than that as an author to know that you touched someone’s emotions.
Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?
Web site: www.gabrielvaljan.com
Pinterest boards for the Roma Series books
Book 4: Turning To Stone | https://www.pinterest.com/gvaljan/turning-to-stone/
Book 3: Threading the Needle | https://www.pinterest.com/gvaljan/threading-the-needle/
Books 2: Wasp’s Nest | https://www.pinterest.com/gvaljan/wasp-s-nest/
Book 1: Roma, Underground | https://www.pinterest.com/gvaljan/roma/