Gabriel Valjan is the author of 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.
Book description: Corporate Citizen has Bianca back in Boston, this time to help a former ally, Diego Clemente, who is in the hospital and makes 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. Readers will learn more about her past, and what makes ticks. This installment will present major revelations.
Did your book require a lot of research? All the books in the Roma Series require some level of research and Corporate Citizen was no exception, although the research wasn’t about technology this time. When I began tinkering with ideas around which I could turn the plot, I was reading about an outbreak of heroin use on the Cape here in Massachusetts. [Cape Cod is a coastal area, famous for its beaches.] In Corporate, a strain of heroin has hit the Boston scene. For those fans of the series Breaking Bad, this type of heroin is something Walter White could appreciate because its precursor is free and cheap…if you live in Siberia.
I researched drug experimentation in the military. I was looking for cases that involved active conspiracy and subterfuge. Conspiracy theorists point to Project MKUltra, which the CIA ran from 1953-1964. I found an article in Time dated January 1, 1973 in which Japanese customs official were alerted to a possible drug shipment. They would discover a transport in which the remains of U.S. soldiers Killed In Action in Vietnam had had their internal organs removed and replaced with heavy bags of heroin. The official paperwork has since disappeared. The topic of experimentation is a plot element.
I introduce a new character in Corporate Citizen, a veteran who is both dangerous and compassionate. Nick was modeled (loosely) on a deceased family member. 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. He would die at the age of forty as a result of exposure to Agent Orange. On a lighter note, a quick and fast botanical fact about Boston in Corporate Citizen is an important clue.
What was your goal when writing this book?
As with any novel, I wanted to tell a story and push my cast of characters to new plateaus of trust and suspicion. Dante is absent from Corporate, but there is a reason for that. Corporate Citizen is a game-changer in many ways, but I won’t spoil it for readers. Writing it, the intention was a calculated risk. New challenges are necessary for my characters to grow. With change, there is discomfort, catharsis, and renewal.
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?
My ideas come from a variety of sources. The key is to be receptive to possibilities. A curious turn of phrase may find its way into your character’s dialog, or hearing it may prompt you to speculate why a person would say such a thing, or what kind of person says that. Imagery from a bygone era can provide inspiration. I’ve paged through vintage magazines to get a sense of what previous generations deemed sexy, a mark of status, or hip. I’ll read the language around the imagery, especially if it is an advertisement. What imagination does with those items is something I can’t explain.
I wrote Corporate Citizen in forty-three days in 2012. The release date for the book is October 5, 2016, so that should give you some idea of the time spent editing and revising it.
What types of scenes give you the most trouble to write?
Violence. I read a lot of crime fiction and I understand ‘crime’ is a necessary ingredient, but I get the impression that some writers feel that the more vivid and gruesome they are with violence, the more realistic and gritty they are. I find the opposite to be true. Readers become – and I do, too – desensitized. Violence, like sex, should serve a narrative purpose. I happen to find silence and ambiguity excellent ingredients to suspense and tension.
When writing, what themes do you feel passionate about?
Funny that you ask this question because I had a conversation recently in which the other person asked me if I was a moral writer. Do the bad guys always get justice? I had to scratch my head because my first impulse was to be defensive and say that I didn’t write with an agenda and then I realized all writers write with one purpose: to tell a story. I imagine that some writers have been aghast at some of the critical interpretations of their works. Once the book is out of the manger, readers will do what they will. I maintain that my Roma Series is about a group of friends who love each other and are loyal to each other because it is the only way to survive the world they live in.
What is your opinion about critique groups? What words of advice would you offer a novice writer who is joining one? Do you think the wrong critique group can ‘crush’ a fledgling writer?
I haven’t found them helpful. Some writers can be a competitive bunch, with spiteful and snarky remarks. Many are kind and patient mentors. My personal limitation with giving criticism is that I have to refrain from telling another writer how I would fix the writing. I’m divided on workshops because I would think a lifelong habit of reading, backed by a decent education should suffice. A writing group seems, in my opinion, to be part remedial education with respect to literary terms, and the other half of it is a sweatshop that produces so many lamps and clocks. I can recognize a workshop piece most of the time. They are written well, they are functional pieces but do they speak to the human condition, or are they just clever showpieces? I sincerely believe you can’t teach the creative part.
Do you have another book in the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects?
In 2017, Winter Goose Publishing will introduce another series, The Company Files. Readers will start in Vienna, 1948. The war is over and another one is starting: the Cold War, and a former enemy becomes a friend, and an ally, an enemy. Book1: The Good Man revisits the classic noir spy-thriller genre and the early days of the intelligence community.