For the 32nd instalment in the 9mm series, Crime Watch is talking to the very well-travelled Leighton Gage, author of the acclaimed Chief Inspector Mario Silva Series, set in Brazil. Gage has lived and worked on six continents. He visited Spain in the time of Franco, Portugal in the time of Salazar, South Africa in the time of apartheid, Chile in the time of Pinochet, Argentina in the time of the junta, Prague, East Germany and Yugoslavia under the Communist yoke. He is fluent in three languages and conversant in three more. He and his wife spend much of their time in Brazil, her native country, although they also divide their time with France, the Netherlands and the United States, where Gage's daughters live.
I only recently discovered Leighton Gage thanks to Dorte Jakobsen's excellent 2010 Global Reading Challenge, where several of my fellow participants have been reading Gage's Brazilian tales for some of their South American entries. You can read reviews of DYING GASP here and here, and BLOOD OF THE WICKED here. I have recently received an advance copy of Gage's next Mario Silva tale, EVERY BITTER THING, and am very much looking forward to reading it. You can read an excerpt from DYING GASP here.
Gage also blogs on the terrific Murder is Everywhere site, alongside some other international authors from a variety of countries. You can read more about Leighton Gage and his books here. But for now, the man from Brazil (and many other places) stares down the barrel of 9mm.
Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?Gee, Craig, that’s like asking me what my favorite food is. I love French cuisine. I love Italian. I love Chinese, and Mexican and Indian. I love the classics. I love modern writers too numerous to mention. I delight in the work of the five international crime writers who share a blog with me, and I have a special affection for a loser by the name of Arthur Abdel Simpson.
Here’s a review I wrote of the first book in which he appears. Eric Ambler, Arthur’s creator, was the first writer of International Thrillers whom I really, truly admired. And still do.
What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?That would be Pretzel. I had it read to me when I was four or five years old and, for years, it was my most cherished possession. When I learned to read, I read it over and over. To my young mind, there was a perfect symmetry to it. (The first and last lines in the book are exactly the same.) The book has it all. Rejection, Heartbreak, Heroism, Love, Ultimate Acceptance and Success –all in 32 widely-spaced pages.
I thought the book was out of print, lost and gone forever, until one of my daughters bought it for one of her children. “One morning in May,” I said to her when I spotted it, “five little dachshunds were born.” She looked at me strangely. “First and last lines of the book,” I said.
More than fifty years had gone by, but I still remembered it. Now, that’s a book. If you have kids (or grandkids) – buy Pretzel.
Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?I wrote one unpublished novel, revised and rejected many times. Rightfully rejected, I should add. It’s so bad it isn’t worth trying to redeem. But it helped me to develop and gave birth to my continuing character – so I’ll never regret having put in the effort.
Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?I used to be deeply into sailing and diving, difficult now because of one bad knee and a full replacement of the other. But I’m still able to indulge my passion for travel. And I do.
What is one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn't in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn’t initially consider?I live in a great, dirty, dangerous megalopolis. Visitors should have a few good meals – and then leave. The city’s one redeeming feature is its restaurants, some of the best in the world. I’ve spent a couple of years in France, lots of time in Italy, lived for a decade in New York, three years in Sydney, love food and, I can assure you that (when it comes to food, at least) I know whereof I speak. Restaurants in São Paulo are seriously good. Unfortunately, not much else is.
But drive a couple of hours and you come to magnificent and pristine beaches, all of which border on high mountains covered by tropical rainforest. So it isn’t all bad.
If you’d learn more about my home town, read the post and look at the pictures in the guest post I did for Jim Thompson’s blog on the 5th of August, 2010 - you can read his blog here.
If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?I’d like to think it would be Richard Gere, although my wife thinks I’m better looking than he is. (Just my wife, nobody else.)
Of your books, which is your favourite, and why?I always think my best book is the last one I finished. I ascribe to what Chaucer said: “The life so short, the craft so long to learn.”
I’m constantly learning, always trying to get better. I re-write, and re-write and re-write. And, in the process, I wind up losing my objectivity.
In a few years time, when I won’t have most of my written words locked so firmly into my brain, I plan to re-read everything I’ve ever done. And then, maybe, I’ll have a favorite that isn’t in sequence. But, right now, I don’t.
My current favorite is A Vine in the Blood. It goes on sale in December of 2011.
What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut story in book form on a bookseller’s shelf?On the day that I learned that Blood of the Wicked was going to be published, my wife and I opened a bottle of champagne. That was just after my agent called, about half-an-hour before noon. In the early afternoon we opened another. An hour or so later, another. And, after that, I don’t remember a hell of a lot. I do remember that it was a wonderful day.
The following morning, for some strange reason, didn’t seem quite so wonderful – but I was still ecstatic.
What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
When I launched Blood of the Wicked part of my tour involved a drive (of about four hours) from a large town in the American Southwest to a much smaller town within the same state.
A month or so ahead of time, I got an email from a more-experienced author whose books I loved. She said, “Hey, I see you’re booked into Bookshop X on such-and-such a date. Would you have any objection to doing a double-act?” “Not at all,” I said, pleased and flattered. “I’d welcome it.” Then,” she said, “you’re in luck. Because I was born in that town, and I’m going to pack the place.”
And she did. Everybody from her ninety-two year old mother to her elementary schoolteacher showed up. It was standing room only. She asked me to speak first. When I stood up there was a bit of nervous shuffling, making it clear that they weren’t there to hear me. So I said a very little about my work, praised her books and sat down. But then, nice lady that she is, she graciously drew me into her presentation, we had a great evening, and I sold a few books.
Encouraged, I decided to do the same thing the following year. Once again, I subjected myself to the four-hour drive through the desert. My new friend, the other author, was unable to make it. But I thought a few folks would show up anyway.
I would have been happy with half the crowd. Or even a quarter of it. Nope. The sole attendee was the sister of a friend of mine who’d driven two hours to get there, only to find that the bookstore hadn’t received any of my books. They didn’t have a single one in stock.
But that wasn’t the worst of it. The worst of it was that, while I was entertaining my audience of one, my wife was chatting with the owner of the shop. The owner was (and is) a pig aficianada. She has these pet porkers that live in her home. She has photos of them in the shop. She sells little pig artifacts. She sold my wife on the idea of raising pet pigs. And it took me months to talk her out of it.
Those pigs are famous in that part of the world. American West Coast authors, most of whom have given that bookshop a shot, all know about them. You need only say “pig” to an author in Los Angeles or San Francisco, and they turn pale.
Thank you Leighton Gage. We really appreciate you taking the time to talk with Crime Watch.
So what do you think of this 9mm interview? Have you read any of Leighton Gage's Mario Silva books? If so, what did you think? Does the thought of South American crime fiction entice you? Should we be more open to crime fiction from a variety of locales? Are you participating in the 2010 Global Reading Challenge? I'd love to read your comments. Please share your thoughts.