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The Sirens of Suspense

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

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Alex Segura is a novelist and comic book writer. His Miami crime novels Silent City and Down the Darkest Street - featuring washed up detective Pete Fernandez - are out now from Polis Books.

 

Find Alex on Twitter.

http://www.alexsegura.com

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Writers get a lot of questions. Some good, some bad.

I feel like “why do you write?” is almost as common as ye olde “where do you get your ideas?” But maybe not as annoying - by a hair.

At least I can answer the “why” question - I think. It all boils down to one thing: obsession. A focused, compulsive feeling that won’t go away until I sit in front of my keyboard and bash out a few thousand words a day. And even then, it’s only quiet for a little bit, cropping up again, seconds before I doze off. “What happens next?” Rinse, repeat.

It’s not a new feeling. I felt the same way as a kid, sitting alone in my grandparents’ Miami house, organizing stacks of Spider-Man comic books - and by “stacks” I mean a bunch of longboxes - not by issue number or title, but by how they could plausibly happen. “If Spider-Man is fighting Dr. Doom in Amazing Spider-Man #350, how could he be battling Doc Ock in Spectacular Spider-Man #173…?” That kind of “organizing.”

It’s the same feeling that possessed me to spend a week of my summer vacation with my Starfleet Technical Manual - this is a real book, people - to try and figure out how Stardates on Star Trek work, only to have all my research flushed away when I found out the chronological calendar system was literally made up episode-to-episode on the original series. After a few hours of grumbling, I handwrote a Star Trek novel instead. Obsession acquired, obsession relieved (briefly) through writing. Spark lit.

Obsession is trying to create a lost Beatles album in high school from solo Beatles songs recorded while listening to the radio, based on my own self-imposed rules:

1 - Must have been written during the Beatles lifespan as a band or within the first three years post-breakup.

2 - Must feature at least two Beatles on the final recording.

3 - Cannot be a “diss” song - see “How Do You Sleep?” or “3 Legs” or “Wah Wah.”

4 - Cannot be a Wings song.

We are in Crazy Town, population me. And hey, ask me for the record. I have the playlist somewhere.

It’s an all-consuming feeling, this need to know everything and anything about a certain subject, and to then try and add to the canon myself. It’s a desire to check every nook and cranny and become immersed in a subject - from comic books to true crime to football to music (let’s talk about the Replacements or Talking Heads one day, yeah?) to crime fiction to film noir. My brain is always chugging along, and it needs coal to keep the engine burning. I pour information in and then I create.

I’ve always been a crime fiction reader. I just didn’t know it right away. I probably shouldn’t have been flipping through Mario Puzo’s The Godfather at eight, but hey - it happened. From then on, I wanted to know as much about the bad guys as the heroes, and I wanted to know about the dark, dirty world they lived in. I didn’t care if it was real or not - as long as the kickback was good and the stories surprised and entertained.

I liked stories about fucked up “heroes” in different places who weren’t perfect. They stumbled. They got sloppy. They messed up. They were lost. They were human and had room to grow. I loved visiting them: walking the dark corners of Washington, D.C. with Nick Stefanos. Having stale AA coffee with Matt Scudder in New York. Rubbing shoulders with the celebs and politicians that made up James Ellroy’s seedy Los Angeles. Dodging the wackos and con artists of Tess Monaghan’s Baltimore. I was obsessed. I wanted in. Cut me off a piece, please, I’m hungry.

That’s why I write. Because I have to get the noise bouncing around my skull on paper to make room for more noise. I turned my obsessions into energy, and I used that energy to go on my own writing jags. It’s not easy or simple, but the trick is to keep your ears open. Listen to the voices in your head and write down what they say. It’s pretty entertaining stuff.

 

 

 

WHAT'S YOUR OBSESSION? TELL US or leave a comment on the blog below or on our Facebook page and you’ll be entered to win a copy of DOWN THE DARKEST STREET! (US entrants only, please.)

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