THE BOOK FROM BRAZIL: AN INTERVIEW WITH LEIGHTON GAGE PART ONE
I really enjoyed reading the thriller Blood of the Wicked by Leighton Gage featuring Chief Inspector Mario Silva which I reviewed here.
The Booklist review stated that it "vividly evokes a country of political corruption, startling economic disparity and relentless crime'.
I agree and found myself getting involved with interesting characters who were then summarily eliminated by the villains which gave the novel a very gritty realism. This novel was not a mystery but an exciting thriller which packed a lot into its 320 pages.
I had intended to watch the Brazilian film 'Tropa da Elite' about the Brazilian government's paramilitary force formed to tackle the drug wars in Rio's favelas this week but this proved impossible because of family commitments and the film's short run. But just viewing the exciting trailer convinced me that 'Blood of the Wicked' is an accurate and frightening picture of life for some in Brazil. Although we should not forget that Brazil is also a land of great beaches, beautiful people, fine food and stunning scenery.
The author of Blood of the Wicked Leighton Gage was kind enough to answer a few questions in order to give us a rare insight into the making of a writer, the writing process and the future of Brazil.
Crime Scraps: From reading your biography you have had a varied and very successful career why did you decide to become a crime writer?
Leighton: There’s no simple answer to that one, Norman, not for me. If I’d undergone an epiphany, as some writers claim to have done, I might be able to point to a single event that transformed me from a reader to a writer. But, in my case, it wasn’t like that at all. It was a process, a process that took years.
By the time I was a budding adolescent, I was already into books. My earliest heroes were Robin Hood, The Knights of the Round Table, The Three Musketeers. In those days, an adult wouldn’t think of picking up Treasure Island or Kidnapped. Robert Louis Stevenson was for us kids, remember?
In my late teens and early twenties I read the hot novels, immersed myself in Mitchener, Fleming, Mario Puzo, Leon Uris, the two Irvings, Stone and Wallace. I discovered poetry, memorized a lot of it, can still quote Yeats, Houseman and Kipling by the yard. I blush to admit that I plagiarized some of that poetry and sent it to girls. None of those girls ever caught me out, which probably says something about the sort of young women I admired in those days.
In my forties, my reading matter started shifting toward histories, biographies and crime novels set in exotic locations. I discovered Eric Ambler. It still hadn’t crossed my mind that I might produce something of my own.
Then, in my mid-fifties, restlessness set in. I’m not talking about a midlife crisis, nothing as serious as that, but I was beginning to find my day job repetitive and boring. Meantime, I’d acquired long years of experience with Brazil, a huge and fascinating country that few people outside the continent know anything about. Meantime, too, I was still reading those crime novels. And thus it was that, almost half a century after I picked up my first book, I started toying with the idea of seeing my name on a spine, finding my work in a bookshop or a library.
The final catalyst came when a law enforcement professional, a childhood friend of my Brazilian brother-in-law, exposed me to the intricacies of one of his murder investigations. I was hooked. Next day, I opened a file on my computer and started making notes. After a number of false starts, and a few years to learn the craft, what emerged was Blood of the Wicked.
Crime Scraps: You have been in the advertising industry and a documentary filmmaker do you think this has helped you make BOTW such a vivid book?
Leighton: Thank you for calling BOTW a vivid book. There’s no doubt in my mind that my professional background helped me to make it so. In advertising, I used to be charged with creating radio and television commercials. The experience taught me about dialogue and about story telling. Film making taught me a great deal more. When you’re shooting a film or video, you’re compelled to think visually, even if you’re jotting down your initial ideas in the form of words. Modern novels are all about “showing”, not “telling”, using words to help the reader “see” the action. (And hear, smell, touch and taste it as well.) Long passages of pure narrative description can kill a book. Both readers and writers have “learned” from the television/film experience. Criteria today are far different than they were a hundred years ago. A guy who writes like Charles Dickens, but isn’t Charles Dickens, isn’t going to get anything into print in the twenty-first century.
Crime Scraps: How do you go about the process of writing a novel? Do you know how it is going to end before you start?
Leighton: I start by writing an outline, a précis of the characters and the plot. It ultimately winds-up in chapter order, but I seldom initiate the creative process with chapter one. More often than not, I outline the end before I tackle the beginning. That way, I know where I have to get to, where the final “surprise” lies, where the satisfying last words are going to come in. But here’s the dichotomy: I’ve never completed a book “as outlined”. Once I start writing the first draft, all bets are off. I keep asking myself how I can heighten the conflict, how I can ratchet up the tension. This sometimes necessitates the introduction of new chapters or the rearrangement of existing chapters. So all the way through the first draft, I’m writing the draft and re-writing the outline. Once the first draft is done, I check it against the outline and then lay the outline aside. I seldom pick it up again. Mind you, I’m not saying my process is the best one. It just happens to be the best one for me, one I’ve developed by trial-and-error. I know several authors who don’t outline at all and are able to turn out wonderful books. I’m afraid I’d be incapable of doing that.
[To be continued]