Alex Segura may best known for his public relations and editorial work at Archie and DC, but he has a dark side – crime fiction. For the past few years, Segura has moonlighted as a crime novelist and this April is debuting his newest novel, Down the Darkest Street. A sequel to 2013’s Silent City, this new book revists journalist and reluctant P.I. Pete Fernandez as he gets pulled into a new case to find a former co-worker’s daughter and stumbles into a string of mob-related murders.
Newsarama spoke with Segura about his prodigious crime novelist career, the connections with comic books, as well as how his life mirrors his main character – and how it doesn’t.
Newsarama: Alex, people know you for your comic book work, both in public relations, writing and even being a former Newsarama and Wizard writer. But how did your interest in prose fiction, particularly in the crime genre, come about?
Alex Segura: I can’t really point to one moment where I realized I was a crime fiction fan – I kind of grew up with it, parallel to stuff like sci-fi and comics. While reading issues of Spider-Man and Batman or watching Star Trek, I was reading The Godfather and In Cold Blood. I was always drawn to the darker side and stories about crime, criminals and the people trying to stop them.
Writing prose was something I dabbled in when I was younger and in college, but I didn’t really try my hand at a crime story until I’d moved to New York to work for DC over a decade ago. I’d been a fan of classic crime novels by Raymond Chandler and the like for some time, but I’d just discovered a handful of writers who featured really compelling, modern protagonists in their work – people like George Pelecanos, Dennis Lehane, Laura Lippman and James Ellroy. Their books were populated by people who were flawed and imperfect, and that appealed to me as a writer. Eventually, I thought about taking a stab at writing a story myself. The story morphed and stretched and eventually became long enough to be a novel. That was Silent City, my first Pete Fernandez book.
Nrama: And your new novel is Down the Darkest Street. What can you tell us about it?
Segura: Well, Silent City, my first Pete Fernandez novel is being reissued first – on March 15 by Polis Books. That introduces readers to Pete Fernandez, a down-on-his-luck journalist who’s moved back to Miami in the wake of his father death. Pete’s working a dead-end newspaper job, his fiancé has left him and he’s drinking way too much. He’s basically hit bottom. As all this stuff hits, a colleague asks him to help find his missing daughter. Pete decides, what the hell? But as his investigation gets rolling, he learns that the missing woman is part of a bigger, more dangerous tapestry involving a mob killer known as the Silent Death, an urban legend that is becoming all too real.
Down the Darkest Street finds Pete still recovering from the events of Silent City. He’s found some level of normalcy and is doing his best to settle into a quiet life. But Miami doesn’t really allow for quiet lives, and when a series of murders start haunting South Florida, Pete and an unexpected partner feel themselves being pulled back into the P.I. business. It’s a story about discovering your demons and figuring out how to beat them – before they kill you.
Nrama: For a time, you even worked as an editor for The Miami Herald. Did you ever get to participate in any crime stories there?
Segura: By the time I was at The Miami Herald, I wasn’t doing much reporting – but there were big crime stories all the time, and working on the copy desk and online, I got to see and help move along a lot of them. Miami-Dade County Commissioner Arthur Teele’s suicide, which happened on The Miami Herald’s doorstep, is one that I remember particularly well. I also got to sleep by my desk when a hurricane hit. Looking out my window to see the winds and rain walloping the highway to Miami Beach and seeing the destruction the following morning as I drove home is something I’ll never forget.
Nrama: As a former newspaper journalist, is it common in your experience for writers there to get asked to look into personal stories like Pete does in Down the Darkest Street?
Segura: It never happened to me, but struck me as plausible while writing. I can’t say it was common, though!
Nrama: There's always the adage "write what you know," but did you have any reluctance to set it in your hometown of Miami and with a person working your former occupation as a journalist?
Segura: No, because I felt like I had something to say. It’s a work of fiction, but I wanted to present my experiences – and fictionalized expansion of those experiences – to readers that maybe had a preconceived notion of not only Miami, but working in newspapers. I got a lot of feedback from Silent City readers who appreciated how I handled the newspaper setting – and I really tried to be as genuine as possible. There’s still an element of that in Down the Darkest Street, albeit presented in a different way.
As for Miami – when I first started writing Silent City, I set it in Miami because I didn’t really feel like there was a series set there, and it was my hometown. I also had just moved to New York, so the idea of writing a story set there really paralyzed me. Now, years later, I’d feel more comfortable writing about New York. But yes, you write what you know – and that knowledge helps you riff and expand on those things.
Nrama: So with that though -- are you like Pete, or were you at one point in time?
Segura: Pete and I are similar in the same way people I went to college with and I are similar – we’re both Cuban American, around the same age and have a journalism background. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see Pete working at my college paper or out for beers with my friends. But I think that’s where it ends.
Nrama: So who is Pete?
Segura: That’s a great question. I really wanted to present a character who didn’t necessarily want to be a P.I. Who wasn’t wearing a fedora or smoking cigarettes while the femme fatale walked into his office. He’s a guy with vices and bad habits but a desire to do well, with the drive and smarts to sometimes accomplish that goal. He’s also a product of Miami – but not the Miami you see on TV. He’s the kind of guy I knew in college and, to me, really reflects the town.
Nrama: With that title, “Down the Darkest Streets,” what would you say are the darkest streets in Miami?
Segura: Oh, I don’t know if I could narrow it down to actual streets. Like any city, there are parts of Miami you probably don’t want to wander alone at night, but overall, Miami is a vibrant, beautiful city. I think the title comes from a desire to show the city as it is, and the corners that maybe people don’t see when they watch Burn Notice or what-have-you. Down the Darkest Street takes you on a tour of the Miami that tourists tend to skip, warts and all.
Nrama: Although you've a pretty solid New Yorker at this point, you come from Miami -- coincidentally, the heart of the growing sub-genre of Florida crime fiction from the popularity of Carl Hiaasen and others. First off, would you put your work in that sub-genre?
Segura: Based on location alone, definitely – the Pete books are South Florida novels, through and through. As much as I like Hiaasen’s work, I don’t think I’d classify the Pete books as similar. They’re much less comedic and a bit darker. But I’ll never miss a chance to be grouped with him! In terms of other writers who write about South Florida that influence my work, I have to tip my hat in the general direction of Elmore Leonard, Vicki Hendricks, John D. MacDonald, Edna Buchanan and James W. Hall. If you’re into noir under the Miami sun, you could do worse than those names as a starting point.
Nrama: And either way, what do you think makes Florida such a fertile setting for crime fiction?
Segura: I think it’s the contrast. To an outsider, Miami seems like this tropical paradise, a vacation setting. In reality, it’s like many of our country’s cities: flawed, sometimes corrupt with a fair share of crime. Florida has also earned a rep as the home for all things weird in terms of crime, so what’s not to love? Talk about fertile ground.
Nrama: You work in comic books, and moonlight in prose -- any chance you could do crime comic books yourself at some point?
Segura: Always a possibility. At this point, I’m keeping my crime writing to prose and pursuing other comic book writing projects, but you never know. I feel like we’re in golden era for crime comics, with books like The Fade Out, The Black Hood and Stray Bullets, to name a few. So, yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised if I went down that road at some point.