Please welcome indie author Carmen Amato

Author Bio:

If you opened my handbag you'd find an ancient Blackberry, a moleskin notebook with three pens clipped to it, a passport, a Kindle, and a set of silver rosary beads in a tiny case that looks like a pillbox. I need all of these things to read, connect, and capture the world around me no matter where I go.

The Blackberry keeps me connected but also functions as a quick way to capture blog ideas and write myself little pep talks. The moleskin notebook is for bigger ideas, research, and snippets of dialogue, the best of which I may use in a novel.  I never throw away old notebooks (Don't ask why, I simply can't.)

The passport is dog eared, the Kindle contains a mash of mysteries and memoirs, and the rosaries are sterling silver from Mexico's Basilica of Guadalupe. I'm not particularly religious but the rosary reminds me of my Italian Catholic heritage and of Mexico, a country I’ve come to know and love. The rosary also reminds me of my mother and grandmother, two strong women who have always inspired me to stand tall and expect something of myself.

Originally from New York, I was educated there as well as Paris, France, and Virginia. I currently divide my time between the United States and Central America. My mystery and thriller books draw on my experiences living in Mexico and Central America and don’t flinch from issues like corruption, cartels and the region’s social inequalities.


Book title:

HAT DANCE: An Emilia Cruz Novel

Brief Synopsis:

When Emilia Cruz, Acapulco’s first and only female police detective, searches for both an elusive arsonist and a missing girl, she might have to dance with the devil to find one of them. Or the other.

Together with hotel manager Kurt Rucker, Emilia survives an arson attack thought to be an attempt to assassinate Acapulco’s popular mayor. Assigned to investigate, Emilia must contend with explosive political rivalries, a new and truculent partner, a strange new lieutenant, and her own troubled memories of the fire. As political demonstrations engulf Acapulco in yet more flames, her initial evidence might not be the solid lead she needs.

Despite the pressures of the arson investigation, Emilia cannot refuse a request to look into the disappearance of a girl from her own neighbourhood. The search puts Emilia at odds with both a suspiciously wealthy madam and a dirty Vice cop.

With more than one threat against her life and an arsonist on the loose, Emilia will start taking risks and making deals. But can she find both the arsonist and the girl before everything Emilia has goes up in smoke?

Personal

What do you do to relax when you are not writing?

I spend a lot of time in Central America where it is the rainy season right now. In the morning the sky is generally blue and clear so I can swim laps outside. In the late afternoon the thunder starts. On most days we can go outside under the patio roof and watch it pour. The other day I saw a double rainbow afterwards.

My daughter and I go on “photo safaris” together to take pictures. We’ll also watch anything with Benedict Cumberbatch in it.


What, or who, inspired you to become a writer?

I have always enjoyed writing but I was inspired to write about Mexico because of what I believe to be a very unequal social situation there. In my view, that inequality encourages the drug cartels. The money to be made from drug trafficking enables people to attain a lifestyle that is otherwise denied under Mexico’s caste system. But drug violence is eroding the beauty and culture of the country.

For the Emilia Cruz series, I was inspired to bring attention to the issue of missing women who are victims of the drug wars. Emilia keeps a list of women who have gone missing and tries to determine what happened to them. She calls them las perdidas—the lost ones.


Current work

What or who inspired you to write your current novel?

I really got the idea for the Emilia Cruz series when a drug addict interrupted Christmas mass at my church in Mexico City when we lived there some years ago. It was my first real brush with the effects of drug trafficking and made a lasting impression.


Tell us three interesting facts about your book which are not covered in the synopsis.

1) As in the first novel, Mexican food from that region of Mexico will be featured. In HAT DANCE, Emilia and her mother make a recipe which translates into “shrimp meatballs.”

2) The luxury hotel that Kurt Rucker manages in the series is a fictional composite of the Hacienda los Laureles in Oaxaca, Mexico, the Camino Réal in Acapulco and the Maria Isabel Sheraton in Mexico City.

3) Emilia has a hard time committing to a serious relationship with Kurt Rucker. What she can’t say in words she’ll show him in other ways--in the dark, on the beach.


What research did you need to do for this book?

Most of my plot elements are based on news stories of the drug war coming out of Mexico and Central America, some of which I discuss on my blog.

I’m a news junkie and read several print newspapers and online blogs and journals every day. I also have a huge city map of Acapulco that is always spread out and often search Google for images of important Acapulco city spots to jog my memory.


Are any elements/characters of your book based on real life experiences or people you’ve met/known?

Many of my experiences when we lived in Mexico went into my first novel, the political thriller THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY. The death of the parish priest, the way the protagonist was denied service in the bank because of her reaction to someone who cut in line; these are real things that happened to me. I’ve blogged about how they are referenced in the book. The Emilia Cruz series has snippets of these life experiences as well, from food to the vibe of the city to life in Mexico’s urban neighbourhoods.


Tell us a little about your current work-in-progress.

In addition to HAT DANCE which is scheduled for release 30 July, I’m working on a mini-anthology of three short stories called MADE IN ACAPULCO. The first story called “The Beast” is all about how Emilia got to be a detective despite the obstacles put in her way. The second story is called “The Disappeared” and focuses on her efforts to find women lost in Mexico’s drug wars. The third story is the original short story I wrote for a critique group I belonged to when I lived in the US and which formed the basis for the first Emilia Cruz novel, CLIFF DIVER. I plan to offer the stories as free downloads on my website.


Writing/publication process

What process did you adopt from inception through to the finished book?

Poster-sized outlines! I wrote the first 50,000 words for HAT DANCE during NaNoWriMo in November 2011 but didn’t start serious edits until late 2012. At that point I rewrote the outline, adding complications and plot twists, and posted it like a roadmap over my desk. Then I gave myself tight deadlines for completing various sections.

As this is a series, it is important to maintain consistency. I have a name file, a picture file for inspiration, and bio sketches of secondary characters.


What do you need (or not need) around you whilst writing?

I need my laptop, paper and pen for jotting notes to myself, and the occasional cup of coffee. I also like to write without music or company but my family has never quite gotten the hang of this and someone is always dropping in to chat. For a long time my desk was in a spare bedroom and the kids would lounge on what they called the “therapy bed” and talk to me as I typed. Now we have a “therapy chair.” Sigh.


What prompted you to self-publish your current book?

I self-published after bad experiences with agents and a publisher. I’m much happier having creative control over every aspect of my work so that I can deliver an authentic and consistent entertainment experience to my readers.


What were the three biggest challenges you faced when writing your book?

1) I can easily distract myself with graphic design. I can spend hours thinking about and experimenting with cover art, blog graphics, etc.

2) I am taking a marketing class that takes up a lot of time and is a bit over my head in terms of technical expertise. It is another thing that distracts me from writing.

3) I’m a big one for subplots and nuances and really had to keep from throwing in too many little “asides.”


Every author seems to suffer with writer’s block at some point. How do you overcome it?

I don’t believe in writer’s block. At times I don’t write because I’m not sufficiently interested in what I think I ought to write. I’ll mull it through and come up with a different approach or write about something different. If I’m not sufficiently interested in writing it, I can’t expect someone to be interested in reading it.


What single piece of advice would you give to any aspiring writer?

Don’t fall in love with your first draft. Fall in love with your characters, in the setting, and in the plot twists. Keep editing and rewriting until your manuscript is as good as it can be. Learn to be a ruthless editor of your own work.


Genre

What genre does your book fall into?

International mystery


How did you get interested in this specific genre?

I’ve always been a fan, especially of Ian Rankin, Jo Nesbo, Donna Leon, and Martin Cruz Smith. Readers who like these authors will like the Emilia Cruz series, too.


You as a reader

Which three authors have inspired you the most, and why?

1) Ken Follett: His earlier works including Night Over Water, Triple, The Key to Rebecca and The Eye of the Needle all have a tension-filled storyline, interesting characters with complex relationships, and multiple voices that are all integral to moving the plot forward. Not to mention the hot sex scenes.

2) P.G. Wodehouse: I discovered this British humorist in high school and have read dozens of his books and short stories. His world is that of 1920’s England. All of his books have an invariably tangled plot, crazy characters, and perfect phrasing (“he writhed like an electric fan”) that never grow old. My favorite is The Code of the Woosters.

3) Robert B. Parker: The creator of the Spenser mystery series is a study in perfect-pitch dialogue. Some of his books are a series of conversations that are so well crafted that virtually the entire plot/mystery is revealed in this way. His action scenes are never gratuitous which means they pack a big punch. My favorites are Potshot and Hugger Mugger.


What was your favourite book as a child?

The Beverly Gray mystery series. She was a reporter in New York City. The books were written in the 1930’s and her life seemed very glamorous.


What is the best book you’ve read in the last 12 months?

Mapheads by Ken Jennings is all about maps and the importance of knowing where you are in this world. Remarkable facts, intriguing interviews, and written with a great sense of humor.


What was the last book you recommended to a friend, and why did you think it was worthy of recommendation?

I review mysteries on my website and recently gave 5 stars to The Golden Egg by Donna Leon. It is the latest Commisario Brunetti mystery and was terrific. Her characters are extremely well drawn and true to Italy. I’ve been to Venice and she captures both its seedy side and its majesty, a contrast I try to show for Acapulco in the Emilia Cruz novels.


Kindle (or other e-reader) or paperback, and why?

Our family has 7 Kindles or Kindle-enabled devices and about 2000 print books. So the answer is both, in terms of how I publish and how I read. Kindle gives me reading material faster and cheaper. But I prefer to read print if the books have any kind of graphics in them. I also prefer to read magazines in print rather than Kindle.


Hollywood is calling

You’ve had the call from Hollywood and they want your opinion on who should play the leading roles in the film based upon your book. Who would you choose, and why?

You’ve seen the dreamcasts on my website, right!? America Ferrera would make a great Emilia Cruz if they ever made a CLIFF DIVER or HAT DANCE movie. Ryan Gosling should play Kurt Rucker.

Eva Mendez would also be great in the role but she’s already tapped to play Luz de Maria Alba Mora, the female lead in THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY.

Both Emilia and Luz are showcase roles for the many great Latina actresses out there.


The film of your book is now going to need a soundtrack. Which musician(s) would you want to write and play it?

The playlist is on the site as well! Emilia Cruz is a big fan of the Mexican super group Maná and if they wanted to do the music I’d be thrilled. I also love music by Jon Secada and know he’d do a wonderful job with the soundtrack to any of my books.


Favourites

Drink – Coffee

Meal – My husband’s marinated and grilled beef filets

Holiday destination – Nashville, Tennessee

TV programme – Vicar of Dibley, Dancing with the Stars, Sherlock

Film – The latest Star Trek movie was awesome

Method of travel – Flight

Sport – Swimming


How can people connect with you?

Website/Blog: http://carmenamato.net

Twitter: @CarmenConnects

Facebook: authorcarmenamato




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