A Wicked Welcome to Gabriel Valjan & Giveaway!

I’m so thrilled to welcome Gabriel Valjan to the blog! Gabriel is another New Englander. His book The Naming Game was recently nominated for a Best Historical Agatha award. Today Gabriel is going to let us know about his most recent release, Dirty Old Town.

Trust yourself.

I’m all for constructive criticism and for picking your battles carefully, but there are times when you have to trust yourself. When I first wrote Dirty Old Town, I printed out the first chapter and sent it in for a Read-and-Critique. The idea was an established and published author would read the first chapter and critique it. We would meet in person for a discussion. At the time, I had more than one book published but Dirty Old Town was the first in a new series, and a dangerous foray into familiar territory, and I wasn’t confident about my concept. Let’s face it, a PI, in 1970s Boston, has been done before. Ever hear of Robert Parker? Spenser? Or those other Boston scribblers named George V. Higgins and Dennis Lehane?

The opener is the phone rings, Shane is in bed, and he is kicked. I wrote the scene such that I lead the reader to believe that the kicker is a woman, but it turns out to be, wait for it, a cat named Delilah. Long story short: the editor’s pen bled thus in the margin. NOT PLAUSIBLE.

I’m sitting across from Established Writer; so, being polite, I silenced the choice profanity running from my brain to my lips. I allowed my hackles to rise and subside. I asked: “Why not?” The author told me (pinky swear) ‘a cat wouldn’t do that. A dog might, but not a cat.’ This scribe clearly never owned a cat, never had fur or paw in face in the wan hours of the night to remind him the bowl was empty. Lesson learned: Trust Yourself.

One more thing about cats. I’ve had more than one editor who will change my pronoun for a cat, from he or she to ‘it.’ Seriously? Your fur baby or not, our pets have personality, they have quirks, and no matter whether they have been spayed or neutered, they have a gender. I can hear Lady Catbeth, ‘Unsex me’ not.

One last meow. I’ve read cozies and I’ve always resented the implication that they were not crime fiction, that they were quaint. Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot are not all sunshine and daisies. Often, cozy mysteries will have cats as familiars to a character in the story. Delilah is Shane’s companion since he is a man alone in the world. Shane is an orphan and ostracized. His father committed suicide, his mother died of a broken heart, and he became persona non grata for doing the right thing with the wrong people, the Boston Police Department. Delilah acts as his conscience, in that same way pet owners know how their furry friends communicate their opinions.

Let’s circle back to valuable criticism. Proofreaders and Copy Editors corral the mis-keyings on the keyboard and the violations of grammar. A continuity editor is keen to eliminate inconsistencies, unlike the film editor who didn’t spot the anachronism of Romans’ wearing Timex wristwatches with their togas in the 1963 film Cleopatra. A rarer breed of editor is the Developer or Diagnostician, who reads the manuscript and points out, with diplomacy, structural issues in the narrative. In Dirty Old Town, I was asked to add more ‘color’ to show how gritty Boston was in the Seventies. I listened and I appreciated the input. An editor sees missing parts, from the absent article of speech or words we miss when we’re typing faster than it rains to suggesting adding something more to a scene, or sharpening a plot point.

Have you received criticism that helped your story, or did you have to stand your ground and keep the cat in the room?

Gabriel will be giving away a copy of Dirty Old Town to one commenter!


Gabriel Valjan lives in Boston’s South End where he enjoys the local restaurants. When he isn’t appeasing Munchkin, his cat, with tuna, he documents the #dogsofsouthendboston on Instagram. His short stories have appeared online, in journals, and in several anthologies. He has been a finalist for the Fish Prize, shortlisted for the Bridport Prize, and received an Honorable Mention for the Nero Wolfe Black Orchid Novella Contest. Gabriel is the author of two series, Roma and Company Files, with Winter Goose Publishing. Dirty Old Town is the first in the Shane Cleary series for Level Best Books. You can find him on Twitter (@GValjan) and Instagram (gabrielvaljan). He lurks the hallways at crime fiction conferences, such as Bouchercon, Malice Domestic, and New England Crime Bake. Gabriel is a lifetime member of Sisters in Crime.

About the book:

Shane Cleary, a PI in a city where the cops want him dead, is tough, honest and broke. When he’s asked to look into a case of blackmail, the money is too good for him to refuse, even though the client is a snake and his wife is the woman who stomped on Shane’s heart years before. When a fellow vet and Boston cop with a secret asks Shane to find a missing person, the paying gig and the favor for a friend lead Shane to an arsonist, mobsters, a shady sports agent, and Boston’s deadliest hitman, the Barbarian. With both criminals and cops out to get him, the pressure is on for Shane to put all the pieces together before time runs out.

48 Thoughts

  1. Welcome, Gabriel! Of course cats have genders, Sheesh! I have benefited greatly from developmental editors with all my books, from our own Sherry Harris to Ramona DeFelice Long to Terri Bischoff. I rarely need to push back on any of their comments. I have had a few unfortunate copyeditors, though, who try to correct regional dialect IN DIALOG. Just…no! Luckily my editor editor is supportive of my stetting.

    Best of luck with the new book!

  2. Gabriel, congrats on the new book!

    I haven’t written any stories for publication, but when my niece was growing up I would write stories to accompany gifts I sent her for birthdays and holidays.

    When I would write them, the stories were relatively simple so that she could understand them. But regardless of how fast I could dash off one of these stories, I always ended up showing it to my mother. She acted as a de-facto editor for me and when she’d offer little critiques, they ended up working to make the story that much more of a cohesive whole.

    The same goes for the book reviews I write for Mystery Scene. My editor always makes me work at it in order to sound a lot smarter than I really am.

    It’s kind of amusing that I’m so open to critical criticism with my writing considering in real world situations, criticism would probably raise my hackles to the point of snotty responses.

    1. It’s normal to feel a little defensive, since you put sweat and love into your creation. Count to 10, breathe and listen to the criticism, and often even with the worst critique, there is something worth it. There is a point when you have to let go since Perfection is another danger to your progress.

  3. Seriously? NOT PLAUSIBLE? Kensi whacks me in the face five minutes before the alarm goes off EVERY MORNING. And she’s very much a SHE, not an IT. How rude.

    Congrats on the new novel, Gabriel! As a huge fan of all those Boston P.I. authors you mentioned, I can’t wait to read this one!

    As for criticism, I wouldn’t be published if not for my critique group, beta readers, and editors. Do I agree with everything they say? NO. But I get so much good feedback, I wouldn’t dream of writing without them.

    1. Right? Kensi and Munchkin are of the same disposition. As for beta readers, I try to find a subject matter expert who can tell me if I got details right, as I’m sure you did with your Zoe Chambers series. Not everyone understands what EMTs can and can’t do. Let’s not forget your horses.

  4. Welcome Gabriel and congratulations on Dirty Old Town and on your Agatha nomination! We will have to sit down and trade horrible editing stories sometime. Mine all have to do with the two and a half books I’ve never published. I’m lucky now to have wonderful editor Barb Goffman and three fabulous beta readers including Jason Allen-Forrest on my team.

  5. Yes, I have stood my ground – several times. Others may have their opinion, but it’s my life. I know I have to live with the decisions I make and I’m fine with that. Not all choices I have been were good, but some turned our with wonderful results to the great surprise to others. Agree wholeheartedly that you have to do what you gut feels come what may or you will always wonder what if.

    Case in point, almost four years ago decided (along with hubby but amazingly so it was my initial idea) to sell out, pack up and move to our dream destination. Hear it from everyone – “Why in the world?” and “You will be sorry!” The arguments were strong and valid – “Your life is here.”, “Your home is paid for”, “You know no one there” to name just a few. it just felt right. All the cards fell into place. Our home sold immediately, we found the perfect builder and the just right piece of property. In the end, it was right for me (us). If we hadn’t ignored all the advice and criticism, we would have still been where we had been wondering “what if”.

    Totally agree with you on our furbabies! They are our children that never grow up, always need us and give love unconditionally. Ours is a little boy in a fur suit going on 16. We plan our vacation around where he can go and stay. In return, he is the most loving critter on this earth. Knows when to cheer you us or distract your mind from a bad situation with his antics.

    Can’t wait for the opportunity to read “Dirty Old Town” which sounds amazing. Thank you for the chance to win a copy!
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

    1. Thanks for writing in, Kay. Yes, at the end of the day, you have to live your life, regardless of the voices in the peanut gallery. How wonderful you have a supportive spouse when you made that decision. Good health to your teenager in fur. The kids never get old in our eyes.

  6. I have never owned a cat, but I know people who have. Believe me, getting swatted by an indignant cat early in the morning is completely plausible. And of course animals have personalities! Frankly, I get more indignant when a writer refers to a pet as “it” rather than the personal pronoun.

    Yes, I’ve had to stand my ground on a point in a story. Most recently with the upcoming THE ENEMY WE DON’T KNOW. Fortunately, the editor in question graciously accepted my insistent counterargument.

    No need to enter me in the giveaway. I have a copy and it’s next on the TBR list. Congrats, Gabriel!

    1. Oh, thank you for adding me to your TBR. I’ve haven’t had too many arguments with an editor. I try to tell. them what I was trying to accomplish, and they’ll see my point and try to help. I see that THE ENEMY WE DON’T KNOW is out soon from Level Best Books. February 11. Congratulations!

  7. Congratulations on your nomination! I’m not a writer, but I have had to stand my ground on more than one occasion. Sometimes you just know what’s right even if nobody else sees it.

  8. I love the sound of your new BOOK. Animals in the stories make them interesting. Most folks I know agree, in my book clubs and reader groups often rave over an animal in a book.
    I have an Auntie who is a writer and several good friends, also artists. They go through the same process you speak of getting the ‘Critique’ 🙁 Each handles it differently. One artist feels no one should EVER think of Changing her work-it comes like an inspiration therefore should be enjoyed not changed. I guess it May depend on one’s editor/ publisher. I have seen a lot of Red marking on some of The BEST published writer’s. I took not daughter to meet many,many when she wanted to learn the craft. She was invited to meet after signings and shown the original drafts, and editings. The stories told of the process and how many times it was sent back and red drawn thru seemed unbelievable. Yet each was encouraging. Not just famous Author’s but folks we know family and friends also. Some take but hard some see it as important to improving themselves because the market is EVER changing. An idea and story can be Fabulous but may need to be tweaked a bit to meet the market perhaps? Don’t take things too personally. Look at Harry Pottr
    Everyone turned her down except a small little place. They don’t know it ALL. CONGRATULATIONS 🙂

    1. I agree, and every writer deals with criticism differently. I hop you know it was a young girl, Alice Newton, who insisted that he father accept Harry Potter for publication. Cheers.

  9. I’ve never owned a cat, but I can see them kicking.

    Yes, you have to take all suggestions as just that, suggestions. Sometimes they are very wrong.

  10. Hi Gabriel. Welcome to the Wickeds. I love Boston in the 70s. Neil Gaiman said, “When someone tells you something is wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. If they tell you how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” Whether from my writers group, or my editor, I have almost always found this to be true.

  11. You knew I’d have to sound off here, right? How could that editor have been so clueless? Thank you, Gabriel, for sticking with Delilah!

  12. I am not a writer who has stood her ground, but I have been called bull-headed and strong willed. I try to be flexible, but I had a mother who was a force of nature. Looking forward to trying your series.

  13. Great post, Gabriel! And so happy for your nomination. Congratulations.

    I learned the hard way to trust my own instincts when I was in my twenties and took too many notes on a play I was working on from more “established” writers. I ended up ruining the play. Since then, I’ve learned to listen for what’s inspiring the note rather than the exact note itself. Not to toot my own horn, but this came in handy in sitcom writers’ rooms when a panicked showrunner wanted to take an exec’s notes literally, and I’d be like, “What they suggested won’t work. Let’s look at the root of the note and fix it our own way.”

  14. Good for you, for sticking up for yourself and the others in the Writer’s Room. Genuine confidence is hard-earned. Nothing wrong with ‘established writers’ but there comes a time when you have to sing your song, in your key, and your way. There’s a lot of Respect that goes with that, too. Thanks on the nomination. It still feels surreal, but I’m in incredible company with Edith Maxwell, LA Chandlar, and Rhys Bowen. WOW.

  15. Thanks for visiting with teh Wickeds, Gabriel! And concratulations on your release! I think advocating for your own work is one of the challenges for writers and can be one of the most important skills to develop. It sounds like you have it mastered! Kudos to you! And super congratulations on your Agatha nomination!

  16. Umm, yes, you can be smacked by a cat. That reviewer was obviously never woken up at 2am with a furry foot in their face or a tongue in their ear. Now I want to read the book and see what else the cat did- sounds a lot like my furry roommate!

  17. I have always owned cats and I love reading about them in the mystery books I read!

  18. I have a wonderful group of editing friends (all published writers). They are great at catching things I assumed (erroneously) the reader knew, plot issues that violate logic, and, or course, grammatical errors. But our understanding is that “the author knows best,” and so I never suffer any guilt at ignoring a comment. I do, however, consider very seriously where the comment is coming from and how I might solve the issue in a different way.

    1. I agree, and I do try to take the view that edits are a form of assistance with the best of intentions. Writers do their best about what they put out into the world, but there is a point where we have to let it go.

  19. Hi, yes I believe our fur friends are smarter than a lot of people give them credit for, I do not own a cat but we have our fur friend is a dog and we love him. Your book sounds intriguing and like a very good page turner, that’s the kind of books I love to read. Thank you so much for sharing about it. You are a new author to me. Have a Great rest of the week. God Bless you.

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