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.
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.