by Allana Luta
Last week, we featured the new #HeistClub authors who published their short stories in the anthology The Secrets That We Keep. In this interview, we talk with Georgette Gonzales, Irene Recio and J. Guibone, all of whom were part of the original #HeistClub batch. Georgette edited Secrets along with Yeyet Soriano, while Irene and J. each have a short story in the anthology. Here, they discuss the joys and difficulties of writing crime fic and what real-life crime they’d turn into a novel if given the opportunity.
What made you want to write crime fiction?
Georgette: The thrill of crafting a crime, figuring out how to wrap it in mystery, and this secret ambition of mine to be a crime busting kickass female.
Irene: I have always been a fan of this genre since I was a little girl. I would pretend to be a detective or lawyer trying to solve pretend crimes/mysteries. It all started with Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys.
J: It started with Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys and Scooby-Doo when I was young, and it just grew into Criminal Minds and cozy mysteries. Basically, I’ve always liked watching and reading about mysteries and crime. This passion led me to try my hand at writing crime fiction.
What was the most challenging aspect of writing crime fiction? And the most fulfilling?
Georgette: Most challenging of all is the research involved—finding substantial reading materials, interviewing experts (or near-experts), and weaving the information into a story that is the perfect balance between reality and the abuse of suspension of disbelief. It is extremely challenging to translate the action part (especially when there’s gunfight, hand to hand combat, rescues, etc. involved) into words that will make the readers grip their seats in anticipation and excitement. I’ve come across boring car chases and it’s not funny. Too many words spoil the scene. Most fulfilling would be when readers react as if you (the author) are a true criminal mastermind and that they held their breaths, clenched their hands and almost fell off their seats as they became immersed in the action. [evil laughter]
Irene: I scare easily and stories with excessive gore can sometimes give me sleepless nights. So, really, the biggest challenge for me is to write crime with less gore and extreme violence, and still make my readers think and feel with my words.
J: The most challenging aspect is definitely getting the facts right—especially if one of the main characters has ties to law enforcement or are police officers themselves. Laws, procedures, etc. have to be accurate and at least as close to the truth as possible.
The most fulfilling is designing the crime or mystery and being able to leave out clues without spoiling everything for the reader. It’s a very interactive genre—you want to surprise yet engage the reader at the same time.
Why did you decide to tell the story that you wrote? What was the motivation or inspiration behind the creation of your story?
Irene: Book 1 (Till Death Do Us Part) was about a stalker/serial killer living amongst us. Someone you wouldn’t suspect to be a criminal. How alarming and disturbing it would be if this were true in our own lives.
My short story is about a mother who has devoted her life to her family, only to find out that the birth mother wants to enter their lives from out of nowhere. She may not be the biological mom, but her mother’s instinct is setting off warning bells on an imminent danger her daughter may face. This started as a spin-off from one of the characters in Book 1. At the time, I didn’t know I was pregnant yet as I was writing this story. It could have been the hormones, or it could have just happened organically, but I wanted to write something for mommy lit. Then, later on, I just couldn’t resist putting a little crime twist to it.
J: There wasn’t anything specific about The Children of Truth but I did want to dive into criminal minds and ordinary people doing crazy bad stuff.
If you could write a novel based on a real life, high-profile crime, what would it be and how would you go about it?
Georgette: I like conspiracies, so maybe I’ll pick up on the Russia meddling in the US elections, the presence of China in the West Philippine Sea and how far the Philippine government officials might have been involved in selling government land and rights. How? As close to real life as possible. *wink* Oh, and if by some chance I get found out because my story’s too convincingly true, find time to visit me in prison, will ya?
Irene: Oh wow, so many to choose from! But I think I’m most interested in the disappearance of the famous Hollywood actress Natalie Wood in the ’80s. She disappeared from a night of partying on a yacht with her husband and actor, Robert Wagner. Also with them in the yacht was the captain and another famous actor, Christopher Walken. All these years her death was said to have been an accident. So many years have gone by, but it is only in recent months where her husband was named a “person of interest” in the investigation. I would probably tell the story from the point of view of the detective or lead investigator of the case. Howthey have always suspected the husband in the crime, and how the spouse is always the primary suspect in any investigation. But lack of evidence will point the investigation elsewhere, only to end up (decades later) in full circle with new evidence pointing to the husband.
J: Oh, I would definitely write something about missing people or objects. It would be an unsolved crime or mystery, and my approach would be investigative, as well as narrative, of course. I’d like to tell a story, draw out the human-interest angle but also dive into the facts about the fate of that missing person or where that missing object could have ended up.
The new anthology is entitled The Secrets That We Keep. What’s the biggest secret you’re willing to share with us?
Georgette: Uhm… I’m a spy? Nah. That I’ve thought about committing a heist (like target the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas) just to see if I could get away with it.
Irene: I giggle as I answer this question. My biggest secret (if it is a secret at all) is how big of a scaredy cat I am. It’s so ironic that I’m a crime fiction writer. But therein lies the challenge (one that I love, by the way) to write crime fiction not in its usual form. Less of the blood and gore, and more of the psychological exercise of it all. ☺
J: I’m more scared of ghosts than deranged killers. I think it must be the influence of horror movies.
How different was it to write another crime fiction novel compared to the first time you did so? Writing is never easy but was it less challenging this time or were there new hurdles that still cropped up?
Georgette: Hmm… The level of challenge for me isn’t higher or lower, just different because the research is dependent on what kind of crime is being committed. Like in my first, Classified, it was government secrets and military takeovers. The next one deals with drugs and domestic terrorism. My third still deals with domestic terrorism but involves using religion to gather and dupe people. So, crafting the crime and how to solve it is tweaked with those parameters in mind.
Irene: I agree, writing is never easy. It takes time, patience, planning, creativity and mapping out your stories. But this time around, I guess it was ten times harder to write. Being a mom to two children, with one being an infant, it’s hard to find time to sleep or even brush your hair, much less find the time to sit down and write.
J: The first one was a novella with multiple chapters, so it was definitely more challenging in gauging the story—was it too short or too long? Writing The Children of Truth felt a little more freeing and exciting because it was a short story. It came almost fully fledged in my mind.
Have you noticed an increase in interest in this genre amongst Filipino readers since the last #HeistClub anthology?
Georgette: This, I truly have no idea. Maybe, yes? Because if not, why were there requests for workshops on writing crime fiction? I guess it’s safe to say it’s because there is a demand and we’re here to answer the demand.
Irene: I think so. I’m hopeful for this genre. It’s interesting and heartwarming to see more and more writers inclined to write crime fiction. Moreso, more and more readers embracing this genre.
J: I have seen and read comments from people who were excited to read crime fiction and mysteries set in the Philippines, written by Filipino authors. So, this is definitely good news and a great way to expand our literary banquet.
What is your favorite book?
Georgette: Books. Off the top of my head, Neverwhere and American Gods by Neil Gaiman, and the Dark Hunter series by Sherrilyn Kenyon.
Irene: If I have to pick just one, I guess it would be Six Years by Harlan Coben.
J: There are so many books so choose from; it’s like picking a child. Off the top of my head, when it comes to mysteries, I would say Southernmost Murder by C.S. Poe because of the really interesting historical mystery tackled in the story.
When it comes to building suspense and for the creepy factor, I would say Salem’s Lot by Stephen King because the fate of the entire town was really devastating and terrifying for me. Of course, Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories are always my favorite because they make you think, guess—and still shock you in the end.
Who is your favorite author?
Georgette: Neil Gaiman and Sherrilyn Kenyon.
Irene: Harlan Coben.
J: I have so many favorite authors, but I’ll say Edgar Allan Poe just to keep his spirit alive. He sure knew how to keep an audience mesmerized.
Favorite reading-related quote, if any?
Georgette: Reading and writing. I dunno who it came from (Stephen King, I think?), and this isn’t verbatim, but,
“If you don’t love to read, you don’t have the tools to write.”
“Very few of us are what we seem.” – Agatha Christie
“A short story is a different thing altogether – a short story is like a quick kiss in the dark from a stranger.”― Stephen King