Saturday, April 12, 2014

A Conversation with Mystery Author Marcel Trigueiro

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with Marcel Trigueiro
with Marcel Trigueiro

We are delighted to welcome novelist Marcel Trigueiro to Omnimystery News today.

Marcel's new book is The Next Target (Marcel Trigueiro; March 2014 ebook format), a technological mystery novel, and we recently had the opportunity to talk with him about it

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Omnimystery News: The Next Target is subtitled "a technological mystery novel". What should that tell readers about the book?

Marcel Trigueiro
Photo provided courtesy of
Marcel Trigueiro

Marcel Trigueiro: I once hired an experienced writer to read my manuscript and give a sincere opinion about plot, characters, ending, etc. At the end of his report, which made me see that I still needed to improve a lot of things, he mentioned that the book could be seen as a thriller, but also as a detective story. Indeed, The Next Target has some action scenes and some more fast-paced parts that resemble a thriller, while the protagonist has to go through a complex investigation to follow the terrorists' track and find the root of all that chaos.

But I think there is also a lot of police procedural in it, because Matheus is a Computer Forensics expert from Federal Police and must act accordingly; there is also the participation of other divisions of police: the Civil Police and a special division of Military Police (the force we must count on if there is the need to invade a slum taken by heavily armed drug dealers). On the other hand, there is a lot of technology involved, which would allow me to label the book as a technological thriller.

So there are some possible labels. If I had to use one, I would be tempted to use "thriller", but it's too broad. Maybe the best is indeed "technological thriller".

Of course there are advantages in labeling a book. It eases the writer or editor to target the main readers: the ones more likely to appreciate and recommend it. But depending on the marketing strategy, maybe the label could also exclude some potential readers that would appreciate a different story. You see, some books reach the bestsellers lists because the readers get that "novelty" feeling; they like the story, even if they didn't know they were fans of erotica (taking the successful trilogy as example) or something like that.

I would say the label helps to insert the book in the cybernetic and real-world shelves, so that the first readers can find it. But after a while, in order to reach a larger audience, maybe having a single label does not help.

OMN: Tell us something about the book that isn't mentioned in the synopsis.

MT: The history happens mainly in Rio de Janeiro, but there are some parts in São Paulo and a small but very important part in Germany.

The chapters are numbered starting from "0" instead of "1"; for example, Chapter 2 is the third chapter. And Chapter 0 is not a prologue. There is no prologue.

OMN: Give us a summary of the book in a tweet.

MT: A Computer Forensics expert tries to stop a terror wave in Rio, through cyber and real world chases that may put his own life into risk.

OMN: How much of your own personal or professional experience have you included in the book?

MT: I can list some real-life facts that helped to build the characters.

• I already met in person at least one hacker and one software cracker (although I've never been one). Important: I do not approve their activities.

• My deceased grandfather was blind, as is the protagonist's brother.

• My deceased father had alcohol problems, just like the father of one of the characters: a 12 years old boy.

In addition to these facts, my Computer Science background and my work experience helped to build a believable plot.

As for real events, there is, for example, the sixth edition of ICCyber (an international conference on cyber crime investigation). The protagonist would have attended this exact conference edition.

OMN: Describe your writing process.

MT: There are some writers that don't believe in plotting. They feel this could hinder their creativity during the writing process. But I prefer to establish a timeline and a basic plot in the beginning, even if I know it can change completely during the successive writing cycles. The story and the side-stories should all have a purpose, and I don't like the idea of having superfluous scenes.

For each cycle, I create or revise the plot and timeline and then write or revise everything, from the beginning to the end. If some idea occurs to me in the middle of the cycle, then I reflect the changes from that point and beyond and take some notes so I can revisit the earlier parts later to reflect the impacts of the idea. Sometimes I fill the text with "comments", just like a programmer do in source code, like this:

//TODO: reflect the new name of character X.
//TODO: fix this dialogue to accommodate evidence found in chapter Y.

At some point, the text gets full of TODOs, and the whole cycle or the next one can take quite a long time to complete.

During each of the cycles, several pieces of text may be thrown away. In fact, The Next Target took more than 12 writing cycles to be finished, and at one of them (maybe the fifth cycle, if I can recall), I threw everything away and started to write a new text from scratch.

OMN: Where do you usually find yourself writing?

MT: I usually write in a room designated as my home office. I prefer to work on the text just after my son and my wife fall asleep.

I strive to write during at least half an hour per night. Every night, including weekends and holidays. But it's half an hour of effective writing. Researching is not writing. Thinking about the plot also doesn't count as writing.

OMN: You mention researching; how do you go about checking the plot points? Were there any particularly challenging or exciting topics for The Next Target?

MT: Most of the checks came from my first-hand experience, as I already had knowledge about Information Security. The remaining checks, mainly related to how police departments and courts work, came from internet research and a few contacts with some people from police departments.

But not all contacts were successful. I tried to reach a former college teacher, who is himself a Computer Forensics expert, but he was apparently not willing to help. I also tried to interview by e-mail an inspector from a police division (Civil Police) specialized in cyber crimes, but he didn't answer me.

The most challenging research topic was precisely about police departments. I mean, which is the role of each division: Civil Police, Military Police, Federal Police and Interpol. How they work, how they interact, how is the Federal Police's hierarchy, etc. These types of detail do not appear too much during the story, but when they show up, I want them to be accurate.

A particularly exciting topic was the geography of a big slum called Rocinha. I needed to write a scene in there, with policemen from BOPE battalion — elite policemen, just like SWAT — rushing to get into a particular place on top of this slum. I had to know not only how BOPE is organized and which kind of equipment they use, but also how drug trafficking works. But let's admit it: it's not that difficult to figure who is in charge and what's going on in these slums; there are periods when we get news from local newspapers on the subject every day due to the violence that persists there.

It's important to note that The Next Target is not a "favela book" nor a "slum book".

OMN: How true are you to the settings in the book?

MT: I stick to the geography and haven't yet taken liberties with the settings.

I've actually been in all the cities where the story of The Next Target takes place, and almost in all settings. I've never been in a slum, but I could perfectly build some scenes there because I live in Rio; I know what happens there.

As for the plot, I couldn't think of any other city to base most part of the story. Rio's geography is tightly related to where the lower levels of organized crime are based. But if I elaborate more about this I will end up giving some spoilers.

OMN: What are some of your hobbies or outside interests?

MT: I like to go to the movies, skateboarding and to listen to some metal music (not too heavy metal). Despite living in Rio, I really love staying at home during carnival, far away from the parties on the streets. I don't like crowned places. I'm not the kind of people that likes to go to festivals, big shows or the like. Strange enough, I also don't like Samba.

I like to play with my son and to go out with my family to have dinner.

None of these activities finds an important way in my book.

OMN: What is the best advice — and harshest criticism — you've received as an author? And what might you say to aspiring writers?

MT: It may not be the most inspiring one, but I think that one of the advices that most helped me is: write every single day; Saturdays, Sundays and holidays included, even during your vacation. And daydreaming about the plot doesn't count as writing.

The harshest criticism came from Eric Novello, who I hired to write a detailed and unbiased review (actually a report about the literary aspects of the book). About the ending of the story, he wrote: "here the thriller dies, while a boring investigative stretch starts; and it does not work at all." I mean, having worked a lot on the plot, I had thought the ending was quite good and would surprise the readers, but I was completely wrong.

What I have learned and others can learn:

1) Consistency counts A LOT. Writing a book is a big undertaking. The writer cannot afford to take breaks, at least within each writing cycle, or he/she will not be able to gain the true understanding of what's being done. It's important not to lose the momentum.

2) A professional and honest opinion can save your story! That detail or ending you think is genius may be best used if completely erased.

Maybe the best advice I can give to aspiring writers is this: Forget the rush to be a bestseller. Accept the fact that it takes a lot of time and effort, some feedback and still more effort to write a book with minimally acceptable quality.

OMN: Complete this sentence for us: "I am a crime novelist and thus I am also …".

MT: I am a crime novelist and thus I am also a criminal! Just joking. Sometimes I need to think just like a criminal, because I must have the will to make all that happen, to make people suffer no matter what. I need to be convincing. Sometimes I think this is more important to the plot than impersonating the protagonist.

OMN: The book's title in Portuguese is O Próximo Alvo, which translates to The Next Target in English. Tell us more about the title and cover design.

MT: After I had the book fully finished and revised, I hired a local publisher. They took care of everything. In addition to creating a cover and the internal layout, they helped me with the title.

As for the title, this publisher didn't like the ones I could figure out at first. One of the titles I proposed was Backend: Fatal Destiny Programmed. Other one was simply Expert. They didn't like them, and asked me to write a list with every single title I could imagine. One of them was The Next Target. I also proposed The Next Victim, but there was already a Brazilian novella named like this, so we kept The Next Target.

But the cover … They were already very delayed with the book, and I was eager to publish it as soon as possible. When they finally showed me the cover, I thought "OK … It's not exactly what I wanted, but let's publish this …" So I accepted that cover. It was not bad, but it could be better. It had something resembling a social network graph, which I had suggested indeed, but it was not matching the background image.

Then I sent that book (printed versions only), with that cover, to some bloggers to get the first reviews.

The reviews took quite long to come, but they came. I was satisfied with them, even if they weren't written by fans of mystery or crime novels. But as I read them, mainly the ones that gave four out of five stars (one of them gave three stars), I started noticing there was still room to improvement. One of the bloggers finally took my book and sent me an email like this: "Are you sure this is the finished version? It's full of errors. Hey, send me the DOC. If you want to, I will make you a favor; much bigger than just writing a review."

I sent him the document. Some weeks later, he sent me back the same document, but full with revision marks. In every single page, he wrote what was working and what was not. It was just as helpful as the first professional review I had paid for.

From that point I decided I would have to make some changes to the text. Since I would have to change the book, I decided to cancel the contract with my publisher and hired another one.

This other publisher conceived a much better cover. Meanwhile, I had already hired someone to translate the book to English. Then I revised both the English and Portuguese versions to reflect the detailed feedback I had just received.

OMN: What kind of feedback have you received from readers now that the book has been published?

MT: I've received very good feedbacks on the Portuguese edition, coming from some bloggers. This edition still didn't have some important changes I made after all those feedbacks. Therefore I am very eager to know which types of feedback I will get from now on.

Most of the bloggers highlighted the plot, saying it's very well conceived and pointing how every character's story is tightly connected to the main story. Some of them highlighted the ending. Despite giving very good reviews, some bloggers noticed that some parts were too lengthy and slow paced, due to internal investigations and technical details. I also solved this issue in the latest version of the book.

OMN: What do you read for pleasure?

MT: Currently I'm reading Under the Dome by Stephen King. Later on, I intend to read some books from Agatha Christie.

OMN: What's next for you?

MT: I'm working on my second book. It will be based on the same characters found in The Next Target. I still didn't decide whether it will be a sequel. Probably it will be another stand-alone.

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Marcel Trigueiro was born in Natal, a city located in the northeastern Brazil. With his mother being a lawyer and his father a journalist, he was raised in an environment where reading and writing were always encouraged. In 2009, he started using his Computer Science background to conceive a solid and believable plot that would result in his first book, The Next Target.

For more information about the author, please visit his website at MarcelTrigueiro.com.br or find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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The Next Target by Marcel Trigueiro

The Next Target
Marcel Trigueiro
A Technological Mystery Novel

When fear is used as a weapon, the panic paralyses the target like a spider web which immobilizes the preys in the last seconds of their existences. Thenceforth, eliminating a life becomes something elementary.

Rio de Janeiro had already experienced the climate of terror at the end of 2010, with cars and buses being constantly torched overnight. Now, a similar climate settles in the city, but this time the targets have names and surnames. Hundreds of thousands of people are progressively threatened by terrorists who seem to know all the details of their lives. Some of them are cowardly murdered, in a demonstration that anyone can die.

Matheus Erming is the Computer Forensics specialist responsible for examining the computers used by the victims and for finding out how details of their daily routines, kinship and friendship relations were taken by the perpetrators of the attacks. The investigations are the starting point of a persecution not only cybernetic, which touches the lower levels of the organized crime and chases for the roots of chaos in the city. During this race, the security of Matheus' family is also put at risk. When this happens, he knows he has only one choice: to go further, at any cost.

Amazon.com Print/Kindle Format(s)

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