Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Conversation with Mystery Author Jeffrey Siger

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with Jeffrey Siger
with Jeffrey Siger

We are delighted to welcome author Jeffrey Siger to Omnimystery News today.

Jeffrey's sixth mystery in his Andreas Kaldis series, Sons of Sparta (Poisoned Pen Press; October 2014 hardcover, trade paperback, audiobook and ebook formats), was published earlier this month and we recently had the opportunity to spend some time with him talking about his books.

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Omnimystery News: Tell us a little more about what inspired you to write this series. And how has your central character, Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis, changed from his first appearance in Murder in Mykonos to the present book?

Jeffrey Siger
Photo provided courtesy of
Jeffrey Siger

Jeffrey Siger: Back when I started writing about Andreas Kaldis, I didn't intend on becoming a chronicler of Greece's trials and tribulations. My original goal was to write a stand-alone novel telling the story of an island I knew intimately. I wanted to talk about its people, culture and politics and only settled upon the mystery format because it struck me as the best vehicle for exploring how a tourist island society might respond to a threat to its newfound economic glory. That's when I decided to drop a serial killer into the midst of Mykonos' Mama Mia-style setting and turn the place into something more resembling No Country for Old Men.

When that book, Murder in Mykonos, became Greece's #1 bestselling English language novel and hit The New York Times' "radar list" of best selling hardcovers, I figured I better stick with my characters, because a lot of people liked them — and I did too, particularly the easy way serious issues, political and otherwise, could be expressed around them.

On the subject of change, my characters' lives move forward through the series, never static, always growing, hopefully bringing me along in the process.

OMN: Into which mystery subgenre would you place your books?

JS: Many call my Andreas Kaldis novels "fast-paced police procedurals," though some in the series have thriller aspects and others suspense. At one point I wondered whether any of those labels accurately reflected my use of the "crime" format as a means for categorizing my goal of addressing serious issues confronting contemporary Greece in a manner that touched upon its ancient roots. But I no longer have that misgiving. Why? Because I came to appreciate that the underlying purpose of virtually all crime fiction is to restore order to a fractured society; and that is precisely what I seek to achieve in exploring the vagaries of Greece's culture amid a land of awesome natural beauty. In other words, now I don't care how my work is labeled … as long as it's read.

OMN: Tell us something about Sons of Sparta that isn't mentioned in the publisher's synopsis.

JS: Readers of Sons of Sparta will learn a great deal about contemporary Greek culture and some may find substantial links to ancient Greek mythology — even though I may not have consciously realized the latter when writing it.

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

JS: #SoS turns a true-life, century-old honor killing into a chilling study of a contemporary Greek family's struggle between faith in law and blood-vendetta roots.

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

JS: Friends tell me that my primary character, Andreas Kaldis, and I share the same sense of humor and the same way of addressing problems. I never intentionally set out to do that but I think ultimately a writer cannot help but put part of himself into many of his characters.

I'm also flattered so many think my books are about real people and real places. I take that to mean I've made it all seem real to them. Of course, the geography and historical data about Greece is meant to be accurate — with a modest bit of poetic license added in at times — and perhaps that is what makes the novels seem so real.

But by and large the people are the product of some alchemy lurking within each of us waiting to artfully turn an unformed sense of beings we never knew into characters as unique as we are to each other. Yes, sometimes we consciously model a character on someone we know well, but mostly we assemble a new being from disparate physical and emotional elements stored in our individualized spare parts warehouses. Bottom line: Writers are body snatchers.

As for the influence of real events, in most instances a real event sparks an idea that sends me off and running. For example, in my latest novel, Sons of Sparta, a fan approached me with a century-old story about her family that I used in the first scene of the book. That scene launched all that followed, but not a subsequent word was based on real events.

OMN: Describe your writing process for us.

JS: When I begin to write a book I always have a theme, but never a plot. My themes arise from an epiphany-like moment of inspiration and since I never know when to expect such a moment, I always carry a tiny notebook in my back pocket and a pen up front. I scribble down ideas, random thoughts, rarely anything more than a possible general direction to take the story. It's nothing remotely resembling an outline, never a biography of a character, nor as I've learned, close to how the book ultimately turns out.

So, how do I come up with a plot? Damned if I know.

I have no more specific idea of where I'm headed than does a fellow who one day decides to "Go West, Young Man." And though each day I may start out thinking I know where my writing is going, by the end of that session it generally bears no more resemblance to where I began than does a flower to its seed.

What drives me forward are instinct, glimpses of the Promised Land, and tenacity for overcoming inevitable obstacles. Some days it's an easy stroll across wide-open plains in soft summer breezes, others are a bare-knuckle struggle up a cliff face in an ice storm. But if I keep heading west, I'll find fresh, exciting characters along the way and plot shifts jumping out of trees. And every once in a while my characters might even trust me enough to let me write a bit of the story myself.

OMN: Where do you usually find yourself writing?

JS: I write anywhere I can set up my Macbook Air and NOT be disturbed by people talking to me. But absolute silence in a locked room is best — provided I hold the key to get out.

OMN: How do you go about researching the plot points of your stories? Have you come across any particularly challenging or exciting topics?

JS: I spend approximately six months immersed in research and in verifying details of the venues, events, and characters I describe. Much of my "insider" insight comes amid Mykonos' fabled 24/7 nightlife from conversations with persons possessing first-hand knowledge of the issues, experiences, and intrigues I describe, and with visitors from around the world willingly sharing their private thoughts and confidences in relaxed beachside chats or pre-dawn whispered conversations in a club or bar. I know, it's hard work.

My most challenging topic … which hopefully will not turn into my most exciting … is shaping up to be an element in the book I'm finishing for 2015 publication. It explores the world of "bomba" or counterfeit booze. Everyone of my friends in the bar business that I approach to talk about bomba — so named for the "bomb" that goes off in your brain when you drink it — gives me a blank stare and an answer along the lines, "I know nothing about that."

Prior to that, I guess you could say the most exciting came in researching the habitats of violent anarchists in Athens for Assassins of Athens. The taxi I traveled in to study Athens' worst neighborhoods got caught up in traffic and we found ourselves surrounded by eight masked-men demanding the camera they'd seen me using taking photographs of their neighborhood. When I refused, the taxi driver almost had a heart attack, but we were able to convince the leader I was a writer, not a cop, and they let us go. I ran into the taxi driver on Mykonos two years later and he was raving on about that being the "most frightening experience" of his more than twenty years of driving a taxi in Athens. Obviously he'd not grown up in Pittsburgh.

OMN: How true are you to the setting in your books?

JS: Location is seminal to my stories; it makes them come alive. Abandoned island mines, ancient ruins, island churches, village lanes, modern big city neighborhoods (sordid, elegant, and in between), even places beyond Greece (such as relatively unknown Sardinian locales) are as important as the characters in my books.

I believe readers deserve the unexpected and I concentrate great effort on bringing surprises to them in an utterly believable way. The stories may be fiction, but you want to be honest with your readers on the verifiable details such as locations so that when the moment arrives to leap on to the imagined they'll come along with you.

OMN: What advice might you offer aspiring authors?

JS: My advice to aspiring authors is always the same: "Writing is a lousy way to make a living but a wonderful way to make a life."

So have fun at it.

OMN: Tell us more about the book's cover design. And was Sons of Sparta always your intended title?

JS: My series' book cover design has been completely redone in what I (modestly) consider one of the best series depictions anywhere. The folks at Poisoned Pen Press did it with dedication and a commitment to expressing the essence of each book within the overall vision of the series.

As for titles, I inadvertently alliterated the title of my first book, Murder in Mykonos, and it just seemed natural that the second book should be called Assassins of Athens. That labeled me an "alliterist" and I've been expected since then to keep up the practice. At least I'm not limited to twenty-six letters of the alphabet.:)

OMN: What's next for you?

JS: I am writing a new book (as I do every year), doing my weekly Saturday blog for Murder is Everywhere, posting another blog on the 19th of each month for Poisoned Pen Press, using my best efforts to serve effectively as a national board member of Bouchercon, and keeping track of my growing grandkids. I'm sure there's something I'm missing … but am also sure the lady in question will remind me of precisely what that may be.

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Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Jeffrey Siger practiced law at a major Wall Street law firm and while there served as Special Counsel to the citizens group responsible for reporting on New York City's prison conditions. He left Wall Street to establish his own New York City law firm and continued as one of its name partners until giving it all up to write full-time among the people, life, and politics of his beloved Mykonos, his adopted home of thirty years. When not in Greece, he enjoys his other home, a farm outside New York City.

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

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Sons of Sparta by Jeffrey Siger

Sons of Sparta
Jeffrey Siger
A Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis Mystery

Did the warriors of ancient Sparta simply vanish without a trace along with their city, or did they find sanctuary at the tip of the mountainous Peloponnese? That stark, unforgiving region's roots today run deep with a history of pirates, highwaymen, and neighbors ferociously repelling any foreigner foolishly bent on occupying this part of Greece. Less well recorded are the Mani's families' strict code of honor and their history of endless vendettas with neighbors and with their own relatives. No wonder their farms look like fortresses.

When Special Crimes Division Detective Yiannis Kouros is summoned from Athens to the Mani by his uncle, Kouros fears his loyalty to his boss, Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis, is about be to be tested by family pressure on the detective to act in some new vendetta, for this uncle once headed the Mani's most significant criminal enterprise. Instead, Kouros learns the family is about to become rich through the sale of its property — until the uncle is killed, and thus the deal. Acting swiftly to head off a new cycle of violence, Kouros satisfactorily solves the murder. Or so it seems until, back in Athens, Kaldis' probe into deeply entrenched government corruption leads straight back to the Mani. Both cops now confront a host of unexpected twists, unanticipated players, unanswered questions — and people yet to die.

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1 comment:

  1. Excellent interview, Jeffrey, and excellent books, not least because of the vivid evocation of Greece and Greeks. I like Andreas' humor, which if not black, is pretty dark grey. p.s. this is Donis. Apparantly my husband is signed to Google and I can't figure out how to sign him out.

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Lance Wright owns and manages Omnimystery, a Family of Mystery Websites, which had its origin as Hidden Staircase Mystery Books in 1986. As the scope of the business expanded, first into book reviews — Mysterious Reviews — and later into information for and reviews of mystery and suspense television and film, all sites were consolidated under the Omnimystery brand in 2006.

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