In his day job, Alex Segura is the senior vice president of publicity and marketing for Archie Comics, home of the iconic, wholesome comic book characters Archie and Jughead.
On the side, he’s turning out gritty crime noirs about serial killers, alcoholics and lowlifes.
The New York author is celebrating the release of his second novel, “Down the Darkest Street,” the second entry in his “Pete Fernandez Mystery” series set in Segura’s hometown of Miami. Here, the former newspaper man is trying to put his life back together after the devastating events of the first book, “Silent City,” while tackling the threat of a new murder.
“I love the contrast,” Segura says. “That this city, which many outsiders see as a tropical paradise, can be dangerous and dark.”
Segura’s affinity for noir has crossed over to Archie Comics, where he has helped guide the new Dark Circle imprint with mature superhero stories written by some of his fellow mystery writers like Duane Swierczynski and Chuck Wendig.
amNewYork spoke with Segura about the noir world.
How was Pete Fernandez inspired by you?
I think Pete and I have similar backgrounds. I wanted to write about someone I could relate to, or feel like I knew. He’s the guy I went to college with and never saw again. We have similar experiences and upbringings, but we diverge at a certain point. Having that familiar groundwork made Pete easier to write at first, and it’s been really interesting to see where he’s gone since the opening pages of “Silent City.”
What makes Miami a unique setting?
When you think noir or hard-boiled, you think of cramped, dirty urban spaces and rain-soaked streets, but Miami can be as deadly as New York or Chicago. I think having that sunny veneer is a great plot element, and it makes the criminal aspect stand out more. Being able to tell stories about the lesser-seen parts of Miami, the ones that don’t feature beaches or mixed drinks or what you expect to see, is extremely fun and liberating.
In “Down the Darkest Street” ... Pete is struggling to create a new life for himself after the traumatic events of “Silent City.” At the end of the first book, the reader is probably left thinking that things are on the upswing for Pete, but you realize that’s not the case by page one of the new novel. Things have gotten worse, and if Pete wants to have any chance against a deadly killer that’s frantically hunting down innocent people, he has to get his own life in order. The story explores corners of Miami and South Florida that people might not expect, and tries to paint a bigger picture of the city, while still telling a fast-paced crime story.
What are the keys to doing serialized fiction?
It all starts with the character, I think. You have to have a protagonist that’s interesting enough to withstand more than one adventure. I can see why authors write stand-alone novels — all bets are off, anyone can die and you don’t have to worry about what happens after, because that’s it. But for a series character, you have to walk the tightrope a bit. You have to make the current book compelling and interesting, but you also have to create momentum into the next one. It’s a challenge you see in series novels and comics a lot. But nothing matters without a great star and cast. If you have a lead that falls flat, it doesn’t matter how intricate or interesting your plot is.
What did you learn about yourself and about writing in your first book which you were able to apply to this book?
I was happy to discover that I’m pretty disciplined when it comes to prose writing. I think my background in journalism and PR helped a great deal. It’s all about getting words on the page for the first draft, and being open to feedback and notes from a select group. I also found that I was able to write whenever time arose, as opposed to having to do it at a certain moment during the day or when the stars aligned. Being flexible and workmanlike helped me move forward and my experience at newspapers and working on comics — both of which are much more collaborative than novel writing — helped me collect and respond to feedback well while editing and revising. I also didn’t outline “Silent City” until I was well on my way, which I found kind of liberating — I got the ball rolling, then figured out where I wanted things to go, then let the characters either follow the trail of breadcrumbs I’d left, or forge their own path. Most of the time, they got bored with the trail and made their own way, which ended up being much more interesting. That method served me well with “Down the Darkest Street.”
Mystery writers seem to have a strong community. What is that like here in New York City?
It’s great. I’ve made a lot of lasting and strong friendships with fellow crime writers in New York — from Manhattan to the suburbs. There are regular Noir at the Bar events — which are readings where authors can share their work and promote their upcoming releases — around New York and across the U.S. and beyond. Those are great times to meet new writers or hang out with old friends. They happen pretty regularly at Shade Bar downtown, thanks to Noir at the Bar maestro and great crime writer Todd Robinson, and every once in a while in Queens, when I have time to organize them. The Mysterious Bookshop, where we’ll be having the “Down the Darkest Street” release party, is also the nexus of the mystery/crime community. It’s funny, because crime writing is all about exploring the dark side of humanity, but you couldn’t ask for a warmer, friendlier and more supportive community of writers. They’re always around to lend some support or give advice. It’s really essential, especially with writing being such a solitary profession.
Which writers do you look to when you want to be inspired?
That’s a tough question. There are so many writers I admire. In terms of writers putting work out now, I will buy anything that George Pelecanos, Laura Lippman, Megan Abbott, Dennis Lehane, James Ellroy, Kelly Braffet, Sara Gran or Duane Swierczynski put out. I don’t need to know what the back cover copy is or what the reviews say. I know it’ll be great, I know it’ll make me want to work harder, and I know I’ll read it more than once. That list grows every day, but those are the names that come to mind now.
What do you have going on at Archie Comics/Dark Circle?
Dark Circle is chugging along — we’ve been really blown away by the great response to the initial wave of titles, and you’ll see “The Black Hood,” our noir/crime series, continue into a second season in the coming months. Beyond that, you can expect the new Riverdale line of revamped Archie titles to grow while the company continues to present the more traditional, all-ages adventures as well. It’s a great time to be reading Archie Comics.
Do you have upcoming comics that you’re working on?
Yes! “Archie Meets Ramones” is coming out later this year, with artwork by the great Gisele and co-written by Matt Rosenberg. The title says it all. But you won’t want to miss just how the Riverdale teens meet the Ramones. It’s gonna be fun.