Gabriel Valjan’s short stories and some of his poetry continue to appear in literary journals and online magazines. Ronan Bennett short-listed Gabriel for the 2010 Fish Prize. Gabriel won first prize in ZOUCH Magazine’s inaugural Lit Bits Contest. Winter Goose Publishing publishes his Roma Series: Roma, Underground(February 2012), Wasp’s Nest (November 2012) and Threading the Needle (October 2013). Gabriel lives in New England. Visit hiswebsite.
About Threading the Needle
Milan. Bianca’s curiosity gets a young university student murdered, but not before he gives her a file that details a secret weapon under development with defense contractor Adastra. Guilt may drive her to find justice for the slain Charlie Brooks, but she is warned by the mysterious Loki to stay away from this case that runs deep with conspiracy. Bianca must find a way to uncover government secrets and corporate alliances without returning Italy to one of its darkest hours, the decades of daily terrorism known as the “Years of Lead.”
Q: Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Threading the Needle. What was your inspiration for it?
A: In July, 1992, when I was in Milan, I saw a poster of two men in friendly consultation. The slogan beneath the portrait said: “Non li avete uccisi, le loro idee camminano sulle nostre gambe!” “You did not kill them: their ideas walk on our legs.” Those two men were Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, who had been assassinated months apart for their work against organized crime. These two men were iconic figures in Italy for their creative legislation and clever prosecutorial strategies. At the time of their assassinations the magistrates were investigating connections between organized crime and government officials. The more I read the more I learned about the ‘strategy of tension’ and the ‘Years of Lead.’ I knew that I wanted to explore these two events of Italian history. Threading the Needle is the result.
Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist.
A: Bianca Nerini is an extremely intelligent woman, a forensic accountant on the run from a covert U.S. government agency called Rendition. She used to investigate white-collar crime. In Italy she finds that Rendition is feeding her assignments through a mysterious handler she calls Loki. While living under an alias, she becomes romantically involved with Dante, a forensic accountant, and develops a circle of friends through him. Bianca is a guarded, closed-off individual. She has ‘issues.’ The ambiguity of Rendition and the demands of her relationships bring out the best and worst of her. Bianca is unpleasant at times, but she knows it and she knows why she is difficult and she is determined to fix it. Each mystery and each journey with her friends brings her closer to opening up, becoming a better person.
Q: How was your creative process like during the writing of this book and how long did it take you to complete it? Did you face any bumps along the way?
A: I consulted my notes. I began Threading on January 20, 2012 and completed it February 13, 2012. The novel is shy of 90,000 words. The math works out to 25 day of writing, at 3,600 words per day and, with standard formatting of one-inch margins all around, double-spaced with Times New Roman 12-point font, approximately 250 words per page, about 14 pages a day. While this is all matter-of-fact computation, the reality is that some days I wrote more and other days, less. The point is I sat down every day and I wrote, committed to the story inside my head. Pure persistence. The hard work of editing and revisions came later.
Q: How do you keep your narrative exciting throughout the creation of a novel?
A: I vary the rhythm. If, for instance, I just had a section in which a lot of information was conveyed I try to introduce levity or color, which could be a description of a part of the city or some quirky aspect of Italian culture, or the latest blunder of one of my characters. Alessandro and Silvio are two characters who create glorious disasters. I try to write intelligent characters but I also try to make it realistic in that a character might be on the right path but arrives at the wrong conclusion because he or she left out a vital piece of information, which another character did not miss. Misdirection. It is important to involve the reader in working with the same clues. Narrative moves and breathes when the writer weaves in subplots. A recurring them in the Roma Series is Gennaro’s battles with Italian bureaucracy or navigating office politics. In Threading the Needle, readers will join Farrugia as he fights Internal Affairs and discovers the benefits of yoga.
Q: Do you experience anxiety before sitting down to write? If yes, how do you handle it?
A: I don’t experience anxiety before I write. I’m often excited and eager to attack the keyboard. I may experience frustration because the wording doesn’t come out of my fingertips just right. I’ll wrestle with it a few times, slap something down and put an asterisk next to it and move on. If the frustration is with dialog, I’ll read it out loud for authenticity to that character’s personality and for flow. I read once that Flaubert would go outside and yell out his day’s writing to the orange trees. The important thing is not to get snarled up in perfectionism. Keep writing. Keep moving.
Q: What is your writing schedule like and how do you balance it with your other work and family time?
A: I am a morning writer. I find that writing first thing in the morning when the mind is receptive is best for me. On a great morning, I’ll write twenty pages, but I average eight to ten pages. In terms of word count, accounting for standard formatting, I’d say that is 2,500 to 5,000 words a day. I’ll get up very early and have a fair amount of work done in a few hours. Like exercise, I know that I’ve done something for myself before I meet the demands of the day.
Q: How do you define success?
A: I know my faults better than anyone else. Success for me is about becoming a better person, leaving behind more than I took and hoping that a few good words are said in my absence.
Q: What advice would you give to aspiring writers whose spouses or partners don’t support their dreams of becoming an author?
A: This is a tough question. If writing is a passion, a sincere aspect of who you are as a person, and another person is hostile to it, then I am inclined to say that the relationship isn’t going to work out. At best, I’d like to think that there is room for negotiation for a set time and space for writing out respect for what is important to the person. It must be an awful predicament to realize that the person you love and share your life with does not want you to be happy and successful.
Q: George Orwell once wrote: “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” Do you agree?
A: I don’t. I can understand why he said it: the man had TB, so writing was painful and a struggle for him. He wrote under the shadow of the clock. I disagree with the romantic statement because the implication is that writing is some form of masochism. Writing to experience pain does not pass the test of common sense. Orwell was too clever a writer not to know the allusion to the daimon, that supernatural force of destructive inspiration. Writers can surprise themselves with turns of phrases, unexpected scenes, but writing is the most controlled form of artistic expression. The medium is language and the writer chooses every single word, devises every scene and calibrates the effect. In this sense, the author can be said to be the god of his creation, but one false move, one inauthentic note and the reader will end the misery and close the book. Writing is about your response to language and literature, using both in your inimitable way, and entertaining others. The intimacy is cultural and personal. Another human being chooses to spend time with your words, walk through the world that you created.
Q: Anything else you’d like to tell my readers?
A: Respect your readers. They are spending their money to buy your book. Money can be replaced. The time they spend with you cannot. There are so many books and so little time and the sand in the hourglass is always moving. Respect your readers’ intelligence and write to tell a good story. Don’t write to be clever or write in the latest genre because you are out to make money. Write the story that you have in you. You can’t please everyone, but the greatest compliment after “I cared for and loved your character” is that someone has spent precious time with you.