We chat to author Alexandrea Weis about her new novel, The Secret Brokers [Vesuvian Books, April 7th 2020]!
You can find Alexandrea on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. You can also check out our review of her previously released novel, Death By The River.
The Secret Brokers has all the classic elements of a good spy thriller: intrigue, romance, corruption… how did you go about the process of weaving these together into what has the feel of classic noir with a modern twist?
This series came from another, The Nicci Beauvoir Series, that introduced Dallas and his crew of spies. I wanted to take his character into a spin off because I loved writing his cold, edgy personality. I have always loved cold, dark characters, but with Dallas I wanted to write about a man torn between his heart and his head. A man who has tried to change his ways, only to end up with a broken heart, and crawls back into the world of shadows he once occupied. To make him a lost and trying to hide in our modern world seemed a good fit.
I know you’re from the New Orleans area, and you bring some of that N’awlins flair to your writing. What made you choose the French Quarter for Carl Bordonaro’s home and/or inspired some of the interesting decorative flourishes that you described?
Carl Bordonaro is another character I brought over from the Nicci Beauvoir Series. He and Cleveland appeared in Sacrifice from the previous series. Carl is a favorite and based on many New Orleans characters I have known. Having grown up in the French Quarter, I have always strived to flesh it out in my books—to show the real side of the city, and not the one the tourists see. There is a rhythm to New Orleans, a spicy smell and tingling sensation it gives you—or maybe it’s something only the locals feel—but I wanted to embody that in the novel. To help the reader get a sense of the city from the people who live there. And Carl’s home on Esplanade Avenue does exist. I passed it every day for years.
Animals, and Gwen’s relationship with them, are a big part of her character—from her dog Harley, cat Lawrence, and of course, her horses! You are a permitted/certified wildlife rehabber with the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries—how does this influence how you write about animals?
Animals are imprinted in my heartbeat. I could not survive without them. I have always been an advocate for all things furry, and in this novel, I got to write about something I did when I was young, rescuing racehorses. One of the horses mentioned in the novel, Whippadu, was mine. I felt it important to educate people about the plight of racehorses in the industry and show Gwen as someone who is a lot like me. I also placed her farm in Folsom, La. not far from my own residence. But being able to write about animals, and Gwen’s love for them, was rewarding.
Just for fun, if The Secret Brokers got the movie treatment and you could pick the cast, who might your dream team be?
Dallas August – Zac Efron
Gwen Marsh – Olivia Munn
Carl Bordonaro – John Goodman
Cleveland – Michael B Jordan
I don’t want to give away the twist at the end, but you did such an incredible job of it that I couldn’t resist asking—who’s the real star of this story, Dallas August or Gwen Marsh?
Dallas, because he is like all of us. No matter how smart, how educated, and how good a spy you are, there is always someone else one step ahead. I also love writing this character. He has so many layers and is so intriguing. He will always be a favorite.
Lastly, what can we expect next for Dallas and Gwen, and the Secret Brokers series?
The next book will grapple with their complicated relationship and their dark world of shadows. We will learn about Gwen’s past, and see more of the day-to-day operations of Dallas organization—his spies, their assignments, and the clients he struggles to appease.
Terror has a healthy appetite in Bram Stoker Award winner Tim Waggoner’s The Forever House [March 2020, Flame Tree Press].
Move over Collins, Munsters, and Addams, there’s a new breed of nightmarish neighbours coming to town. In The Forever House, a sleepy cul-de-sac with a dark past gets a new lesson in residential horror when the Eldreds move in. The Eldreds aren’t the sort of folks that anybody would race to send the welcome wagon out to, either. It’s not simply because the family of five has just moved into the Raines’ old home, the house at the bottom of the cul-de-sac where a mother went insane and murdered her entire family a few years prior, it’s that everything about the Eldreds—from their car (which makes Vantablack pale by comparison) to their names, to the strange inability to actually get a good look at any one of them (especially the one with the robotic movements and glowing green eyes)—are so frightfully unusual.
Unfortunately, “unusual” would be a rather massive understatement in the Eldreds case, because not only are the five new neighbours decidedly odd, but they are also categorically other. The Eldreds are an ageless, inhuman species that feed on the negative emotions of humans, replenishing themselves on the delicacies of human terror, prejudices, and resentments. Now, the residents of the seemingly quiet cul-de-sac promise a feast of the sort of buffet of dysfunction only suburbia can offer. With heapings of narcissism, bigotry, abuse, and marital discord, the residents of Rockridge have enough skeletons in their closets to fill the metaphorical bellies of the Eldreds for years.
Which, of course, is exactly why the Eldreds chose them. When the residents find themselves lured—and trapped—inside the House of Blood, they’ll have to survive their worst fears and deepest, darkest secrets if they are to have any hope of getting out alive. Even then, it’s probably not going to happen.
Fast-paced, hair-raising, and with a twist ending with enough spin to make you rethink who the real monsters are, The Forever House is the sort of phantasmagorical terror that keeps you reading through gore, grit, and grime until the very end.
There is good reason that The Mountains Sing [Algonquin Books, March 17, 2020], the first novel in English by award-winning poet Nguyen Phan Que Mai, has been ranked among “the most exciting writers to emerge in post-war Vietnam”--it is, in a word, breathtaking.
The Mountains Sing is an epic, multi-generational narrative that traces the arc of Vietnam’s turbulent and painful twentieth century history as Que Mai gracefully weaves together the timeline of four generations of the Tran family—beginning during the Communist Land Reform of the 1950s and extending through the aftermath of the American bombing of Ha Noi in the early 1970s. Steeped in the storytelling traditions of Vietnam, The Mountains Sing is decadent and heart wrenching, equal parts lush and vibrant in its unfamiliar setting, and just as persistently unrelenting in its depiction of decades worth of war and conflict.
This story, although captivating and stunningly crafted, is nonetheless brutal, making its narration ring true in the heart of the reader--“The more I read, the more I became afraid of wars. Wars have the power to turn graceful and cultured people into monsters.”
Written as Que Mai’s response to single-sided, Western-written depictions of Vietnam as a place of war, simplicity, and cruelty, The Mountains Sing presents a story of history, of resiliency, and of hope as told through the indelible voices of the Tran family, alternating between the family’s matriarch, Tran Dieu Lan, and extending to her granddaughter, Huong. It is every bit a tale as much of painful desperation and the horrors of famine, war, and class struggle, as it is a moving lesson in hope, renewal, and the bond of family. “…I realized that war was monstrous. If it didn’t kill those it touched, it took away a piece of their souls, so they could never be whole again.”
Que Mai’s The Mountains Sing is a heartfelt inquiry into Vietnam’s past, a moving tribute to those who braved, endured, and perished during decades of upheaval and suffering, and, in the end, a novel that will simultaneously break your heart and mend it, a testament to both Que Mai’s storytelling and the strength of a people who never gave up, no matter how much was levied against them.
The Mountains Sing is available from Amazon, Book Depository, and other good book retailers as of March 17th 2020.
*On a personal note from this reviewer, The Mountains Sing may not have been a title the likes of which normally make its way into my library, but it has nonetheless found a place as one of the most moving, and fundamentally eye-opening, novels I feel I will read in my lifetime.
Lindy Miller Ryan is an author, editor, and spooky things enthusiast who occasionally makes crafty things and bakes.