Carmen Amato is the author of the Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series, which includes 43 Missing, Pacific Reaper, and King Peso. The books are set in Acapulco, Mexico.
Q: What kind of research did you need to do to create your character, Detective Emilia Cruz?
A: Deborah, thank you for inviting me to visit your blog. I see that I’m in good company!
Regarding research for the Detective Emilia Cruz series set in Acapulco, the end product is a mix of my own experiences living in Mexico and Central America and sifting through news in English and Spanish. I keep interesting news stories in a box of notes as well as saving them to a Facebook page where readers can see what intrigues me.
The most recent book in the series, 43 Missing, required the most research of any book. The plot is inspired by the 2014 true unsolved disappearance of 43 students from the city of Iguala, Guerrero, after commandeering buses to go to a rally in Mexico City.
I placed Emilia in the middle of a task force investigating a similar crime and drew on extensive reporting, especially that of Francisco Goldman in The New Yorker, to reveal lapses in the investigation.
Q: How would you say her experiences connect to the current focus on sexual harassment in the workplace?
A: When I conceived of the Detective Emilia Cruz series as the chronicles of the first female police detective in Acapulco, I was referencing what I saw. Women are making progress in Mexico, but traditional roles and poverty are big obstacles.
Another is machismo, what Alan Riding, author of Distant Neighbors, called “defense of the Mexican’s fragile masculinity.” No one wanted Emilia in the all-male detectives squadroom and some see harassment as a way to get her out.
Many readers cheer Emilia’s fierce reaction to being harassed by her male colleagues, including a rape attempt in the first book, Cliff Diver. Emilia is no fool. She knows to expect trouble and isn’t surprised when it happens. Her fists are clenched and her tongue is sharp.
She is not worried about the consequences of fighting back, which gives her the upper hand in the heat of the moment. Yet Emilia will face repercussions when she goes too far, as in Pacific Reaper, when she pulls a gun on a male detective.
Q: How much have you chosen to focus on drug cartel-related violence in your books?
A: One of my early role models as a writer was Martin Cruz Smith, author of the Arkady Renko series set in Russia. The Renko series plots are intrinsic to the setting, first within Soviet Russia and later as the Russian mafia emerges. They simply could not take place anywhere else because of Russian culture, politics, and circumstances.
The Detective Emilia Cruz series takes the same approach; the plots are driven by the setting. There seems to be little in Mexico that is not related to organized crime and drug cartels, which in turn connect to official corruption, missing persons, and the erosion of civil authority.
Emilia’s world will always be true to the setting. Indeed, I hope that the series can raise awareness as to the thousands of Mexicans missing amid the drug violence.
Q: Do you usually plot out your novels before you start writing them?
A: I create an outline using sticky notes on the wall, taking about a day to build before transferring the outline to a poster that I hang over my desk. The outline will be redone several times before a draft is final.
Halfway through a draft I’ll moan and groan that writing a whole book is too hard and want to stop. But that outline drives me on.
Q: Will you continue the Emilia Cruz series?
A: Absolutely. The first six books have a loyal following and I love getting reader emails. Many comment on the relationship between Emilia and hotel manager Kurt Rucker, whose relationship has been hanging in the balance over the last two books, Pacific Reaper and 43 Missing.
The next book, Russian Mojito, will be released in mid-2018. I told Felix Contreras, the host of NPR’s Alt.Latino show, that there will be at least a dozen Emilia Cruz books, but there are likely to be many more.
Thank you again, Deborah, for the chance to chat. Your readers are invited to visit here and get a *free* PDF copy of the Detective Emilia Cruz Starter Library.
It includes the story previously featured on The Huffington Post’s Fiction50 showcase, "The Beast," plus "The Angler," based on the true 2007 murder of my parish priest, and the first chapters of three Detective Emilia Cruz novels.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb