Wednesday, May 22, 2019

At The Poisoned Pen with Jeffrey Siger!




I must apologize once again for being so tardy with posting my recaps of events I've attended at The Poisoned Pen. It's certainly not because I didn't enjoy myself at them, so don't get that idea! Today I'm sharing the event when the silver-tongued devil himself, Jeffrey Siger, came to town to talk about his latest book, The Mykonos Mob. One of the people attending this event was planning a trip to Greece. She'd never read one of Siger's books, but it didn't take much arm twisting from his fans for her to buy two, and then those who had been to Greece spent the rest of the time suggesting places for her to go. Siger himself came in a little early and added his own suggestions (invaluable, since he lives on Mykonos part of the year).

Without further ado, let's get down to the heart of this post: Siger's conversation with host Barbara Peters and his fans who showed up despite the rain!

Jeffrey Siger with host Barbara Peters
Barbara: Good evening, everybody! Thank you for coming out on a surprisingly rainy and cold night in Phoenix. It was 94° yesterday. This has been the most... you've been on tour all over. Have you been in a lot of bizarre weather?

Jeff: I haven't been to Antarctica yet... [audience laughter]

Barbara: But seriously, around the United States?

Jeff: It was raining badly in Dallas. It was somewhat chilly in Vancouver. But this is a brilliant combination here, I think. [He has a tendency to come here in the summer.]

Barbara: Jeffrey and I were in Vancouver for Left Coast Crime, and, boy, what a gorgeous city! I fell in love with it all over again. I hadn't been there for a number of years.

Jeff: It is beautiful. The people are very nice, too. I really enjoyed it there. I hadn't been to Vancouver. I'd been to other parts of Canada.

Barbara: It's the starting point for a lot of trips to Alaska. A lot of Americans who have been to Vancouver have done so as people on one of these cruises. Anyway! We chatted a lot about your book, The Mykonos Mob.

Jeff: Thank you all for coming here and braving this weather. I appreciate that.

Barbara: This is actually your third book titled Mykonos, although you have books set in other locations. We first met Andreas when he worked on Mykonos.

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Jeff: Yes, he was the police chief on Mykonos in the first book, Murder in Mykonos, and the fifth book was Mykonos After Midnight, which explored what I thought was happening to the island. This is the third book in the series although it's book number ten, and it talks about what actually has happened. It's sort of like a trilogy in some sense you might say: his initial time there when he thought it was a lovely place, to his concerns about what was happening, and now to what the result is.

Barbara: Unfortunately, when so much money is funneled into a place from tourism and other things, it becomes attractive to gangster types from other countries.

Jeff: It suffers from the same thing as many exotic places do, especially when you don't have a strong central government. There are other islands in other countries which are basically run by the types you're talking about. Mykonos has the same influences. When you have a gorgeous place where extraordinarily wealthy people come to, it's going to draw the people who want to be there, and it's going to draw the people who feel they can profit off that. In any way that they can. If you're a bad guy, you want to take advantage of people, and that's exactly what's happened on Mykonos.

Barbara: Not just true of the Greek islands. Many years ago, Rob and I took a cruise to Croatia with some friends on this funny little Croatian cruise ship. It was hilarious. In our stateroom, in order to take a shower, you had to pull this sort of curtain around the toilet. [Audience laughter] Then you were standing inside it. And the food was dubious at best. But it was absolutely lovely, and it was right before Croatia was "discovered," and during part of the Greek economic crisis, Croatia picked up a lot of the trade that had gone to Greece.

You're going to be writing about that in your next book, aren't you? -- about what happens when tourism absolutely overwhelms a place and there aren't enough resources and infrastructure to handle it.

Jeffrey Siger
Jeff: Yes, that book is going to play out on an island near Mykonos called Naxos, which is the largest island in the Cyclades. I'm using that as the vehicle for addressing a worldwide problem which is this massive tourism that exists today is trampling over these places that were once virginal.

On one side you have the tourism people who see great money to be made, and on the other side, you have the people who want to protect the pastoral beauty of these places. That's the conflict. There's going to be a murder because I write murder mysteries, but that is the main conflict.

Interesting you should mention Croatia because I had friends telling me that the new hotspot to go to is Montenegro.

Barbara: It's the turnaround right below Dubrovnik which is why a tour of Montenegro is becoming popular. The other place is Stewart Island at the tip of New Zealand because there are now people sailing around there. They told us when we were there last January that the problem with the cruise ship people is that they eat on the ship, they sleep on the ship, they spend money on the ship, but when they come ashore they just overrun everything and they don't actually contribute to the economy. Meantime, the locals have to spend all sorts of resources on policing and cleaning up and all that, so it's kind of like hosting the Super Bowl. It was great for Glendale, but I'm telling you, in Scottsdale, it was more of a pain than a profit.

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Jeff: Bingo! That's exactly one of the problems Mykonos is having. You can have five or six cruise ships a day-- 2,000 to 3,000 people plus staff-- and they walk through the streets having been fed and groomed onboard ship and they'll buy very small things. But there are enough of them that people want to cater to them and make some money off of it. As a result, the higher end tourist is turned off and doesn't want to be in town when this happens, so the higher end shops are finding they're losing customers. It's just a cycle that no one is taking control of. It depends on the government. On who's making the decisions. They have to take control.

On some islands-- I believe one of them is Santorini-- they've restricted the number of cruise ships that can come there. I don't know if it's true or not but I've heard that Naxos is trying to ban them completely. But they are a big problem.

Barbara: One of the many interesting things about your books is that Mykonos is really at the forefront of all of this. It's one of the early places that was discovered and that all of this happened to. You have written about it with great prescience. Actually, all of Jeffrey's books, it's so scary, I call him Cassandra because every time he writes about something, it comes true.

Jeff: Funny she should have said that... I never read for my books, but when you talk about "Cassandra things," you're not going to believe what just happened. I wrote this book and it was delivered to my publisher well before October of last year, and it had all been corrected and set up to go. In it, I had described certain key events that were then reported in a newspaper about a week ago. I will read to you the background, the plot points that set up my story. Listen carefully because following that, I will read you the newspaper article that came out just a week ago.

Jeffrey Siger
The subject of The Mykonos Mob is pretty clear from the title. The book opens with the assassination of a mob-linked character who controls the island's protection rackets through his security business there. An operation that ties him into the island's highly lucrative nightclub and drug trade. The hit occurs off-island as the victim was getting into his Mercedes. Shot down by a Bulgarian assassin. And I refer to the seamy side of life in paradise as the world of the night.

This is the newspaper article from a week ago:

'Dateline: Athens. Greek police said a 30-year-old Bulgarian was detained for questioning in the October 31, 2018 murder of a 46-year-old Greek-Australian businessman gunned down outside his home.

'Police officers said they believe the man, whose name was not released in accordance with Greek privacy laws, pulled the trigger outside the businessman's home. The businessman ran a security business but did not have a bodyguard. The shooting happened just as the victim left his home and climbed into his Mercedes Smart car, the killer running up and firing into the driver's window.

'Australian investigators had been looking into the victim, who was linked to a case in that country over the trafficking of $13 million worth of drugs and the attempted murder of an underworld crime boss in Sydney.'

Up to this point, the parallels have been uncanny, but here's the paragraph that blew me away:

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'The victim is said to have owned a company offering security services and had recently invested heavily in nightclubs on the island of Mykonos where wealthy customers were routinely gouged and charged hundreds of thousands of euros for champagne and other luxury menu offerings the restaurants offered.'

The article concludes with this observation:

'It was the first major outbreak of violence in three years in the country's underworld, which the Greeks call the world of the night.'

She's been calling me Cassandra for years but never did this happen so much as it just did. There have been subsequent reports that make it even more telling, but I will spare you those. I couldn't believe it.

Barbara: The other thing that Jeffrey does... not only does he link up with things happening currently, but all his books also link back to Greece's ancient past. He's dealt with religious mania and various tropes that come from classical Greece, which I find fascinating. One of the most interesting things about being your editor is, when he sends me the book, I'll say to him, "This is what it was about," and he's surprised.

Jeff: It's true!

Barbara: Your subconscious is just working along.

Jeff: I'm not going to tell you what just happened on Naxos that I'd already written about in the first chapter. I said, "This can't be true!" I don't know what it is! I wish I could pick horses. [Audience laughter]

Jeffrey Siger and Barbara Peters
Barbara: We've talked about the mob and that the bad guys are trying to do something on Mykonos that they shouldn't be, but a lot of this book has to do with Andreas' wife and her desire to forge some kind of career or purpose of her own.

Jeff: Someone has said to me that this book could be subtitled #MeToo Meets the Mob, and I think it's true.

Lila is a very perceptive, very supportive woman in a marriage where she sees herself as a mother and a wife. He is very supportive of her as well. She goes to Mykonos hoping to find a better destiny for herself. I was at a book signing when someone asked me to write a book featuring Lila, and I knew he was right.

What Lila did in growing is she found herself a friend on Mykonos who ingratiated herself into my book without being invited. Her name is Toni, and she is a wisecracking piano player in a gender-bending bar on Mykonos. By day she's essentially a private detective. Together they try to mentor young women who are caught up in the exploitative culture on the island. So you have all the elements here of strong women, and when I was writing the book, I didn't want to do anything to diminish that. This is not a situation in which a man is going to come in on a white horse and save them. They're on their own. I'm really pleased with the way these characters came out. It's like the rebirth of Lila, who was very strong in the first couple of books but then-- not consciously-- faded into the background when other stories took over, so I'm very pleased with this.

Barbara: But they did have children, and that's what she was home doing when they were small.

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Jeff: Yes, absolutely, and it's consistent with the role people would play in their lives. Domestic issues and all those sorts of things.

I like the fact that my character does not have a terrible complex or alcoholic problem. He's living a life; that's hard enough without having other things tossed in! He works through everything with his family.

Barbara: But he's also a policeman, so there are police procedural elements in all the books, and he has some interesting colleagues at the cop shop whom I really like and whom we get to know.

Jeff: This is an ensemble production, and each book has another character come to the front. They work together to create the story. They tell me what the story's going to be like. Is this one going to be primarily Kaldis, or is someone else going to jump in? I'm not yet sure who's going to be running the Naxos show, but it will be a fun experience getting there.

Barbara: Jeffrey's wonderful because, being a lawyer, he's used to negotiating, pleasing clients, pleasing editors-- whatever it is. I think we do really well. We have a lot of respect for each other's point of view.

Jeff: Thank you, memsaab. [Audience chuckles]

Barbara: Seriously, wise ass! [Audience laughter] At the end of Devil of Delphi, I violently disagreed with how the fate of one character played out. I really think I was right about that one, it made it a much more powerful book.

Jeff: Do you think I'm going to disagree with you on television? [Audience laughter] The point is, it worked.

Jeffrey Siger
Barbara: His characters are so real that I get just as invested in them as Jeffrey. Because they are real, you want things to play out for them in a meaningful way that is true to them but is also satisfying to everyone else.

Jeff: Let me say this on the record: Barbara is the kind of editor you want for this reason. Through my experience as a lawyer, I'm used to be edited by everybody you can imagine-- senior partners, clients... she doesn't sweat the small stuff. She goes right to the issues that matter and says, "This is not right. This should be changed." And that's what I can deal with. It's not a question of "I want you to change every 'shall' to 'will.' It's a question of "I think you should really look at how this is," and that's what I want as a writer, to have an editor who's going to tell you that. Then you can go back and make it work.

Barbara: One of the great things about Jeffrey's books is how he describes all of the places. Have any of you read Mary Stewart? Okay, so you remember how she would take you to some glorious place like Crete. She had a gorgeous way of describing the landscape. I think you do an exceptional job. If I remember correctly, there was a whole long passage in Sons of Sparta where you're traveling down into that peninsula, and you're reviewing the history and describing the countryside. It's just... really gorgeous.

Jeff: It was Yanni going home. You worry about consistency as an author. You write something, you say this happened here, this is who they married, and then you somehow mess it up later on down the line. In the very first book when I introduced rookie cop Yanni Kouros to his boss, Andreas Kaldis, I said Yanni was from some island. In the sixth book, Sons of Sparta, the whole thing was about Yanni's being born and raised on the Mani, not where I'd said originally. Some astute reader at a signing brought this up. I told him, "You have to understand something. The Mani has a rather seamy reputation. Yanni was just meeting his new boss and didn't want to tell him where he really came from." And they bought it!

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Barbara: Pretty slick, huh? [Audience laughter] Instead of saying, "My editor failed to notice and so did I"... I do think that when you read the books, you get this wonderful sense of where we are.

Andreas started out as the police chief on Mykonos and now he's in Athens, but I don' think we made it clear that Lila's family owns a villa on Mykonos. So when she decided to try to figure out what she wanted to do, that's why she went to Mykonos and met Toni there.

Jeff: Yes. Andreas married the daughter of a very prominent family who-- like many rich Athenians-- own a villa on Mykonos. So they went there, Andreas to pursue an investigation and Lila to clear her head. So they went to her home, which is in a beautiful area that overlooks the sea. I disguised it, but the villa actually exists, and there really are these types of places.

What you want to do as a mystery writer, you want to lay out everything that could happen in a way that seems believable. So when you go from that to the improbable, the reader will jump with you.

After a short Q&A session, it was time to hop in the signing line. It's always a treat when Jeffrey Siger is in town; I always try to be there. If you'd like to watch the event in its entirety, here's the link to The Poisoned Pen's Youtube video.



5 comments:

  1. You always seem to have the best visits to the PP, Cathy! And Siger does write some good stories... Glad to hear the evening went well.

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    1. I've never been to an event-gone-wrong there. I think everyone shows up with the attitude that they're going to enjoy themselves.

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  2. You do have great visits and also write good summaries, which are often quite humorous, as is this one -- because both Jeff and Barbara are witty and sarcastic.

    I've read two of his books and will read more at some time. It's a good idea to develop Lila as a fully formed character, not only in her role at home, but in the outside world.

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    1. I definitely agree about Lila, and I'd certainly like to see more of Toni.

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