Archive for June 19th, 2015


Earlier this week I did a post about the book Turning to Stone, you can find my review here. Today I’m happy to have more information for you.

Gabriel Valjan

Gabriel Valjan Interview Questions


  1. Tell us little about Turning To Stone?


Bianca is in Naples for Turning to Stone. Loki, her mysterious contact is now giving her baffling anagrams. They seem to lead to a charismatic entrepreneur who has a plan to partner with organized crime to manipulate the euro and American dollar. Against a backdrop of gritty streets, financial speculation, and a group of female assassins on motorcycles, Bianca and her friends discover that Naples might just be the most dangerous city in Italy.


Bianca had been hired at a time when legislation against white-collar crimes was lacking in the U.S., so she is recruited for her hacker and pattern-recognition skills. After the initial excitement wears off, she realizes that many of the subjects of her investigations end up dead. Fearing for her life, she flees to Italy, assumes a new identity, and attempts to live a normal life. She falls in love and develops a circle of friends, who happen to do similar work to the kind that she had done in the U.S., but within her adopted country’s law enforcement agency, the Guardia di Finanza. A computer correspondent contact named Loki contacts her on occasion and feeds her challenges.




  1. How much of the book is based on fact?


True: In the late 80s, the U.S. had little on the books to prosecute perpetrators of S&L scandals and mutual-fund improprieties.


True: The American public knows of La Cosa Nostra, the Sicilian mafia, from films such as The Godfather and Donnie Brasco, but Italy is unfortunately home to the Camorra in Naples, and the ’Ndrangheta in Calabria. All three organizations have different organizational schemes, which I explore in Turning.


True: The Guardia di Finanza exists.


True: The Financial Crises of 2007 and 2008 inspired the main plot of the novel. I’m particularly intrigued by the idea of financial terrorism in which a multinational corporation such as an investment firm or a government can destabilize a country’s economy.


True: Roberto Saviano’s Gomorrah and Matteo Garrone’s film of the same name helped me visualize Naples, although I have visited the city.


  1. What sparked your interest in organized crime?


Several things. I read about crime in America, specifically what early immigrants had to resort to in order to survive in Manhattan’s Five Points at the height of immigration in the late nineteenth century. Jacob Riis documented the appalling living condition and grinding poverty in that seminal classic of muckracking journalism, How the Other Half Lives. Isaac B. Singer wrote about the Jewish gangs, from which Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel emerged, savvy and vicious. The Irish and Chinese had their own street gangs. The Italians had the Black Hand; and later, the Sicilian mafia. Discrimination compelled some immigrants to turn inward and resort to criminal activities. They mimicked the nefarious organizations that they had known in the ‘Old Country.’ I also had an interest in how the American mafia began infiltrating legitimate businesses and unions to launder money; at first, to distance itself from the violence of gambling and narcotics, and then to take over publicly traded companies in order to acquire legitimacy as corporations; such was the case with ‘Nicky’ Scarfo and the Lucchese crime family in 2011. The question as to whether corporations are entities, or individuals, fascinates me: who is responsible for criminal misconduct: the CEO, the CFO, or the Board of Directors? Are corporations capable of acting as terrorists? Is terrorism also bloodless and financial?


  1. How do you go about researching your novels?


Each novel in the Roma Series presents a case study. In Roma, Underground I explored the theft of archaeological treasures. In Wasp’s Nest, the economics and politics of the multinational pharmaceutical industry are considered when one of my characters threatens to make the cancer industry far less lucrative. Threading the Needle evaluates terrorism and the efforts of several governments to destabilize the Italian government after World War II. The late Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti publicly acknowledged on national television the existence of a covert multinational organization whose sole mission was to prevent any Communist party from taking the majority in any government in post-war Europe. Italy had such a party, a political presence that had been on the verge of a majority that ended with the kidnapping and murder of Aldo Moro in 1978. In Threading, I have a character, a politician who is openly gay and Communist and who advocates for decreased foreign-military installations in Italy. In Turning, an unholy trinity of three organized crime organizations forms to manipulate the euro currency. I had read several analyses of the Financial Crises of 2007 and 2008, along with Saviano’s Gomorrah, before writing Turning To Stone.


  1. What’s the toughest part of writing your novel?


Writing about a foreign culture has its challenges. The American perception of Italian culture is limited. Ask the average American what words they know in Italian or name some culinary dishes and invariably the answers, down to the pronunciation for each, are from southern Italy. This is not a bad thing: people honor their family heritage. The problem that exists is one that is a function of history. An Italian immigrant, especially a child, who left Italy between the peak years of immigration, 1880-1920, had left a country that had just been unified, in 1861. Dante may have standardized the language with his Florentine dialect, but it wasn’t until Mussolini mandated public schooling that Italy acquired a standardized language. Italian newscasters on RAI speak the English equivalent of BBC-speak. Elsewhere, Italians revert to local dialect at home and with friends. An American’s great-great grandparents were likely to have spoken the dialect of their village, which would have been incomprehensible to their neighbors on the other side of the mountain. I may use an Italian word or phrase for ‘color,’ but it is always for character development and to advance the plot; and I’ll always rinse my words with my cultural and linguist editor, Claudio Ferrara in Milan.



  1. When did you decide that you wanted to be a writer?


I didn’t always know that I wanted to be a writer. As a child I read voraciously, so I was quite awed, quite intimidated, by the great talents on the bookshelves at my local library. I began with a lot of self-doubt about my ability to sustain an idea, create multidimensional characters, and capture the tics of dialogue. I knew what I enjoyed in literature, understood to some degree how it all worked. I was convinced (still am) that nobody could teach the idea that starts a short story, a novel, or a poem. When I had set aside the initial excuses and insecurities, I discovered that I was having fun and that I had stories in me. I am a late bloomer, having written and published after I had turned 40.



  1. Do you outline or just let your imagination take you where it wants?


Ah, the “Are you a Panster or Plotter?” question. It really depends, honestly. I tend to scribble a phrase here and there as a reminder to myself. There is that occasional element of surprise when something unexpected has developed in my writing, but I’ve always been an organized person. I discovered that my thinking during writing is symphonic. I know when to switch and modulate plot or subplot. I think most writers will agree with me when I say that once you have a lock on your characters, those characters, through their dialog, their mannerisms while they eat, move, and speak, take on a life of their own. The goal is to open any page and look at a line of dialog without speaker attributes and know which character said it. My advice is: write it down, get the story through the keyboard and then revise and edit ruthlessly.


  1. Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, how do you deal with it?


No, I don’t get writer’s block. Look, I am not a genius who will say that I have a million things flying around in my head. That flurry might seem ‘artistic’ but it is really the mirrored reflection of an undisciplined mind or a lack of discernment. Artists tend to be obsessive and disciplined creatures and I am no different. I’ll chew on an idea until it finds expression. I’m very hard on myself because what matters to me is the story. What I do experience, however, is Frustration because I can’t find the right words at times. Language is, by its very nature, slippery and elusive. Accept that fact and let it go because it will never ever be perfect. I’ll always find the flaw, that one thing in hundreds of pages, that I had wished that I had done better.


  1. You also write short stories, correct?


I do. I started with short stories and I continue to write them. I have several stories out there now, with the recent “Don’t Tell” in Close to the Knuckle’s Rogue Anthology, “Zombees” in Dark Chaos II from Big Pulp, and a flash fiction piece called “Beneficiary” online at Spelk. I like the short-fiction format because it is more challenging to me than that of the novel. There is less space and runway for lift-off. The definition of the short story has changed from something that you can read in “one sitting” (Edgar Allan Poe’s definition) to tales of no more than 5,000 words. I’m not sure why the change in word count, but it is a demanding form, with less room to breathe.


  1. What books are you reading now?


I’m reading The Stories of Richard Bausch (a recommendation) and Walter Mosley’s Rose Gold, the latter because I’ve always enjoyed time with his Easy Rawlins.


  1. Who is your favorite author?


I don’t have one. I can say that I tend to return to certain authors, but I don’t have one specific favorite.


  1. What are your favorite films?

Tough question. I like to laugh, so I prefer classic films from the 30s and 40s, and certain films from the 80s. I do enjoy film noir, so Maltese Falcon (and just about anything with Bogart), Crime Way (Sterling Hayden is amazing and was a fantastic writer himself), and guilty pleasures such as Crazy Stupid Love (a fan of Julianne Moore). Now that Netflix has made us binge-watch series, I’ll add Breaking Bad, Justified, and House of Cards. I think film historians will credit Netflix for introducing a new Golden Age of serial viewing.



  1. If you had to name one person you would want to share a meal with more than anyone else in the world, who would he or she be?


It’s a toss-up between Carole Lombard and Groucho Marx. Both were down-to-earth honest people, from what I’ve read about them. Carole was a generous woman. Groucho was an autodidact, terribly insecure about his education, but the man had a tremendous grasp on literature.


  1. What do you do for fun when you’re not writing?


I work out. I find exercise provides me with an outlet for frustration.


  1. What’s next for the Roma Series?


Book 5 is written and ready for editing. Bianca is back in Boston for Corporate Citizen to help an old friend. She doesn’t care about the dead hooker, about the drug overdose, or the other body at the scene. She does care that her former employer is implicated. Her enemy Lorenzo Bevilacqua has made startling revelations about U.S. Attorney Farese and Loki. Confused, shocked, and with little time to think, Bianca must save lives: her own, that of her friends, and of a new ally, a troubled military veteran, who may just have the key to Rendition’s true purpose and Loki’s real identity.


Excerpt from Turning To Stone by Gabriel Valjan

He was back at work.

Farrugia and Noelle had had a beautiful meal together, an even more beautiful night in bed together. It almost made him cry that she was so forgiving after the fiasco at the airport. Not even two minutes into his excuse making, telling her about the bullshit with McGarrity’s arrest, she put her fingers to his lips and said, “Shut up and kiss me.” His heart skipped the proverbial beat when she insisted that she cook for him. She had said that she had been taking a class on southern cooking as a surprise.

He felt like a child again with the antipasto. A plate of fresh-fried anchovies—Alici fritte—was to him what French fries were to American children. He was like the swordfish she cooked for the main course in that he gave her no struggle. Pesce Spada alla Ghiotta. He had pulled a Sicilian white wine from out of the rack to accompany the swordfish done “glutton’s style,” with tomato, capers, and olives. She told him there would be something special for dessert.

There was—they made love on the kitchen table. Love had made Commissario Isidore Farrugia imbranato: a goofy mess.

And now, in Scampia on an overcast morning, he was back in reality.

He watched the car ease into the parking lot. This was it. He was happy he had seen Noelle one last time, happy he had been able to spend some precious time with her in his real apartment and not in the dummy one he kept during the week in Scampia.

The car had slowed down, parked, and the door opened.

This was supposed to be a meet; “Important,” he was told over the phone by some Totaro thug he knew by name but had never met. The voice sounded as if it belonged to a three hundred-pound brute in a stained wife-beater shirt, with a paunch, some gold chains around his neck that included a crucifix and a gold cornicello, the little horn used to ward off malocchio, the Evil Eye. The goon on the phone said that he was sending Stefano with the details.

Post-coital endorphins and paranoia did not mix well.

He had arrived earlier than the scheduled time for the appointment. He had developed enough of a rapport with Stefano that allowed Farrugia to call him “Ste,” a shortened form of his name that maintained the part that carried the stress in the full name and reminded Farrugia of the English “stay” as he had heard in commands, such as “Stay put!” and “Stay here.” That was the first sign that he was in, but the System, like most crime outfits, will send the friend to kill you. It was a courtesy not to have a stranger kill you, and a humble reminder that business is business and never personal.

Farrugia feigned fixing his belt. He had his gun near his tailbone. Would Stefano shoot him from a distance? Were there no chivalrous last words, no Judas kiss before Ste made his lethal move? Another mark of respect was to kill someone up close. The way the corpse was left behind explained why the person had been killed. There was enough sign and symbol in gangland killings to fuel several doctoral dissertations.

Stefano reached into his breast pocket. Farrugia’s hand tightened around the stock. Stefano’s hand was coming out.

Cigarette pack and lighter.


They exchanged pleasantries. This was looking as if it would be a genuine conversation, unless it was a prelude to an ambush. Farrugia kept surveying the area through his sunglasses. The Totaros could have set them both up, which is why Farrugia had cased the area earlier for all the possible entrances, exits, and blind spots.

Ste stopped, lit his cigarette, and took some small puffs. He was puffing like a slow locomotive as he approached. Ste was from Apulia, and his last name was predictable even for the dumbest genealogist: Pugliese. His record was what the police called “small-fry” because all of his infractions were from his teenage years. He would’ve made the upper rung of the Totaro clan had he not committed those youthful indiscretions.

No mistake about it: Stefano was a known man, not associated with System violence but with a record. He was smart, not flashy, and discreet as a small-town mayor having an affair. He got things done in a friendly manner. He was also an excellent PR man in the Totaro territories. He disliked violence unless it had a purpose. Stefano Pugliese was the perfect middle-management type, directing crews and reporting back to the capos who, in turn, reported to Amerigo Totaro.

“Good to see you,” said Ste.

“Likewise. Do you want to stay here or drive around and talk?”

“Here is fine, unless you want to sit in the car for the AC.”

“I’m good,” said Farrugia.

“I’ll try and make it quick. Something big is coming down.”

“I’m listening.” Let Ste spell it out since it could be anything, drugs from the Calabrians, guns from the Russians, fake fashion from a Chinese sweatshop.

“This is new, out of Foggia.”

Foggia? The city was known for being bombed to rubble during the Second World War, known for its wheat fields and delicious watermelons and tomatoes. But he had a feeling the Totaros weren’t interested in fruit.

“This could be more your moment, Pinuccio. This might make you.”

“Pinuccio” was a diminutive of Giuseppe, Farrugia’s undercover alias. A nickname was earned, and using the diminutive was a sign of respect, of affection. Ste was saying that this business might lead to Giuseppe’s acceptance as a man with rank within the System.

“This sounds serious, Ste,” Farrugia said. “Tell me more.”

“Fake currency.”

“Counterfeiting? Impressive and high-risk, although I know sentences are turned on appeal.”

“Look at you—a lawyer before you get near a courthouse. Don’t be superstitious. There’s always a risk, but don’t worry too much,” Ste smiled. Farrugia tried to appear concerned.

“C’mon,” Ste said, “this is a one-time gig. There’s big money involved and plenty to go around. Besides, there’s a truce with the Marra clan.”

“You’re shitting me, right? A truce?” Farrugia wasn’t play-acting his shock. This was news. “When did that happen? No, never mind. You don’t have to explain. The color of money did it all.”

Ste fished out another cigarette and let it hang from his smiling lips. “The risk is low. I’ve been told that everything has been greased from high to low so a fish could pedal a bike across the Piazza del Plebiscito and nobody would say a word, including the priests.”

“Really?” Farrugia said, playing along. “If it’s that easy then go have a kid do it. You know how the courts treat kids.”

“Relax, will you? We have somebody on the inside with the Anti-counterfeiting Unit, and the Marra clan is showing good faith.”

“Good faith? What does that mean?”

“They handed over a sample from their presses in Giugliano, gratis. You’re to pick up the rest. Giugliano meets Foggia.”

“Is it any good?”

“Absolute artwork, my friend.” Ste took the cigarette out of his mouth to kiss the tips of his fingers. “Five hundred-euro notes of such beauty that any of the renaissance masters would have cried had they seen them. Perfection.”

“Five hundred-euro notes? Are you insane? That’s much too large.”

“In Italy, it’d get attention, but do you think the Bulgarians, the Colombians, and the Russians give a damn?”

He had a point. Farrugia also knew that the Africans and Middle Easterners were using fake euros to buy up real estate in their home countries. He remained quiet. He needed Ste to think that he was not convinced.

Giugliano was a hotbed for counterfeiting. Multigenerational counterfeiters there were masters, trained from childhood. These forgers picked every ingredient like a master chef. The chemicals, paper, the ink, dryers—the entire process had to be just right. Picking a bad tomato or a watermelon doesn’t get you five to ten years in prison. So what was the connection to Foggia? What was coming out of Foggia?

Cigarette smoke lingered near his face.

“What do you say?” Ste asked.

“What do you want me to say? I know shit about fake euros. How will I know whether the goods are quality when I get there? You’re telling me that the Marra family is behind this and the Totaros aren’t sleeping with one eye open.”

More smoke.

“You worry too much, you know that? I’ll be there myself. Marra and Totaros meet, and you’re responsible for our friends from Calabria. It’s strictly an exchange and nothing more. The Marras have guaranteed it. Part of the new peace, don’t you see? The Totaro clan gets free money as a one-time gesture, and everyone moves forward. The Marra see a sample of Totaro work done in Foggia.”

Farrugia muttered, “A regular company meeting.” Something wasn’t adding up. He wanted to show some suspicion. “Tell me one good reason why I should do this and not be thinking chrysanthemums and a funeral hymn, huh? Tell me one.”

The man put out the cigarette, exhaled a cloud of smoke, and crushed the butt with his heel. It was a nice touch. “I’ll give you more than one reason if you like, Pinucc.” You’re the man between the Totaros and the Calabrians, and the Marras don’t have that kind of in with the ’Ndrangheta. The Marras want to enjoy the benefits of working with your compatriots that the Totaros are enjoying. The Totaros know that, so they put you up. You’re the Calabrian. You have any idea how huge that is? The Totaros will be very grateful to you, and since we’re friends they’ll be nice to me. Need I say more?”

“Yeah, I feel like Othello before the Venetian Senate.” They both laughed. “And the Totaros think they’ll get money for nothing? What happens afterwards?”

Ste shrugged his shoulders. “I’ll be honest, I don’t know. But I’ll say this: if the Marras screw the Totaros, then they’re screwing the Calabrians, and the Totaros can come back at the Marras with the ’Ndrangheta behind them. You tell me, why would the Marras do that to themselves?”

He said nothing. It seemed plausible, but nothing was that easy.

“What is it? You don’t look convinced,” Ste said.

“Did you ever think that the Marras might have some other plan in place?”

“This is serious money. Enemies will sit around a table if there is money to be made. I can tell you one thing, though.” Farrugia waited for the next pitch. “They’ll have a chair at the table for you to make things go well with the Calabrians.”

“Ste? A few days ago I heard on the news that the euro bond had beaten expectations. Sounds like the Americans are at it again with their ‘quantitative easing.’”

“Quantitative what?” The man’s eyebrows lifted.

“The Fed floods the market with dollars. Then it buys back the bonds the government issues, which keeps the dollar artifically low against the euro and that makes the U.S. exports more competitive.”

Ste had his fingers searching the cigarette pack but stopped. “What the hell do you care? Watch the news for the weather like everyone else! Are you in on this or what?” Another unlit cigarette hung from the man’s lips.

“Yeah, I’m in. Call me later with the details.”

Ste lit his cigarette. “Now you’re talking. You won’t regret this. I was worried about you there for a second.”

“Why?” Farrugia asked.

“I don’t know. You sounded like a financial analyst or something.”

Turning To Stone

COPYRIGHT © 2015 by Gabriel Valjan

Excerpt appears courtesy of Winter Goose Publishing

To purchase Turning to Stone or for more information on the Roma series make sure to check out Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Goodreads, and Gabriel Valjan’s website.


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