Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective, and what is it you love about them?
Regarding the roman noir heroes I am “romantic”. My preferred ones are Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe, the legendary characters of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler’s novels. Both are dysfunctional beings, living in a corrupt and morally sick society, and although they are outsiders, they have a very strong ethical sense, which gives them a very special charm. I was never a fan of rational detectives, who solve crimes in their offices, using just logic and reason.
What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
I remember reading my first book, A Vaca Voadora (The Flying Cow). I was probably six years old and it told the story of a cow who used to meditate. I fell in love with the book (and the cow). Of the noir literature The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett was my first reading experience . I was fifteen years old and had a dream of becoming a scriptwriter. His characters full of pathos, his pulsating rhythm, every detail in his literature had a strong impact in my future literature. What struck me specially was the way he makes the city and society characters in his novel.
Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
I started my career as a screenwriter. After having written many scripts for films and TV programmes I lost the passion for both those media. The scriptwriter’s job is very frustrating, in my opinion. You’re a kind of horse for the director. You feel always tied. The freedom you find in literature is unique. I am increasingly convinced that literature is the freest of all art forms.
Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
For many years, books and films were my greatest pleasure. When I turned 50, out of the blue, I started painting. Since then I have been studying watercolor techniques, and discovering with great enthusiasm fantastic watercolorists as Joseph Beuys and Rodin. I created the cover of my latest novel in Brazil. Unlike writing, which causes me immense anguish, painting is just pleasure for me.
What is one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn’t in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn’t initially consider?
São Paulo is not a city, it is a world: 18 million inhabitants! It is not a beautiful city, the traffic is crazy, life is expensive, there much violence, but there is not anything like it in Brazil in terms of cultural life. If you are around it, rent a bike (the city has now a good network of cycle paths) and go to Vila Madalena, a neighbourhood full of small art galleries. Then you will have a good notion of our contemporary cultural production.
If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
If my life was a movie I would prefer to choose the director: Eduardo Coutinho, the most talented documentary director Brazil ever had, who sadly died last year in a tragic way. Maybe he would choose not just one but various actresses to play my role.
Of your writings, which is your favourite, and why?
Fogo-Fátuo (Ghost Light), my last novel. Although I was labelled a crime novelist since my first book, this is really my first crime novel. It tells a story of the mysterious death of a famous actor during a performance. For the first time I have a detective, Azucena, leading a difficult investigation in a corrupt police system. I tried to create a “classic” detective novel using elements of contemporary Brazil.
What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut story in book form?
I thought to myself “finally I will get rid of producers and directors”. Jokes aside, it was a great feeling of freedom. I mean, artistically speaking. For a long time, I kept an almost pathological curiosity about the readers. I had a friend who owned a bookstore, and I use to call him daily to ask about the people who had bought my book. Who are these people? What else they buy? Readers are almost metaphysical figures in writer’s lives.
What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
When I was publishing Acqua Toffana, my first novel, I received an anonymous letter, with flowers, during the book signing. The author, in a dubious and “poetic” way treated me like his partner in crime. I was scared for some days. I felt I was in a Hitchcock film.