Friday, September 8, 2017

Q&A with Carmen Amato

Carmen Amato the author of romantic thrillers and the Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series set in Acapulco. She's the first female police detective in Acapulco and the series has been optioned for television by a major US network.

Carmen loves to travel and Mexico and Central America provided the impetus for her writing career. Her books live at the tangled intersection of risk, power, and corruption.

Every month, she shares the Mystery Ahead newsletter with thousands of mystery readers and writers. Together they explore what makes for a compelling mystery with writing protips, author and publishing insider interviews, books reviews, and Q&A from the Mystery Ahead mailbag.

Visit her website at to get a free copy of the Detective Emilia Cruz Starter Library and subscribe to Mystery Ahead.

1.  What inspired you to write Pacific Reaper?

Thank you for hosting me! Pacific Reaper is the fifth book in the Detective Emilia Cruz series set in Acapulco. She’s the first female police detective in Acapulco, which over the last 10 years has gone from tourist mecca to one of the most violent cities in the world, thanks to drug violence. The first four books in the series established Emilia as a fighter but also as a woman trying to have a love life and a successful career amid the machismo, drug smuggling and official corruption. But in Pacific Reaper, her carefully built life comes unglued.


2.  What kind of research did you do, if any?

Early in the book, Emilia and her partner Franco Silvio discover an altar to Santa Muerte, the folklore saint of death, next to a murder victim. Soon they believe a gang is invoking Santa Muerte to intimidate a rival. I first became interested in developing a Santa Muerte story line after finding a booklet of scary prayers to Santa Muerte at an outdoor book fair in Mexico City, but really had my eyes opened by Dr. R. Andrew Chesnut in his book, Devoted to Death. The colors of Santa Muerte artifacts, the type of item left on altars, and the intersection of Santa Muerte beliefs and law enforcement all provided important details that appear in Pacific Reaper.


3.  Did you relate to the main character, Emilia Cruz, in any way? If so, what?

I get asked this question a lot. Emilia and I are both Catholic and were raised by single moms. We both know how to take action and get things done. That being said, I’m more polite than Emilia and have more shoes. She’s much quicker on the draw and lets her mouth get out of control. Also, I’m into yoga and she’s a kickboxer. That, more than anything, illustrates the difference between us!


4.  What was Emilia’s connection to Las Perdidas and what was her purpose with it?

One of Emilia’s friends disappears in Made in Acapulco, the prequel collection of short stories, and she began to collect information about women who have gone missing in the Acapulco area. She calls the missing women Las Perdidas—the Lost Ones—and has a binder of names. Most of the cases are cold and Emilia is the only one still looking. Thousands of people have gone missing in Mexico due to drug violence in the last 10 years, plus I drew on reports of the decades-old mystery of missing women in the Juarez area and desparacida notices in Latin American newspapers to build this part of Emilia’s world.


5.  What are some of the main socio-economic issues that you explore in this book and why did you explore them?

The Detective Emilia Cruz series is grounded in contemporary Mexico. It was important to me to make the series as authentic as possible—this isn’t Baywatch with Emilia running around in a bikini. Starting with Cliff Diver, the series pits Emilia against gender inequality, income equality, human trafficking, and official corruption. The setting of Acapulco forces Emilia to live with one foot in the deluxe tourist locations that ring the bay and the other in the impoverished and violent barrios far from the water’s edge. Pacific Reaper stayed true to Emilia’s world, but added the complexity of dark religious beliefs.


6.  What do you hope readers gain from your book?

First, I hope readers are entertained and want to read more Emilia Cruz! The books are mainstream police procedural fiction. Mystery lovers are my main audience. I hope they get a better understanding of the issues that Mexico faces right now and see Emilia as hope for the future.


7. What inspired you to be a writer?

I’ve always loved the art of arranging words on a page and finding new ones in a thesaurus. I got my start as a novelist, however, writing an aviation adventure series for my son when he was in third grade. He adored airplanes and while there were plenty of non-fiction books, we couldn’t find an age-appropriate action story. I wrote two novels in which a young teen always winds up in the cockpit of historic aircraft, The Secret Blackbird and The Pacific Ghost, but never published either.


8.  What do you like best and what do you like least about being a writer?

I love the editing process but hate typing in a first draft. I’m always so impatient for what’s in my head to get on the page! I also love that my dog sleeps on a fur blanket next to my desk whenever I sit down to work. I’m never alone; he’s like Velcro.


9.  Who are some of your favorite authors?

When it comes to mystery, I love books by Robert. B. Parker, Jo Nesbo, Louise Penny, Susan Spann, Tana French, and Ann Cleeves. For dialogue and humor, no one does it better than P.G. Wodehouse and I’ve learned much about pacing and flair from his Jeeves series. When it comes to craftsmanship, I’m in awe of Carlos Fuentes. The Eagle’s Throne was a tour de force.


10.  If your book would be turned into a movie, who would you imagine playing the part of the main character?

Believe me, I have thought of this! Last year I signed an option contract with a major US studio for a television series based on the Detective Emilia Cruz series. I don’t know if a series will ever become reality, but I think Gina Rodriguez would be terrific as Emilia Cruz, with Salma Hayek as Carlota Montoya Perez, the self-absorbed mayor of Acapulco; and Benjamin Bratt as Victor Obregon, the crooked head of the police union. I’m not sure who should play Franco Silvio, Emilia’s cranky partner in Pacific Reaper, or Kurt Rucker, her hotel manager boyfriend. I’m open for suggestions!


11.  Are you working on anything right now?

I’m working on 43 Missing, Detective Emilia Cruz #6, which was sadly inspired by the true disappearance of 43 students from the town of Iguala, not far from Acapulco, in September 2014. Emilia will find out what happened to them in a powerful conclusion, but of course it will be fiction. In reality, it’s been three years and I’m not sure anyone will ever know the truth. 43 Missing is slated for release in early November.


12.  And, finally, what do you think is in store for the future of Latino literature?

A few years ago, I wrote a series of posts for and have been happy to see the steady growth in Latino books for children. But when you get to adult reading material, I think Latino literature is mostly associated with literary fiction. There are wonderful books by Latino authors in this category, but the reality is that the most popular fiction genres for readers worldwide are romance and mystery. Latino literature needs to expand more aggressively into these categories.

I appeared on NPR’s Alt.Latino show with Felix Contreras last year and we discussed the Detective Emilia Cruz series and other Latino mystery series. Compared to Nordic noir, there isn’t much. Colorado-based Manuel Ramos has been tremendously successful. Leighton Gage’s Inspector Silva series set in Brazil was a role model for me when I was told books with all Mexican characters would never sell. But there is room for much more.

Thank you so much! Readers are invited to get a free copy of the Detective Emilia Cruz Starter Library at

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