Mysteries in Brazil from a talented new author….
AFG: Tell us about your new novel.
RM: The idea to write Perfect Days came at the request of my mom. My previous book, Roulette, is about nine young people who take part in a game of Russian roulette. It’s a thriller in the form of a puzzle full of twists and violence. When my mother read it, she was shocked and asked me to write a love story. I took it as a challenge and tried to think of what a love story would be like told my way, in my style. This brought me to Perfect Days, a novel about obsessive love.
Perfect Days tells the story of Téo, a reclusive young medical student who falls in love with Clarice. Téo stalks her and tries to insinuate himself into her life, which culminates in his kidnapping her in a sick plan. Against a dreamlike backdrop, they settle into an unusual routine with plenty of psychological torture and sordid moments. Téo’s logic is impeccable and he justifies his acts with great rationality and calm. This psychological immersion is the driving force of the book—that and our desire as readers to find out if he “gets the girl” or not in the end.
AFG: We’d like to know about the tradition of crime fiction in Brazil; can you tell us about that?
RM: As a reader, the lack of literary tradition in the crime genre in Brazil always bothered me. Maybe because of this I decided to write crime stories. We have some great authors, of course, like Rubem Fonseca, Patricia Melo, and Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza, but the truth is that crime novels are not very popular in Brazil. And because there are not many readers, there are not many writers. That’s why the impact of Perfect Days in Brazil was such a big surprise to everyone. It was well received by the critics and even made it onto bestsellers lists.
There are many new authors emerging nowadays. And like in a natural cycle, the growing number of writers gave the genre more space and captured the interest of the press, the book fairs, and mostly, the readers. There’s a propitious environment for the consolidation of Brazilian crime literature, but everything is too fragile and diverse.
AFG: Which authors would you say influenced you?
RM: My favorite authors are Agatha Christie and Patricia Highsmith. The former taught me the importance of plotting a story carefully, with turning points and an unexpected ending; the latter taught me to give my characters dimension, to make them believable, with psychological depth.
I also really like Stephen King, Cornell Woolrich, Dennis Lehane, Fred Vargas, Stieg Larsson, Jeffery Deaver, Rubem Fonseca, Harlan Coben, and Chuck Palahniuk. And I am greatly influenced by other media, such as cinema and music. Tarantino, the Coen brothers, and Almodóvar are all people I look up to. They use a mixture of violence and dark humor that also appears in my work.
AFG: I’d love to know about your screenwriting?
RM: I wrote three TV series in Brazil, and now I’m working on a soap opera called “The rule of the game” for TV Globo. I switch from different fictional worlds in a single day. I have feature film and TV series meetings in the morning and afternoon, and at night I have time to enter the world of my new book.
Honestly, I find it easier to write scripts than literature, but I love doing both; they’re different media with different requirements. I’ve sold the film rights of my three books to the big screen already, but I chose not to be directly involved in the adaptations. With Perfect Days, the producer, RT FEATURES, is waiting for international feedback to decide whether or not to make the movie a national or international production.
AFG: What films do you enjoy watching?
RM: I saw The Bone Collector and The Silence of the Lambs when I was twelve years old, and they changed my life. These films made me stay up for nights on end. Later, Reservoir Dogs and Fargo showed me that it was possible to add some dark humor to ease tension in violent, shocking stories. I love thrillers and psychological suspense in general, and cinema definitely influences me to this day
AFG: What are the key ingredients to produce a great book?
RM: Everyone’s attention is so divided—among TV, handheld devices like the iPhone or iPad, and, of course, social media. In my opinion, a good book needs convincing characters and a plot full of surprises. Personally, I’m a fan of an unexpected ending that will leave readers thinking about it long after they’ve finished reading. And I can’t stress the importance of readers. I have a team of beta readers to whom I send parts of the book while I’m writing. If they don’t send me late-night messages or call me begging for a new chapter, then the book is not good enough yet. Every good suspense book must be devoured by the readers.
AFG: Are you working on another book at the moment?
RM: Yes, always! In August 2015, my third book, The Village, was published in Brazil. It’s a horror novel that earned comparisons with Stephen King, which is, to me, a huge honor. My next novel, Dinner Is Served, which I’m currently writing, is about four friends who leave the interior of Brazil and go to Rio de Janeiro to attend university. Among the hardships they face, such as paying the apartment rent, they start an illegal, morbid, and exotic business that makes them very rich. The book is about their rise and fall, like Breaking Bad but with young characters—and without the drugs.
Besides that, I have been investing a lot in stories for the film industry. After writing three movie projects, I started the script for a feature horror film called A Happy Family. I’d like to work in the American film industry someday. Who knows? Let’s see what happens.
AFG: How has the reception been in your homeland toward your works?
RM: At the age of 20, I published my first novel, Roulette, and it was a finalist for the 2010 Benvirá Literature Prize, the Brazilian National Library’s 2012 Machado de Assis Prize, and the prestigious 2013 São Paulo Literature Prize. In 2014, when Perfect Days was published in Brazil by Companhia das Letras, everything happened very fast: translation rights have been sold to thirteen countries and the book has garnered the attention of all Brazil’s major newspapers and magazines. It was a surprise even for me.
Fortunately, among the readers the reception was amazing. Word of mouth was key for my career. I keep in touch with readers through Facebook (raphaelmonteswriter); they ask me for new books, and we discuss aspects of my works that are more polemic.
In Perfect Days, the ending, which I won’t spoil for you here, has been somewhat controversial. Readers both praise and complain about it. Like it or not, it’s an ending that no one can be indifferent about. That pleases me.
AFG: Do you outline or come up with an idea and write?
RM: My books are totally plot-driven so that’s where I start writing. From the plot, I build the characters. I feed these personalities with characteristics, with specific elements or details that I may not even use in the book but are essential for me to get to know them. I keep them in my head, trying to imagine how they would react in this or that situation, their likes and dislikes, the kinds of movies they watch, the kinds of places they like to go. It’s only when I get this intimate with the characters that I’m ready to write. I don’t have any rituals, but I prefer writing late at night in absolute silence with a glass of water beside me. In murder scenes, I listen to classical music.
Though I may start with a mapped-out plot, I make changes along the way because a certain character imposes her/himself wanting to decide his/her own path. That happened in Perfect Days. There’s a twist halfway through the book that wasn’t in the original outline. When I got to this part, the character demanded the change, and I couldn’t say no. Curiously, this is one of my readers’ favorite parts of the book.
AFG: Will you be traveling to North America to promote the book?
RM: Being part of a screenwriters’ team on a Brazilian soap opera is a lot of work. It’s 167 episodes, 50 minutes each. I’m traveling to New York when it’s over, between April 2 and 10. My publisher will probably throw a few events, yes. I’ve been to North America before but, I must confess, this time will be different. I’m pretty excited about it!
AFG: What is the best thing about being a writer?
RM: To me, the best thing is to be able to work with my imagination: to be able to create a whole universe and control the life and death of my characters. Another beautiful thing about being a writer is to be directly in touch with readers from all over the world. This is something former writers didn’t experience, and I love talking to everyone through social media. I hope that American readers discover my work and, through it, become acquainted with some Brazilian literature.
AFG: Most importantly, do you think Brazilian soccer will rebound from the World Cup? Can it be that hiring Dunga will work after his previous disaster?
RM: Hahaha, yes, I do! You know, in the Snow White fairy tale, Dopey the dwarf got the name Dunga in its Brazilian version. And in Perfect Days, there’s a hotel with dwarfs, so I do believe a dwarf can make the difference! LOL. But now that soccer is beyond Brazil and loved worldwide, I hope people will turn their attention to other good things about my country—like Brazilian literature.