INTERVIEW: Alex Segura on His Latest Novel SECRET IDENTITY

As a writer/creator, Alex Segura is a man of two worlds. In one, he has had a life-long career in comics. He has worked for and written for DC Comics, Archie Comics (where he was co-president and wrote Archie Meets Kiss, Archie Meets The Ramones, and the short-lived yet fun on-going The Archies series). Currently, he holds the position of VP of Sales and Marketing at Oni-Lion Forge Press. In the other world, Segura is a crime fiction writer, publishing a number of mystery novels (the Pete Fernandez series). This past March, Segura bridged these two worlds with his latest novel, Secret Identity (published by MacMillian Publishers), a murder mystery set in and around the New York comics scene in the ’70s. The uber busy Segura took some time to talk to us at Monkeys Fighting Robots all about it. So check out the interview below and make sure to pick up Secret Identity wherever fine books are sold!

Monkeys Fighting Robots: So Alex, just for those readers coming in cold, can you give us a quick pitch on ‘Secret Identity?
Alex Segura: SECRET IDENTITY is a comic book noir set in 1975 NYC, starring queer Cuban-American woman, Carmen Valdez, a lifelong comic book fan who dreams of breaking into the industry. She moves to NYC from Miami and gets a job as a secretary at third-rate publisher Triumph Comics only to find her dream rebuffed – her blowhard boss refuses to give her a shot at writing a comic.
Things get complicated when her colleague, young assistant editor Harvey Stern, approaches her with an opportunity: he needs help launching Triumph’s first-ever female superhero. The only catch – Carmen would have to co-write and co-create the series anonymously, for now. Carmen is hesitant but sees this as the only path to achieve her dream. Hesitantly, she helps Harvey co-create THE LEGENDARY LYNX, which instantly becomes a huge hit for the company. The only problem? Harvey’s been murdered – and no one knows Carmen played a part in creating this amazing new hero.

Carmen is compelled to investigate Harvey’s murder, not only to figure out what happened to her friend but to reclaim this character that means so much to her. Interspersed throughout the book are actual comic book sequences from THE LEGENDARY LYNX comic, drawn by comic book legend Sandy Jarrell, with letters by Taylor Esposito.

Secret Identity
Author Alex Segura
Photo Credit: Robert Kidd
 MFR: This is your first novel after wrapping up the Pete Fernandez series of novels. What made you want to do something stand-alone?
AS: I did a Star Wars novel before, but this is my first crime novel since wrapping up the Pete adventures, definitely. It’s funny, I thought Secret Identity would be standalone when I started writing it, but by the time I was halfway done, I knew there was more story to tell – which is why I’m working on a sort-of-sequel now. But to your question – I wanted to do something smaller, and more intimate. Something that could transport the reader not only to another time and industry but another world – comics, in particular. My favorite crime novels do that – tell a fun engaging mystery while taking you somewhere else, so that was my big goal with the book.
MFR: Did you do anything new or different in the creation of this book that you hadn’t done before?
AS: My outline was longer – I spent more time fleshing out the characters and plotting the comic book sequences. I didn’t want them to feel like a gimmick or something I did just for fun. I wanted them to matter and be in conversation with the prose. So I ended up doing a lot more research than I would for, say, a Pete novel – I spoke to people that worked in comics in the 70s, had a lot more beta and sensitivity readers, and read a lot about the comic book industry to make sure what I was writing felt like it was in the ballpark of what actually could have happened.
MFR: Did you always want to write something set in the world of comics? 
AS: I did! I just didn’t think I was ready until now. When I started writing novels, I wanted to write a book about my hometown, featuring a detective that was like me, and to show that not every PI protagonist had to look and act a certain way. But as I wrote more and learned more, I expanded my scope, and Secret Identity is an example of that.
MFR: Did your own experience as a lifer in the comics world inform anything in the book?
AS: For sure. I’ve worked in comics for 20+ years in various ways. It’s given me a lot of perspective into not only how they’re made, but how the industry looks from various angles. It was really helpful in terms of putting down a framework for the story.
MFR: Was the goal always to write a mystery/crime story in that world?
AS: One of my first short stories, in college, was a literary piece set in a modern-day comic book company. So, I guess even then, I knew I wanted to write something in comics, in the vein of Kavalier and Clay. But I think genre gets a bad wrap a lot of the time, and you can tell really evocative and important stories, even within the sandbox of a genre, so it felt like a fun fit to do a murder mystery set in comics.
MFR: Carmen Valdez is very different from any previous character you have written. There are similarities to Pete Fernandez, but I feel there are even more differences. How did you approach writing her? 
AS: Thoughtfully and with care. Carmen and I, and Carmen and Pete, have a lot in common, but we’re also very different – she’s a queer woman, for one. I had a number of sensitivity readers look at the manuscript in various stages to give notes on how she worked as a character, and the story as a whole, and that was very helpful. I also tried my best to spend time with women who worked in comics at the time, talking over the story and seeing if I was in the right ballpark. All that help really made the book better, and I’m grateful for everyone’s time and insight. I took their feedback and tried my best to integrate it into the manuscript.
MFR: Speaking of Pete, I caught one nod to your prior series with the quick mention of Pete’s police officer father. You told me there was one more that I missed, care to share it?
AS: All I’m gonna say is that it’s on the same page – in the same scene. The detective that mentions Pete’s dad is the link. I’ll leave it at that!
MFR: Did you have anyone from the comics community read it early? 
AS: I had a bunch of beta readers who worked in comics, and many who gave me time to discuss the story or to pick their brains for their own stories – folks like Lida Fite, Laurie Sutton, Scott Edelman, Gerry Conway, Paul Levitz, Louise Simonson and many more. I’m eternally grateful to them for their time!
MFR: The book features pages from the comic within the book, The Lethal Lynx. How did you approach these pages? You’ve written a ton of comics before of course, so did you do anything similar or different there?
AS: No, though the glimpses you get are just that. But the work put into creating the character and her world was the same – so it was a lot of front-end stuff to make sure it felt genuine.
MFR: Any chance we will ever see a ‘real’ issue of The Lethal Lynx?
AS: We’re going to do it via Zestworld sometime next year!
MFR: Is this the last we have seen of Carmen and this world? 
AS: I’m hard at work on a sequel, set in the modern-day, that will feature Carmen – but also spotlight a new protagonist.
MFR: What are you working on next, either in your day job at Oni-Lion Forge Press or in your own writing? Anything you care to plug?
AS: The Mysterious Micro-Face, the comic I wrote for NPR’s Planet Money podcast, with art by Jamal Igle, is out soon!
Manuel Gomez
Manuel Gomez
Assistant Comic Book Editor. Manny has been obsessed with comics since childhood. He reads some kind of comic every single day. He especially loves self-published books and dollar bin finds. 'Nuff said!