RITA CARLA FRANCESCA MONTICELLI: THE MENTOR WAS MY FIRST ATTEMPT AT WRITING A THRILLER
Posted by Ognian Georgiev
The Italian author Rita Carla Francesca Monticelli released with success the English version of her novel The Mentor on November 1. During October the thriller was available for pre-orders and for Amazon Prime members. The book collected many positive reviews.
Our next guest made a name in her country with sci-fi series about Mars. She is very interesting interlocutor and I am sure you will enjoy our chat.
– Carla, what is your book The Mentor about?
– The Mentor is a crime thriller set in London involving a forensic squad from Scotland Yard. The main character is a chief forensics detective, Eric Shaw, who investigates a series of murders that seem related to a cold case involving a person he cares for. This person, Mina, was just a child when twenty years earlier four men killed her family.
The purpose of the story isn’t exactly find out the culprit, but rather observe how the main character decides to react to his findings.
Though it can be read as standalone, this book is the first one in a trilogy, whose second book, titled “Syndrome”, I’m currently writing.
– How did you decide to write the story?
– I’m a CSI fan, especially CSI:NY, and a couple of years before actually writing this story I was playing with the idea of a British forensics detective who didn’t follow the rules, which is exactly what you (almost) never see with the main characters in the various CSI series.
– What was the biggest challenge during the write up process?
– That was my first attempt at writing a thriller, my previous novels were science fiction (the Red Desert series), so I had to write about the real world. Actually I took full artistic licence in describing the work of British scene crime investigators and police, but still I had to focus on real today’s things, like real places. Fortunately London is one of the cities in the world that I know best, so that helped.
But actually it was also my first attempt at being disciplined with my writing, because I wrote most (50,000 words) of the first draft during a NaNoWriMo session in November 2012. Anyway I made it in the end.
– Tell us something more about your main characters Eric and Miriam? Are they close to someone from your real life?
– Actually the main character is Eric, all other characters are secondary in this novel, except Mina, but… who is Mina? Well, I can tell much about her without spoiling the book.
Concerning Eric, he isn’t definitely close to any person I know in real life, just like it happens with all my characters. He is a very flawed character, a kind of anti-hero. He’s maybe good at heart, but in the attempt to do good he overcomes some limits. He’s starting to lose the ability to see the border between good and evil. This is also because he was disillusioned about life. He’s about to turn 50, with a failed marriage behind him and a 15-year-old son living with his ex-wife. Since his private life is quite a disaster, he is mostly concentrated on his job. Actually this is also one of the reasons of his marriage’s failure, too. In a nutshell, he is unhappy. But lately he is taking interest in one of his female colleagues, Adele, who is over twenty years his junior. Beside the fact his interest is inappropriate because of the difference in age and of the fact he is her boss, he doesn’t even know whether his feelings are returned. Maybe they are?
– How much time did you need to finish the story and to publish it?
– As I said, I wrote most of the first draft in a month. Actually it took another couple of weeks to finish it. But then I left the manuscript aside, because I was working on the two remaining books from the Red Desert series (which includes four books), and took it in my hands again at the beginning of 2014. The original version, which is in Italian, was published on 21 May 2014.
– What the readers will find in your Red Desert series?
– Red Desert is a hard science fiction series set on Mars in the next future (in approx. 50 years). It follows the first colonizers of the Red Planet, including the main character, a Swedish exobiologist called Anna Persson. She is an anti-heroine (yes, I love anti-heroes!). The story starts in the first book, “Red Desert – Point of No Return”, when Anna, after more than 1,000 sols on the planet, secretly leaves Station Alpha, the hab in which she has lived with her crewmates (they are five), with a pressurized rover with an oxygen supply of only 50 hours. We don’t know what happened. Is she escaping from something (or someone)? Or is she looking for something? Or is she trying to commit suicide?
As the reader follows Anna in her journey, they will also imagine themselves amongst the dust and rocks of Mars, in its enormous flatlands and insidious canyons, half way between the urgency to explore and the desire to survive.
But this isn’t the beginning of the story, actual it’s happening in the middle of it. The reader will have the chance to learn what happened in the past, what pushed Anna to leave Earth for good, which events characterized her space travel to the Red Planet and those 1,000 sols (Martian days), and of course what will happen next.
The story spans about 18 years, though most of the action occurs in few days, save for the final book in which the story skips forward a few times.
The readers will find real science (space science, but also biology), adventure, mystery, passion, and the meeting with “something” different. It’s a science fiction techno-thriller with a lot of character introspection.
– Who are you?
– I’m a dreamer. What I do is make my dreams real by writing them, because for me writing makes my fantasy real. I mean, I feel like by writing a story I’m living it, with the important difference that I can control it, and of course, I can live as many lives as I’m able to imagine and write down.
I’m also a biologist. I used to work as a university researcher, and my education tends to leak on my books.
– What are your writing habits?
– I don’t write every day. I use to write in some periods of the years, for about one or two months in a row, depending on the length of the text I’m working on. I spend the other months taking notes, outlining my future novels, editing, working on the production of my novels (though The Mentor was published by AmazonCrossing, I’m an indie author for what concerns all my novels in Italian), and promoting them.
During the periods I write (like now), I normally spend 3-5 hours a day writing, trying to get about 2,000 words written. I don’t have a specific moment in the day for writing. Sometimes I start my day with it, sometimes I take care of other tasks and dedicate to writing as last thing to do, and sometimes I do it in the middle. What counts is having my 1,500-2,000 words done before going to sleep.
– Are you satisfied by the sales of your books?
– Definitely yes. Italy is quite a small market, so it’s a bit hard to make a living out of your writing, but my sales here are quite good. I can’t really complain. Anyway I also have five titles in English, including The Mentor, which is definitely making the difference to me.
Even if I still dedicate some of my time to translation jobs, I’m not really forced to, and I can consider myself a full time writer now, which is a dream come true!
– What are you doing to promote your book by the best possible way?
– Well, The Mentor was published by AmazonCrossing, so the marketing team of Amazon Publishing is doing most of the job, and they are doing a great one indeed.
Beside this, just like any indie author, I have a blog (well, two of them, one in Italian and one in English), I use social media, moreover I’m a podcaster (I belong to the “crew” of FantaScientifiCast, which is an Italian science fiction podcast), I give public speeches at various events, like comics and book fairs (e.g. I was a guest at the Frankfurter Buchmesse in 2014), conferences at universities, and other book or science fiction related events. Being an indie author, I take care of my relationships with media in Italy. I try to get the word out about my books as much as I can.
And I write and publish two books per year. Publishing your next book is the best possible promotion.
– When we will see your next novel and would you unveil something more about it?
– I don’t know exactly when my next novel in English will be published, nor which one will be the next. I have some books already published in Italian, which I’d like to translate myself or have them translated into English. One is “The Isle of Gaia” (“L’isola di Gaia” in Italian), which is a cyberpunk techno-thriller set in the same universe of Red Desert and about a century in the future. It’s a story about transhumanism and free will. “The Isle of Gaia” and the Red Desert series are the two parts of a 5-part saga called Aurora, which will include three more novels.
Concerning thrillers, this year in May I published “Affinità d’intenti” (whose English title will be “Kindred Intentions”), which I hope to have out in English soon as well.
As for my current works in progress, I’m currently writing (during NaNoWriMo again) the second book in The Mentor Trilogy, titled “Syndrome”. I really can’t say anything about this book, because I don’t want to give out anything about the ending of “The Mentor”. My intention is to publish it in Italian in May 2016. Considering how good The Mentor is doing, hopefully the English edition will follow soon!
Moreover I’m also currently working on the next novel in the Aurora saga (I hope to publish it in November 2016 in Italian), titled “Ophir”, which is mostly set on Mars again (but also on Earth and on the Moon), whose main theme is Artificial Intelligence. I already wrote the first part of it, but two more will follow in the next months.
– As a specialist in describing Mars, what is your opinion about The Martian, the Andy Weir’s book and the movie?
– I read the book back in 2013, when it still was self-published, and I loved it because of the great science in it (well, except the impossible sand storm at the beginning, which I hated especially in the movie). At that time I was working on the third book in my Red Desert series, so it was the kind of reading perfectly suitable to stay in the right mood, though my series is quite different (the role of science is more balanced with the one of the characters).
And of course I loved it because of the irony. It made me laugh so much.
I liked the movie, too, but you know, if you read the book, you know how it ends and you can’t prevent yourself from comparing the two works. I always thought that a movie wasn’t enough to contain such a long a complex book (as it often happens with long books and movies taken from them), a series or a mini-series would be more suitable, but of course not as much profitable also for what concern the chance to reach more people. The movie was a great way to make common people become interested or even enthusiastic on space exploration, and this is great.
– Do you think that there was an alien civilization on Mars in the past? And when the planet would be colonized by the humans?
– No, I don’t think there was any alien civilization on Mars. Maybe there was life, or there is still, but it was (is?) very simple life, like microorganisms.
I don’t know when the planet will be colonized. I really hope I see it in the time of my life, but I’m aware of the big challenge to get to this point, especially the economic challenge. We have what it takes to colonize the Red Planet soon, but you need the interest of the public opinion to gather the money you need to actually do it. There’s a lot of politic and economic stuff involved, which isn’t predictable at all.
– If you may ask yourself one question in the interview what it will be?
– Which authors have inspired you most so far? There are three of them. One is the late Michael Crichton, who was such a great narrator. I loved the way he put an idea as core of his novels (mostly about science) and created a story around it.
Another one is Peter F. Hamilton. I greatly admire his huge imagination in creating complex worlds in the future (especially a very far future), yet being able to develop realistic characters in which you can identify.
An the last one, but not least, actually this one is my favourite author, is Thomas Harris, for his talent in shaping likeable evil characters, well, one in particular, the greatest anti-hero in fiction (in my opinion). Yes, I love Hannibal Lecter, and that explains a lot about the dark side of my stories.