HOWARD LAKE Area readers, writers, law enforcement, and mystery fans will have a chance to hear author Christopher Valen, when he visits the Howard Lake Library Thursday, April 12 at 6:30 p.m.
Valen’s early inspirations
Valen is a Twin Cities native, who grew up, like lots of kids, trying different sports. Valen was a junior Golden Gloves champion, and an all-state and college baseball player. He also earned the rank of brown belt in Tae Kwon Do.
Although he excelled at athletics, a cousin turned him on to the Hardy Boys mystery series when Valen was just a youngster. He loved the books.
When the time came to declare a college major, Valen was truly torn. Which would he enjoy more? A career in journalism, or one in college education?
Valen did a lot of soul-searching and followed the teacher track, eventually earning a BA in English, a MA in special education, and an educational administration license.
He kept reading mysteries throughout his educational career, however, and identified John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee as a favorite character of his during that time in his life.
Jumping from academia to authorship
Valen had been doing some beginning writing on the side of his education career. He was working on a literary novel, entitled “All the Fields,” and was hungry for professional feedback.
Valen signed up for a week-long conference at the University of Minnesota, in Duluth with an author he admired, Will Weaver.
The course was a springboard into a more fulltime literary life. He met several authors from the Twin Cities area at the conference. Some of those writers formed a group, which Valen indicated has been meeting routinely ever since.
Valen’s first mystery novel, “White Tombs,” naturally set during a wicked Twin Cities winter, debuted in 2008. “White Tombs” introduced readers to Valen’s swarthy, tough, talented, and very human Detective John Santana.
The book was well-received, and reviews were good.
“Armchair Interviews’” Patricia Reid wrote at the time, “John Santana of the St. Paul Police Department is a man you will not forget . . . The book is a great read, and Santana is destined to become one of my favorite detectives. Truly a five-star read from this author.”
Inspired, Valen wrote and published “The Black Minute,” the second Santana saga in 2009. That year, he began writing fulltime.
Picking the big brains of law enforcement
Valen continued developing Santana’s character and working style. He relied on several law enforcement contacts and his growing library of forensic textbooks to ensure his police procedurals accurately represented the reality of modern detective work.
“In order to do that,” Valen stated, “I’ve had to become very familiar with forensic techniques, such as gunshot residue and wounds, DNA, lividity, rigor mortis, using insects to determine time of death, as well as the use of firearms.”
Characters lead Valen through plot twists and turns
Valen admitted that as a newer author, he “wrote myself into a few corners.” Now, Valen does have a very rough outline in his head as he begins a new book.
“Rough” is truly what it is,” Valen stated. “Often, ideas and characters appear out of the subconscious. I believe it’s important to trust this process.”
Valen said he carries a small tape recorder with him at all times, and said giving himself a change of scenery will often jump-start the next portion of the story he’s working on.
“If I’m stuck on a scene, doing something completely different, such as working out at the club, or going for a walk with my golden retriever, Gypsy, helps me to get unstuck,” Valen said.
Valen and his character Santana have now been a team through seven books, which is somewhat astonishing to the author.
“I had a clear picture of Santana’s backstory when I began writing the series,” Valen said. “But, I certainly did not see myself writing seven novels with the same character. I believe character development comes from placing Santana in different situations, and seeing how he reacts with other characters from all walks of life.”
Valen believes each of his Santana books are different enough that they could stand alone, or as a part of the detective’s series. Valen said he and his character John Santana have learned to live with each other in a good way.
“After 10 years and seven books, I definitely know more about Santana now,” Valen stated, “and he knows more about me.”
Glancing backward, and planning forward
Valen said while he enjoyed his educational career, and has many fond memories from that time period, he has no desire to go back. He said he feels very fortunate to have had the opportunity to write fulltime.
Valen won’t give up too many hints about what he’s currently writing, other than to confirm he is working on “a noir murder mystery that takes place in Minneapolis in 1950.”
He said he is excited about real-life and fictional characters involved in the book’s plot line. He hopes to have that moody piece done within the next few months.
And after that? “I plan to write an eighth Santana novel,” Valen said. “I trust my subconscious will lead me to a good idea, and new and compelling characters.”
Howard Lake’s ready readers
Howard Lake’s Mystery Lover’s Book Club will be discussing Valen’s “White Tombs” Wednesday, April 11 at 6:30 p.m. 24 hours before Valen is slated to speak. Time is planned for a question-and-answer session during Valen’s visit to the library.
Valen’s visit is a Legacy event, which is co-sponsored by the Howard Lake Friends of the Library. Registration for the event is requested, but not required. The Howard Lake Library’s phone number is (320) 543-2020.
To learn more about Christopher Valen and his books prior to his session at the Howard Lake Library, log on to the author’s website at http://christophervalen.com. Visitors to the website will be able to brush up on Valen’s additional Detective John Santana police procedural books, join his mailing list, read Valen’s blog, and even view video trailers for each book.