Ana Lena Rivera. Interview with the author of What the dead are silent

Cover photos: courtesy of Ana Lena Rivera.

Ana Lena Rivera embarked on a great literary adventure since winning the Torrente Ballester Award 2017 with the novel What the dead are silent. Now enter the usual maelstrom of these matters with its launch and presentation. In AL twe are lucky to have her as editor. You have been so kind to grant us this extensive interview where he tells us a little about his novel, his influences, his creative process, his illusions and his next projects. So Thank you very much for your time and I wish you every success..

Ana Lena Rivera

Born in Oviedo In 1972, he studied Law and Business Administration at ICADE, in Madrid. After twenty years as a manager in a large multinational, she changed business to writing, her great passion, coinciding with the birth of her son, Alejandro. Next to him was also born Grace Saint Sebastian, leading researcher of his series of intrigue that began with this first novel.


  1. Win the Torrente Ballester Award with What the dead are silent It has been your successful entry into the publishing world. What was it like to enter the contest?

The truth? Out of sheer ignorance. What the dead are silent It's my first novel, so when I finished writing it, I didn't know what to do. I did not know anyone in the sector, so I researched online, made a list of publishers that accepted manuscripts and decided to send my novel with the intention of getting their opinion. Two or three months passed and I didn't get any response, so I started submitting it to some contests. Few, because in most cases you cannot be pending a ruling in another contest, so a few months passed again and I still did not get any response. Not even an acknowledgment.

Suddenly, with nothing to announce it, things started to happen: I was a finalist in the Fernando Lara Award and that seemed incredible to me. It was a rush, but then several months passed again and nothing happened either. When I was already looking for a new strategy, andhe Torrente Ballester Prize jury decided to tell the world: "Hey, read this, it's good!", and I thought I had reached the top of my dreams. But it still wasn't like that.

The Torrente Ballester Award is a recognition and carries a cash prize, but it is an independent award, there is no publisher behind it, so winning it does not guarantee that a publisher will publish you. And there came the climax: on the same date they started calling me editorials they had read the manuscript. The reading deadlines are one year or more due to the large number of works they receive. I did not know that! Among those who called was my publisher, Maeva, when it was not yet known that the Torrent Ballester had won. I had sent them the manuscript several months ago and they were calling to tell me that they were interested in publishing me!

If the day I decided to make some copies of the manuscript and try to send it to some contests and publishers, they told me what was going to happen and where I was going to be today, I would not have believed it. What is clear is that, in this sector, you cannot be in a hurry. Things happen slowly and based on a lot of insistence.

  1. Where did the idea to write What the dead are silent?

What the dead are silent It comes from the stories that I heard in my childhood, on the lips of my parents and other older people and that impacted me at that time. I suppose that like almost all children, what I was most afraid of was losing my parents, that something would happen to them, getting lost, being kidnapped by the bogeyman… I was obsessed with that.

When I heard the elders tell stories of fathers who during the war They had sent their little children alone to Russia or England so that they could have a better life than they could give them in Spain, even knowing that they might not see them again, I was petrified. Or when I heard nuns and priests from my school tell that they had been admitted to the convent or seminary when they were 9 or 10 years old because they were the youngest of many brothers, too young to work and their parents did not have enough to feed them.

When I grew up I understood that people's decisions they can only be valued and understood by knowing the circumstances in which they drink. And that inspired the novel.

En What the dead are silent they intermingle two stories: the collection, clearly fraudulent, of the substantial pension of a high command of the Francoist army that, if alive, he would be 112 years old, would have recently switched to internet banking and would not have been treated by a public health doctor for more than thirty years. When the main researcher, Gracia San Sebastián, begins to investigate the case, there is a unexpected event: A neighbor of his mother, a retired teacher, known in the community as La Impugnada, commits suicide by jumping out the patio window, with a handwritten note pinned to her skirt addressed to the doorman of the building.

It is a novel of intrigue, with a very agile plot, with touches of humor, but as in any novel of intrigue there is a social portrait behind the plot. On What the dead are silent the backdrop is the evolution of Spanish society from the postwar period to the present, of that generation that was born in the 40s, with shortages, in the midst of a dictatorship, without freedom or information and who today talk to their grandchildren on Skype, watch series on Netflix and sign up for computer courses for those over 65.

The facts that are investigated in the novel are a consequence decisions taken 50 years ago and it will be necessary to understand the circumstances of the moment to reveal what is happening in the present.

  1. Who is your protagonist, Gracia San Sebastián, and what about you in her?

Hrecently I heard Rosa Montero say that writers write to face our fears, our obsessions, to tell ourselves stories of characters who face our fears, in order to weaken and rid ourselves of them. I don't know if the same thing will happen to all writers, but in my case, I fully identify myself.

Grace is my personal hero, facing my worst fears. She and her husband struggle to overcome a life-shaking tragedy, the loss of their three-year-old son in a domestic accident.

Grace has her own personality that grows with the novels, it evolves on its own without me, no matter how much the writer, controlling its way of maturing. She has different experiences from mine, which are shaping her character.

Of course, I could not resist endowing it with some of my tastes and hobbies: for example, neither of us have watched the news for a long time or read the news. Also at two we like good food and red wine.

  1. And with the current avalanche of good female protagonists, in what would Gracia San Sebastián stand out the most?

What is special about Grace is precisely that he is an ordinary person. She is smart and a fighter, a fighter, like so many other women. She is peculiar, as the protagonist of a series of intrigue, that she is not an ordinary investigator, but is an expert in financial fraud.

Grace has lived in my head since my adolescence without my knowing it. As a child I loved to read and immediately became hooked on the novel of intrigue, I went from the Mortadelos to Agatha Christie and from there to what was at the time: from Sherlock Holmes to Pepe Carvalho, via Phillip Marlowe, Perry Mason. I was even looking forward to each chapter of the series Mike Hammer on television

Already then I realized two things: that the protagonists of the novels that I liked were men, and also they all had something else in common: they were disenchanted with life, without social relationships or family ties, who drank whiskey at ten in the morning and slept in the office because no one was waiting for them at home. Then female researchers began to emerge, but they followed the pattern of their male predecessors: the great Petra Delicate by Alicia Jimenez – Barlett or Kinsey milhone by Sue Grafton.

There, unconsciously, I decided that one day I would write about a researcher that she was a woman and that she had close personal and family relationships. Even the police commissioner that accompanies Gracia San Sebastián in their cases, Rafa Miralles, is a normal man: He is professionally brilliant at the police station, but happily married, father of two girls, who likes to cook, who has good friends and a playful dog.

  1. What writers do you admire? Is there any one else in particular that has influenced you for this novel? Or maybe a special reading?

I started writing by Agatha Christie. The entire collection was in my house. I still have them all, in a sorry state from the amount of times I read and reread them. Today I do the same with the books of the new great lady of crime, Donna Leon, with her Brunetti in Venice.

Among Spanish writers I have as a reference to Jose Maria Guelbenzu, and I love every new book by María Oruña, Reyes Calderón, Berna González Harbor, Alicia Jiménez Barlett or Víctor del Arbol. Also some self-published have me totally loyal like Roberto Martínez Guzmán. And two new discoveries this year: Santiago Díaz Cortés and Inés Plana. I am looking forward to reading your second novels.

  1. ¿What the dead are silent Is it the beginning of a saga or do you plan to change the register in your next novel?

It's a saga continues the protagonist and the characters that surround her: the commissioner Rafa Miralles, Sarah, your pharmacist friend, Geni, the commissioner's wife and Barbara, his sister, cardiologist, intolerant and perfectionist. The new case in the second novel will be very different from the first And, if readers want, I hope there are many more.

  1. How is your creation process usually? Have you had any advice or guidance? Do you recommend it?

Like my thoughts: chaotic. I have never suffered from blank sheet syndrome. I just need time and silence. Several hours of quiet, without noise or interruptions and the story flows. I never know what I am going to write, or what is going to happen in the novel. It is a very fun process because I write with the emotion of the reader who does not know what will happen in the next scene. When I finish comes the serious part: correct, correct, correct.

Of course I seek advice: I studied at the School of Writers with Laura Moreno, which helps me correct my novels, then I started a program of mentoring literary with Jose María Guelbenzu, who was already one of my favorite authors and from which I never stop learning, I have my club of beta readers, ... The writing profession is very lonely, so having experienced people to teach you your strengths and weaknesses and readers to give you their opinion on the end result for me has been and is a treasure. I cling to them, they are my guide and my reference.

  1. What other literary genres do you like?

Although I love intrigue, I can get hooked on any novel of whatever genre it is. Until a year ago I would have told you that the historical novel was choking a bit, but this year I have read two that have won me over: the first, The Angle of the Mist, from my partner Fatima Martin. Later, I was lucky enough to be part of the jury of the Carmen Martín Gaite Award and since I read the work of Paco Tejedo Torrent With a fictionalized biography about María de Zayas y Sotomayor, I knew I had to win. Fortunately, the rest of the jurors agreed. Also I was a jury in the Torrente Ballester and I loved the winning novel, The Argentina that God wants, which is a travel novel, of Lola shultz, exceptional. Instead, it is a genre that I don't usually read.

I guess in general I like good stories that hook me and make me want to know more, whatever genre it is.

I even confess that there are novels that I read and reread every so often they are not intrigue novels, like Man does not live on caviar alone, de Johannes M Simmel, a very old novel that has been with me since adolescence, Nothing opposes the night by Dolphine de Vigan, which I usually read in the summers. OLHimmler's cook, de Franzt Olivier Giesbert, which I could read a thousand times and would always surprise me

  1. A few words to the beginning authors?

Let them write what they would like to read, because that way they will believe in their work and they will know that before finishing they already have their first unconditional fan. Also that they form, that they learn the technical part of writing from experienced writers, that they correct, that they look for a good professional corrector to finish polishing your story.

And finally, do not be shy about sending your novel to all the sites where it is accepted. With a lot of patience, without haste, but without missing opportunities: if you show your work, you have no guarantees, but you have the opportunity and you never know where it may end.

  1. And finally, what projects do you have when all the maelstrom of presentations and signatures passes?

Take a few days to thank all the people who have opted for this novel and that in the middle of the maelstrom it may have happened to me to do it at the moment. And then, sit down again to write and spend free time with the family.

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