Interview: Carmen Amato

Please welcome Carmen Amato, author of the Emilia Cruz mystery series and The Hidden Light of Mexico City.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
First, thanks so much for hosting me here at Mysteristas! I love reading the blog and finding out about great books and creative authors who love mysteries as much as I do.

My perfDIABLO NIGHTS_moon_final_300ect day starts with coffee and watching the news with my husband, followed by a session in the treadmill or the pool. The next six hours are devoted to writing, without social media distractions, having to do laundry, or the phone ringing. Remember this is a perfect day.

Once I’m done killing off characters, I find that all the ingredients for dinner are at home and don’t have to make any strange substitutions. A glass of wine, some good conversation over the evening meal, and time to connect with family and friends. Perfection.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
I have a black leather Furla handbag. There’s a funny story on my website about the day I bought it in Rome, Italy. I travel a lot and over the years it has been photographed in some unusual places. The signature Furla bag is a consistent design element on my website, Twitter profile, and Facebook page.

Dark red is my signature color. It frames my name on all my book covers and it is the dominant accent color on my website,

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
The late Leighton Gage, author of the Inspector Silva mystery series set in Brazil, was a huge inspiration. I’d been advised that books with Latino characters would never sell. It felt like a big breakthrough to find an author who’d done exactly what I wanted to do. He let me shrug off the bad advice I’d been given.

My fourth grade teacher, Mr. Taverna, was extremely creative and imparted his enthusiasm to his students. He wrote funny short stories featuring various Italian foods as the main characters and taught us fractions using pizza and brownies.

My college-age kids are both very creative. I often bounce plot ideas off them. My son once helped me figure out a tricky storyline over a plate of fried calamari at an outdoor café in the Monastiraki district of Athens, Greece.

Do you listen to music when you write?
No, I focus all my attention on the text in front of me and don’t like distractions. That being said, I keep lists of songs that should be included in the soundtracks if any of my books become movies. You can see the dreamcast and playlist for The Hidden Light of Mexico City and for the Emilia Cruz mystery series on my website.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
My latest book is Diablo Nights, the third novel in the Emilia Cruz mystery series set in Acapulco. The series includes Cliff Diver, Hat Dance, and the collection of short stories Made in Acapulco.

Emilia Cruz is the first and only female police detective in Acapulco. The iconic Pacific resort city is on most observers’ list of top 10 most violent cities in the world these days, thanks to drug cartels competing for the lucrative market in El Norte. Emilia Cruz is constantly challenged by not only drug cartel violence but also Mexico’s culture of machismo. Good thing she’s a fighter.

If Diablo Nights, was chocolate, it would be dark chocolate blended with bits of bitter orange and chopped nuts. Dense, rich, tangy rather than sweet, with a satisfying crunch.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
Many of the themes in the Emilia Cruz series are inspired by the headlines coming out of Mexico. Issues include drug cartel violence and government corruption.

In the case of Diablo Nights, I also drew on a historical event. The Cristero War was an uprising caused by the Mexican government’s effort to eradicate the Catholic Church in the 1920’s and early 1930’s. Father Miguel Pro Juarez was a priest who eluded capture by the Mexican Army in order to continue his pastoral duties, only to be caught and executed in 1927. It’s a little-known but fascinating episode in Mexico’s history.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
The Emilia Cruz series has a continuing subplot in which Emilia keeps a record of women who have gone missing and searches for a girl missing from her own neighborhood.

As many as 80,000 people have gone missing or have been killed in Mexico due to drug cartel violence in the past 10 years. Despite the high number, many outside Mexico aren’t aware of the toll. The series is my small effort to bring this appalling circumstance to light.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Acapulco detective Emilia Cruz is a good liar, a fast thinker, a determined investigator and a mean kickboxer. An Acapulco native forced to grow up too fast, she’s been a cop for nearly 12 years and a detective for two; a strong woman in a squadroom that didn’t want her and is still trying to break her.

She lives in two worlds much of the time. There’s the Acapulco that tourists know; luxury hi-rises, candlelit nights on the beach, the sweep of the most beautiful bay in the world, the majesty of the clear blue Pacific.

But there’s also the Acapulco that is a prize to be fought over by drug cartels; the city that is home to hookers and thieves, the streets where life is cheap and poverty is as pervasive as the wind off the ocean.

Both of these versions of Acapulco claw at each other and force Emilia to survive between them. No investigation will be easy, no crime will be simple.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
Last year I wrote that Emilia’s character was inspired by 3 famous Latinas; Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, actress America Ferrera, and Olympic boxer Marlen Esparza. Each has qualities that form part of Emilia’s character: determination, perseverance, and focus on goals. You can read the whole article here:

If you could host an author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
They’d all be writers of mystery series I enjoy: Jo Nesbo, Henning Mankell, Donna Leon, Alexander McCall Smith, Leighton Gage, and Robert B. Parker.

I’d make carnitas from The Emilia Cruz Cookbook: 7 Mexican Recipes from the Mystery Series— readers who purchase the Kindle version of any Emilia Cruz mystery will find a link at the end of the book where they can sign up and download a copy. Each recipe in the cookbook includes an excerpt of the mystery in which the food was featured.

Sangria and mojitos would keep the party lively and we’d concoct a mashup mystery in which all our detective characters solve a crime together.

What’s next for you?

Two more Emilia Cruz mysteries, Shattered Siesta and Tequila Row, are slated for release in 2015. A paranormal suspense novel is also in the works for 2016 and will be my first book set in the US.

I’ll also keep offering free Emilia Cruz stories to readers. Right now, readers can sample the Emilia Cruz series with a free download of the first Emilia Cruz story, “The Beast,” which reveals how Emilia won the right to become Acapulco’s first female police detective. The free download is available here:

Carmen Amato is the author of political thriller The Hidden Light of Mexico City and the Emilia Cruz mystery series set in Acapulco. Originally from New York, her novels are sharp-edged stories that combine complex plots with characters and settings drawn from her experiences living in Mexico and Central America. Find more at and connect with her on Twitter @CarmenConnects.


12 thoughts on “Interview: Carmen Amato”

  1. Great interview – and good for you for sticking to your guns. “Latina characters don’t sell.” I wonder if Tony Hillerman was told the same thing about his Native American-influenced stories? And awesome on shedding some light on the missing persons problem in Mexico. You’re right; not a lot of folks know how bad it is.


  2. Wow, your book sounds fascinating. An entertaining way to learn more about what’s going on in Latin America, too. Quite topical. It’s really time for publishing people to move out of the 1950s and realize diverse literature does sell!
    Sounds delicious as well: “dark chocolate blended with bits of bitter orange and chopped nuts.” Yum. On my list.


  3. Thanks for the vote of confidence, mi amigas! Getting bad advice early in an author’s career can really be debilitating. It’s important to keep the faith with yourself and your vision. And have plenty of chocolate on hand!


  4. Thank you so much for visiting us! It’s wonderful that you have been able to make the world more aware of such an important issue at the same time that you are bringing Emilia’s stories to readers.


    1. I’m trying to both entertain and create bridges between cultures. Too big of an agenda? Maybe readers will let me know in their reviews.


  5. I love that you wrote what you wanted to write. Important to follow your heart and instincts and try to block out the negative criticism (that is all around us.) Long live Emilia Cruz!


  6. Thank you for writing a latina detective! I look forward to checking it out! (Ok, I’m biased, being a former Spanish teacher).


  7. Thanks so much for stopping by, Carmen! Your books sound fantastic! I’m with Sue and totally biased (I have a degree in Spanish), but I’m so glad there’s a Latina detective out there!


  8. This is why I adore this website! Thanks to all the amigas who support a Latina detective. I’m raising a virtual mojito to your (and Emilia’s) moxie.


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