Interview with Matteo Strukul, by Marco Piva

Matteo Strukul is a 40-year-old Italian writer whose first novel, La ballata di Mila, is published in English by Exhibit A (an imprint of Angry Robot) as The Ballad of Mila.

Interview with Matteo Strukul“Sponsored” by Massimo Carlotto, Strukul wrote a second novel featuring Mila, Regina nera, also optioned by Exhibit A.

His first non-Mila novel, La giostra dei fiori spezzati, is a gaslamp thriller that will be published in Italy in April 2014.

Please introduce Matteo Strukul to us.

Well, first of all, I’m a man who loves life, ice hockey (I’m a huge fan of Asiago Hockey 1935, Montreal Canadiens and Berlin Eisbären) and rock ’n’ roll music (The Black Crowes, Rival Sons, Buckcherry and all the old stuff like Led Zep or Skynyrd). I like dark beer and adore American pulp-crime fiction novels and movies. At the same time I read so many European authors and literature and my favourite wine is an Italian red wine: Raboso del Piave. I think that my land – Veneto, in the Northeast of Italy – is the most beautiful piece of Earth in the world. I’m so lucky to have grown up here, in this area, in towns like Padova, Venezia, Verona: some of the jewels in the crown of Veneto.

Who is Mila Zago?

Mila Zago is a bounty hunter, but before of this she was and is a victim, a girl violated by men, a girl who grew up just to have her vengeance. So she is merciless now, strong and beautiful, but she feels she is damaged goods, she doesn’t like what she became. Finally, Mila is a broken soul. Anyway, we will fully understand how broken she is only after the second novel, Black Queen. Anyway there’s something wrong and dark with her, she is a kind of mixture between Luc Besson’s Nikita and the Punisher.

What inspired you to create such a character?

I think it was the woman I love. Her name is Silvia and she’s my wife. She is so courageous and generous and she is full of beauty and grace. But I think that every woman we love and we know has a beautiful way to show us how powerful a woman could be. Man, they are sincere and strong, and in some way that I can’t explain, they are incorruptible and incredibly honest, well more than men that’s for sure, ha ha! And if you think of characters like Tarantino’s Beatrix Kiddo or Luc Besson’s Nikita or Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander, wow they are wonderful and very incorruptible. In some way they just want two kind of things: vengeance and love or rage and grace you know what I mean? There’s a kind of German Romanticism, you know, that you can feel and touch with characters like those, especially thinking about Friedrich Schiller’s The Robbers or Mary Stuart, Wolfgang Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther. Those stories have that kind of integrity, purity and desperation. Also, I wanted to create a woman with that kind of backstory, created in cold blood: some evil men have made Mila what she is now, but they can’t change her nature, she is still a wonderful, pure woman.

Tell us about the other media in which Mila Zago appeared: a comics mini-series (still unfinished), a movie trailer… is there anything else?

Not at the moment, indeed, even if I know that the two books are going to be optioned for a film adaptation. So we have to keep our fingers crossed. I’m working on the third novel, ‘cause Mila is doing well in Italy. Of course, a videogame, based on the novels, would be a fantastic idea! Come on video game mofos. Give a guy a chance!

Interview with Matteo StrukulWhat does it mean to you to be publishing Mila in English?

Well, it’s amazing, it’s like when a dream comes true. You know, I have some authors who I simply love as a reader. People like Allan Guthrie, Joe R. Lansdale, Victor Gischler, Jason Starr, Tim Willocks, Anthony Neil Smith, Duane Swierczynsky, Gregg Hurwitz, Greg Rucka, Chuck Wendig, well all those kind of guys and novels: pulp-crime-dark-urban-fanta-thriller, such things. I read hundreds and hundreds of those kind of books and comics. And I have all these names in my minds, and now, well man, my little Mila is on the same shelves not far from those giants? I could have killed for this some years ago, ha ha, and if someone had been so kind to tell me that one day that dream would come true, well I think that I would have told him just: “Man, are you kidding me?” And now… More than this I’m very proud to be part of a fantastic team like Angry Robot’s crime fiction imprint Exhibit A. I do thank so much Allan Guthrie for his fantastic work as scout and agent and friend and master and of course Emlyn Rees and Marc Gascoigne to be so crazy to think that this Italian guy could do something good for the imprint! They have done a hell of a job. Angry Robot and Exhibit A are purely pop culture, and I’m very proud to be part of it, my new editor, Bryon Quertermous is a cool guy and I feel at home at Exhibit A, really the best imprint that I could dream of.

How did your cooperation with Allan Guthrie begin?

As always… It started because I was a big fan of his work. I remember that I read Two Ways Split some years ago and I thought: “Man, this guy is completely mad!”. Then, I read Hard Man, Savage Night, Kiss Her Goodbye and Slammer. I’m talking about amazing books, so cruel and desperate, and intense, sarcastic and full of extreme, gory violence and non-stop action. So, that kind of reading that I really love. Well, some years after, when I had the opportunity to be Editor in Chief of Revolver, crime fiction imprint of Edizioni BD, a cool independent Italian publisher, I remember that I said that I wanted to have Allan on board for my imprint. So we published Slammer and Savage Night and we promoted Allan’s work here in Italy with tours and festivals, and all those kind of stuff. Allan was and is a wonderful person, a great professional, a true friend and this is more than I can dream of. It’s a honour and a pleasure to be his friend today.

You also work as a translator, and are quite fluent in English: how much control did you have on the English translation of your novel?

Ha ha, thanks to the top notch translation team that I have – you, Marco Piva-Dittrich, and His Majesty Allan Guthrie – well I must confess that I had all the control that I needed. I think that you guys have done a hell of a job and probably, today, the English version of The Ballad of Mila is better than the original one!

Do you have any ongoing projects, besides Mila?

I have many lines in the water, indeed. First of all, my upcoming historical thriller/gaslamp novel, out in April for Mondadori with a new character, the alienist Alexander Weisz, strongly influenced by Caleb Carr’s work, one of the authors that I love. The story is completely set in the Northeast of Italy at the end of the 19th Century. Of course, I’m working on the third Mila’s novel, I have also a project in two books about the Northern Crusades, and a new comic book series with Vikings…

Give us a soundtrack for The Ballad of Mila.

1 “Black Moon Creeping” (The Black Crowes); 2 “Keep on Swinging” (Rival Sons); 3 “Bartholomew” (The Silent Comedy); 4 “D’Yer Mak’er” (Led Zeppelin); 5 “Spanish Stroll” (Willy De Ville); 6 “Angels of Silence” (Counting Crows); 7 “Interstate Love Song” (Stone Temple Pilots); 8 “Layla” (Eric Clapton); 9 You Wear It Well (Rod Stewart); 10 “Cochise” (Audioslave); 11 “Sweet Home Alabama” (Lynyrd Skynyrd).

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