The Redwood Falls Library hosted author Christopher Valen, the writer of the John Santana detective series of crime novels May 18. He is a former educator and school administrator who spent most of his life in Minnesota and in the areas around the Twin Cities, but his familiarity ranges far beyond Minnesota Nice.
While Valen does write predominately crime thrillers, he has also dabbled with some other stories, including non-fiction.
By far, his largest body of work is the John Santana series, however. His primary protagonist is a man who relocated to Minnesota as a youth from Columbia. Santana later becomes a detective in St. Paul, and the author uses many locations in the metro area to anchor his stories in reality.
Several bars and eateries in and around the cities lay claim to a nugget of pride by being referenced in a book or by having a scene take place there.
Valen, to his credit, uses only fictional locations if the setting is intentionally presented in a negative light.
“A lot of my stories come from my experiences with my wife and stories that she would tell about her world; she grew up in and around Mexico and Columbia,” said Valen.
Valen even takes his pen name from that background; his wife’s maiden name is Valencia.
“I shortened it to Valen because I didn’t want my readers to be confused if they met me and wondered why I was a white guy with a Latino last name,” he said.
Valen also gained a lot of interesting insight during his time as a school administrator in communities with high populations of minorities; the stories often involve our local subcommunities of Hmong, Latino or Hindu residents.
Though his books are “police procedurals,” he is not afraid to use the platform as an opportunity to grapple with difficult topics such as immigration, drug and human trafficking problems and PTSD.
“We have a significant Hmong population in our state, and, when I was a principal, I got to know many different kids in that culture and gain a real appreciation for some of those cultural nuances. I try to learn as much as I can about them and use those tiny details as clues that are relevant to the unfolding mystery in my stories,” said Valen.
Valen tries to craft that sense of realism and has toured many of the significant locations in the books such as 3M plants, one of the largest Hindu temples in the nation and the different bars and restaurants that pop up as meeting places in his novels.
“Sometimes my research is a convenient reason to take my wife out for dinner and try something new,” he said with a laugh.
He’s also networked with many people within the Minneapolis and St. Paul police communities and made friends with homicide detectives and even a K9 German Shepherd who he got to go on a ride-along with and watch in action during a training scenario. Those relationships and experiences give him an added dose of reality and brings the characters to life in believable ways.
His books have won several awards and are also available in Spanish, as he has a keen interest in the Hispanic community throughout the state.
The seventh book in his series, “Speak for the Dead,” releases soon. More information can be found on the author, including a photo tour of the Minnesotan and worldwide locations from his books, at christophervalen.com.