In Nodarse’s debut, Blood in the Cut (Flatiron, June), ex-con Iggy Guerra struggles save his family butcher shop in Miami’s Little Havana.

What moved you to set the book in Miami’s Cuban community?

I’ve moved around a lot, but Miami always draws you back, for better or worse. With the Everglades to the west and the famous beaches to the east, the area offers a vivid sensory experience like no other—but many of these places have been written about by other writers. I prefer to focus on the “belly of Miami,” that part of the city, including the Cuban community, that extends to the west and has not been much written about. I’m in love with this city for many reasons that our national consciousness has yet to pick up on.

This is a thriller, but its most affecting moments involve Iggy struggling to hold his family together. Was that always your focus?

That was always the intent. I never set out to write a thriller. The genre element came from the way I paced the book and the fact that it involved an ex-con trying to figure out how to incorporate himself back into the world and make the most of what he had in front of him. I always sensed there was some level of foul play in Iggy’s story, and that gradually came to the surface as the writing progressed. It became a thriller without my initially recognizing it.

A lot of the narrative deals with specialized subjects—there are long scenes in the Guerra family butcher shop. Did you do much research?

I frequently butchered the family hogs when I was young, and more recently, my sister, a classically trained chef, let me tag along with her when she visited meat processing plants. Plus, the butchers in Miami are friendly and always willing to answer questions about their trade.

What was the most challenging part of writing your first novel?

Structure. I knew from early on that I had the raw talent, a way with words, but I couldn’t structure worth a lick. Participation in an MFA program helped. After that, it was the pacing: my writing tended to be too sprawling and unfocused. My agent and editor were a great help in this regard.

What was most rewarding?

I had the opportunity—and obligation—to view that which was normal to me with a more discerning eye. I had to return to the Everglades, where I spent a lot of my youth, for example, and ask myself, “How am I going to present this to readers in a way that they haven’t already read?” I had to bring my artist’s discernment, and parcel off the bits I could use creatively. The same thing applies to writing about the city.