Jennifer J. Chow is the Lefty Award-nominated author of the Sassy Cat Mysteries and the forthcoming L.A. Night Market Mysteries. The first in the Sassy Cat series, Mimi Lee Gets A Clue, was selected as an OverDrive Recommended Read, a PopSugar Best Summer Beach Read, and one of BuzzFeed’s Top 5 Books by AAPI authors. She currently serves as Vice President on the national board of Sisters in Crime. She is an active member of Crime Writers of Color and Mystery Writers of America.
One of BookRiot’s Best Upcoming Cozy Mysteries for the Second Half of 2021!
When murder follows Mimi Lee to her romantic island getaway, she puts on her best sleuthing hat with her sassy cat in tow in this adventurous cozy mystery by Jennifer J. Chow.
“Chow offers original characters, clever banter, and a laid-back California vibe. This is perfect for lovers of crime-solving animal cozies.”—Publishers Weekly
Mimi Lee Cracks the Code is the third book in the Sassy Cat Mystery series and just got nominated for a 2022 Lefty Award for Best Humorous Mystery!
Do you write in more than one genre? I’ve most recently written cozy mysteries but have also dabbled in multicultural women’s fiction and young adult. You can find out more about all my books on my author website listed below.
What brought you to writing? The love of the written word. I got transported by stories at an early age and always enjoyed living in my own imaginary world. It was beautiful when I realized that you could write for a living and share that joy and wonder with others.
What are you currently working on? I’m working on a new cozy mystery series, the L.A. Night Market Mysteries, which feature opposite-personality cousins who run a food stall. When one of their customers dies at a local night market, they get served a side of murder and start investigating. The first in the series is called Death by Bubble Tea and is available for pre-order!
Has an association membership helped you or your writing? Yes, definitely! I’m biased because I now serve as Vice President on the national board of Sisters in Crime, but I really appreciate the camaraderie and community there. Writing is a solitary profession, and it’s so important to get support from those who understand what it’s like. The encouragement and cheering from other writers also helps you keep persevering when you go through rejections and low points in your writing journey.
How long to get it published? My first novel took me about five years to get published, if you include missteps and shelved manuscripts. Mimi Lee Cracks the Code was part of a three-book deal I got with Berkley/Penguin Random House. The first book in the series, Mimi Lee Gets A Clue, happened to be a quick acquisition because the imprint was already looking for a pet-themed cozy series with an Asian American female lead. It took only several months from providing them with sample chapters to getting the official contract!
How can our readers buy your book and contact you?
Mimi Lee Cracks the Code buy link: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/605898/mimi-lee-cracks-the-code-by-jennifer-j-chow/9781984805034/
Author website: www.jenniferjchow.com
Judy Lussie uses her cultural background to write stories about Asian-American women. Her latest novella, Bought Daughter, is based on her grandparents’ immigration to America.
Judy writes women’s contemporary novels. Lake Biwa Wishes and the sequel Second Time Around were her first two novels. Her short stories have been included in several anthologies. Her most recent novel is titled Bought Daughter.
The original Moy sisters and their mother. The baby is Judy.
Bought Daughter: When she was a child, Mei-Ling’s poverty-stricken father sold her to a wealthy family. Despite her status as a Bought Daughter, she was determined to go to America. When the Chinese missionary Ah Pu proposed marriage and travel to the New World, she jumped at the chance, even though she did not believe in his God. Could a Christian and an atheist succeed in marriage? Would her past forever haunt her?
What brought you to writing? While on the Board of Directors of Presbyterian publishing Corporation, I was asked to write a week’s worth of devotions for These Days Magazine. At the time, I was the Technical Information Director of Lawrence Livermore Lab in California. This was my first experience in paid non-technical writing. As a result, I received many letters from old friends and compliments from new readers. One man wrote that his wife suffered the same disease I had–polymyositis. The following year he wrote that his wife had died. I offered my prayers. Then later he wrote that he met a widow whom he asked to marry and thanked me for supporting him with my letters. Until then, I never realized how writing could help another person.
Has association membership helped you or your writing? Yes. California Writers Club Tri-Valley Branch (of which I was Program Chair), San Francisco Writers Conference (5-year volunteer), and several writing classes. I met many New York Times best-selling authors and learned more about the art of writing, publishing, and marketing.
Who is your favorite author? I have many, but Lisa See, Erica Jong, and Catherine Coulter are at the top of my list. Each one writes in a different sub-genre, but all are great writers. Lisa See writes historical novels, Erica Jong writes women’s novels, and Catherine Coulter writes crime fiction.
Do you base your characters on real people? Yes. The characters in Bought Daughter are based on my grandparents, aunts, and uncle. The character Kyoko in Second Time Around is based on my granddaughter (when she was 3). I tried making up characters, but they seemed phony.
What kind of research do you do? The research for Bought Daughter fell into my lap. While visiting Angel Island Immigration Station, I was told I could find more information in NARA (National Archives and Records Administration). Previously, as a technical information manager, I was required to send NARA information with strict requirements. Finally, I became a user instead of a contributor. When I entered the facility, I showed them my grandparents’ travel info and signed up as a researcher. The attendant wheeled a cart full of papers in both Chinese and English, which they photocopied for me. With all that information, I knew I had to share it with others. I also use online resources. Taryn Edwards provided a comprehensive list of historical resources.
Where do you place your settings –real or fictional locations? I feel my story is more accurate in the locations I visited. For my first two books, I lived in Japan for two years and skied in many ski resorts around the world. For Bought Daughter, I lived in Chicago Chinatown as a child. I visited China as an adult.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Write, write, write. Even if you just put the manuscript on a shelf. Read, read, read. Highlight passages that move your heart and soul.
Thank you, George Cramer, for inviting me to be a guest blogger.
I can be contacted by email at Sursum Corda Press, LLC. I welcome your comments and questions.
I’m a native Californian living in the San Francisco Bay Area. My life path has included Catholic ministry, marriage, children, and a grandchild. The writing bug bit me somewhere along that path, and I’ve published 16 books ranging from spirituality to romantic drama to a trilogy based on Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables.
Please tell us about your book and blurb and any comments about any other of your books:
Inspector Javert: at the Gates of Hell (Book 3 of the Wisdom of Les Misérables Trilogy)
Inspector Javert’s central theme: “What happens in the next instant after the heart beats for the last time.” Javert gazes into the River Seine. What future has he after freeing his enemy Jean Valjean? Rather than face his options, he leaps into the river.
- Book 1… Lessons From the Heart of Jean Valjean (nonfiction)
- Book 2… Bishop Myriel: In His Own Words
Do you write in more than one genre? I write both fiction and nonfiction. Topics range from romance/action to the arts and spiritual themes.
What brought you to writing? After a 20-year career in Catholic ministry, the writing bug bit.
Tell us about your writing process: I am gifted with (a) a love for the craft and (b) the ability to focus on the task at hand and stay with it for long stretches of the day. I don’t set goals about page count; I just stay with the process.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? Most challenging is never allowing myself to fall in love with the draft I’m working on. Writing Inspector Javert brought that lesson home. At draft 10, I said, “Done!” The final book took 20+ drafts.
Has an association membership helped you or your writing? Without a doubt, my most important association throughout my career has been with the California Writers Club (Mount Diablo Branch). I tell people, “As a writer, it’s the only place I can go where people know what I’m talking about.”
Who’s your favorite author? If I have to pick one, it is Victor Hugo. He was such a complex human being in his personal life. That very complexity fed his mammoth ability to create the most varied and unforgettable characters.
How long did it take you to write your first book? My first three books came out as a series under the name Adult-to-Adult (Christ in Our Lives, Christians and Prayer, and Christians Reconciling, Winston Press). I drew upon material I developed during my ministry years.
How do you come up with character names? When writing fiction, names just seem to come to me. This may sound sappy, but the characters tell me their names.
We hear of strong-willed characters. Do yours behave, or do they run the show? My characters run the show, whether they behave themselves or misbehave. To me, a novel is boring if everyone “does the right thing” all the time. Characters must behave like real people. They can sin and repent—or not. There must always be a measure of growth as the story arcs to the end.
What’s the most challenging thing when writing characters of the opposite sex? As a male writer, it’s always a challenge to climb inside the mind and body of a woman character. In my trilogy (A Love Forbidden, Finding Isabella, and I’ll Paint a Sun), all the main characters are women. As is the protagonist in The Saint of Florenville. I’ve never heard a complaint from female readers that I “didn’t get it right.”
Do you ever kill a popular character? A protagonist, no. Supporting characters might need to die. Hugo modeled this in Les Misérables. At the barricade, the boy Gavroche dies first. Then his sister, Eponine, dies in Marius’s arms. Enjolras, the rebel leader, dies. Everyone dies except Jean Valjean and Marius.
How do you raise the stakes for your protagonist—for the antagonist? Inspector Javert: at the Gates of Hell offers a good example. Javert’s ordered life turns upside down when he allows doubt to creep into his soul. Could a lifelong criminal be capable of goodness? That crack in Javert’s armor demands recognition. He might have gotten it wrong all his life. In an instant, the entire structure of his life falls apart.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? A hybrid “pantser.” I begin a novel with an idea arc. I don’t create an outline. I count on the characters to surprise me by doing something I didn’t see coming. In my Les Mis trilogy, I had to follow the plotline set by Hugo. E.g., Javert can’t be a warm-hearted, fun-loving cop. Nor could Jean Valjean act out of character. I worked within the parameters of Hugo’s storyline. After Javert’s death, I had complete freedom to do anything I wanted.
What kind of research do you do? Primarily, I focus on getting the historical time, place, weather, etc., as accurate as possible. It helps if I’ve actually visited the places where I set my story. For example, I’ve been to Paris four times over the years and have a feel for the local environment as I experienced it.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? It depends on the story. Inspector Javert bound me to get the time and place right. In another novel, I built my own world. Whether setting a story in San Francisco (I’ll Paint a Sun) or Peru (Circles of Stone and Down a Narrow Alley), I needed to get it as right as possible, though I’ve never been to Peru.
What is the best book you have ever read? Les Misérables. All 1,200 pages of it.
Do you have any advice for new writers? First, stop talking about writing and just do it. Don’t let your first draft be your last draft. Have faith in yourself and do the work.
Second, find a compatible writing community for moral support and learning the craft of writing. Third, have fun. Writing doesn’t have to be torture—if it is, don’t do it
If none of this appeals to you, find something else you like to do.
How do our readers contact you?
Confessions of a Middle-Aged Runaway is an RV travel adventure about how Heidi sold her house, quit her job, bought a motorhome, and hit the road with her dog for five years. It was a journey that transformed her life.
Heidi Eliason is a freelance writer and an editor for Runaway Publishing. Her past work includes writing for an RV adventure company, producing more than fifty RV travel articles for an online news source, and developing training courses and manuals. Confessions of a Middle-Aged Runaway is her first book. It has been translated into Korean and is selling in six countries. Heidi lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Find out more about Heidi’s travel and writing adventures at www.HeidiEliason.com.
Do you write in more than one genre? I write in multiple genres. Confessions is a memoir, and I’m currently working on a novel, a thriller. Although many readers have asked for a sequel to my memoir, the thriller is clamoring to be written now. I also have some ideas for a cozy mystery series, so that could be next.
What brought you to writing? I was a robust reader from an early age, but when I took a creative writing class in high school, I discovered I loved to write. I just didn’t think I could make a living at it, so I never seriously pursued it. I always figured I’d write on the side for pleasure. Oddly enough, I did end up making a good living as a writer, but I wrote training courses and manuals, not books.
During my motorhome adventure, I kept a blog to keep my family and friends informed about my journey. I also wrote RV travel articles and web content for an RV touring company. After my motorhome adventure ended, I wrote short pieces about my experience in a writing critique group, some of which were based on my blog posts. The members of that group encouraged me to turn the stories into a book. I never wanted to write a memoir, but it was such an incredible and life-changing experience, I just had to write about it.
How long did it take you to write your first book? It took six years of on and off writing to complete my memoir because there were months at a time when I didn’t work on it at all. I tried writing it as a novel for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), but it was awful!
The memoir started in disconnected five-page increments in my writing group, and I organized it into a book at some point along the way. Four years ago, I attended the San Francisco Writers Conference and submitted a chapter to their writing contest. It won runner-up for nonfiction (under my previous name, Heidi Young). That gave me the nudge I needed to complete the book, and it was published in 2019.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? Finishing something is the most challenging part for me. I get so many ideas for things I want to write that I’m great at starting things, but I struggle to finish the current project I’m working on. I get distracted or want to give up when the writing gets tough and instead work on the shiny new idea that just occurred to me. I’m a pantser, not a plotter, so I don’t always know how I’m going to get to the end of the story or how I’ll keep the reader’s interest along the way. That can cause my writing to stall out sometimes. Most people call that writer’s block, but to me, it feels like a loss of interest. That tells me something needs fixing.
I decided to try writing an outline with my current book to see if that makes the writing faster and easier. I created a rough outline of about eight chapters, and then I couldn’t stand it any longer and had to start writing. The pantser in me took over. I wanted to see what my characters would do and how they would shape the story. I believe what some authors say about how their characters sometimes lead them in unexpected directions because I’ve experienced that feeling when characters take over. It’s a wonderful thing.
Has an association membership helped you or your writing? The California Writers Club Mt. Diablo Branch has been incredibly helpful to me and my writing. I’ve learned so much from the speakers and writers there, found writing critique partners, and made friendships. I also found out about the San Francisco Writers Conference during one of the meetings, and attending that was incredibly educational and inspiring.
I’m also a member of the Nonfiction Authors Association (NFAA), which provides a ton of helpful resources, some of which also apply to fiction writing. The founder of NFAA, Stephanie Chandler, has written some exceptional books about self-publishing and marketing that guided me through the publication of my book.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? I retired from my full-time technical writing job this year, but I’ll continue to do book editing through my company, Runaway Publishing. I hope to finish my current novel in 2022, now that I have more time for writing. After that, I’ll get going on one of the many other book ideas I have waiting in the wings. Since I was born with wanderlust and my husband retired at the beginning of this year, we want to do a lot of traveling. Hopefully, the Covid-19 situation will allow us to do international travel again.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Persistence is one of the most important qualities a writer can have. You need to keep going when the rejection letters come, self-doubt settles in, you wonder what the point of it all is, or you just don’t feel like writing. Keep writing, learning your craft, and reading. If you do those things, your work will improve, and you’ll get something published. Make writing one of your first priorities, and avoid the temptation to let other tasks and responsibilities have more importance than your writing. In other words, don’t do what I did! You’ll get something published much faster.
How do our readers find you and your books?
Daniel Hobbs has been a city manager in seven cities across the country, in Maryland, Texas, Michigan, and California. My career took me overseas as an American local government official to W. Germany, Poland, and Japan.
I have been married to a wonderful, patient woman for 35 years, a beautiful native of Peru, who endures my anxieties and writing distractedness with good humor.
Ben Leiter is the author of four published books, available on Amazon and Kindle:
- CITY MANAGEMENT SNAPSHOTS: ON THE RUN
- BABY BOOMERS’ LOVE-BETRAYAL
- GOD’S BETRAYAL: THE CREDO
- BETRAYAL OF FATHER GARZA
Is there a thread or theme that ties your books together, even though they are of different genres? Yes, very much so. Together, these four books examine the cataclysmic collision between the expectations of the baby boomer generation and the primal forces of politics, religion, and romance.
Why the pen name Ben Leiter? If you read any of my books, you’ll understand why immediately with the authentic, explosive nature of the material and the controversy of storylines and subplots.
Using a pen name provides me the psychological freedom to write what I want; to explore themes without embarrassing me or my family.
The name Ben Leiter translates “been leader” if you use the German pronunciation of the last name. It describes my previous profession as a city manager in seven cities.
Why do you write? Answer: To find out what I think; to figure out why I think what I think; to investigate “what it’s all about.” And to avoid boring people with my strong opinions in conversations. If I put my views on the written page, I must present them in an intelligent and interesting fashion, or the reader won’t turn the page.
Also, writing fiction allows me to explore my favorite theme of betrayal and its sub-themes involving politics, religion, and romance.
What do you want to achieve? Writing objective? Validation as a good writer who has something to say worth reading.
Favorite authors? Answer: John Le Carré, Len Deighton, Michael Connelly; Gillian Flynn, Andy Weir, Anne Lamott, Dennis Lehane, Tom Wolf, Robert Crais, Martin Cruz Smith, Leon Uris, Don Winslow. I’m reading Winslow’s The Cartel for the third time, as I did Flynn’s Gone Girl.
I’ve met and talked with Andy Weir and Bob Woodward.
Bob Woodward and I shared common associations from decades ago in Rockville, Maryland, outside of Washington, D.C.
Can you describe the impact any books have had on you? I’d rather have lunch—at the risk of being lunch—with Hannibal Lector from Silence of the Lambs than with the female protagonist in Flynn’s Gone Girl. That wife-protagonist is like real-world-scary. She’s out there walking around, for sure. Flynn’s book ranks with Catcher in the Rye; The Spy Who Came in from the Cold; and Exodus.
A Leon Uris book, Trinity, provided insight into what we Irish call The Troubles— the colonization atrocities of the English. (I’m part English too, but the Irish always wins out—so much more colorful.)
Tell me about your protagonist in your most recent book. Why will readers like him? My hero protagonist, Father Gabriel Alphonso Esquivel Garza, is a Hispanic-Schwarzenegger-Rambo-renegade Catholic priest with a Zorro complex. He refuses to let principles keep him from doing what is right. He is merciless in defense of children.
Are you a Pantser (write by the seat of the pants, ad hoc) or a Plotter (outline in detail before writing)? Both—here’s how and why. I rely on The Muse, or inspiration, or whatever has caught my fancy at the moment to fling words on paper. Once I have enough “somethings” on paper, I start organizing and putting them into a table of contents with detailed notes under each chapter, which is the equivalent of an outline. I then keep adding, revising. I move stuff I delete to the end of the working draft, to be probably brought forward at a future time after it has “matured.” Advice: never throw anything away.
I experience difficulty deleting my pet phrases and scenes. Some famous author said that your favorite computer key should be the delete key.
How do you vet your work? Three critique groups; two California Writing Club memberships; past developmental editing by Scott Evans, author and English professor at the University of the Pacific.
Strengths and weaknesses of your manuscripts? From the professional writing feedback I have received over the years, the strengths of my work seem to be the imagination, the creativity of the work, and the character (good and bad) of my protagonists.
My drafts have received deserved hits by critique groups for not always letting the reader know immediately what is going on and where we are at. I accept that criticism because I want to pull the reader in. I want the reader to do a little bit of head work.
I love John LeCarré’s writing with its exceptional use of indirection. I remember becoming frustrated in one of his books because I found myself on page 65 and had no idea what was going on. Then I realized. I was in the same situation as the book’s protagonist, trying to identify the traitor in The Circus, LeCarré’s name for British intelligence. The protagonist reflected the puzzle-palace-nature of the events swirling about him. Well done, John.
I also plead guilty to occasional finger waving and sermonizing, which I detest in an explicit form. I prefer my characters to carry that water for me in a hopefully more subtle fashion.
Any indications of a writing life earlier? Over my city management career, I penned many professional articles on everything from strategic planning to embezzlement, which appeared in nationwide publications. At one point, I even had my own column in a newspaper.
I always tried to make my articles interesting or to have a twist. For example, one article carried the all too true title; SOMEONE IS STEALING THE TAXPAYERS’ MONEY!
As budget director for a large Texas city, I always wanted to tell “the story” behind the numbers. I saw too many budget staff letting themselves get lost in the numbers or “hiding” in the numbers. I felt it important to be clear to my boss, the city manager, his bosses, the city council, and the public about exactly what the budget meant for them for the following year.
I continually rewrote the 20-page budget message at the beginning of the 500-page budget document to get the message right. One of my senior staff, exasperated at my numerous revisions, said, “You’re just a frustrated novelist.” I demurred at the time, but she was correct.
Two of my favorite quotes from that same government staff, one from a very talented colleague, “Numbers are our friends.”
Late in my career, in a job interview with a city council, I was asked why I had published so many articles. The unexpected question triggered a response that I did not know I possessed, “I guess it’s a way to leave a legacy.”
What is your educational background? I am a Case Western Reserve University Ph.D.-in-political-science-drop-out. But, I did secure a Master of Public Administration and a Master of Urban Affairs, an interdisciplinary planning degree.
My B.A. held a major in political science, with minors in English, Philosophy, and Theology.
Other writing observations? I have been pleasantly surprised by the number of people who share my love of books, reading, ideas, and writing.
I relish the open-endedness of the mental challenge of writing. I will never be able to exhaust it. It will wear me down first, I fear.
I respect the work ethic required to become a successful writer, whether commercially published or not.
I admire the creativity of the process and the final product.
I have had Stephen King’s experience, where I get into the story or one of the characters, and it takes on a life of its own and goes places I had not planned.
Since I developed my “rule” years ago never to go back and read a book the second time, this writing occupation gives me the justification and permission to revisit old book-friends.
I should be able to handle the rejection. In my past career, along with the public accolades and good salary, I experienced an enormous amount of criticism—it came with the job territory—on an almost weekly basis. I’m used to it; maybe I miss it and need it.
While my brother has become an accomplished amateur oil painter, I paint with words.
I want to be as accomplished as he in my own artistic genre. But better than oil painting, I can constantly revise my work.
Another reason for writing—it keeps the mind sharp. My family shows too much history of Alzheimer’s. Maybe writing will delay or forestall some of the mental ravages of old age.
Then there is the possibility that I might have something to say. Having been around for decades, I would expect myself to paint some life pictures accurately, if not brilliantly, perhaps with some insight, too, especially if I have been paying attention. Have I? Perhaps I can say something memorable about this thing we all share called the human condition. If I can, then what becomes fascinating are all the ways there are to describe this common experience: short stories, poems; essays; novels.
I like the sound of “I am a writer.”
I have always been a bookworm, loved to read. The mid-westerner in me must justify all those academic credentials and insists on looking for a practical application—writing is it.
I have been energized by writing.
Any final reflection? In my case, the most important contributor to writing was my reading at an early age and continuing non-stop the rest of my life. I was that ten-year-old kid continuing to read under the sheets after my father told me to turn the light off and go to sleep.
My website is http://benleiter.com.