VERA CHAN – Reporter – Editor – Author

Vera Chan, Murderers’ Feast in Midnight Hour: A Chilling Anthology of Crime Fiction by 20 Authors of Color, edited by Abby L. Vandiver

Vera Chan has likely published a million words — most of them true. The former reporter and editor marks her fiction debut with Murderers’ Feast in the Midnight Hour anthology edited by Abby Vandiver. A UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism alum, she has worked at daily newspapers and the world’s biggest online destinations covering everything from lifestyle and entertainment to news features and search trends. Her mystery-in-progress Following won her the Sisters in Crime’s Eleanor Taylor Bland award. Her unpublished humor novel The Mounted Position garnered second place for fiction at the inaugural Effie Lee Morris Women’s National Book Association Literary Awards, San Francisco Chapter. Both manuscripts are out on submission through the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. Her day job is as senior manager, worldwide journalism relations at Microsoft.

“Men had been murdered for less. And yet John Manley still lived. Five days, surrounded by false friends and his truest enemies. Every last one of them, cowards.

My short story Murderers’ Feast is what I call corporate noir. It’s dark yet tongue-in-cheek, about an insufferable gazillionaire throwing a five-day retreat with people he has screwed over. The story even includes kombucha (which runs freely in some corporate cafeterias) as a deadly weapon.

Like many journalists, I’ve always wanted to write fiction. As a kid, I devoured books, gravitating to British classics like Martin Pippin in the Apple Orchard, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice, Rebecca. Mystery has always been a favorite genre, and there too, British authors dominated childhood favorites (e.g., Agatha Christie, G.K. Chesterton, Dorothy Sayers, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle). That said, nothing tops Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe & Archie Goodwin canon. I’ve even sought out radio plays and various screen interpretations. Sadly, nothing has captured the series’ trenchant charm (imagine a young Robert Downey Jr. as Goodwin). I’ll refrain from ranting about how Hollywood grievously lags behind the Brits in honoring its mystery classics with a cinematic treatment and charismatic casting.

Having my fiction debut alongside the works by established authors is miraculous. I joined Crime Writers of Color (CWOC), an association founded by award-winning authors Kellye Garrett, Gigi Pandian, and the legendary Walter Mosley. What’s brilliant is how the group embraces not just published authors but also emerging writers, which makes a huge difference in trying to navigate an already challenging field. Abby Vandiver proposed an anthology in a Groups.IO thread, and Midnight Hour came together in stunning speed — during a pandemic. The miracle is how nobody questioned having a newbie in the mix: I keep waiting for someone to say, “How the hell did this one sneak in?” So far, I haven’t been found out.

I must confess, while I’m giddy about being part of a groundbreaking anthology, the kicker for me is that Midnight Hour will be at Target! I shop locally when I can and boycott chains that don’t compensate employees fairly. I’ve revered Target for many reasons, among them as a place that made high design accessible to plebes, even with something as prosaic as a broom.

Getting into publishing hasn’t been easy: I often joke, grimly, that I’m trying to break into an industry even more challenging than journalism. (I use a more colorful term than “challenging.”) Finding my spectacular agent took years; now, she suffers on my behalf in the excruciating pace of submissions, made worse by the pandemic. My decision to go “traditional” rather than self-publish lies partly in my “traditional” journalism route and because of my parents. My father was trained as a chemist and my mother an English teacher: When they escaped the Cultural Revolution to the United States, they ran their own mercantile and restaurant businesses. Witnessing their sacrifices made me leery to pursue an entrepreneurial route. Plus, reasonable or not, I feel writing is a wonderful indulgence and a privilege that I can justify by making it part of a larger business.

As for those stories on submission: The Mounted Position is about shy hapless tech writer Abba Welles-Lee who, despite being practiced in the arts of evading intimacy, finds herself dragooned into the bruising yet comical world of martial arts. (The title refers to a mat wrestling maneuver.) Finding an agent took so long, I wrote Following, which centers around amateur private eye Brenna Hom, tasked with spying on the wayward children of moneyed Asian parents during the most accelerated pace of digital communication innovation in the history of the world.

 I’ve been so restless about those books making the rounds that I’m writing a third — a mystery satire about a series of deaths accompanied by messages written in excruciating business jargon.

As you might guess, work is the pattern, which may explain why I also like police procedurals. Indeed, this draft could be pitched as Janet Evanovich meets Ed McBain.

The other commonality is martial arts: Watching (too) many kung fu movies with stellar fighting women has made me impatient with stories featuring insipid females. And yes, those Hong Kong action films inspired me to take martial arts, where I met my husband. I’m not great, but I’m still at it after 35 years and volunteer-teach at Cal.

Because whether it’s work, play, or getting published, it’s about putting up the good fight. Thanks, George, for letting me get a couple of rounds in your marvelous blog.

This link will take you to my website: http://verahcchan.com/

This link will take you to all the outlets where you will find Midnight Hour: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/673674/midnight-hour-by-abby-l-vandiver/

7 Comments

  1. John G. Bluck

    I believe you’ve taken the right path to be traditionally published, though it is difficult to do it. There are so many new books each year, and there are so few large publishing companies. Those firms dominate much of the book market.
    Having worked in journalism, I agree it’s much harder to break into book publishing (fiction especially) than it is to be a successful journalist. To be a good reporter, you need to dig out the facts and report them accurately, often avoiding adjectives. To write fiction, you must invent or adapt facts. You need to fashion believable, flawed characters.
    I look forward to “Murderers’ Feast” in the “Midnight Hour” anthology. Frankly, I sometimes wonder why there seems to be less interest in short story volumes in the publishing industry than in novels. I would think readers would enjoy reading shorter pieces in this fast-paced world, which speeds up more and more as time goes on.

    Reply
  2. Deven Greene

    Murderer’s Feast sounds like a great read. Love the idea of corporate noir – w tongue-in- cheek to boot!

    Reply
  3. Heidi Noroozy

    Thanks for sharing your writing journey, Vera. I’ll look forward to reading your story in the anthology.

    Reply
  4. Susan Alice Bickford

    Really fun reading this. I’ll be looking for the anthology.

    Reply
  5. Stella Oni

    I love this candid piece on your writing journey. So happy to be part of Midnight Hour too.

    Reply
  6. Michael A. Black

    Congratulations on your story being in the anthology. That’s always a great feeling, especially if it’s your first one. Best of luck to you.

    Reply

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DEBRA H. GOLDSTEIN

FOUR CUTS TOO MANY – Sarah Blair, who finds kitchens more frightening than murder, gets an education in slicing and dicing when someone in the culinary school where her friend teaches serves up a main corpse. Sarah soon discovers that there’s no time to mince words when it comes to finding the real killer.

Judge Debra H. Goldstein writes Kensington’s Sarah Blair mystery series (Four Cuts Too Many, Three Treats Too Many, Two Bites Too Many, and One Taste Too Many). Her short stories, which have been named Agatha, Anthony, and Derringer finalists, have appeared in numerous periodicals and anthologies, including Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, Mystery Weekly, Malice Domestic Murder Most Edible, Masthead, and Jukes & Tonks. Debra is on the national board of Mystery Writers of America and president of SEMWA. She previously served on Sisters in Crime’s national board and was the Guppy Chapter president.

Do you write in more than one genre? Although my six novels are all traditional or cozy mysteries, my published short stories range from non-mystery literary works to different mystery genres. During my time as a judge and a litigator, almost all of my writings were non-fiction legal articles and book chapters.

What is your writing process, and what is most challenging about it? My true nature is to be a pantser who listens to the voices of my characters but only writes when the muse strikes me. I repeatedly tell myself I need to get up and write every day, but I constantly fail to do so. This was the exact style I used when I wrote the first Sarah Blair book, One Taste Too Many; however, after Kensington contracted the first three books, I faced several challenges. First, each book now had a deadline for submission, which meant I had to produce on time. That was a challenge I could easily meet. What was more difficult was that for each book, my New York editor wanted a detailed synopsis. It was emphasized to me that it needed to be detailed. Consequently, I spent weeks working out the plot of Two Bites Too Many and finally submitted an eighteen-page synopsis. My editor had only one comment: “Next time, double space.”

Although I wouldn’t say I like thinking the books out in advance, and I often must send my editor an email with a little change – like I discovered there needed to be a new character added to the cast in Three Treats Too Many. I have learned to write and appreciate having shorter, double-spaced treatments for each book.

Has any association membership helped you or your writing? When I announced that I was going to write mysteries, I was told to join Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. These two organizations provided classes and mentoring guidance that helped me develop my skills and understanding of the craft and business aspects of writing. They also have proven invaluable in helping me make friends at all levels of writing and who generously share their expertise and encouragement.

Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? The basic premise of the Sarah Blair books is that Sarah, who was married at eighteen, divorced at twenty-eight, with the only thing she got out of the marriage being RahRah, her Siamese cat, is starting over with no skills and a lack of confidence. As the series proceeds, Sarah evolves. She acquires new skills, including those needed to solve murders, and she grows in terms of her confidence level. Sarah’s interaction with the people around her set up several personal interaction sub-plots in each book. Whether the sub-plot revolves around family, friends, community groups, or her pets varies based upon the main plotline. I also work in social issue subplots, including economic development, mental abuse, ageism, and animal rescue. The key to these subplots is to make my point without banging the reader over the head with it. My goal is to have readers enjoy a carefully crafted whodunit but walk away with subconscious thoughts raised by the subplots.

What kind of research do you do? When Maze in Blue and Should Have Played Poker were orphaned, I knew I had to write something new and that I wanted it to be a cozy mystery. Having spent a great deal of time in small southern towns when I was litigating for the Department of Labor, I knew I could capture their essence in any book I wrote. I also had no problem making my sleuth an amateur. A problem arose when I thought about the fact that most cozy mysteries include crafts or cooking, and I hate both. Once I decided there had to be readers out there who hate the kitchen as much as I do, I had a hook for my series – a woman more frightened of the kitchen than murder. Despite Sarah’s unfamiliarity with the kitchen, I had to learn about it in order to write the kitchen scenes realistically.

Consequently, I approached several restaurant owners, chefs, and waiters in Birmingham, Alabama, which has become a foodie town. They graciously told me their stories and took me through their kitchens. From each person I interviewed, I learned something new that appears in the various books. For Three Treats Too Many, I wanted to write about a community motorcycle group and a veterinarian’s office. To get these things right, I interviewed a few individuals who collect motorcycles, and I shadowed a veterinarian for a day. I believe the more hands-on research I do, the more realistic and enjoyable my books are.

Contacts:

Website – www.DebraHGoldstein.com

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/DebraHGoldsteinAuthor/

Twitter – @DebraHGoldstein

Instagram – debrahgoldstein

Bookbub – https://www.bookbub.com/profile/debra-h-goldstein

Four Cuts Too Many and the other Sarah Blair books are available from indie and big-box bookstores but can also be purchased online.

https://www.amazon.com/Four-Cuts-Sarah-Blair-Mystery/dp/1496732219

Four Cuts Too Many by Debra H. Goldstein, Paperback | Barnes & Noble® (barnesandnoble.com)

10 Comments

  1. Thonie Hevron

    Interesting interview. Thanks for sharing your process. So fascinating.

    Reply
  2. Madeline Gornell

    Great meeting you, Debra. Liked your thoughts on subplots. Continued success!

    Reply
  3. Joseph Bryce HAGGERTY Sr

    Wow, I really enjoyed this interview. Hating kitchens intrigues me. Is it the cooking, the smells or the informal setting. I have found that in a lot of southern households the kitchen is the place where most gatherings take place. Probably not in very affluent houses where the servants congregate, but in a lot of traditional southern homes the kitchen is the focal point for discussion and family meetings.
    I was raised in Washington, D.C. in a rowhouse. I was not fond of kitchens. Too many times it was places where I was made to eat things I didn’t like, peas, carrots or other green things. They are still things not on my menu.
    I loved your research techniques and will try to do what you suggested when a character needs honing. I generally pick places/settings that are within a 500 miles radius. To me I need to go there to get a feel for the place. Thank you for sharing your writings with us.

    Reply
  4. Nina Wachsman

    Its great learning about your writing process, because none of your work ever comes out “half-baked”. I’m glad to see its possible to write cozies even if you hate cooking or crafts.

    Reply
  5. John G. Bluck

    Very interesting about how Debra Goldstein researched cooking and followed a vet on his/her rounds. I also like the story of how she wrote her first book in true pantser style and later had to write a synopsis for each of several subsequent books. I think it’s great that she doesn’t write on a schedule, but instead writes when she feels she wants to — when the muse strikes her. I believe writing shouldn’t be a chore, but rather a more enjoyable pursuit. I think the characters will then come alive and speak for themselves through the writer’s pen, pencil, typewriter, or computer.

    Reply
    • Debra H. Goldstein

      John,
      Thank you for your comments. I agree with you about the enjoyment aspect. When a piece works for me, it flows. When I try to force it or force myself to write at a specific time, often what I produce is stilted and ends up in the garbage, so better to be doing something else productive.

      Reply
  6. Vicki Batman

    Great interview, Debra and George. Thank you. vb

    Reply
    • Debra H. Goldstein

      Vicki,
      Thanks for stopping by. Glad you enjoyed the interview.

      Reply
  7. Michael A, Black

    Debra, great interview with a fascinating look into how you work. I love the perplexed look of the cat on that cover. You sound like an outstanding person. I’ll bet you’re a fabulous judge. Best of luck with your writing.

    Reply
    • Debra H. Goldstein

      Michael,
      Thank you. I love the different covers Kensington has done for this series. Some are serious and some more perplexed or comic, but they all fit the story in the particular book.

      Reply

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