Jennifer J. Chow is the Lefty Award-nominated author of the Sassy Cat Mysteries and the 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.
JENNIFER 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. Connect with her online at www.jenniferjchow.com
Death by Bubble Tea Two cousins who start a food stall at their local night market get a serving of murder in this first novel of a delicious new cozy mystery series.
This is the first in a new series! I’m excited about the L.A. Night Market Mysteries because it combines my own personal history of working at a family restaurant with my love for food. Also, I get to add recipes at the back of the book!
(My other recent cozy series is the Lefty Award-nominated Sassy Cat Mysteries, which feature Los Angeles pet groomer Mimi Lee and her sassy telepathic cat, Marshmallow.)
How do you come up with character names? In general, I get inspiration from baby name books, online name generators, and the Social Security archives. For Death by Bubble Tea, Yale popped into my head because I know a few folks who are named after universities (yes, I do know a Harvard!). Celine’s name cropped up because I wanted to pay homage to celebrity-inspired names (along with popular artists and songs that my family enjoys karaokeing to).
We hear of strong-willed characters. Do yours behave or run the show? My characters usually run the show. I’d love for them to rein themselves in, but a few like to hog the limelight. On the other hand, it puts them in interesting and precarious sleuthing situations. My comedic characters often add a huge dose of sparkling wit and humor.
Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? I usually do have a subplot. A lot of these are character-driven. In my last Sassy Cat Mystery, Mimi Lee Cracks the Code, Mimi Lee and her boyfriend Josh go on a romantic getaway that soon turns sour. She’s got crimes to solve—and a relationship to mend!
With Death by Bubble Tea, there’s an ongoing conflict with recently arrived Celine. Yale has to deal with her opposite personality cousin along with running a new food stall.
The subplots come organically, as I think they do in real life. People are dealing with multiple things on an everyday basis, and that’s reflected in my stories.
What kind of research do you do? I try to research in all sorts of ways. The Sassy Cat series had me visiting pet salons, going down the rabbit hole of YouTube pet grooming videos, and having vivid encounters with animals at dog readings, cat cafes, and more.
With the L.A. Night Market series, I suppose I unknowingly did pre-research. I’ve gone to multiple night markets (think lively festivals set in the evenings) in Asia and in the States. My family has roots in Southern China and Hong Kong, so I didn’t have to research those cultural aspects as much. However, I did keep a dim sum cookbook around while writing and had a Chinese dictionary handy. Since Book 1 is called Death by Bubble Tea, I also did obligatory boba tastings (yum!). For the recipes in the back of the book, I made several attempts and passed those culinary efforts on to my family to eat and drink.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? I have a mix of real and fictional in my settings. Usually, it’s a made-up community in an actual geographic region. For example, the L.A. Night Market series has a small fictional planned community called Eastwood Village, but it’s positioned in the greater West L.A. area. I also had fun inserting real sites into this new series, particularly with the more unique locations that Yale and Celine visit as Yale takes her cousin around and introduces her to Los Angeles.
I was born in London, England, a few years after World War II. I watched London being patched back into a vibrant commercial center. Sights of bombed-out buildings and devastation still linger in my memories.
At age 26, I moved to Saudi Arabia to work for Aramco (an oil company.) I worked there for four years and traveled widely in the region. I grew to love and be intrigued by the local people and their culture.
Years later, as I neared retirement, my family requested I write down some of the many stories I had told over the years. One theme kept appearing in these pieces, my driving a Chevy Blazer from London to the eastern province of Saudi Arabia – a journey of 5,500 miles in 15 days. That became my first book, a memoir, Journey to Self, published in September 2019 – available on Amazon.
While working on that book, I said I had no idea how to write a novel. It seemed overwhelming. However, after one workshop, I saw I had the basic framework for a fictional story. Having never been one to shy away from a challenge, I started work on it. My story is set around a Syrian family and covers themes such as:
- most Syrians, most Muslims, like ourselves, want to live in peace – that is not fiction,
- how to counter a ruthless dictator,
- the roles of men and women in Syrian society,
- how to hold grief, love, and fear while fighting for your life,
- how people, despite their dire circumstances, can imagine a hopeful future.
In the past few weeks, I have received feedback from a group of beta-readers, and so far, there have been no show-stoppers but plenty of words of encouragement. While working through the multiple drafts of this first novel, I started work on the sequel: Syrian Rebirth – Ahmed’s World. This is now a completed initial draft. I have in mind the third and final book in the series, Syrian Rebirth – Fatima’s World.
Syrian Rebirth – Rashid’s World. Rashid wished his family to be safe. He joined the fight against Syria’s brutal president. How would that affect him, his family, and his country?
What brought me to writing: Writing is a way for me to purge demons that hindered me for too many years. I learned to read as a child, but I truly hated and, in some ways, feared it. I read my first book for pleasure when I was 26 years old. To many people, that may sound horrifying, but it was my world as a youngster. Numbers and logic were my saving graces. I became a computer software engineer for a career. Reading never became a pleasurable activity for me. I missed reading the classics, much to my detriment.
Over the years, I have displayed some competence in various artistic mediums: drawing, painting, woodcraft, story-telling, and cooking. Then I started writing, and it became a passion. I have taken many classes, and some teachers have had a profound impact on my writing.
Tell us about your writing process: I arise early each day and make my wife’s coffee (a survival technique I learned early.) Depending on the priorities of the day, I make time most mornings to review and edit what I worked on the previous day. I try to dedicate an hour or two each day to writing new material or making revisions to pieces that are my focus at that time. If I do not manage to find time, I do not judge myself but try to use my sense of frustration as an impetus for the following day.
Do I kill popular characters? Yes. My novels are thrillers. I think in my first novel, more characters are dead than alive in the end. And several of the dead are good/popular characters. One of my favorite characters in that first novel is among the dead, and I still grieve their loss. Reading that section still causes my eyes to tear up. A few beta-readers admitted they cried when that death happened.
How do you raise the stakes for the protagonist? One of my teachers frequently tells me to keep winding up the tension and never let it go. I understand this and try to do that. But I do find when a sub-plot comes to its termination, then along with that, some of the protagonist’s tension is released. So in my novel, the tension is more like waves with spikes along them. Even though some tension may be released at times, it still adds to the overall tension.
How did I come up with Character Names. Most of my main characters are Arabic. So names like Joan, Paul, Marge, and Randy are inappropriate. Thankfully, lists of Arabic names can be found on the web. I have selected names with which I am comfortable, and I hope readers will not trip over. I have tried to have each name start with a different letter for easier recognition. In the forward to each book, I have listed out the main characters and their relationship so that readers have a quick reference, e.g. Rashid is married to Fatima.
Do I outline, or am I a pantser? At heart, I am a pantser, but I will admit that I have my thoughts reasonably outlined in my head before I tackle a section. What fascinates me is how my mind conjures up a scenario that appears on the page/screen without me consciously thinking about it. Sometimes, as I fathom out how to write a section, I will realize in my wordy/ugly first draft I left a hook or a character that will allow for a smooth continuance of the current storyline.
Sources of Expertise / Advice. I have read posts, articles, and books about the book’s locations, particularly from current day journalists. Also, I found a local Islamic Center and talked with one of the leaders about these novels. He gave me some useful information and encouraged me to continue working on them. He agreed that, basically, Syrian refugees are people who have been forced out of their homeland by violence and intimidation. They are desperate to find a safe environment in which to raise their children. They are no more inherently violent than we are.
Going forward, I have plenty of work integrating the comments that I received from beta readers and improving the readers’ experience of the novel. After that, I will reach out to a few agents and publishers. If those connections raise no interest, I am prepared to self-publish, which I did for my memoir.
A reader of this post may be able to assist me with achieving one of my next steps. Does anyone know a Syrian or a person from the Middle East who may be willing to read the revised beta draft of the novel? I would be appreciative if anybody could suggest a female as the book addresses gender roles in Syrian society. But I am looking for any person from that region who may be willing to review the revised draft.
My website can be found at: www.BDHWrites.com
My blog can be found at: www.BDHWrites.com/blog
My email address is: BDHWrites@gmail.com
Patti is the co-executive producer for a television series in pre-production titled THUMBS UP! about a boy with Autism and his special dog with opposable thumbs. She is the author of over seventy-five books and over two hundred fifty works in progress. Patti is the very first author to be chosen as a judge for the PBS KIDS GO contest to present the awards as well. She has been an educator, an agent, and an editor. Currently, she sits at home writing in pajamas in Las Vegas, NV, with her three world domination dogs.
England’s most famous witch trial took place in Lancashire in 1612. Ten of the so-called Pendle Witches were hanged at Lancaster Castle after being deemed guilty of witchcraft. Their ghosts reputedly haunt the village of Newchurch, where one of the witches is said to be buried.
Gwen Winter and her two brothers, Lance and Merle, travel to England with their Father to visit their Aunt. Gwen knows what she wants to see and do while there. She is determined to solve a mystery centuries-long, to search for clues of what happened to the sisters Pendle and why they had been accused.
Gwen finds out she has been carrying a family secret that will haunt her for the rest of her life. Will she be able to deal with the new found information long enough to solve the mystery, or will she fall into the deep dark folds of the family secret?
Find out in this first installment of the Ghost Tales Mystery Series, The Pendleton Witches.
Do you write in more than one genre? Actually yes! I write in cozy mystery, thriller, horror, MG, YA, Steampunk, Gaslamp, romance, rom-com, paranormal, fantasy, and many sub-genres
What brought you to writing? I have always dabbled in writing ever since I was a kid. I read a great deal also. My writing inspiration began when I started writing skits for plays when I was young. We used to put on a play once a week for the neighborhood kids and charge them five cents to watch. From there, I went on to work part-time for a newspaper, and the rest is history.
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I have an in-home office. I always write with some kind of background noise. If I get a phone call or someone pops in via social media, I sometimes welcome the distraction.
Tell us about your writing process: Hmm. I don’t have a process per se; I write when the bug bites. I normally try to write something every day after I sit down and check through email, have coffee, spend time with my pups or sit outside, depending on the weather. My writing time is usually done during the morning hours and falls into the afternoon.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? Motivation! I’m a HUGE procrastinator! And writer’s block.
What are you currently working on? I have several books I’m currently working on at the moment. Cozy, primarily paranormal.
Has an association membership helped you with your writing? Tremendously! Years ago, I joined RWA and the local chapter in the state I was living in at the time. Back then, we were one of the largest with the most published authors. I learned a great deal from them over the years I was a member. I highly suggest to any writer to join as many as you can find.
Who’s your favorite author? Diana Gabaldon. She penned the Outlander series.
How long did it take you to write your first book? Eight months was A LOT of trial and error.
How long to get it published? One year with a traditional publisher back in 1989
We hear of strong-willed characters. Do yours behave or run wild? Oh dear lord! Mine are always running amok in my brain!
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I used to be a pantser, but now I’ve finally learned, after 43 years, to outline and plot!
What is the best book you have ever read? G WELLS WAR OF THE WORLDS! I was thirteen years old and used to run home from school just to read all 600 pages of it!
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? Completing our television show, having many books on the best sellers list and published with two of my bucket list publishers.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Yes! STUDY the craft. Anyone can write a book…it takes great skill to write a GREAT one. Do your homework!
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and your books? Our books are for everyone. We write books for children as young as two years old through adult. Our books are clean reads so every age can enjoy them. I write spooky, so anyone who reads RL Stine, Stephen King, and Dean Koonz will enjoy my books. I also write outside that box, so there are books for everyone.
How do our readers contact you? https://www.facebook.com/pattipetronemiller
Vinnie Hansen fled the howling winds of South Dakota and headed for the California coast the day after high school graduation.
A two-time Claymore Award finalist, she’s the author of the Carol Sabala mystery series, the novel Lostart Street, and over forty short works.
She claims to be still sane(ish) after 27 years of teaching high school English, despite the evidence of her tickling the ivories with ukulele bands. Vinnie lives in Santa Cruz with her husband and the requisite cat.
ONE GUN – After the Russos interrupt a burglary, they race to find the thief’s tossed handgun before his cohorts do; when two tweeners find it first, the characters find themselves on a collision course with tragic consequences.
What brought you to writing? I’m tacking “One Gun” on to this question.
One Gun has its roots in two real events. The first was the burglary of our house. The day before Thanksgiving, my husband and I came home from grocery shopping to find a thief leaving our house with a backpack stuffed with our belongings.
As I called 9-1-1, my husband gave chase. The burglar stopped, pulled a gun, aimed it at my husband’s head, and threatened to kill him.
Yet, when the young man continued to flee, my husband resumed his pursuit, thinking, I guess, that the thief couldn’t fire while running. However, he wheeled around with the semi-automatic while frantically dumping the items he’d stolen.
I won’t go into more detail except to say my husband didn’t die, and the burglar was apprehended but after he’d ditched the gun.
Sandy Hook was the second event that contributed to the writing of this book. All shootings are horrible. But as a retired teacher, I’m most deeply disturbed by the massacres at schools. And out of all these, Sandy Hook still distresses me the most. Twenty children were slaughtered. The innocence of the victims makes my stomach shrivel. The courage of the six school employees who died trying to protect them moves me to tears. And then there are the images of the children leaving the school. Terror stamped on their faces. They’ll carry the trauma for a lifetime.
My personal experience followed by this horrific national experience solidified that I wanted to use my writing ability to somehow address gun violence.
Yet, preachiness is a fatal flaw in fiction. I needed a good story. Our burglary wasn’t enough.
But what about the story of the gun used in the burglary? What happened to it? It was never recovered.
Do you base any of your characters on real people? As mentioned above, the burglary of our house was a catalyst for One Gun. A similar scene opens the book, although it serves only as a McGuffin to launch the story of the gun.
In the early drafts, the main characters, Ben and Vivi Russo, bore a remarkable resemblance to my husband and me.
While my husband and I are somewhat interesting people, we make boring characters. As do most “real” people. Real people—like real dialog—are not the stuff of good fiction.*
The biggest changes between the first draft of One Gun and draft 11C were to Ben and Vivi Russo—the two characters people are still bound to equate with my husband and me. However, Ben has gained a background entirely different from my husband’s. He’s no longer Jewish. He grew up in a different city, had a different career, and enjoys a different passion.
aining the distance to treat Vivi and Ben like characters is a huge part of why this novel took so long to write. Struggling to the point of artifice made One Gun a much better book.
*(There are exceptions, like my father, who was, as people say, a character.)
What are you currently working on? I never envisioned One Gun as the start of a series. However, publishers like the idea an author might be good for more than one book, so as soon as I had a complete draft of One Gun, I started a companion novel titled Crime Writer.
The books are connected by place. Both are set in Playa Maria, a fictionalized Santa Cruz (central coast of California). A few minor characters reappear in the second book, and there are a couple of references to the crime that occurred in One Gun. Both titles, though, could be read as a stand-alone.
Unlike One Gun, which has multiple points of view as the reader follows the trail of the gun, Crime Writer has a single protagonist, crime writer Zoey Kozinski. She’s had early success with her books but is currently stuck on the second book for a two-book contract. The story opens with Zoey on a police ride-along which ends up jump starting a lot more than her stalled writing.
I have a complete first draft of Crime Writer. Who knows how many drafts there will be? Perhaps fewer than with One Gun because I don’t have to work through personal issues to get to the story, and it doesn’t have the challenging multiple points of view.
On the other hand, every new piece of writing seems to raise my standards.
The virtual launch for One Gun will be via Bookshop Santa Cruz on Tuesday, June 28th, at 6 p.m. (Pacific Time). You can sign up for the Zoom event on Bookshop’s Events Page. Vinnie will be interviewed by Edgar-nominated author Susan Bickford, past president of the NorCal Chapter of Sisters in Crime.
Learn more about Vinnie at Vinnie Hansen
Vicki Weisfeld’s short stories have appeared in leading mystery magazines and various anthologies, winning awards from the Short Mystery Fiction Society and the Public Safety Writers Association. She’s a book reviewer for the UK website, crimefictionlover.com.
The crime/mystery/thriller genre is what I like to read, so that’s what I write. Puzzles, seeing justice meted out, preventing catastrophes. Some thirty of my short stories have been published, and this summer, my first novel, the murder mystery Architect of Courage, comes from Black Opal Books. I especially enjoy stories about ordinary people in difficult situations where they must use their wits and skills in new and unexpected ways. And I like a story with a bit of a lift at the end. Not necessarily a happy ending, but one trending toward better days.
My novel’s protagonist, successful Manhattan architect Archer Landis, is one of those ordinary people. Ordinary, that is because he doesn’t have any martial arts training or obscure weapons expertise. No experience tracking ne’er-do-wells. He is a Vietnam veteran, but his service was decades before this story takes place in the summer of 2011.
People often ask where I get my ideas. The short answer is: everywhere. Real-life events, interesting people, or amalgams of several of them, tricky situations born in my imagination can be an initial spark. Architect of Courage is a 350-page novel that started with a specific imagined situation. I envisioned a married man (Landis) entering his girlfriend’s apartment and finding her murdered. It’s all I had, and I covered it in the first two pages. 348 to go!
The threads that eventually worked their way into the story—his marriage, his troubled relationship with his son, how the police treat him, their suspicions about the dead woman, her faked identity, whom he relies on among his friends and colleagues, the succession of mysterious attacks—all that developed later.
If you know the terms “plotter” and “pantser,” you’ve probably already pegged me as a “pantser.” I could no more plot out all my scenes before I begin, as some excellent writers do than I could fly to the moon. I write by the seat of my pants, letting the story grow organically, and the relationships deepen as it moves forward. I throw in bits of information (potential clues) as they occur to me and keep those that ultimately fit. Yes, it’s a little messy at times, but I enjoy that thrill of discovery.
For example, early in the story, the police show Landis shocking photos of scars on his girlfriend’s wrists, evidence of a serious suicide attempt. He hadn’t known about that. The explanation of the scars isn’t revealed for 258 pages, when it emerges as a significant piece of evidence, totally unanticipated those many pages earlier. I credit my subconscious mind with figuring out that problem and giving me the answer when I could use it!
Truthfully, I do make some efforts to organize the chaos. When I get to a place where I can’t easily answer the question, “now what?” I take a big sheet of paper, write the main character’s name in the center, and array all the other characters around, maybe with a few notes about their conflicts or characteristics. Then I draw lines to show how they intersect. Opportunities for new and unexpected connections emerge and points of possible conflict. Perhaps a superfluous character is revealed—someone with few connections to anyone else. That person may best be edited out!
One strategy I’ve found helpful in moving from short story to novel is to keep a list of “story questions.” I can’t reveal everything upfront; it is a mystery! Unresolved issues may be, “Where did the gun come from?” or “How did he know she’s allergic to shellfish?” Making sure all those questions or clues have answers—artfully buried, I hope—means that when readers reach the end, they feel satisfied. Television programs too often do not do this. The credits roll, and it’s “What just happened?”
Nor can I withhold some key piece of information and plop it on the last page. Readers have to have reasons to at least suspect that two characters are brother and sister, for example. They need “Aha!” moments. As Aristotle pronounced a long time ago, the best endings are both surprising and inevitable.
I’m also asked what it was like to write a male protagonist. I’ve spent a lot of time around confident, assertive men. I know how they act. Landis is a busy, successful professional. He’s not rude, but he’s direct. It saves time. He’s also a mentor to the people working for him in a profession that requires creativity. He can’t squash their inventiveness, and he’s full of praise when it’s merited. Typically, he makes clear his expectations about end results and lets them figure out how to get there.
I did pick over his dialog to make sure it wasn’t laden with weak phrases like “I just want,” “If you don’t mind,” “May I suggest,” and qualifiers like “somewhat” or “kind of,” which I consider waffle-words. If Landis wants something, he says so. And I usually substitute “need” for “want.” There’s a website where you can paste in your manuscript—any length—and run it through an analyzer to find out whether it reads “masculine” or “feminine.” Architect of Courage is “weakly male,” but at least it’s male! I found that aspect of writing this book interesting. Fun, too.
A few words about the publishing journey. Long. Hard. Exhausting. Though I’ve internalized all the advice about crafting pitch letters, synopses, etc., my queries to agents rarely received a response. I gave up on that and turned to smaller publishers who take unagented queries and are open to genre literature, especially crime. Architect of Courage was professionally edited twice. While, on the one hand, I hoped this would suggest to prospective publishers they wouldn’t have to invest a lot of editorial time, on the other, I didn’t want to give the impression I considered the book perfect and would resist their ideas and suggestions.
The best advice I have for wading into the publishing waters is to develop a long—and growing—list of prospects and send queries (strictly adhering to their wildly varying requirements, of course) in batches of three to five. Two weeks later, send another batch. An Excel spreadsheet helps, and save a copy of each cover letter to be sure of what you sent. Having additional prospects in the wings keeps the job from being too disheartening. I handle my short stories the same way. Rejection? Fine. Next! At least it has worked for me thirty times!
Vicki blogs at www.vweisfeld.com.