The Southern California branch of Mystery Writers of America joined the Orange County Sisters in Crime on August 24, for a dive into Asian culture. The meeting began with a bountiful Asian buffet served to the more than sixty members and guests.
Carline then introduced award-winning crime writer, NAOMI HIRAHARA, who presented each of the four authors on her “East Meets West” panel. All five writers either set their stories in the Far East or have an Asian protagonist.
Hirahara began the panel discussion by asking the authors to tell about the settings and characters in their books.
KIM FAY’s novel The Map of Lost Memories, is set in Colonial Cambodia in the 1920’s. Her protagonist is a Western woman who, true to the mindset of the era, “came to Cambodia and took what she wanted.”
STEPH CHA’s two contemporary noir mysteries, Follow Her Home and Beware Beware, are set in LA’s Korea town. They feature Juniper Song, a struggling novice P.I.
LISA BRACKMANN’s series follows Iraq War veteran, Ellie McEnroe, into danger in contemporary Beijing. Rock Paper Tiger and Hour of The Rat begin her trilogy.
TIMOTHY HALLINAN’s thrillers are set in Bangkok, Thailand, and tell the story of travel writer Poke Rafferty. Sixth and most recent in the series is For The Dead.
NAOMI HIRAHARA’s first series featured Japanese gardener, Mas Arai, who worked in and around Pasadena. Murder on Bamboo Lane debuts her new series about Ellie Rush, a young mixed-race bicycle cop in Los Angeles and Chinatown.
Hirahara’s next question was how important it was to visit the places they wrote about. Surprisingly all the authors believed it was helpful if not necessary.
Both Cha and Hirahara drive through the parts of Los Angeles they use in their books. Fay admits, “I didn’t realize how the extreme heat in Viet Nam slowed down everything and everyone until I went there myself. I had to adjust the timing in my scenes.”
Hallinan needed to stay in Thailand until he knew enough of the language to understanding what they were saying before he could begin his first book. “I didn’t want a Western perspective.”
When asked about using “pigeon-language” in their characters’ dialogues, most felt it was okay if not overdone or stereotyped. Brackmann tries to capture the sentence structure and rhythm of the language more than the sounds. “Create the fullest character you can, so the dialect doesn’t flatten them,” advises Hallinan.
Fay translates her Asian character’s thoughts, rather than their mistakes in speech. “I don’t want them to sound less smart because they can’t pronounce English. It takes away the power of their character.”
Hirahara next asked if the authors had personal or meaningful reasons for setting their books where they did.
Hallinan, “From the moment I arrived in Thailand, I knew it was home. It was like a key turned in my chest.” Brackmann visited a friend’s parents and stayed six months. She returns every year. Fay grew up hearing her grandfather’s tales of naval life in Asia. She was ready to give her heart to Viet Nam and Cambodia the minute she stepped off the plane.
Cha enjoyed the noir of Los Angeles as written by Raymond Chandler and Philip Marlowe. She grew up in Korea town and wanted to write what she knew.
A question from the audience about the influence of Dragnet on Cha’s writing left her puzzled. When told it was a 1950’s TV series, she promised to research it on Wikipedia. Her comments drew chagrined (but kind) laughter from the audience who recognized the clear line between her youth and the others’ maturity.
Finally the authors were asked about their works-in-progress.
Fay is writing a sequel to her novel, as well as a mystery set in LA in the 1970’s, and is thinking about a political mystery set in Cambodia and Viet Nam in the 1950-60’s.
Cha is writing her third Juniper song mystery (with hints of the Armenian Genocide), plus a short story for the Asia Pulp collection.
Brackmann is working on the third book in the Ellie McEnroe trilogy, trying to decide how her protagonist ends up and where to stop the story. She’s also writing a sequel to her novel Getaway and considering a standalone political thriller.
Hirahara has turned in the second Ellie Rush mystery titled A Grave on Grand Avenue. The sixth Mas Arai is due next year (set at Dodger Stadium). She also has an exciting development (hush, hush) waiting for her on the horizon.
Hallinan has a seventh Poke Rafferty book slated for publication. This one features Rafferty’s Asian wife and adopted daughter. Also his humorous Junior Bender mystery series (The latest is Herbie’s Game.) has been picked up by NBC for a weekly series. “It’s a go for the pilot!” he says with undisguised delight.
Thanks and congratulations to a great panel!