Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Starring S.J. Rozan!

From Sujata: I have admired the mysteries of S. J. Rozan since my pre-publication days, when I read feverishly and wondered if I could ever finish my own novel. SJ's beloved mystery protagonist, Lydia Chin, was the first Asian-American woman sleuth I knew. Lydia solves crimes with her Irish-American partner Bill Smith, and the books are told in alternating viewpoints. SJ is also the author of critically acclaimed standalone novels set in the US and abroad. S.J.'s 16 novels and 75-plus short stories books have won the Edgar, Shamus, Anthony, Macavity, Nero and Japanese Maltese Falcon awards,  and she has served in elected leadership roles in Mystery Writers of America, Private Eye Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime. 

I am beyond excited to hear about a new Lydia-Bill mystery: PAPER SON, which delves into the mostly unknown history of Asian immigrants in the Deep South. The novel received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist, and is racking up even more excellent reviews since its release in early July. Here's a post by SJ about how she came to this new literary adventure.

SJ Rozan in Mississippi (photo by Eric Stone)

S.J. Rozan

The thing about being a crime writer is this: everything -- lifting weights at the gym, an overheard conversation, the strange bitterness of a new brand of coffee -- turns your mind in the direction of work. You think, "What if..." and you're off.

In December, 2015 I went to Clarksdale, in the Mississippi Delta. I had no work-related reason for going. This was just a few days' holiday. Nothing down there was relevant to my writing.

Or so I thought.

I went to visit a friend, Eric Stone. Eric's also a writer, and he's a great photographer. He took me to photograph in Clarksdale's Jewish cemetery. It was beautiful: well-kept, lush, and old. I was exclaiming over it, and turning my camera to this and that, and Eric said Greenville, where we were going the next day, had an even bigger, older Jewish cemetery. We could photograph there. Then, in one of those moments that in retrospect was life-changing, he told me that that cemetery was near Greenville's Chinese cemetery.

Chinese Cemetery, Greenville SC

Now, I've been writing about Lydia Chin for many years, and I created her because I had a long-standing interest in Chinese-American history and culture. I fancy that I know a thing or two. But that there were enough Chinese in the Mississippi Delta to establish a cemetery? I questioned Eric upon the matter, and he said, "Sure. You know, the grocers."

I did not know the grocers. I didn't know, then, the 100-year history of the Chinese in the Mississippi Delta. But my writer's brain, never silent, yelled, "Wait! Chinese in Mississippi? There's a Lydia Chin story here if ever one was anywhere!"

Red's Juke Joint

Nice place for friends in Greenville

The old deco bus depot

Eric filled me in. When I went back to NYC I did library research. The NYPL Chinatown branch has a couple of books on the subject that don't circulate, so I kept going down there to read them. (And because you can't bring lunch to the library, I was forced to go out and eat noodles and dumplings, oh poor me.) I went back to the Delta, armed with questions, and met some of the few Chinese still there. I came back to NYC and met some Delta Chinese who live up north now. I went back a third time, and PAPER SON was born.

This has happened to me before. A passing glance at a library table in Queens showed me the first memoir I'd seen from the WWII Jewish ghetto in Shanghai. That sent me down a research rabbit hole, from which I emerged with THE SHANGHAI MOON. A lunchtime discussion when I was an architect of a scam that had been run on one of my clients launched CONCOURSE. And a newspaper account of a porcelain expert who'd been stealing from museum collections for twenty years inspired CHINA TRADE.

Murder is everywhere, and you don't even have to look for it. You just have to be open when it comes to look for you.

1 comment:

  1. I love Lydia, and can't wait to see how she likes Mississippi in the summer. Question, SJ. Does she know that while she's sweltering in the Delta, you'll be in Assisi?