Author Interview: Camy Tang
Novelist Camy Tang writes ‘with a kick of wasabi’ as her website is quick to point out. Her first suspense novel, Deadly Intent, has just such a kick. (For an explanation of ‘wasabi’ visit Camy’s website).
Her earlier novels found their niche in contemporary romance as her Asian characters sassed their way through relationships, interfamily relations, and spiritual struggles. Camy’s latest novel launches into the suspense romance genre—murder and intrigue in the picturesque town of Sonoma, California where a massage can be a killer of an experience.
MARK: Camy, the title of your latest novel, Deadly Intent, suggests this story is more about suspense than romance. Tell us a little about the story and your main character, Naomi Grant.
CAMY: Naomi Grant is head massage therapist at her family’s day spa, Joy Luck Life Spa, but since her father had a stroke several months ago, she has been managing the spa for him. Then one of Naomi’s regular spa clients is bludgeoned to death in her massage room in the same hour that the victim’s ex-husband, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Devon Knightley, shows up asking to speak to his ex. Both Naomi and Devon are suspects in the murder, but they discover that the one killing seems to set off a spree of crime framing Naomi.
MARK: What was the inspiration for this story?
CAMY: I love love love day spas, and I also love love love Sonoma. There are several spas in Sonoma, since it is a tourist hotbed, and I thought it would be “fun” (realize you’re talking to a writer, here!) to utilize the constant tourist traffic to stage a murder.
MARK: In part, Deadly Intent seems to be about family and their interactions with each other. They seem drawn together after the death of Naomi’s mother’s and her father’s stroke. Can you describe the dynamics of Naomi’s family—father, aunt, sisters?
CAMY: I always have strong family relationships in my books, so it was natural for me to create a tightly knit family for Naomi. I also wanted to explore the dynamics of a family with a Caucasian father and Asian mother, since I know many hapa kids at church.
I have never had sisters but always wanted one, so I gave Naomi two sisters who are very different from herself: shy, academic Rachel is the spa’s resident dermatologist researcher who creates the innovative skin products that makes the spa so famous, and fiery Monica is a nurse who quit her job in a San Francisco hospital in order to take care of their father after his stroke, but she and her dad have never gotten along very well.
In contrast, Naomi has a very smooth relationship with her father, which makes it hard for her to tell him that she doesn’t like managing the spa and doesn’t want to be groomed to take over when he eventually retires, which is his intentions at the beginning of the novel.
Their mother died many years ago, and theirAunt Becca has lived with the family since her death. Aunt Becca never married so although she is loving toward the girls, she doesn’t quite have the maternal instinct, which makes for interesting family dynamics.
Interesting tidbit: the names Naomi, Rachel, Monica, and Becca are cannibalized from a family at my church. Monica is the mother’s name, and I’ve worked with Naomi, Rachel, and Becca in the church youth group. When I was putting together the proposal, I used Naomi’s name for the heroine, then decided to use the rest of the family’s names for the other characters. :)
MARK: Do you see yourself in any of these characters?
CAMY: I can’t really say that I do, although it’s fun to have fearless Naomi sometimes say things I wouldn’t dare to say. I used my biology research background to help me write Rachel’s story (Formula for Danger releases in September this year), and some of her clinical way of thinking is similar to mine, but my relationship with my father is nothing like hers. Monica is completely unlike myself, so it’ll be challenging to write her story for my next proposal.
MARK: Deadly Intent seems to be a change in direction for you as a writer. You’ve switched from your previous chic lit novels to this murder in an exclusive Northern California spa. Why the transition? Has there always been a little mystery and mayhem lurking in your imagination?
CAMY: Before I was contracted, I wrote lots of manuscripts, partly to figure out what genre(s) I enjoyed writing the most. I enjoyed romantic suspense and chick lit the most, but hadn’t written anything to combine the two. My chick lit manuscript (my 5th completed manuscript) was the one that sold, so my first books were humorous contemporary romance. But when I was offered the chance to submit a proposal to Steeple Hill’s Love Inspired Suspense line, I jumped at the chance to write a story in another favorite genre. I will still have more humorous contemporary romances coming out with Zondervan, probably in 2011, so I haven’t completely switched to the Dark Side.
MARK: The name of the resort—Joy Luck Life Spa—conjures up memories of Amy Tan’s novel, The Joy Luck Club and the movie that followed. Was this an intentional reference or does this name have other meanings for you?
CAMY: The Chinese characters for Joy Luck are very positive and uplifting, and I wanted a slightly Asian feel to the spa (since the heroine’s mother was Japanese). Joy Luck Life also conjures up feelings of hope and renewal, which is what I always feel when I leave a day spa. So the name is slightly intentional to Amy Tan’s book title, but not entirely.
MARK: Asian lead characters in fiction are rather unique in the publishing world. Your novels seem to boldly use these rich characterizations, drawing out a blend of family, ethnicity and cultural uniqueness. How has this been received?
CAMY: I’ve been so honored by all the readers who email me or write to me to tell me that their Norwegian/German/Irish/Italian family members are just like my characters! Families are all the same, no matter your ethnicity, and I really enjoy entertaining readers with characters they can relate to even if they themselves are not Asian.
Readers have also enjoyed the small tidbits of Asian culture I have in my books. I’m always careful not to make my novels too “foreign” or confusing for people unfamiliar with the Asian culture--I try to show neat things readers might be interested in.
I figure, it’s like people who have grown up with sauerkraut--they don’t think anything of it, but I’ve actually never tasted it! In the same way, I’ve grown up with musubi rice balls, and I didn’t think anything of it, but now I enjoy writing about it in my stories to give people something interesting to read about.
MARK: You reside in the San Francisco bay area and live geographically close to where this story took place. Tells us about the town of Sonoma where this story is situated. Why this location? Are any of the locations in your novel actually real places in that town?
CAMY: So far, I’ve only written about actual places--San Jose, San Francisco, Sonoma. I might write a fictional town at some point, though. I chose Sonoma for Deadly Intent because I wanted a “small town” feel to my story’s location, and even though Sonoma has a lot of tourist traffic, it’s a small town at heart--the residents know each other and work together and there’s a strong sense of community, knit together partly via the agriculture of the area. Sonoma is also a wonderful historic town that’s fascinating to visit if anyone has the chance!
MARK: Many writers have other jobs while trying to survive in the publishing world. You worked as a biologist for nine years before diving into a full-time writing career. How long did you write before taking the plunge? What made you decide it was time to step out and take a chance? Tells us a little about your writing journey.
CAMY: I worked full time and wrote in my spare time for about 2 or 3 years before I decided to try writing full time. We had to look closely at our income, and my husband is a hero because he allowed me to quit biology work, even though it would mean we had to drastically adjust our normal spending habits. Originally, I had prayed and felt God giving me the green light to write full time for 6 months and see if I could get a publishing contract (I had already written 4 manuscripts up to that point and had gotten very encouraging rejections from editors, so I knew I was close).
I got my first contract right at the end of that 6 month time period. My husband and I talked it over, and he allowed me to continue to write full time since my writing was now pulling in a (small) income. I also do freelance editing work and teach online writing classes to help supplement my writing income. I’m so blessed because I’m able to do what I love and I have an understanding husband who doesn’t mind that he originally married a biologist researcher, not a poor struggling author.
MARK: What does Camy Tang’s normal writing day look like?
CAMY: I am a night owl, so most of my writing is done between 10 pm and 2 am. It shocks people but I am astoundingly productive during that time frame, so I just go with my natural biorhythm. Since I don’t have children, I don’t have to worry about waking up early, either. So I get up late, take care of email or freelance work, and then dive into the writing until my husband comes home from work. We spend time together, and then I’m back at work until the wee hours.
MARK: When it comes to laying out your story, do you outline the plot or just start writing and see where it takes you?
CAMY: I am an anal-retentive plotter, which usually makes writers cringe when I start explaining my writing process, so be warned! I usually create my characters first, going from large-scale to more detailed information (similar to Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake method). Then after I know my characters, I come up with the main plotline. When I have a general outline, I then create a scene by scene spreadsheet which shows every Scene and Sequel in the book. After I’ve got my spreadsheet, then I dive into the book, and since I have all the scenes laid out, the writing of the rough draft goes pretty quickly for me. Editing the rough draft, however, seems to take me forever!
MARK: Once you start a manuscript, what does your writing schedule look like? Do you write till you drop or have a daily quota?
CAMY: Since I do such intensive plotting, I can’t set a word or page count quota, since I might spend all day just coming up with story ideas, not actually writing the manuscript. I try to discipline myself to a certain number of writing hours a day, which isn’t hard, since I tend to work long hours at writing anyway.
MARK: How many drafts? Do you edit as you go, or wait till the end of each draft? Roughly, how long does it take until you’re ready to market it?
CAMY: I do one rough draft and do at least two passes through the manuscript, sometimes more. So I guess that’s a minimum of 3 drafts. I really try hard not to edit for my rough draft, because editing is left brain mode and I want to keep myself completely in right brain creative mode. If I shift back and forth (writing then editing then writing) the writing part is harder for me and not as creative.
MARK: What parts of writing—plot, characterization, description—came easy for you? What parts are more challenging?
CAMY: Plotting and characterization usually come easiest for me. Plotting is easy because I’m a very logical thinker, so once I know what the character wants and the obstacles in her way, it’s easy to develop a plotline based on those obstacles and her options. Characterization is fun because I was a psychology major in college--I was pre-med with a focus in neuropsychology, although I never went to medical school after all, opting to go into biology research instead (and I’m very glad I did, because I think I would have been a terrible doctor!). It’s funny how I’m now using that psychology degree.
MARK: What or who helped the most to improve your writing?
CAMY: I read a lot of books and online articles on writing craft, which really helped me a lot. I joined American Christian Fiction Writers organization and took advantage of their archives of online workshops, and I read all the archives in a single month. It was awesome because I got all the wisdom of these multi-published authors who talked about what was most important for a writer to know about different aspects of writing craft and writing business. I also went to two writing conferences that first year, Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference and the American Christian Fiction Writers conference (although at the time they were American Christian Romance Writers). I learned so much and made so many great contacts with other authors and with agents and editors.
MARK: Is your memory of holding that first published novel still vivid?
CAMY: I was actually a bit shell-shocked. I had been expecting hysterical tears, or copious screaming, but nope, none of that. My husband was kind of glad for the non-hysteria, but my artistic writer side was chastising me for my lack of emotion. :)
MARK: You maintain a Story Sensei blog for writers. Tells us a little about this site and the services you provide for writers.
CAMY: I have a Story Sensei blog where I have lots of articles for writers. I also run the Story Sensei critique service which offers book doctoring and telephone mentoring for writers at very reasonable prices. In addition, I’ve been doing more online workshops for writers now through my Story Sensei critique service. The most popular one has been the Synopsis writing workshop, but I’m also adding to my workshop list with a Characterization workshop and a Self-Editing workshop this year.
MARK: You are actively involved in the American Christian Fiction Writers organization. Can you tell us about this organization and your involvement with them?
CAMY: I credit ACFW with helping me get published. Their workshop archives, which I mentioned, gave me a leg up (information-wise) over other new writers, and their conferences enabled me to network with writers, editors, and agents. Their active email loop is also a great place for information on writing craft and business. I entered their annual contest (at the time it was called the Noble Theme contest, but since then it’s been changed to the Genesis contest) and won in the Mystery/Suspense/Thriller category with a suspense manuscript that’s languishing at the moment. :) But the contest win put my name in front of several editors who later wanted to work with me, like Krista Stroever, who was a Senior Editor at Steeple Hill and who bought my manuscript Deadly Intent.
MARK: What books rest on your to-be-read shelf right now?
CAMY: Too many! I’m a very eclectic reader, so be warned. I’m reading the Stephanie Plum series and loving it! I always enjoy humor in my fiction. I’m also reading A Soldier’s Devotion by Cheryl Wyatt (disclaimer: Cheryl and I are critique partners, but for this particular book, she was rushing to finish and I never critiqued it because she had to give it to her editor, so I’m reading it now that it’s released), The Raven Saint by M.L. Tyndall, Deliver Us From Evil by Robin Caroll, and Havah by Tosca Lee.
MARK: Please share with struggling writers one word of advice that’s helped you along this writing journey.
CAMY: One word? Learn. Learn about the writing craft (even published authors often say the always continue to read and learn more about the writing craft--you should never reach a point where you think you’ve learned it all). Learn about the publishing industry. Learn about different publishing houses. Learn what works for you and what doesn’t, because every writer is different. Learning is what you can control. You can’t control what editors or agents will do, you can’t control how fast or slow you’ll get a publishing contract, but you can control what you learn. And, as you’ve guessed, I’m a control freak. :)
— where they will learn about how such cases are put together. Gang consultant George Collord will give us insight into one of the most effective investigations into organized crime and gang violence in California over the last decade.
MAY 10: New York Times bestselling author John Lescroart will discuss his latest novel, Treasure Hunt, and the art of writing. John’s twenty-one novels have been translated into sixteen languages in seventy-five countries at last count. He will share the highs and lows of his struggle to publish and a life-changing experience the brought focus to his writing.
MAY 24: New York Times bestselling author Terri Blackstock will tell us about her latest novel, Predator, to be launched on May 24th. She is the award-winning author of Intervention and Double Minds, and has sold six million books worldwide. Among her other works are the following series—Cape Refuge, Newpointe 911, the SunCoast Chronicles, and the Restoration Series.