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.