Monday, April 26, 2010

Camy Tang

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.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Use of Deadly Force

Part II: Use of Deadly Force
Interview: Brian Davis
DA Investigator
Sonoma County (CA) District Attorney’s Office

Use of deadly force to protect society is the dark side of maintaining law and order. There comes a point when the mere presence of a uniform or a badge is not enough to force a violent person to stand down. To back away and allow police to do their job.

Police officers are not mind readers. The person they meet on the street might be a law-abiding citizen or a law-breaking criminal. Those they meet might be blinded by drugs, harbor a deep fear of going back to prison, or might be a violence-prone patient just released from a state mental hospital.

And an officer might only have a second to decide between life and death.

It is this awesome choice—and responsibility—that we focus on during today’s interview. It is a subject upon which public attention quickly turns whenever bad things happen. This public scrutiny falls on both those who used deadly force and those charged with investigating the incident.

Today, we’ll learn from a man who has been caught in this unforgiving situation many times. Brian Davis is currently an investigator for the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office in California, after nearly thirty years with the Santa Rosa  Police Department. Brian brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to this explosive issue.

MARK:  Let’s talk about another Hollywood misconception—the chasm between fiction and reality over forensic evidence. Here are a couple examples: DNA results before investigators even leave the crime scene; or blood samples typed and identified before the victim’s pool of blood gels. As an investigator, what do you know about the turnaround of these lab reports? What time frames are realistic as you work your way through the case?

BRIAN:  It sure would be nice to have instant results and instant access to all sorts of data bases but as you point out, that is total fiction.   DNA evidence is processed in controlled conditions in a crime lab that is usually associated with a government entity.   Some counties in California have their own labs; where I live, we have to send DNA samples to a lab that is operated by the State Department of Justice.  There are also federal labs run by the FBI, BATF, etc.  

DNA analysis is labor intensive and costs money.  Police managers have to make decisions on how to spend taxpayer money.   So, hard decisions have to be made during a criminal investigation about the relative worth of some crime scene processing.  Usually, in a homicide or sexual assault, there is no question about funds being spent for such work.  However, decisions are made has to how much and what type of evidence will ultimately be processed.  On rare occasions, DNA evidence may be sent out to a private lab but there are additional costs associated with those decisions.   

Here in Northern California, we are fortunate to get DNA results within 6 months of submitting samples to a lab.  Crime labs serve potentially hundreds of law enforcement agencies and they can only do so much with the personnel they have. Even if DNA evidence seems to be available, you need to do everything else in the meantime to complete your investigation.

MARK:  As part of the investigation, all witnesses must be interviewed either at the scene or back at the station. In our scenario, the wife is the only eye witness.  Neighbors may have heard the couple yelling, see the officer arrive, and heard shots fired. But only the wife saw what happened inside the dwelling except for the officer. She claims hubby did not arm himself with the knife and charge the officer. She alledges the officer shot and killed her husband with no provocation. You must play Solomon and find out whether she is telling the truth, lying to you, or just misinterpreted what happened. How do you get to the truth?

BRIAN:  Sometimes, you do not get the truth.   However, experienced investigators often have to put themselves in the shoes of the person on the other side of the table.   In this scenario, it is almost understandable that the wife would react in this way.   Sometimes it is due to shock at the situation so an immediate interview may not be the best time to talk to this person.  On the other hand, this is a great opportunity to build a rapport with the person by understanding that she is a victim.   If medical attention is not necessary, this would be a good time to bring in a victim advocate.   You don’t want to suck up to this person but you do need to understand what she is going through.   If she isn’t pressured right away, and recognizes that someone from the Police Department actually tried to help, maybe she will calm down and give you the whole story later.

If not, any statement is better than no statement.   Maybe there will be no way to reconcile her statement with that of the officer, but if she lies about one thing, she is likely to lie about others.   If you can diminish her credibility through other statements, then her version will speak for itself.   Of course, this is all assuming the officer’s version is completely true.  

Monday, April 12, 2010

Tess Gerritsen

Author Interview: Tess Gerritsen

New York Times bestselling author Tess Gerritsen writes gripping stories with scalpel-sharp prose. Her characters linger in the reader’s mind long after the story ends and plots snap close with unexpected twists.

Tess Gerritsen uses everything she’s learned in life—a trained physician, daughter of a San Diego restaurateur, anthropologist, wife and mother—to weave believability and freshness into her fiction. Here are three examples of opening lines she’s used to entice fans to keep turning pages:

“They looked like the perfect family.” The Mephisto Club (Ballantine Books, 2006)

“A scalpel is a beautiful thing.” Life Support (Pocket Books, 1997)

“My name is Mila, and this is my journey.” Vanished (Ballantine Books, 2005)

Such enticements prompted readers to buy more than twenty million books in thirty-seven languages. Tess continues to top the bestseller charts in the U.S. and abroad. Word of caution: Never pick up one of her novels unless you’re prepared to lose sleep.

Tess joins us today to discuss her next novel, Ice Cold (UK title: The Killing Place), to be released in July and a new TNT television show Rizzoli and Isles debuting this summer. The television whodunit is based upon Tess’s novel series about two Boston crime fighters  Rizzoli, a homicide detective, and Maura Isles, a medical examiner. More information about Tess can be found at her website or her blog. In addition, she contributes several Tuesdays each month to the well-visited blog Murderati which boasts of “Mysteries, Murder and Marketing.”

MARK:  Tess, tell us about your latest novel, a Rizzoli and Isles thriller titled Ice Cold

TESS:  Maura Isles travels to Wyoming for a medical conference and decides to join a group of friends on a spur-of-the moment ski trip.  When their GPS sends them up a mountain road, their vehicle gets stranded in a blizzard.  The group stumbles on foot into the village of Kingdom Come, where they find empty houses and meals still sitting on tables.  All the residents have vanished.  What disaster occurred in this remote settlement, and where did everyone go?  Every attempt to escape the village ends in catastrophe, and soon Maura is fighting for her life.  Meanwhile, Jane Rizzoli flies to Wyoming to find her missing friend ... and discovers the pretty shocking secret of what really happened in Kingdom Come.

MARK:  Your novel will be released in the U.S. under the name Ice Cold, while the same novel will be released in the U.K under the name of The Killing Place? How does this work? Why the name change? And, will both titles be released simultaneously?

TESS:  My books are published by two different publishers in those markets, Ballantine in the US and Transworld UK, and they want to tailor the books to their own readership.  They did not agree on the title, so they each decided to use the title they thought would sell best in their own countries.  It gets confusing, I agree, but I think they understand their own markets.  Both titles will be released very close to each other this summer, so there shouldn't be too much competition between the publications.

MARK: Give us a little history about your Rizzoli and Isles characters for the benefit of some who may not yet have had the pleasure of meeting these Boston crime solvers. Who are they? What do they do? And how did they become a team?

TESS: Jane Rizzoli first appeared in THE SURGEON, where she was only a secondary  brash but brilliant homicide detective in Boston.  I had every intention of killing her off in that book, but somehow she fought back against her creator and managed to survive.  By the end of that book, I was so intrigued by this woman, who had the heart of a lion while still being as vulnerable as any woman, and I wanted to know what happened next in her life.  So I wrote THE APPRENTICE.  Soon Jane was as real to me as any person, and I couldn't stop writing about her life, her family, and the challenges she faced as a cop.

Maura Isles started off as a secondary character as well, a medical examiner who first appeared in THE APPRENTICE.  From the moment she appeared on the page, I was fascinated by her.  Who was this mysterious Goth-type character whom everyone called "Queen of the Dead'?  Why did she seem so secretive, so aloof?  What did she hide?  So I featured her in THE SINNER, the third book in the Rizzoli series, and Maura's life came into focus.  Suddenly I realized I had a two-heroine series, featuring two women who had little in common except their jobs, but whose lives end up intertwined in ways I could never have predicted.  They've gone from being colleagues to being  friends with issues and conflicts, because they both see the world so differently.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Use of Deadly Force

Part I: Use of Deadly Force

Interview: Brian Davis
Senior DA Investigator
Sonoma County (CA) District Attorney’s Office

Every police officer plans for that moment of truth—shoot, don’t shoot. That point in time when they must decide in a split-second whether to take a life. 

Preparation for this agonizing decision begins in the academy for most officers. They learn how to use deadly weapons without hesitation while learning about legal and moral consequences when these weapons are used. Survival is hammered into them.

In that one fraction of a second their whole life may flash before their eyes. Officers may hesitate for a fatal second as everything they’ve been taught crashes down upon them. They know their world will go up in flames if they are wrong—loss of job, civil suits that may drag on for years, psychological damage that may tear apart their own family, and criminal charges. Many officers walk away from the job regardless of the outcome within five years.

And if they hesitate—death.

A use of deadly force investigation is one of the toughest cases for investigators to handle. The community expects justice, administrators expect the case to be expeditiously processed, and loved ones of the deceased often want their pound of flesh. The spotlight falls on both those who used deadly force and those charged with investigating the incident.

Today, we’ll learn from a man who has been caught in this unforgiving spotlight a number of times. Brian Davis is currently an investigator for the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office in California, after nearly thirty years with the Santa Rosa  Police Department. Brian brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to this explosive issue.

MARK: Brian, tell us a little about your background, focusing on your investigative experience involving violence crimes and officer-involved incidences. What variety of situations have you been called to investigate or supervise?

BRIAN: I spent nearly 30 years with the Santa Rosa Police Department and retired four years ago at the rank of Lieutenant. I was fortunate to receive extensive training in homicide, sexual assault, child molestation and other violent crimes prior to the serious budget problems that now face California. After my first seven years as a patrol officer (including assignments in traffic and hostage negotiation) I became a detective handling all types of violent crimes. Not only was I fortunate to have great training opportunities, I had a very demanding supervisor who himself had been a very accomplished detective. I learned a great deal about being a good detective, and later modeled myself after him as a supervisor.

At the time I was a detective, our department handled officer-involved shootings in-house. In other words, we did not have another agency come in and do those investigations as is the case in many agencies today. I seemed to always be on-call when one of these things happened and I felt a deep sense of personal and professional responsibility to do the most thorough and objective job possible on those cases. 

After five years as a violent crimes detective, I promoted to Sergeant and became one of the Field Training supervisors as well as running a patrol team. After a quick three years, I was assigned to supervise the Violent Crimes Unit (VCU) becoming one of the youngest Sergeants to do so. I enjoyed taking on the role of the Sergeant I had so much admired when I was a detective by mentoring detectives and demanding more out of them than they thought was in them. By now, the officer-involved shooting policies in the county had changed so that an outside agency would be brought in to do the investigation.  

After six years as the VCU supervisor, it was time to rotate out to patrol. I felt like I was pretty much done with Violent Crimes investigations but the Deputy Chief reassigned me as VCU's supervisor for a second tour of duty. I’m glad I did because I got to work with yet another group of highly motivated people that impressed me, my bosses, and most of all, did a great job putting together cases on the worst violent offenders in the community.   

I promoted out of Violent Crimes to Lieutenant, which gave me some other interesting opportunities, like managing our canine program. But it was the end to being the hands on law enforcement officer that I had enjoyed so much.

When I retired from the Police Department, I came over to the District Attorney’s office and worked as a District Attorney Investigator. After about a year, I was promoted to Senior DA Investigator (sort of like a Sergeant) so I guess I am starting the cycle all over again. DA Investigators work with other law enforcement agencies on homicides, officer involved incidents, and other major investigations. We are full time peace officers with subpoena powers and have the ability to conduct independent investigations such as in matters of political corruption.