“Just the facts, ma’am.”
“Book ’em, Dan-o!”
Those are famous lines from two of my father’s favorite TV shows, Dragnet and Hawaii Five-0. My father, who died in 2002, loved cop shows. He watched them every night, and I loved watching with him. He taught me how to figure out whodunit: If somebody looked guilty but the show was less than half over, then it wasn’t that person. If somebody had no apparent reason for being in the show, then he was the murderer. The revelation is saved for the end, and it should be a surprise.
That was my first important lesson in how to plot a detective story, but I at the time I had no idea that I would ever be a mystery writer. As a child I associated writing with the kind of boring things I wrote at school—essay tests, term papers. But I’ve always loved to read. I inherited that from my father, along with his taste in TV shows. His favorite books were detective stories, no surprise. He liked Erle Stanley Gardner, Mickey Spillane, Ed McBain, and Agatha Christie. He was very frugal, so instead of buying the books, he borrowed them from the library. But wait, that’s not quite true. He never actually went to the library. He had my mother get books for him. I went with her, and while she browsed the mystery section, I developed my own literary tastes.
I became a big fan of Nancy Drew. I loved her Titian-blond hair, her blue coupe, her lawyer dad, her pals Bess and George, and her college boyfriend Ned. The colored illustrations on the covers were also a big attraction. I would study them and admire how well they captured the flavor of the stories. Reading Nancy Drew books gave me the sense that anyone who was smart and brave could solve mysteries, even a girl. (Even me?!) That was my second important lesson in detective fiction: The detective doesn’t need to be a cop with police-academy training. I especially enjoyed the books that had Asian subject matter—The Secret of the Golden Pavilion (set in Hawaii) and The Mystery of the Fire Dragon (set in New York City’s Chinatown and in Hong Kong). They evoked exotic places that I hoped to see someday. Even when I was very young I realized that there were few books with Asian settings, characters, or themes, and those Nancy Drew stories touched on my own Asian heritage.
Years passed. My literary adventures extended to adult mysteries. I took over my mother’s job of choosing books for my father, and I started reading them myself. Agatha Christie opened the door to Dorothy Sayers, Phyllis Whitney, P. D. James, and a galaxy of other wonderful authors. I was an ardent mystery fan, but I had a long way to go before I started writing mysteries myself.
In my family, there was a big disconnect between what we liked to do in our spare time and what we thought we were supposed to do for a living. Murder mysteries had no place in my father’s workday. He was a florist. When I went to the University of Michigan, I majored in science, preparing for medical school. Studying took up all my time during the academic year. Reading mysteries (and watching cop shows with my father) had to wait until summer. But I managed to squeeze in a few movies with friends. One of those movies was Seven Samurai, directed by the great Japanese director Akira Kurosawa.
The seven samurai in the movie are masterless warriors who wander feudal Japan, offering their services to folks who need hired muscle. They take on the job of protecting a village from bandits. I was thrilled by their courage, their martial arts skills, and their willingness to sacrifice their lives for the sake of the villagers, in the name of honor. (I was also thrilled by the handsome actor Toshiro Mifune, playing the jokester of the group.) Theirs was a world apart from everything I’d seen on TV, or read, or experienced. I loved Seven Samurai so much, I must have seen it seven times before I graduated from college. That was enough times to drill its story, characters, and setting deep into my brain.
Years passed. I didn’t get into medical school, and instead stumbled into a career as a quality engineer at an aerospace company in New Orleans. Trying to scratch a creative itch I’d had since childhood, I stumbled into a class on writing and illustrating children’s books. I discovered that I liked the writing better than the illustrating but I wasn’t any good at writing for kids. A light went on in my head: I should be writing mysteries, the kind of books I loved! And I’d already started learning how!
The brain is a dream factory. It takes random raw ingredients, mixes them together, and creates magic. After some false starts, I began writing Shinju, my first book about a samurai detective named Sano Ichiro. There now are seventeen books in the series. The latest is The Shogun’s Daughter. A lot of research, sweat, tears, and blood went into writing those books, but ultimately, they’re the result of a smashup between my father’s cop shows, Nancy Drew, and Seven Samurai.
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Monday, September 16
Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!
Tuesday, September 17
Review at Let Them Read Books
Wednesday, September 18
Guest Post at The True Book Addict
Guest Post & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books
Thursday, September 19
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Friday, September 20
Review at The True Book Addict
Interview at Flashlight Commentary
Monday, September 23
Review at Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews
Tuesday, September 24
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews
Wednesday, September 25
Review at Impressions in Ink
Interview at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!
Thursday, September 26
Review at Unabridged Chick
Friday, September 27
Review at Jenny Loves to Read
Review & Interview with A Bookish Libraria
Monday, September 30
Review at A Bookish Affair
Interview & Giveaway at Unabridged Chick
Tuesday, October 1
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Review at The Maiden’s Court
Review at Just One More Chapter
Thursday, October 3
Review at WTF Are You Reading?
Review & Giveaway at Broken Teepee
Friday, October 4
Review at Book Dilettante