Debbi Mack interviews mystery author S.G. Wong.
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Debbi: Hello everyone. This is the Crime Cafe. This is your podcasting source of great crime, suspense and thriller writing. I’m your host, Debbi Mack. Before I introduce my guest, I would just like to remind you to check out the Crime Cafe link on my website, debbimack.com where you can find buy links for the Crime Cafe Boxed Set and Short Story Anthology. It’s only $1.99 for the boxed set and $0.99 for the anthology and you can also subscribe to the podcast there. And now, it’s a great pleasure for me to introduce my next guest, a woman who writes in the hardboiled mystery genre, which I love and also has an awesome female protagonist, S. G. Wong. Hi, S.G., how are you doing today?
S.G.: I’m doing well Debbi. How are you?
Debbi: Fine, thanks! I had the pleasure of reading your first Lola Starke novel Die On Your Feet. I just thought it was so, such an interesting concept.
S.G.: Thank you.
Debbi: How about you tell us about Lola and her companion, so to speak, Aubrey [laughs].
S.G.: So, as you mentioned my series protagonist, her name is Lola Starke, and Lola lives in a city, I call Crescent City. I created a world for her and it’s based on 1930’s Los Angeles, but the premise is “what if the Chinese had colonized rather than Europeans” and then I also imagined ghosts being a regular part of life in Crescent City. So, Lola’s constant companion, Aubrey is invisible to Lola but she hears him. She hears him just fine. Oftentimes, she’s not happy about hearing what he has to say, but you know those are the best sorts of, you know partnerships. Dramatic partnerships are, you know, when they’re at odds. It’s really fun to write. So, Lola is a bit of a trust fund baby, but she’s actually also a private investigator. She chose that path because of her father who worked at one of the studios in town. So, since it’s based on, you know, not a very close reading of 1930’s era L.A., but sort of this Hollywood glamorized version that we all sort of have (those of us who don’t actually live there). So, there’s a movie studio, there’s a movie studio system and so Lola’s father used to work as a fixer for the studios and she’s kind of gotten into that sort of problem solving career. So, that’s who she is and her companion, Aubrey. Yeah, her ghost [laughs].
Debbi: That’s really something. The first book ends in a way that’s not really a cliffhanger, but really strongly suggests an interesting sequel. That’s all I’ll say about that.
S.G.: I’ve actually…well so far, I mean now it’s 2018 isn’t it? There are three books out in this series so far, and I’m actually busily working on a prequel novella. It’s actually a re-working. I actually had finished it back in July of 2017 and then you know how it is, Debbi when you’ve done something and it’s okay, but something’s not quite sitting right with you, you know as the writer. And so I sat with that for months, and I finally decided in December I had to re-write the whole thing because it just was not quite working. So, I have no idea when that’s going to be out [laughs], but I’m working on it. And then, in terms of the continuing novel series, I have an idea to do three more books. Books Four, Five and Six I guess it would be. Sort of like a trilogy within the larger series because I have a really long story arc I want to explore. So, that’s what’s on deck I guess, as they say.
Debbi: Wow, that’s fascinating. I realized that you had some books after the first one and I was curious about what kind of story arc Lola had without giving too much away over the course of those books.
S.G.: Right. So far books One, Two and Three and thank you very much again for your lovely, kind words about book One, Die On Your Feet. So, the two books after that, the second one is called, In For A Pound and the third one is called, Devil Take the Hindmost. They aren’t like a serial in that you can read them out of order. Although, to be perfectly honest, everybody prefers, they tell me they prefer to read them in order because there is a progression to Lola’s character and especially her relationship with Aubrey, her ghost and also her relationship with some of the other people around her; her family and friends. So, it’s three different cases entirely. I have a much, you know, larger, longer overreaching character arc for Lola. I have some things planned for her that will really test her mettle and that, I think, is just a personal preference. I like reading stories where, especially with serious protagonists, you know where they are challenged; they are really put through their paces, and I like as a reader to see what happens. How are they going to grow? So, you know, it makes sense I guess as a writer I like to score that on my own as well; in my own art. So, there’s not really much to give away. Bad things happen [laughs] and Lola has to figure out what to do about it. Almost like every book [laughs].
Debbi: She has her ghosts to deal with [laughs].
Debbi: Literally [laughs]. The interesting thing is combining this paranormal sort of element with hardboiled mystery.
Debbi: Was there something that came out of the science fiction or fantasy literary tradition that inspired you to combine those two things?
S.G.: Right. I’d have to back up I guess. As a child, I read a lot of fantasy. Not as much science fiction. I didn’t get into any science fiction until maybe after university really. So, later in my 20’s I guess. But I loved fantasy, and I read the classics. Of course, I read Tolkien. I read this hilarious wonderful fantasy series of five books by David Eddings, called The Belgariad. They’ve since admitted that he mostly wrote that with his wife, Leigh, but at the time, you know in the early 80’s they weren’t crediting his wife. They were just crediting him. So, it’s nice to see that she can claim some of that work, because it’s a really fun series. Anyway, it’s fantasy series, you know epic fantasy, high fantasy but really classic quest fantasy. Whereas what I write, I suppose you could think of as like urban. Not urban fantasy in the sense of, I guess what its come to mean is vampires and werewolves and things like that. Not quite like that. I read that stuff too, for sure. It’s more the idea that, you know, what if we lived in a parallel world. So what if Lola lives in a parallel world where ghost as magic is normal and then what would it look like? So that’s really I guess, that’s more the tradition that I’m writing in. Alternate history I guess is an easy way to say it.
Debbi: Alternate history. That’s interesting.
Debbi: Just out of curiosity, have you ever read, Death is a Lonely Business, by Ray Bradbury?
S.G.: I have not.
Debbi: You should give that one a look because he’s, you know what he used to [write]?
Debbi: That was his little foray into hardboiled mystery and at the same time there was an element of the fantastic to it.
Debbi: Kind of creepy, Bradburyesque hardboiled mystery.
S.G.: Yeah, no I just wrote that down [laughs]. You know, as writers we love book recommendations.
Debbi: Oh, yeah. And I also have to ask if you’ve ever read anything by Mercedes Lambert?
S.G.: No, I have not. Mercedes Lambert.
Debbi: Yeah, she wrote…she was able to write three books before she died in the series about Whitney Logan…
Debbi: Who in the third book, called Ghosttown there are elements of magical realism that come into the story and Native American culture and it’s really interesting. It takes place in California.
Debbi: Los Angeles and very good, very good books. All three of them of them are, but the third one was like, started to get out there. She was getting out there a little bit [laughs].
S.G.: Okay. When was she publishing?
Debbi: This was back in the 90’s I think. I think it was the 90’s. But I just remember that she had died not long before I really started to do anything in terms of self-publishing and all that kind of stuff.
Debbi: I just remember feeling like, oh that’s such a shame because those three books were so wonderful and she also wrote under her…that was her pen name. Her birth name was Douglas Anne Munson. She wrote a novel called, El Niño under that name….
Debbi: Which was also very good. I think she might have been a lawyer. That was one of the things I liked about her that she dealt with the legal system in her work and I remember El Niño was about the juvenile justice system, which is one of those things that really kind of concerns me a lot I know.
S.G.: Okay, yeah, yeah.
Debbi: Anyway, you know you might be interested in those.
S.G.: Yeah, I will check those out.
Debbi: Especially Ghosttown, because when you talked about the fantastic and everything that book was starting to get out there into the fantastic.
Debbi: So, anyway [laughs].
S.G.: I could spend a whole hour exchanging book recommendations, I’m sure.
Debbi: I know, yeah. We could talk about that sort of thing forever. You said that Crescent City was inspired to some extent by Los Angeles. You know you have the studio system and everything.
Debbi: Was there any other location that played into your description of it? Because I really had a vivid sense of the place.
S.G.: Really? Oh, thank you!
Debbi: Of the tile joints, you know, kind of like gambling casinos in a way. Almost like a Vegas or Reno atmosphere.
S.G.: Yeah. You know what? I did not have an actual location that I based that on. That was really all my take of Chinese culture. So, I know from first-hand experience [laughs] that gambling is a huge part of Chinese culture; very, very large part. So, any city that would be, you know settled or found like my fictional Crescent City would have been, would definitively have involved gambling establishments everywhere. Not only for residents, for people who are citizens of this city, but also for tourists as a way to bring tourists in. It just seems like a natural thing. I’ve never actually thought, oh, maybe people might think it’s like Las Vegas, so that’s so funny that you brought that up. Now, I’ll have that in mind. I’ll be ready the next time someone asks me [laughs].
Debbi: [laughs] I just happen to think of that, you know.
Debbi: Because that gambling aspect was in there so much, and I like the way the book touched on social issues.
S.G.: Thank you.
Debbi: That’s something I’m always looking for in good hardboiled mystery writing.
Debbi: And noir writing.
S.G.: Yeah, well, I do think in a way it’s inevitable if one’s writing in that tradition. So, by no means, I am not by any stretch of the imagination an expert on hardboiled or noir traditions. I’ve done just a little bit of reading. I am a very huge fan of Raymond Chandler’s, Philip Marlowe series, like a huge fan [laughs]. One of the things I noticed while reading Chandler is you cannot avoid social issues, I think. He certainly didn’t and he made much of them, you know whether it was in the foreground or the background. There’s just no way to separate I think realistic characters in a dark kind of the underbelly of any given city, any large city. You can’t avoid social issues then. If you do, I think readers feel there’s something missing. There’s some added depth that’s missing. I’m so grateful that you noticed and you commented.
Debbi: Well it’s wonderful and yes, the Chandler influence is definitely, definitely there and I love Raymond Chandler.
Debbi: As well as Dashiell Hammett.
S.G.: Yes, yep, yep.
Debbi: Those guys were fantastic.
S.G.: Yeah, they were. I mean I’ve dipped my toe into reading more classic noir, so I also cite David Goodis as someone that I just, I can’t get into. It’s actually a little, it’s too bleak for me. But, I recommend him to people who are wanting to find out more, you know and of course I have my huge big black book of American noir and yeah and Black Mask and all that stuff.
Debbi: Oh, yeah. Definitely! There’s some wonderful stuff from that magazine.
S.G.: Yeah, yep.
Debbi: Let’s see. What authors would you say have most influenced your writing?
S.G.: Well, I think we’ve already touched on that. It would be Chandler.
Debbi: Other than Chandler.
S.G.: Other than Chandler…I think, I don’t know if this would qualify as an answer, but one of my favorite current authors now writes historical mystery/romance novels, Deanna Raybourn and one of the things I love is her…she’s so good with the historical details. So, I really like that. I mean, there are so many different authors who are wonderful with historical details. There’s a Canadian author, Susanna Kearsley, same thing. Their attention to historical details is really inspiring for me. So, I do take inspiration from both of those authors. They also write wonderful novels, and to see how they weave together what’s clearly a lot of hard work in the background during the research with their lovely wonderful narratives. I find that inspiring. So, the two of them, I guess. Yeah, I mean I make up so much of my stuff and I…there’s so many authors that I read and it’s like, well I must take a little bit from everyone, right?
Debbi: Yeah. I know what you’re saying.
S.G.: There’s a…oh, another author that I had the honor and pleasure of meeting is Patricia Briggs. So she writes what is commonly called urban fantasy. She has a series. It’s the Mercedes Thompson series. She has two series actually and they’re both set in the same world, different protagonists. But what I take from her is how she creates an entire world and society and also how she’s so great at zooming in on the relationship of her protagonists. Whether it’s with, their romantic significant other or just everyone around them and how there’s an entire community that she creates and it’s so believable. So, I’m really inspired by that, too.
Debbi: Hmm-hmm. I was going to say you do a great job of painting a picture of the Chinese culture; of that community of the relationships between Lola and the people that she knows.
S.G.: Thank you very much.
Debbi: Her relatives, her ghost, her various dealings with people.
S.G.: Yeah, I had the pleasure of being on a radio show here locally in Edmonton, up north here and the interviewer asked me, you know what would you say your books are about? How do you answer that? And it just popped into my head. I said they’re about family, the ones that we are born into and the ones that we make, and so your comment about the riches of that, thank you very much. I feel like yeah, I succeeded in one aspect. But yeah, it’s important to me to portray Lola as part of a larger whole, I guess, you know of a larger community that she’s really not all on her own, despite how she might think.
Debbi: Yeah. She does, she’s very independently minded, but she is within a community of others who are connected to her.
S.G.: That’s right.
Debbi: Whether they’re alive or not [laughs].
S.G.: That’s right! Yeah, exactly. I mean even in real life the people that we’ve loved in our lives and who’ve loved us who’ve died, who’ve passed on, they’re still with us, right? So, this is just… my series is one way to maybe to dramatize those ties.
Debbi: I like that.
S.G.: Yeah [laughs].
Debbi: That’s good [laughs]. That’s really clever. I never thought about it quite that way, but you’re right, yeah. If the series were adapted into a movie or TV show…
S.G.: Oh gosh.
Debbi: Who would you imagine playing Lola?
S.G.: Oh my [laughs].
Debbi: I always have to ask this question.
S.G.: I wonder…I thought like, oh, it could be Angelina Jolie, but I think she’s too beautiful [laughs]. That’s such a terrible thing to say, because then who do I say next? I say someone next, I’m saying they’re not beautiful, but that’s not what I mean. I did have someone in mind and now I’ve forgotten who it was. Yeah, I don’t know. Hilary Swank might be able to pull it off I think. I mean she definitely has a range. It’s not about that, it’s that I don’t know if she’s tall enough [laughs].
Debbi: You’re looking for someone tall?
S.G.: Ish, right? I have a couple of times where I mention that Lola is much taller than the general populous [laughs]. But, you know because she’s not Chinese, right? So, for the most part in my experience most of the Chinese people that I know in my life, we’re not that tall [laughs]. So, yeah, I don’t know. I would say Angelina Jolie I guess, but she may be a little too mature. There has to be a certain kind of, you know, youth toughness. You know, the toughness of youth where you just kind of put it on and think that that’s enough, when really everyone can tell it’s just, it’s really just a mask.
S.W.: Yeah, yeah. I’ll have to think more on it. Maybe I’ll like tag you on Twitter once I figure it out [laughs].
Debbi: I’d be interested in knowing. Yeah.
Debbi: Is there anything else you’d like to add before we finish up?
S.W.: Oh gosh! Well, first of all, of course, is thank you so much. Thank you for spending some time with me and giving me two great, three great book recommendations. I’m going to look into them. What else? Well, I was thrilled to write as a guest post for you. I hope you’ll take a look at that, because it talks a little bit more about the background for Crescent City and Lola’s situation. But, yeah I don’t know it’s like I want to say other things, but there are too many things to say. But, thank you. Thanks so much, Debbi.
Debbi: Sure thing! But, everybody don’t forget to enter S.G.’s giveaway. She’s giving away her book. The first one correct?
S.G.: Yes. Yes, actually that’s a good point. So everyone if you, yeah, if you actually if you send me an e-mail saying that you read the blog post or you heard the podcast, I’m actually giving away a digital copy of a Canadian mystery magazine to everyone who e-mails me and then if you would also, people would also like to win a copy of that first book, a print copy, then I will do a draw of everyone who says, please put me in the draw. And if they say they want to subscribe to my, of course my reader’s group list, then I will put them in the draw and then I’ll let them know and handle all the shipping and sign it to them or not, depending on what they want. I have people say, “Please don’t sign it because I might give it away.” [laughs]
Debbi: Yes, yes.
S.G.: I say, that’s great as long as you’re spreading the love, that’s awesome.
Debbi: That’s it. That’s what it’s all about [laughs].
S.G.: I hope that wasn’t too confusing. So, e-mail to say you listened to the podcast or read the blog and you’ll get a copy of a mystery magazine and then if you join my reader’s group, you’ll be put in the draw to win a copy of this, of this book that Debbi Mack has said she’s enjoyed [laughs].
Debbi: I loved it! I really did.
S.G.: Thank you! Oh, wow!
Debbi: I wouldn’t say that if it wasn’t true.
S.G.: I believe you, yeah! You’ve made my day. You’ve made my week!
Debbi: Excellent! On that note I will just say, thank you so much for listening and thank you for being with me, S.G. and in the meantime be sure to also check out debbimack.com, The Crime Cafe link where you can find the buy buttons for the Anthology and the Boxed Set as well as the podcast subscription buttons. And, until next time, happy reading.
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