Saturday, January 18, 2020

Basset hounds and finding her voice through Yelp reviews: an interview with Steph Cha

Kia ora and haere mai, welcome to the first instalment of 9mm for the New Year (and new decade). 9mm has been running for almost a decade itself now, on and off, and today marks the 212th overall edition of this author interview series.

Thanks for reading over the years. I've had tonnes of fun chatting to some amazing writers and bringing their thoughts and stories to you.

You can check out the full list of of past interviewees here.

If you've got a favourite crime writer who hasn't yet been featured, let me know in the comments or by message, and I'll look to make that happen for you. Even as things with this blog may change moving forward, I'll continue to interview crime writers and review crime novels.

Today I'm very pleased to welcome the brilliant Steph Cha to Crime Watch. A Los Angeles native of Korean descent, Steph first hit the crime scene back in 2013 with FOLLOW HER HOME, an edgy amateur sleuth tale that introduced Korean American investigator Juniper Song. One of my favourite crime writers, Denise Mina, raved about Steph's debut, calling it: "compelling from first to last page" and "LA Noir at its finest", praising Steph for taking on contemporary Los Angeles, "sweeping the reader through Chandler's twilight, heartbroken city from mansions to faux K-town hostess bars."

There have been three Juniper Song novels, but more recently Steph has been getting huge raps from peers and reviewers due to her stunning standalone YOUR HOUSE WILL PAY, which was released in the United States late last year and in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand this week. Inspired by a real-life case somewhat entwined with the LA riots in the early 1990s, YOUR HOUSE WILL PAY is an extraordinary novel; character-centric crime fiction with plenty of social consciousness. I loved it.

If you enjoy novels that explore social issues and race relations, or just very well-written crime fiction, I'd highly recommend grabbing a copy of YOUR HOUSE WILL PAY.

But for now Steph Cha becomes the latest storyteller to stare down the barrel of 9mm.


1. Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
I think I have to go with Philip Marlowe here. I’m an LA native, and I came to the genre through Raymond Chandler. I love Marlowe’s wounded idealism and wry voice, and like many a crime novelist, I started writing in conversation with Chandler. Of the contemporaries, though, (and I’m cheating here, since you only asked for one) I love Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins, Sara Gran’s Claire DeWitt, Attica Locke’s Darren Mathews, and Michael Connelly’s RenĂ©e Ballard.

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
I read a picture book when I was very small called Sayonara, Mrs Kackleman. It was by the artist Maira Kalman, and it was full of fun images and wordplay. I also remember loving the Amelia Bedelia books and The Phantom Tollbooth, probably for similar reasons. These books showed me the delight of language.

3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
I’d written a couple of short stories for an introductory fiction writing class. There was no crime involved—I remember one of them was about an immigrant Mom calling her American daughter a cunt. I’d also written hundreds of Yelp reviews, and I honestly think they helped me find my voice.

4. Outside of writing, touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
I love to eat, drink, read, and cuddle my basset hounds. I also enjoy word games and poker and the occasional jigsaw puzzle (I can’t do them regularly, as I become fixated). I will make an excellent retiree.

5. What is one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn't in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn’t initially consider?
They should eat as much Korean, Thai, and Mexican food as they can manage. LA is home to every kind of person - it’s what makes the city great - and there’s no better way to experience it, in one glutton’s opinion, than to eat your way through its many neighbourhoods.

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
I’d have to go with Awkwafina.

7. Of your books, which is your favourite or a little bit special for you, and why?
The new one is my favourite. I’ve liked each one of my books better than the last - I’ve only written four, so I’m still improving with every one just because I go back in each time with a whole novel’s worth more of experience. Your House Will Pay is the most ambitious and expansive of my books. I spent a long time on it, and it turned out the way I wanted.

8. What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut story in book form on a bookseller’s shelf?
I was thrilled, of course. I remember getting a phone call from my first editor while I was on a temp job and taking it in the hallway outside my office. It had been a year and a half since I finished my first draft of Follow Her Home, and I’d gone through the whole process of finding an agent and editing without knowing whether the book would see the light of day. It was such a relief and a joy to have it accepted, and I loved seeing it for the first time at my local bookstore.

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
I don’t know about strangest, but I’ll tell you a recent one that I rather enjoyed. I did a reading at a bookstore in San Francisco, and two women I’d never met before came with their basset hounds. They’d discovered my writing through an essay I wrote years ago on the cult of the basset, and somehow ended up reading my very unbassety crime fiction. One of the basset gentlemen had quite a bit to say when I was taking audience questions. I spent a lot of time petting both him and his friend during the signing. I would encourage anyone reading this to bring bassets to my events.

Thank you Steph, we appreciate you chatting to to Crime Watch. 

You can find out more about Steph Cha and her writing at her website, and by following her on Twitter

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