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Interview with Sujata Massey

Post by: Deepti Khanna

BookChums chats up with the warm, friendly Sujata Massey, who has authored a series of 10 mystery novels including the very famous The Salaryman's Wife, The Bride’s Kimono, Shimura Trouble and The Flower Master. Her books follow the story of Rei Shimura, who in the author’s words is “half Japanese, half American and young enough to be brave and fun and romantic.”

In the interview Sujata talks about how she came about etching Rei Shimura’s character, what she plans next and which other genres of writing would she like to experiment.

How was it writing a series of 10 novels on a single character Rei Shimura? How has the character matured, grown through this long journey?
I was really happy to start a series, because it meant I could keep writing about characters I'd fallen in love with. In other words: a book may end, but an author's affection for it does not. How much a character changes over a decade, though, just like the author! I started out as a newlywed with no children, and I think that my sleuth Rei Shimura was a bit devil-may-care. By the tenth book, she is utterly devoted to her father, nursing him after a stroke, and seriously considering marriage.


On the professional front, she moves from an English teacher in Japan, to an antiques dealer, then museum lecturer, restaurant designer, and US government spy. Oh, the things you can do with fiction!

When you wrote your first, did you have any idea that you shape this up like a series? What made you not create another protagonist?

I actually had fair warning, that if I wrote a mystery with one character, to prepare to write another. Traditional mystery series are supported by loyal readers who want to follow one character. I was happy to oblige.


As far as writing mystery goes, I really do like my character Rei Shimura; she's half Japanese, half American and young enough to be brave and fun and romantic.

How close Rei Shimura is to Sujata Massey considering both of you have mixed parentage? How many of your personal experiences are a part of Rei Shimura’s stories?
Ha!! You caught right onto the crux of the matter: I'm interested in representing mixed people. Too often I'm asked, "Do you see yourself as INDIAN? Do you see yourself as AMERICAN? Do you see yourself as GERMAN? Rei Shimura is not very much like me, except for the way that she loves both her parents and what they gave her; and how much she wants to be accepted by her relatives in their countries.

Recipes are such an important part of your blog. Sharing recipes that appear in your novels is a super idea. What made you share these with your fans/readers?
I mention food a lot in my work. Back in the first mystery novel, The Salaryman's Wife, Rei is cooking from a Madhur Jaffrey cookbook while living in Japan. Whilst eating sushi, yakisoba, and American pancakes. I spend hours each day cooking for my family. I probably lose writing an extra book a year to the food shopping, cooking and cleaning up that I undertake to satisfy my idea of what my fantasy needs. So of course i share recipes! On my site, they're mostly Japanese and Indian. I'm much more confident with Indian cooking than Japanese, because I grew up with it and still eat my parents' cooking on an almost weekly basis.

How did The Sleeping Dictionary happen? How different was it to write about an Indian character and settings?
The Sleeping Dictionary is the result of a ten year dream to write a novel with an Indian theme. I have thrown away many attempts at mysteries with Indian characters, memoirs about my life and the adoption of my two wonderful children from Kerala, and more. In the end I looked at the city which is our native place: Calcutta. And I thought about how every time I went to Calcutta, the old buildings and ways of life seemed to disappear; and how distressing this was for me. 


So I finally hit upon a theme, which was to write a novel set at the end of the Raj period there, about the amazing activities of the young freedom fighters, including women. It's a long historical novel with elements of espionage and romance; not a mystery at all. I'm still revising it because it's very long, but I hope to sell it not just to a US publisher but an Indian one. And to answer the second question, I had to reboot my brain to write about Indian characters and place, but I loved it.

Why did you decide to make two clear demarcations on your blog that separated the work on Japanese and Indian stories?
I hope the doors on my website aren't too confusing. I've had the website looking one way for a very long time and hungered for change. 


My idea is that people will discover me who are I made the demarcations because there are probably veteran readers who want to find the Rei Shimura information, and new readers who are more interested in Indian fiction.


My plan is to keep both doors open, literally. I hope the doors are inviting to people, and not confusing.

What do we see next? Rei Shimura or an Indian story?
The Sleeping Dictionary will be the NEXT traditionally published book that comes out; I've put a sneak peek on the website I invite bookchums readers to sample. After that, there will be a short novella set in 1920s Bengal that will be an Ebook release only although hopefully some foreign rights will sell for it. After that I have three possibilities I'm mulling over: another Rei mystery set in the aftermath of the Japan earthquake, or a novel about the aftermath of partition featuring the daughter of the main character in Sleeping Dictionary, or a novel about the early days of the Bollywood Talkies. The problem with writing is there are so many ideas, and not enough time to do them all.

A piece of advice you would like to share with upcoming writers?
My best advice to writers is not to worry about markets and networking but to just sit down and write the best book you can, show it to somebody you trust, and then improve upon it.

Any other genres of writing you would want to experiment.

In terms of other genres that seem appealing, I guess I'm starting to venture into historical fiction, and a sub-genre of that which I really like are novels about real historical figures. The challenge for the novelist is, you have the outlines of a person's life, and what people have said about them: and then you tell the story the way you think it really was. You can bring a lot of compassion to a historical character you believe was maligned; or highlight the secret underside of someone who has a very public image. This is obviously better to do with someone who's no longer alive to sue you.

A book you would love to reread…

You ask me about re-reading: I don't generally spend time on that, except for children's books, with my children. However, there are lots of books on my to-read pile. I hear very good things about Amitav Ghosh's latest novel, River Of Smoke, and Michael Ontdaatje's The Cat's Table, and Diana Abu-Jaber's Crescent. I download samples on my Nook E-Reader all the time and think, should this be the one to buy?

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