Today, I have a guest—mystery writer Suzanne Chazin’s new release, Land of Careful Shadows.
“Hits the heart, not just the pulse, with people you come to care about. First rate and highly recommended.”—LEE CHILD
A body is found in a reservoir fifty miles north of New York City. The victim is young, female and Hispanic. In her purse, the police find a photograph of a baby they believe is her daughter–a little girl they can’t identify. Or find. Where is the child? Is she still alive? And what is the meaning behind the disturbing note in the woman’s bag? “Go back to your country. You don’t belong here.”
Arriving at the scene is homicide detective Jimmy Vega, who spent the better part of his childhood in the area and still carries the scars. A Latino himself, Vega knows all too well how hard it can be for an outsider to fit into a close-knit place like Lake Holly. Even now, as a respected officer of the law, he has to watch his step in an investigation simmering with ethnic animosities and steeped in local gossip. Both challenged and intrigued by Adele Figueroa—a passionate defender of immigrants’ rights who reminds him uncomfortably of his own family’s struggles—Vega must rethink everything he believes to uncover long-buried truths about his community, his loved ones . . . and himself.
Filled with drama, mystery and raw emotions, Land of Careful Shadows shines a nuanced and timely light on a small town’s darkest secrets and deepest obsessions. It is not only a tour de force of literary suspense, but an intimate journey into the human heart.
I asked Suzanne to comment on her writing process and inspiration for her writing. Check out her website(address below) for more about Land of Careful Shadows and Suzanne.
Q&A on the writing process with Suzanne Chazin, author of Land of Careful Shadows, the first installment in the Jimmy Vega mystery series to be released November 25th, 2014 in hardcover from Kensington Books:
How do you come up with book ideas?
I’m curious by nature. I think writers have to be. The curiosity can be about something you’ve experienced or something someone else has experienced. But you need to feel drawn to that sense of wonder and surprise at the human condition.
My new series started from personal curiosity. My family and I were living in Mount Kisco, NY when my son was small. I was writing my first mystery series back then, about the FDNY (my husband is a chief in the New York City Fire Department). Every morning, I would take my son for a stroller walk downtown. I was struck by all the Hispanic men waiting for day-labor jobs by the train station. Even in the bitter cold, they were there and many of them went un-hired. I started to wonder about their stories—where did they come from? What had their life been like to make standing out there a good alternative? I wanted to find a way to explore their stories that didn’t feel heavy and preachy. As a mystery writer, I am always interested in stories that
Whether you write from your own personal experience or not, I think every good story comes from the unanswered questions inside of you.
What about that old adage: write what you know. True or false?
Writing, to my way of thinking, is always an exploration. Even people who write about their own lives are writing what they don’t completely understand in the hopes that the process of writing will sort things out more clearly.
A better adage, I think, is to write what you “want” to know. This could be trying to understand your parents’ divorce, a friend’s betrayal or—in the case of Jimmy Vega, the main character in my new series, how to come to terms with who you are when you never feel like you belong.
Tell me about Jimmy Vega. How did you come to write about a male Puerto Rican detective:
I’m a first-generation American and an only child. My father was born in Russia and my mother was born and raised in England. My parents didn’t really understand the cultural norms of suburban America in the 1970s. We weren’t the family that hosted barbecues or belonged to the PTA or rotary club. We didn’t follow football or baseball. You got good grades in school and got an after-school job as soon as you were old enough to work.
I understand immigrants. I understand that single-minded desire to succeed. But it can take a toll in the sense that you often feel different from your peers. There is always the sense that you’re an outsider looking in.
I have always been drawn to writing characters like that in my fiction. In my first mystery series, about the FDNY, my main character was a 5-foot-2-inch female firefighter-turned-fire-marshal. She was a short woman in a world of big, macho men. Although my husband is a firefighter, I have never stepped inside of a burning building. Still, I felt entirely comfortable inhabiting the skin of a woman my height who had to take on a challenge and prove she was capable. I think all women at some point find themselves in a position where they have to prove they are as a capable—if not more—than the men they’re around.
It may seem a leap to go from my fire marshal, Georgia Skeehan, to Jimmy Vega, a male, Bronx-born Puerto Rican homicide detective. But if anything, Jimmy is more like me than any character I’ve ever written. He constantly straddles two worlds—that of his traditional Puerto Rican upbringing and the suburban cop world he inhabits now. He is not traditionally religious. He has no political agenda. Because he’s not entirely enmeshed in any one point of view, he tends to be able to see most things with a dash of skepticism and humor.
What advice would you give to a beginning mystery writer now?
The world of publishing is much more difficult than it was when I started my first series. A manuscript has to be in pristine shape before an agent will take it on or a publisher will publish it. You need to be willing to write and rewrite your work—and don’t be shy about hiring an outside editor. An experienced eye is worth your time and money because often, once an agent or publisher rejects a book, they won’t look at it again so you don’t want to go out with anything that isn’t the absolute best you can make it.
About Suzanne Chazin:
Suzanne Chazin is the author of two mystery/thriller series. Her first, about the FDNY, include The Fourth Angel, Flashover and Fireplay. The series has been called “searing and emotionally explosive” (USA Today), and her heroine, fire investigator Georgia Skeehan, “incredibly strong” (People Magazine).
Chazin’s newest mystery series stars Jimmy Vega, an upstate New York cop navigating the world of the undocumented. The first book in the series, Land of Careful Shadows, has just been released by Kensington Books. “Timely and engrossing,” writes Publishers Weekly. Jimmy Vega is, “engaging, psychologically complex,” and the story “builds to a shocking conclusion.” Lee Child raves: “Hits the heart, not just the pulse, with people you come to care about. First rate and highly recommended.”
A former journalist, Chazin’s essays and articles have appeared in American Health, Family Circle, the New York Times, and People. She has twice been the recipient of the Washington Irving Book award for fiction. Her short fiction appeared in the anthology, Bronx Noir, which won the 2008 Book of the Year Award for special fiction from the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association.
Chazin has taught fiction and non-fiction writing at New York University, The New School for Social Research and Sarah Lawrence College. She was a 2012 writing fellow at Purchase College and is a frequent guest lecturer on writing at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC.
Her website is: www.suzannechazin.com