Wednesday, June 03, 2009

When Detective Fiction Author Henry Chang Took Part at the Soho Crime Panel Last Week ...

I won't write a lot today about Henry Chang and his Jack Yu investigative series, set in New York's Chinatown and redolent of spice, threat, and complex cultures -- but that's only because I just wrote about his second book, YEAR OF THE DOG. Chang just nailed his first film option, with an independent film company that convinced him it would be able to sail well beyond the Charlie Chan image of Chinese detectives, to reach the dark reality of what he's writing.

Chang grew up in Chinatown in a bicultural environment, "So I can present these stories is a way that's familiar AND exotic." He added, "I'm kind of like the town guide that's gonna take you into the underbelly, and I'm having fun doing it."

With a past career that's included some forms of security work, Chang has the credentials to write vividly of the confusion and strain of police work. He's known his share of the crime association folks who people his books, too; but the stories take place almost 15 years ago, and he admits that most of the people who inspire his characters have long since settled into late middle age and quiet lives. (He's had one of them pat him on the arm and say "Hey, ya did good!")

"Outsiders are amazed by what they read in the book; insiders [today] don't go to the gambling houses et cetera" that house the tense action of Chang's Chinatown, he says. Bu there's one special way in which he connects his characters with his readers: through food. Everyone has a favorite Chinese dish, he believes, and he mentions many of them, along with foods that non-Chinatown folks will have to just imagine (and drool over) because they don't appear on the menu with General Tso's Chicken.

An active parent whose writing schedule has to allow for picking up his child from school (or taking out the trash), Chang writes in longhand, three or four pages at a time, at whatever time of day he can grab. He usually does thirty to forty pages before starting to type up the material -- at which point he's already editing his pages as he transfers them to the computer. His third book, with a first-draft deadline of July, was about 75 percent done when he arrived in the Boston area last week, but with a schedule that includes a BEA (Book Expo America) appearance and much more, he'll need every minute and all of the exhilaration of that last stretch to get it all onto paper in time.

Are Chang's neighbors worried that he's writing about them in his Jack Yu series? "Most of what I've written about Chinatown is 10 percent real. The neighborhood people are really just cheering me on." Some are shocked that he's translated their curse words into English, he admits wryly. "Nobody's chasing me down the street for my autograph, but it has got me a kind of notoriety -- more waiters (in the neighborhood) know that I write!"

No comments: