Author Studio Interview with Sujata Massey
I had met Sujata several times at Twin Cities Sisters in Crime events, but knew very little of her life or her writing. What impressed me most about the interview was how much and how easily the author talked about her life and travels, family and work, writing and reading habits. Colin asked inciting, open-ended questions, and Sujata responded by engaging the audience with fascinating details of her history and experiences.
Born in England, to a Bengali father and German mother, Sujata evokes the rich cultural sensibilities of someone who has traveled extensively, but who also had the opportunity to immerse herself in another culture. When she was five, Sujata's parents emigrated to the US, and the family lived in different cities across the country. After graduating from Johns Hopkins University in 1986, Sujata worked as a newspaper journalist. Several years later she got married, and Sujata and her Navy medical officer-husband, moved to Japan. And there she began writing fiction.
It took four years for the author to complete The Salaryman's Wife; afterwards, she received the Agatha Award in 1996. According to Sujata, her protagonist, the sassy and intelligent, Rei Shimura, is multi-cultural and bi-lingual, essential tools to help her weave in and out of a variety of social customs and cultural mores.
We also learned that Sujata is an avid antiques shopper, a student of clothing design and long-time, art history lover. Her diverse interests show up often in her books, peppering locales and works of art with layers of description. At the same time, it is important for the author to use relevant themes and real-time, human concerns.
When asked about her personal approach to writing, Sujata gave us enduring advice: write the book you'd like to read, that does not exist. She also said that writing takes patience and involves a ton of rewriting and polishing. Sujata's habit is to write for a few hours in the morning after her children leave for school. The author also loves to walk and exercise, and believes that physical activity is a great boost to creative activity.
What does a popular author reads? Currently, Sujata is reading historical fiction, including writers such as, Lisa See, Amy Tan and David Gaughran. When it comes to suspense and mystery, Sujata is a fan of Ruth Rendell and Laura Lippman. (Of course, Sujata mentioned other books and other writers - but it's been more than a week - insert smiley face here!)
Now, I feel I can say something about The Salaryman's Wife. I liked the book on page one. It moved quickly, and although the book was a light and easy read, it emitted the luscious flavor of tone and story that only a writer who is very passionate about her character and the surrounding culture, can project. The main character, Rei, is nothing, if not inventive and assertive, at least outwardly. Concurrently, she battles internal confusion and identity questions, which often, and interestingly, inform her sleuthing strategies.
And, as I come to the end of my first Rei Shimura book - there are ten books in the series - I feel like I really developed a relationship with Japan because the entire novel was painted with colorful sights and sounds and smells. Sujata excels in description. Finally, I am struck by something unique in Sujata's writing style. In the book, narrative, often, will follow a line of dialogue like a runaway train. As a reader, I can actually feel the letters and words pulling me to the next scene, to the next reveal. I'm not done yet, but I'm already hungry for more Rei Shimura.
Sujata has been very busy these days. While winding up The Sleeping Dictionary, her first historical fiction novel taking place in India, the author has also been gathering information about the ongoing Tohoku tsunami relief effort, the background for the next Rei book. This summer Sujata plans to travel to the devastated region to do volunteer work.
For more information on Sujata Massey:
TheAuthor's Studio will convene once more this season at 10:00 a.m., May 9, 2012, at EAC. Colin will be interviewing David Bredeen, novelist/poet. The Author Studio will break for the summer and be back in the fall.
Colin Nelson is a Twin Cities attorney and a board member at EAC. Comments on his first novel, Reprisal, can be viewed on Goodreads