Camy Tang, a Stanford-educated biologist researcher-turned-novelist, writes "romance with a kick of wasabi." Her novels feature Asian-American characters, dysfunctional families and plenty of sarcastic humor. Camy's latest book, Protection for Hire, is the first installment of a new romantic suspense series starring an ex-Japanese Mob enforcer and a transplanted Louisiana lawyer. (SEE: MY REVIEW)
Born and raised on the island of Oahu, Camy Tang now lives in San Francisco, where many of her novels are based. I recently got together with Camy to discuss ninja skills, her new novel and why Mendocino, California is so special to her this time of year.
Serena: Romance with a kick of wasabi, eh? Care to elaborate?
Camy: Wasabi is a very hot (sinus-clearing) Japanese radish condiment used to give a clean-tasting little spice or kick when eating sushi or any raw seafood (my dad LOVES this stuff). Most of my stories have romance in them, and wasabi, with its Asian origin, refers to my Asian characters, that "kick" of sass in my contemporary romance, and that "kick" of danger in my romantic suspense.
Serena: What made you decide to tackle the Japanese Mafia? (Oh, wait … if you tell me, do you have to kill me?)
Camy: LOL! I've always been fascinated with the Japanese Mafia because I grew up watching Japanese movies (subtitled!) with my father. A friend of mine, Danica Favorite, mentioned Mafia to me as a story idea and it seemed the perfect opportunity to write about the yakuza. I've also enjoyed the TV series The Sopranos (well, I enjoyed the humorous family scenes, not the violent ones) and wanted to write my own take on a crime family.
Serena: What kind of research did you do in preparation for writing Tessa's fight scenes? That girl's got some mad ninja skills.
Camy: My husband is a huge mixed martial arts fan, so I grilled him on some of the fighting moves, watched mixed martial arts training videos, and also watched a lot of live fights to see the rhythm and flow of an actual fight. Most movie fights are scripted, but they also tend to have better flow and so my fight scenes are somewhat scripted to give them better pacing on the page.
Serena: You have Mob characters named Fred and Itchy (short for Ichiro). Fred, while seemingly odd and dull for a Japanese mobster, suits the character so very well and Itchy definitely puts a level of swanky smarm in that character's persona. Do your characters "name themselves" as the story develops or do you go through a specific process to pick their names?
Camy: Itchy and Fred were names that grew out of the characters. I think originally I named them character A and B, to be honest! Then later, after I'd written a few of their scenes, they were changed to Itchy and Fred.
Serena: Most of your books feature strong female leads who come from backgrounds with dysfunctional (and often quite hilarious) family dynamics. Do you ever worry that your family and friends will see themselves in the pages of your books — and be offended?
Camy: I deliberately do not write any of my family members in my books. All my characters are personalities I come up with on my own or perhaps an idea suggested by a newspaper clipping or magazine article. I'm rather lucky because my own family is not that dysfunctional — quite boring, actually.
Serena: Before you began writing full time you were a biologist researcher. Do any of those research skills come into play when creating a new novel?
Camy: I have a scientific mind-set so when I'm plotting the mystery thread, I tend to go about it like a scientific study and bring my logic to the table. I've had two biologist heroines, Trish from Only Uni and Rachel from Formula for Danger, but I don't intend to make a habit of writing biologist heroines. I can write about pharmaceutical espionage only so many times before it gets old.
Serena: In your new novel, the romantic lead, Charles, refers to a wife-beater using a word that is not frequently found in inspirational fiction — some readers might even consider it mildly profane. How hard did you have to fight to include that word in your final draft?
Camy: While I and my publishers don't condone swearing, I do try to make my characters realistic, and because of Charles' abusive father and the scars from his past, he wasn't going to refer to another wife-beater as a "bad man." I think my editors understood that. I don't intend to offend anyone, I simply wanted to show Charles' intense emotion at the time.
(**Note to readers: see comments section of the review for more info!)
Serena: If Hollywood snatched up Protection for Hire and asked you to cast any three characters, which three would you pick — and who would play those characters in a feature film?
Camy: I've always visualized Jessica Alba as Tessa because I think she's gorgeous and because I loved her independent, kick-butt character in the TV show Dark Angel. Bradley Cooper would be a good match for how I envisioned Charles to look like, if Bradley had a syrupy Southern accent. And Charles' Mama is most like Betty White in The Golden Girls, sweet and a little dingy sometimes.
Serena: What is your favorite scene in Protection for Hire?
Camy: Hands down, the Fat Boy scene. I remember hooting and laughing to myself as I wrote it. My husband looked in on me in my office with that strange, "I'm not sure what's wrong with you, but let's hope it's not contagious" look on his face.
Serena: That was a good one! Do you intend to continue this new series straight away, or will you begin something new in between titles?
Camy: My next title for Zondervan will be the second book in the Protection for Hire series, and I just got the title: A Dangerous Stage. It'll release in late 2012.
Serena: When you receive a manuscript back from your editor (the first time) your knee-jerk reaction is to …
Camy: Eat chocolate. LOTS of chocolate. I'm serious. I don't even open the file for a couple days after I get it. I have to work up to the challenge of edits, get into the right mind-set, which is usually more logical and less creative.
Serena: If Tessa Lancaster (the lead character in Protection for Hire) met you, she would describe you as …
Camy: Cheerful and a little clueless. LOL
Serena: But Charles, the romantic lead, might say you are …
Camy: Intelligent but a little clueless.
Serena: Which of your characters from your past work is the most like you?
Camy: To be honest, a little bit of me is in all of them. I have the slightly manic character of Lex from Sushi for One?, the ditziness of Trish fromOnly Uni, and the organizational freakazoid-ness of Venus from Single Sashimi. Tessa is probably the least like me — she's the kind of capable woman I would like to be.
Serena: I've never been to San Francisco, but I've always wondered: Is the trolley an efficient way to get around town — or just cute?
Camy: Just cute. I actually got sick on the trolley. There, I have confessed my big embarrassing secret.
Serena: You work with teens at your church. Any plans to write a YA novel or series?
Camy: I've thrown around some ideas and I've prayed about it, but so far, I haven't gotten anything I'd really want to work seriously on. But who knows what might happen in a few years?
Serena: You seem pretty passionate about helping aspiring authors to hone their craft. Who helped you to develop as a writer?
Camy: Sharon Hinck (The Restorer series) befriended me at Mount Hermon Christian Writers conference and became my unofficial mentor for several years. She and I were both unpublished when we became friends, but she was a few years ahead of me in terms of craft and knowledge of the publishing industry. I also have to credit Randy Ingermanson, Brandilyn Collins and Meredith Efken for giving me guidance in terms of what books to read, how to perfect my craft, and how to learn about the market.
Serena: What are you reading this month?
Camy: I'm re-reading an oldie but goodie: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
Serena: Do you have any unique holiday traditions you'd like to share with our readers?
Camy: My wedding was in December, and my wedding cake was artfully crafted as a Christmas tree. Around the cake, my mom put Hawaiian-themed ornaments to decorate the cake table, and I took those ornaments home with me. For Christmas the following year, I got a (fake) wreath and put all my wedding ornaments on it, along with a short string of lights, and I hang this up in my window every year. It makes me happy because it reminds me of my wedding and also my family.
Serena: Besides your wedding, what is your most romantic holiday memory?
Camy: For Thanksgiving the year after we got married, my husband and I took a trip to Mendocino, Calif., to celebrate our first wedding anniversary a few weeks early. It was an amazing trip. We stayed at the Albion River Inn with a glorious view of the ocean and had fantastic food from award-winning restaurants in the area. We had a terrific time and since then, Mendocino has always had a special place in my heart.
Serena: Thanks, Camy! To find out more about Camy Tang, you can visit her website, CamyTang.com.