As with most authors in my social work, I know Souther California-based author Sarah Chen mainly via Facebook, though I did have the pleasure of meeting her at a Noir at the Bar Seattle live reading event (and will again on August 5).
Vivacious and personable, Sarah is yet another of those fast-rising crime authors (though she is working on a YA novel, too) whose pleasant presence belies a darker, deeper undercurrent, funneled creatively into her work.
Mystery and noir fiction (there is a definite marketing distinction) attract a wide variety of authors as well as readers, the main link being the vulnerability of human nature to temptation as well as the futility of fighting one’s own fate.
Sarah explores and expounds on these universal themes not only in this brief interview, but in her beautifully crafted work, which is highly recommended to anyone that wants to study the art of writing, or for anyone just looking for a successful escape…
What attracts you to the crime genre?
I’ve always been drawn to stories of the loner, the misfit, or the underdog since I was a kid. Probably because that’s how I felt growing up. Lord knows I still do. I think crime fiction is the perfect vehicle for these types of characters, people who are driven to the edge for whatever reason. We are all flawed even if it appears we got our shit together. What drives a “normal” person to commit a crime? To plan a murder? Crime fiction appeals to my fascination with moral ambiguity.
How do your experiences as a private investigator assistant inform your work?
It has been fantastic for material. I’ve written several short stories based on actual claims we worked, the most recent being “Nut Job” (in Last Resort, the latest Sisters in Crime / LA anthology) about a nut cargo heist. We investigate insurance claims, mostly cargo thefts and tractor-trailer accidents, boring stuff. Although there’s been some cool field work, like the time I did a stakeout in the Hustler Casino parking lot or where I had to riffle through someone’s mailbox to see if a witness lived there. I’ve served subpoenas which I hate doing, but people are more likely to open the door for me rather than my boss.
Do you see hope for the ongoing longevity of fiction in today’s multi-media entertainment/information world?
I think there will always be an appetite for fiction and storytelling. We may have a shorter attention span and there is a lot more noise out there, but people like to be transported to a different place. Life can be mundane or troubling (especially lately) that we need that escape.
What are your influences, literary and otherwise?
My early inspiration comes from film. I studied it in college and worked for many years as a studio script reader. When I saw movies like Pulp Fiction, Wild at Heart, Natural Born Killers, True Romance, and Heathers, I thought, now these are the fucked-up stories I want to tell. I was always an avid reader as well, and Charles Bukowski remains my literary hero. My private investigator boss is the one who introduced me to crime fiction, notably Patricia Highsmith, Elmore Leonard, and Mo Hayder. I also love YA and will read anything by Andrew Smith and Tommy Wallach.
What’s next for you?
I have several short stories coming out this year and early 2018, including a Johnny Cash anthology by Gutter Books and a collection for charity called Killing Malmon with Down & Out Books. Meanwhile, I’m polishing up my first full-length novel.
See you again soon, Sarah!
Sarah M. Chen juggles several jobs including indie bookseller, transcriber, and insurance adjuster. She has published over twenty crime fiction short stories with Shotgun Honey, Crime Factory, Betty Fedora, Out of the Gutter, and Dead Guns Press, among others. Cleaning Up Finn, her noir novella with All Due Respect Books, is shortlisted for an Anthony and an IPPY award winner.
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sarahmchen .
PHOTO: SARAH M. CHEN