Suzanne Chazin is the author of the new mystery A Blossom of Bright Light, the second in the Jimmy Vega series after Land of Careful Shadows. She also has written the The Fourth Angel, Flashover, and Fireplay, another series featuring a FDNY fire investigator. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The New York Times and People.
Q: How did you come up with your characters Jimmy Vega and Adele Figueroa?
A: This is the second in a series. Land of Careful Shadows was the first. I had been working before all this with the undocumented population, and had gotten a fellowship to do a nonfiction [project] with them. The centers [I was working with] said this is too realistic, we can’t put anybody at risk.
I felt these stories had to come out. I had written a previous series [of thrillers]. I wanted a police detective [as the main character]. I wanted to make him Puerto Rican, someone who straddled two worlds. His life was similar, but wasn’t similar.
For Adele, I wanted his love interest to be someone who didn’t see the world the way he did. I had interviewed the children of people who were undocumented. I felt I wanted to create a character [with that background]. He is cut off from his heritage. I wanted someone with a clear sense of identity, and a fire in the gut to do something about it.
Q: You’ve discussed why immigration is a big topic in the novel—is there anything more you’d like to say about the issue?
A: When I first wanted to write real stories, around 2009, people said, Why are you doing this? It’s going to fade. I have no crystal ball, but I felt…my background, I’m not religious, but Jewish—I felt there was a shoah here. Not to compare them, but people had suffered, and there wasn’t someone bearing witness here…
I am unqualified—I’m not a speaker of Spanish, I’m not Latino—but even so, I felt connected, and that someone needs to bear witness. When I was stymied in telling the real stories, I felt I needed to tell it [somehow].
As the situation went on, I felt it would be historical—but not at all. I can’t hope to capture what’s going on at the moment when the book comes out, but it turns out it’s a very contemporary [issue]. As of January 1, they’re knocking on people’s doors and hauling them away…
One of the first people I interviewed was a carpenter from Honduras. He said the organization is never going to let you print this. It’s too scary. No one ever felt safe or comfortable.
Q: As you mentioned, this is the second in a series. Did you know when you wrote the first Jimmy Vega novel that you would be writing more?
A: I did write it as a series. When I wrote my first novel about the FDNY, I didn’t know. Then it was sold as a two-book deal. Being 10 years older and wiser, I realized I would do it as a multi-book thing. I wrote unresolved [issues] into the book.
Q: Was the writing process different with the second novel as you developed the characters further?
A: Every book you approach with a certain level of terror and anxiety! But in a sense, you never travel the same road. When I wrote the first novel, I thought I had written everything I had to say, and then I found more. The third is coming out in November 2016. Now I’m starting the fourth, and saying I don’t know what to say!...
The long-term plan, we are a nation of immigrants. We all come from somewhere else. [I’d like] to talk about it and relate in a broader spectrum.
Q: So now you’re writing the fourth novel.
A: I’m at the terror stage—no title, no story line, no nothing! You always have things going through your head. With A Blossom of Bright Light, I knew the first book had not addressed the breakup of a family that’s here.
I knew I would address it, but the question is how you put that into a mystery. Usually there’s something underpinning the story. The question is how you make it into a thriller. I have readers who only read for the mystery aspect and others [who don’t].
Q: Who are some of your favorite authors?
A: I really love The Tsar of Love and Techno. I love Anthony Marra. I love Dennis Lehane; I love his series. I’m an eclectic reader—I will read nonfiction, fiction, pretty much anything. I like Kate Atkinson. Julia Spencer-Fleming—when I was doing Land, I asked her to blurb it. She has very textured family stories.
Right now I’m reading a book called The Girl with Ghost Eyes, about Chinatown, San Francisco, at the turn of the century.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: For every writer, the frustration is that you want the audience to appreciate it. I’m sometimes frustrated when people say, I love the characters, the three-dimensionalness of the characters, but the story should move faster. But that’s how you make characters! You give them time to grow!
I love to open up a world…[for myself and readers] to live a life that isn’t theirs.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb