Sunday, November 6, 2016

Q&A with Suzanne Chazin

Suzanne Chazin is the author of the new mystery novel No Witness But the Moon, the third in a series featuring detective Jimmy Vega. Her other books include Land of Careful Shadows and A Blossom of Bright Light. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including American Health and Family Circle, and she lives in the New York City area.

Q: Your third book in the Jimmy Vega series deals with a topic that’s very much in the news: a fatal shooting by a police officer. Why did you decide to focus on this issue?

A: I had just finished writing the second book, and I knew a third was under contract. The book was finished at the same time as the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson. Everybody was caught up with that.

My main character is a police officer, and the coverage looked at the victim’s side…I spend these books looking at the immigrant side. The cops are not allowed to speak about anything, and I wondered [about the perspective] of a cop who had shot somebody, not in malice.

[I thought,] I can’t do this. I can’t have Jimmy kill someone. Then you can’t like him. But that is why it has to happen…this is someone we are predisposed [to like].

I found a book a cop had written about two line of duty shootings that were ruled justified. I thought, What does this mean? It was scary. I realized…people could say they either hate Jimmy or think Jimmy was totally justified…Just as with the immigration story, this is very complex.

Q: How do you think your characters Jimmy and Adele have changed over the course of the three novels?

A: They’ve grown together. In the first book, they meet each other; there isn’t the long-term trust. The second book is the first crisis; he thinks he will lose her. At the end, you sense they’re in it for the long haul. The third book is a test: You thought you were going to make it work.

Adele is always uncomfortable with the fact that he’s a police officer. One thing I like about Jimmy and Adele is they are aware that they’re testing each other because of what they do for a living.

In the third book, Jimmy recognizes that if he were in Adele’s shoes, he couldn’t support someone who had done the wrong thing. It goes deeper than whether she loves him.

It goes to her integrity. If he’s done something wrong, she can’t stand up for his actions. Each has to decide, Can the relationship survive?

Q: As in the previous two novels, this one focuses on the issue of undocumented immigrants. Given the current political climate, what do you hope readers take away from the novel?

A: I do have readers who simply read them as mysteries, and say, I guessed the bad guy, or, I didn’t.

People have their own political beliefs. I hope I’m providing a window into something they may not otherwise know. We’re in a period where people are too busy yelling at each other and not trying to understand the other side.

I’m hoping to provide the opportunity to help understand [something] from another point of view. I hope people say, I don’t speak Spanish…and I didn’t think about what [immigrants] go through [or] I didn’t think about what it means to be a police officer and have good intentions. Change someone’s mind—no, but [provide a] broader point of view.

Q: How do you choose the titles for your novels?

A: I start by looking at Latin American poetry in translation. I look for phrases that speak to me. Pablo Neruda is probably the most famous—I wanted to use something of his.

"No Witness But the Moon" [from a poem where Neruda discusses going back to places to find himself] struck me as a perfect mystery title, and the whole story brings [Jimmy] back to the place he’s [from]. He has to stand by his convictions when no one is next to him. The moon is it. He’s an island. Nobody is a witness except the moon…

Q: Are you working on book four?

A: I am on deadline now! It’s called A Place in the Wind.

Q: Can you say anything about it? 

A: I’m always looking for new ways in. I haven’t dealt with DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals]--children who come as small children without papers, and grew up here with no connection to their homeland.

I’m always looking for controversial moments. Adele runs an immigration center, and a young tutor, blond-haired, blue-eyed, volunteers to teach English there. She walks out and disappears. Thoughts go to someone in the center [as being involved].

It brings to the fore people’s feelings and how they’re changed by the circumstances at hand. It’s coming out this time next year!

It’s a juggling act—I want to continue to talk about important issues, and fiction books have a long lead time, so it’s hard to gauge the world in the future. And my aim is to tell is to tell Jimmy’s story.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: All the books can be read by themselves. If people read [one book], they have everything they need. But if you read the series, each book deepens the characters. You know [from the earlier books] that Jimmy’s mother was murdered. In the third, you get to see [more].

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. For a previous Q&A with Suzanne Chazin, please click here.

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