By Emma C.
Noir writer Steph Cha visited Pasadena City College in October as the PCC English Department's Writer in Residence. She visited several classes and also offered a workshop session where she answered questions from the student-audience. This piece is an edited collage of the Q&A from that workshop session. Steph Cha has been working on her 3rd book in a trilogy about a Korean-American investigator.
On taking rejection:
Cha states that she was never notified if a publisher had rejected her work only if they accepted it, so she had no reaction at all to rejection from publishers. She did however get rejected by agents who she asked to represent her. Her overall feeling about rejections is that it helps to keep you humble and to have thicker skin. She realized that by being rejected, she was not writing for everyone because not everyone will connect to her story but appreciates though who do.
On being the first female author to write Korean-American Noir:
Cha feels that mystery is predominantly written by white older males and that ethnic communities in the mystery genre aren’t being explored at all. She is surprised to find that no mystery novels touch on minority groups since there is so much to touch on when it comes to these minority groups cultures and taboos.
On developing characters and setting:
Cha’s main character is based off herself, giving the protagonist her voice. Most of her other characters are also partly based off of real people she knows. Cha finds it is easiest get a character down based on people’s real life reactions to certain situations. Her settings are also based off places she is familiar with, like Los Angeles. Cha suggest to stick with a place you know very well to create a natural setting and if you want to change that setting, you should do research or travel.
On the Armenian Genocide as the topic of her latest book:
Cha puts emphasis on his historical event since she has Armenian friends who feel strongly that the Armenian Genocide isn’t given enough attention and is not recognized as an actual historical event that occurred.Cha also shares similar feeling to her Armenian friends, she too feels that some parts of Korean-American past history is neglected and never talked about. She believes that a culture and its people are meant to be heard, your people’s history is what you leave behind to continue a story.
On developing story, plot and getting her thoughts out on paper:
Cha states she is not married to plot. She wanted her novels to develop in an organic way and plot would restrict that. For Cha’s writing to get down on paper, she states to do exactly that, put your thoughts on paper. For Cha her novel came to her when she had finally decided to sit down and type.
On valuing knowledge and experience:
For Cha this was a tough question to answer, she explained that experience changes you in a way knowledge doesn’t really do. All experiences are valuable, and that experience helps build character.
On knowing when she wanted to be a writer:
Cha stated that being a writer was her “pipe dream," she believed that writers were a special breed of people. She never really got directly into writing since she never knew anyone who wrote so instead took to reading as an indirect way to get into writing.
On teasing her fourth novel:
Cha’s new novel will take a different turn, it will center around the 1992 riots and shooting in Los Angeles. Specifically on a Korean female store owner who shoots a fifteen year African -American girl over stolen orange juice and serves no time in jail. Her book will follow the lives of these characters around that time and talk about the racial tensions that occurred at the time as well.
The last question that Steph Cha was asked for that day was if she ever had any moments of doubts. She answered everyday but it shouldn’t stop you. “No magic goes into a novel just your effort”