Magna cum Murder

crime writing festival

October 26-28, 2012

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SJ Rozan, Guest of Honor 2012 McM Festival
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SJ Rozan, Guest of Honor for 2012 McM Festival

Magna cum Murder Guest of Honor SJ Rozan has written 11 novels in a series, two stand-alones, and dozens of short stories. She has won the Edgar, Shamus, Anthony, Nero, Macavity, and Dilys Awards for Best Novel, as well as the Japanese Maltese Flacon Award and the Edgar for Best Short Story.


SJ RozanRozan, perhaps best known for her Lydia Chin/Bill Smith, has also been a Mystery Writers of America national board member, a Sisters in Crime national board member, and is the former president of the Private Eye Writers of America. She also speaks, lectures and teaches, and runs a writing workshop in Italy during the summer. SJ has also been a practicing architect.


She was an invited speaker at the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Switzerland in 2003 and was the guest of honor at the Left Coast Crime convention in El Paso in 2005. However, many Magna cum Murders will remember her as the Toastmaster at Bouchercon in 2009.


Should anyone be unconvinced by her achievements, this quote from her essay Edgar Allen Poe, Mark Twain, and Me may do the trick.


"From Twain I learned about character and narrative structure. And humor. Poe didn't have a lot of that. But from Poe I learned about language. The beauty of Poe's language still shines--I defy anyone to find a story more perfect in rhythm, cadence, and sound, sentence by sentence, than "The Tell-Tale Heart." ... and I also found in Poe something less tangible, but which resonated with me and still does: inevitability, and the laughable nature of human intention."


Dennis Lehane seems to believe that this is effective. "Hand's-down," he says, "she's one of my favorite crime writers working today. SJ Rozan can write sentences that literally make my jaw drop. To read her is to experience the kind of pure pleasure that only a master can deliver."


In a recent email exchange, SJ kindly responded to interview questions from Magna intern Ken Jones about her work and life as a writer.


What made you decide to write your first novel?

I'd always wanted to write, and when I finally admitted my work as an architect wasn't fully satisfying -- I enjoyed it, but felt something was missing -- I decided to try writing.


Where is your favorite place to write?

Home at my desk in my sunny apartment.  Second, outdoors by the river.  Third, in a coffee shop.


What inspired you to switch off between Lydia Chin and Bill Smith as narrators?

I started using Bill Smith as narrator, and Lydia Chin as sidekick, but decided I was wasting Lydia's potential by having her always seen second-hand.


What are some pros and cons of doing this?

Pros: I don't get bored, as some series writers do; and I get to approach the world two different fictional ways. 

Cons: it can confuse new readers.


What personality traits of Bill and Lydia make them fun to write about? Which ones make it difficult?

Bill's darker than Lydia, and more contemplative.  Also, he knows music and art, and to some extent, architecture.  His way of being in the world is closer to mine.  Lydia's more impulsive, though less sure of herself, but the advantage of writing in her voice is all the Chinese cultural focus I can bring.

What is your favorite non-mystery novel, or series, and why?

Oh boy.  This is hard.  I'll give you a few: 

  •  Margaret Atwood, Alias Grace
  •  Junot Diaz, The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
  •  Ha Jin, Waiting
  •  Jeanne Larsen, Silver Mirror
  •  Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

Books become my favorites when not only do I love them as I read them, but they stick with me for a long time afterwards.


Do you have a favorite among your own work?

No, though I always feel a particular warmth toward whatever the most recent one is, because I'm just coming out of living in that world.


You have won or been nominated for quite a few awards. Which means the most to you personally?

The Edgar, because it's a peer award.  I have to say, though, the Japanese Maltese Falcon was unexpected and quite a thrill.


What's next? More Chin/Smith? More stand-alones? Are you tinkering with ideas for a new series?

I always have ideas -- a Young Adult series with Linus and Trella (from On the Line and Ghost Hero), a new Bill book...  Right now, though, I'm working on a stand-alone thriller, which I'm writing with a partner.  It's my first collaboration, something I thought I'd never do, and we're having a blast!


Rumor has it that you are quite the basketball player. How true is this?

By "quite," if you mean you hear I play a lot, it's true.  In fact I'm off to a game as soon as I finish this.  But if you mean you hear I'm any good, all I can say is, don't you believe it.  


(Ken Jones is a senior at Ball State majoring in Telecommunications. )


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