In order to give the book the feeling of "being there" I wrote many of the scenes in the actual locations in which they were set. I did the same thing for scenes in other parts of China, Japan, and Hong Kong.
My friend Ken, who was working at the Holiday Inn Vista in Shanghai at the time, was of great help with both the Mandarin and the Shanghai-ese, which is a distinct language/dialect.
The mystery has always been the major focus of my literary interests. I always loved the classic writers like Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. I have also always loved mythology, fantasy, and the supernatural. My Masters Degree thesis was about the mystery novel as a popular form of displaced quest literature.
There were many other such moments over the three years I spent writing the book but perhaps the most memorable (and amusing--in retrospect, though it wasn't too funny at the time, came When I was trying to visit the location of the demon's temple in Suzhou.
Two of the main characters are from Hangzhou--and some of the roots of the mythology behind the mystery came from certain places here. So I spent a lot of time in that city and went to some lesser-known spots, such as the Lingshun, God of Wealth Temple, located on a mountain in the extensive grounds of the better-known Lingyin Temple (see China).
The result is a depth of information in a story that ,without directly intending to, has ended up also funny and ironic in a Candide-like way.
I visited many places in China, but stayed in Shanghai for weeks at a time, writing this story.
In the Asia of Shanghai Passion, the Hong Kong characters speak Cantonese, the Japanese characters speak Japanese, and when Chinese are speaking to Chinese, their dialogue is in Chinese. The reader can get their meaning by the character thoughts, which are relayed in English and the action and context of the scene.
I worked for three years on a mystery novel set in China called Shanghai Passion. I traveled to China many times to research this book. Ironically these trips contributed just as much to my non-fiction book and they did to the novel, as I went places and studied and did things I probable would not have done otherwise.
All of the Chinese crime cases being reviewed by the character of Inspector Luo in his file 杀人魔王 Sha Ren Mo Wang, (Serial Killers) are real police cases, including Yang Xinhai, the "monster killer," responsible for 67 murders and 23 rapes.
If you look at the top left corner of the painting and at the picture on the admission ticket above you will see I found the real place!
In Asia, I have experienced street life and rubbed elbows with power players. I have lived in four countries and always seem to arrive in the middle of a major news story.
The sense of place in Shanghai Passion was uppermost in my mind. When travelling in China, the dominant feature of the environment is s the sound of the language. I always hated the way English books would represent foreign places by having everyone speaking English. I wanted to do something different in Shanghai Passion. When non-English speaking characters speak dialogue to each other, I wanted them to speak in their own language. This was a bit of a challenge
Chinese mythology is full of ghosts and demons--mixed with history. I found one demon story in particular that seemed suited to weave into a mystery novel.
Asian Dreams is a non-fiction narrative that relates my experiences living in Asia. The photos and comments in the About -- Life in Asia sections of this website are a small sample of that life.
I have researched a different Chinese myth and even planned a sequel.
The Shanghai police procedures, the Hong Kong Triads, the names and description of the guns--everything was as close to the real thing as I could make it.
This is not something I planned and looking back, I sometimes wonder, how did I end up having this life?
Enter for an adventure!
...and, of course, Amy.
I felt like the young detective in the novel when I approached the monks to ask them about the demon. Using Google translate and some photos of the old Chinese mythological writing, I asked if he had heard of the demon. He looked somewhat troubled and said something in Chinese, which translated to "Dont think about it, just pray."
In Hong Kong with my friend Mr. Tung and his wife and son. I had met him at the Vista when he traveled to Shanghai on business. I talked to him and his wife at length about traditional Chinese families in Hong Kong in order to make the triad family in the story as authentic as possible.
I started a blog that combined all of these elements...
This resulted in some unusual experiences. For example, there is a gunfight at night in winter in a deserted orchard outside Shanghai. I had a very confused taxi driver take me to the real orchard in the story, which is a tourist and family attraction wherein people can pick their own fruit off the trees when it is in season. But this was winter in the middle of a very cold night and it was dark and deserted--exactly as it would be in the scene. I sat under a bare tree in the darkness to write it. I paid the taxi driver to wait. I think he was convinced I was crazy.
Researching Chinese mythology became a passion and I traveled to many places where some of the stories had origninated.
I am happy to say that the people who have read the book really enjoy it. Below are some early reviews and comments.
The Mystery Fantasy Book and Story Blog, found at mysteryfantasy.com.
I had been to trade shows for various products in different conventions centres in the US and Japan, so I sat on the floor here and imagined the garment manufacturers trade show that Sam, the lead character attends when she arrives in Shanghai. I also had a chance to visit a garment factory and hang out all day.
Reed Johnson, Los Angeles Times
I also included a glossary for those who want to know exactly what was said.
When I tried to relate the place I wanted to go and the story behind it (see the painting from 1755 below), no tour guide knew what I was talking about. One fellow We drove around and went to many of the wrong places--but finally found the actual site!
The idea for the book started when I was writing my MA thesis at California State University Dominguez Hills about the mystery novel. I was especially interested in the multicultural mystery and the idea of using real mythology as part of the mystery, like The Da Vinci Code.
When I was a university professor in Japan, I traveled to Thailand and China on my holidays. I was facinated by the richness of Chinese culture and its seemingly endless history and complex mythology. And as a setting, I was especially drawn to Shanghai. CLICK HERE for my experience in China and Shanghai.
Thank you so much for sharing Shanghai Passion with us! We all fell in love with it and couldn't stop reading. I can't remember any mystery I've enjoyed more--even the Sookie books. Of course we all loved the Chinese mythology. How could you write all that dialogue in Chinese? And we are talking about all going to Shanghai now! But what all the ladies loved the most was Sam. I can't believe a man could write a woman character so perfectly! Jess reminds me of you. (I hope you don't gamble.) Anyway, please let us know when it is published. And you said you are writing a sequel set in Chongqing? I can't wait! Best regards.
Chongqing Women's Book Club
And without intending to, Shanghai Passion turned into a "period piece," a snapshot of China during the go-go early 2000's.
Another Hong Kong friend, Matt, who I had also met in Shanghai, took me around some of the seedier parts of Jordan and Mong Kok, where the petty triad criminals and prostitutes hang out. I researched the OCTB “Organized Crime and Triad Bureau.” .
I confused some more people when I got a taxi to go to the New International Expo Centre, a large convention centre (where there were no events at the time) in order to describe the taxi ride and sit in the giant auditorium and imagine the fashion trade show that Sam, the lead character, attends.
The idea for the story of Shanghai Passion began to jell in my mind and I began to spend lots of time in Shanghai to immerse myself in the city and conduct research in every way I could.
I walked all over Shanghai with my laptop and infused the story with the feel of the city, from its glamorous nightlife to its street scene.
During my time in Asia, I have been working on several book projects.
Robert Badal, A Writer and Teacher
Here is a sample:
Doing the language and cultural research about Hong Kong and Cantonese, I came across Amy Leung many times, as an author and teacher. I contacted her to order her books, we became friends, and then fell in love! I flew to Hong Kong from Korea, where I was living and teaching, and proposed. We were married in Hong Kong.
Ghost City Passion continues the story of Shanghai Passion with a new mystery in a different Chinese place wherein an ancient ghost story comes to life. Chinese Atlantis
As a teacher, I am always looking for books and stories that will hold kid's interest --and also are the right reading level. This is also a big challenge in encouraging adult ESL students to read fiction.
“Ben dan! Ben dan! Ben dan!” Luo shook his head. Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! Sometimes the ineptitude of criminals astounded him. Another body had been discovered. The killer or killers had tried to hide it the previous night in the wet cement of the foundation of a new high rise under construction. They obviously had no idea that what looked like a deep lake of liquid cement was crisscrossed with steel bars to give it additional strength. The body had sunk a few centimeters, then settled onto the steel lattice. As the body had stiffened and gone into rigor, one of its hands had drifted to the surface and an early-morning worker had spotted it, raised out of the dull mire as if in supplication.
She had been taken out of the concrete swamp and was on the ground now. And she was definitely a she. The wet grey cement still covered her, but had slid off so patches of skin and what had been a red dress showed through. And the goo that covered her could not disguise the length of her hair, the shape of her breasts or the curve of her waist. What skin showed was distorted, but not so much, so it was obvious she was young. She was somebody’s daughter. Somebody’s baby.
The Special Inspector stood and watched as the dandified Detective Lu and the rumpled Detective Tang circled about and the police photographer snapped pictures. As Luo’s eyes passed over the young woman’s still form, they settled on something around her ankle. He knelt down and with the tip of his pen gently lifted…an ankle bracelet. The wet cement did not adhere to it very well, so it dripped off to reveal some delicate pink stones. Luo stared at it. Girlish, not sexy. The kind of sweet innocent thing…he straightened up and gripped the edge of the square cement support pillar he was standing next to as he felt the color drain from his face. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, then he turned and barked at the nearest officer, ”Yi dan cha dao ta de shen fen, li ke tong zhi ta de jia ren! Ba shen fen ge ren zi liao li ke dai lai!”
He wanted to know her identity ASAP. He wanted her family to know too. If they were missing her, the sooner they knew the better. They would have to formally identify the body too. This was something he was definitely not looking forward to.
His eyes traveled back to the sad form on the ground and he crouched down next to her again. Two forensic technicians were carefully washing off the cement and taking samples as they went along to not compromise the evidence. Both of them swore when they revealed her once lovely neck, now marred with the same gaping throat wound that all of the victims had. Luo could also see she was wearing garters with stockings under her dress. He nodded his head. She was an escort, he was sure of it. He stared at her. Who were you? Why did you have to die? His brain whirled around. Escorts. Powerful men or street lowlifes? Drugs? Is the killer crazy? Or wants to look crazy. Random or systematic? Triads? A power struggle? He thought of the American woman’s rant about Shanghai’s gangs. Pickpocket gangs. ‘Maybe something changed.’ He rubbed his thumbs on his temples, “Bu ke si yi.”
The overall effect gives the reader a feeling of being there .
Recently I rediscovered a fantasy love story in verse that I wrote many years ago, The Ballad of the Morning Light. It actually had come to me in a dream and is a lovely story of a magic prince who risks everything to find his true love. I read it at some events and had met a fantasy illustrator who made a wonderful mock-up of a book. But I moved and lost track of her. I have tried to find her once in a while over the years, but never did. I would like to find a new illustrator and do something with this.
But I did. You can see some of it on the pages of this website. I also kept notes that juxtaposed my "on the ground" stories and experiences with the major news events that were happening. I also tried to give a historical and cultural context in order to share some of the insights I have gleaned.