Archive for Rei Shimura

When Writing Series, Third Time’s the Charm

This post originally appeared on Murder Is Everywhere.

Daisy’s checking up on the day’s progress

Did anybody ever tell you that it’s easier to raise three children than two?

I am fine with the two that I have, but I’m beginning to believe the saying could be true.

Especially when I think about books.

If each book a writer births is like a child, I have fourteen. I am like the old woman in the shoe, and all my children are troublesome in different ways.

But this week it’s been a lot easier. Every day that I’ve powered on my laptop to write, I’ve had an idea of the next sentence.  The words have been flowing now better than they have in years. That is because the book I’m writing is Untitled Perveen Mistry, the third book in a series.

Having been in print for more than a couple decades, I’m starting to draw some conclusions. Don’t hire me to teach any writing courses yet, but I’ll tell you that the third book is the magical point when a writer finally gets comfortable writing a series.

Okay, I’ll admit the first book is usually the most exciting part of writing a series. Book One is totally novel. A first book lays out the protagonist’s backstory and introduces me to her family, lover, friends, career, and the world where it all takes place.

The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey

Book One for Perveen Mistry!

Because it’s a first book, there is plenty of time to flesh the characters and build the location. Editors don’t usually accept Book One without it being written in totality, so there’s not so much pressure (this was completely different for The Widows of Malabar Hill, which was written on spec for Soho Press. But the pub date stretched so I could revise it to my heart’s content).

My very first Book One was published in 1997 and had the typical lifestyle for such a creature. I wrote it over the course of four years of suffering and was thrilled beyond my imagination when The Salaryman’s Wife was accepted by HarperCollins. I will take off my hat to everyone who has finished writing a first novel, whether or not it made it to print.

After writing this first book in my Rei Shimura series, I discovered that the second one, Zen Attitude, came surprisingly slowly. Even though I had a due date to motivate me and could reuse characters from the first book, I still felt stalled. I remember trying many drastic

behavior changes to push myself to be someone stronger and capable of writing Book Two.  I changed my diet to avoid meat (it lasted two years). I ran daily around the Hopkins track. I went on research trips, not just to Japan but to a Buddhist monastery in update New York. I was thirty-three, childless and without the curse of a day job. I had no real pressures in life outside of the book… yet  I stared at my desktop day after day and wondered if I really could write more than one book.

The first three books of the Rei Shimura series

Rei Shimura’s Book Three, The Flower Master, was—ha, another story! I don’t remember much about the process, except I began the book in India when I was staying there due to delays with my daughter’s adoption. I did not have so much as a laptop with me, so to work on Book Three I had to go to my grandfather’s office where there was an old desktop with viruses galore where I could ply my trade. I had a lot on my mind—but I still was able to proceed at a reasonable pace with this book. Frankly, it was kind of mental retreat.

I have enjoyed writing the Rei series, but as time passed, I wanted to try something new. I had spent all that time in India–and I wanted to go back. In 2006 I began writing a long historical suspense novel titled The Sleeping Dictionary. That first-book process lasted more than four years, and the book was hard to sell. By the time it came out as a Simon & Schuster paperback in 2013, I felt all the work I’d done made it a natural opener for a new series. I figured that Book Two would occur several years later, when the daughter of the protagonist in Book One could grow up to be a moody teenager caught up in the horrific violence after India’s partition. I knew my characters well and felt the plot was sound, but as I worked on this book, showing my agent revision after revision, I never got farther in than a few chapters.

Writing a second book is always a struggle, and during that time, I was busy with two children and had no energy for tricks like changing my diet or starting a new sport. Also, there was no contract for the unwritten Book 2, which translated into no time pressure to press on with it. I also understood the book’s themes of violence against women and religious intolerance were darker than anything I’d ever written. Would my longtime readers be willing to spend so much time in sadness, when I thought writing this could put me into depression?

The Sleeping Dictionary by Sujata Massey

This “book of my heart,” first in a series that might never be.

The second book in the Daughters of Bengal series was simply too daunting for me. I chucked it. Although I did not give up on the idea of revisiting it someday.

I’m working on my third series now. It’s about Perveen Mistry, Bombay’s first woman lawyer working in the 1920s. I’ll admit that while The Widows of Malabar Hill (Book One) was very exciting to work on, Book Two was a pain to write. This time I could partially blame my struggles on a health issue. Lyme Disease was diagnosed after nine months and I bucked up with medicine, acupuncture, and Ayurvedic herbs. Heck, I got so excited about Ayurvedic herbs I worked them into Book 2 (because it’s set in the mountains of India, it’s not such a stretch). And this Book Two, The Satapur Moonstone, had a deadline. I turned it in a month late, it still needed serious revision, but I’d done it!

I’ve come to understand that only when I slay the dragon that is called Book Two can I get to the love affair with Book Three. And while it won’t be a romance that makes writing every series book feel like fun, it feels like being on honeymoon this week.

Book Two of the Perveen series slated for May 2019

Kizuna Coast Lauch

Kizuna Cherry FB COVER 04 png

It’s almost time for The Kizuna Coast.

I’ve finished most of my revisions and am waiting for corrections from my copy editor and some other important first readers who really know the book’s setting: the Great Tohoku Earthquake of 2011.

The 11th Rei mystery begins on the muddy, shattered coast, and then moves back to the edgy nightclub and artistic world of Tokyo…and ultimately, to the truth.  Starring characters include Rei’s old friends Mr. Ishida and Richard Randall, and the Yohohama Shimura relatives.  New friends include tsunami survivors, volunteers, and a very sniffy Akita-Beagle mix dog.

Right now, pre-0rders of the E-Book are available at Amazon for a special intro price of $2.99.

E-Book distribution will go to multiple platforms sometime in the new year. Pre-order E-Books will arrive Dec. 15–in time for long holiday plane rides. Oh, and don’t forget about the GIFT button on the book’s sales page . . . when you want to surprise someone.

GIVEAWAY CONTEST  just in time Hanukkah and Christmas

brideskimono-hcI’m celebrating the book launch starting now with a giveaway of 11 previously published hardcover Rei novels. (11 because this is the 11th book in the series.) You could be one of the crew who receives a rare signed 1st edition hardcover! If you check how much the out-of-print hardcovers are valued book-selling sites, you’ll realize what a special gift this could make for someone. Entrants for this contest, please be sure that you have a mailing address within the U.S.; but the most important thing is to send me a screenshot or forwarded email from Amazon about your pre-ordered Kizuna Coast.

If you sign up for my free author newsletter Asiafile at the same time (or are already a member) let me know in the message you send me and you will be entered TWICE. You can send me an email using the “contact sujata” button that’s all over this website. Pretty easy!



Interested in a bound book with paper pages? Trade paperbacks and hardcovers will be available worldwide in December in stores and at online book retailers. More information on paperback and hardcover options, plus the audiobook, will be forthcoming. Sorry, the “real” books are not available for pre-order, so aren’t part qualifiers for the contest.

Thank you, friends!

The Road to the Right Cover

I just ate three five chocolates to celebrate the fact that my book’s cover design is finally approved. This was more than a three month process. The talented artists at Simon&Schuster went through four designs before resulting in this one:

I like the bold red and gold, the cozy, interesting vintage bed, and the opened book on it. And I’ve got to say, cover designs that match the writer’s dream don’t usually come together. Here’s how it happened.

Years ago, when I started writing The Sleeping Dictionary, I thought there was a strong chance I would self-publish, so I got an account at Istock, a photo image shopping source. There I saved a “lightbox” of good images I might one day use. I gathered pictures of ornately carved doors, intricate textiles, graceful young women in saris, and also, a very romantic, canopied bed (all right, it was a Moroccan bed, but I would sleep in it any day!) Then my book was sold to the amazing Kathy Sagan at Simon&Schuster…and I thought I probably wouldn’t look in the India lightbox again.

Writers don’t direct their cover designs. Our skills are typically stronger for words than graphics and images. Therefore, we are offered “cover consultation.” The art department comes up with a design, and if you absolutely hate it, will prepare another one for you to consider. Fortunately, I’ve never heard the swearing that must be inevitable after someone sweats for weeks on a design that I’ve rejected.

Over the last ten books, I’ve had thirty-plus covers, if you count all the US hardcovers, the foreign editions and trade and mass market paperbacks. Generally, for the paperbacks and all foreign published editions, I know nothing about what the covers look like until a box of finished books thuds onto my porch. Still, my favorite Rei Shimura cover design of all time is the very first one. How I love the face and Mount Fuji-san…let’s forget that only elderly farmers in Japan would ever wear such a conical straw hat!

The early cover design ideas for The Sleeping Dictionary appeared in February. I’d post them if they were not lost in the Iclouds. But I remember them! Both cover ideas were sepia toned photographs. The first was a teenaged Indian girl wearing a North Indian dancer’s skirt and blouse. She was smiling and frolicking in a meadow. The other was an image of a naked Victorian lady seated with her voluptuous back and buns facing the viewer. Now, there is a short chapter in the book about naked photographs…but this cover was from a different era, featuring a European! There was nothing ugly about these cover designs–but they just didn’t connect with the material inside the book. Quietly praying to myself–they will change the cover!–I sent my editor a polite note with suggestions and a link to the sepia toned photos of Calcutta from the University of Pennsylvania’s magnificent collection and also the image of the Moroccan bed from Luckily she adored the bed, and a month later the art department came up with a cover featuring their own Indian bed.

I was so thrilled with the publisher’s willingness to put a nice-looking bed with a red coverlet on the cover that I didn’t have the heart to make any comments other than they maybe brighten up the red. But in my long-ago imaginary design for self-publishing, I’d thought there should be a book on the bed. It turned out I didn’t need to say this, because the assistant publisher was struck by the idea herself, and voila!

But we weren’t done yet.My agent suggested that the book was awkwardly large–and the green didn’t play well with the red and gold. At a publishing meeting in New York, I mentioned that the book might look better if it was opened, like someone had been interrupted while reading. Again, the publisher listened–and a nice new book appeared on the bed!

The Sleeping Dictionary will be released August 20. But you can pre-order it now through Amazon or any bricks-and-mortar bookseller. If you do this, and you’d like something special from me now, I’ve started mailing out signed, personalized book plates to stick inside the books. Pre-orders REALLY help the book to succeed…and right now I still have the time to send out bookplates in a timely fashion! I will sign personal messages to you, your mother, your friend, your school library…whoever! Just email me the details of where you’ve ordered The Sleeping Dictionary, and where I should mail your bookplate.

Hey! If you would rather have the book’s title page signed in ink by me, simply email one of the early bookstores on my tour–like Once Upon a Crime, Centuries and Sleuths, Mystery Loves Company, and The Ivy. They’ll take pre-orders and get the details from you on what I should write on the page. And rest assured that your book will be mailed straightaway once I’ve had it in my hands.

Shimura Style: a fashion critique

Blogger Sabrina catching up with The Samurai’s Daughter

So far, this spring has been a plodding one. I’ve been working so hard on the next Rei book for that I’m feeling a bit fuzzy and plan a shopping break tomorrow with my mother.

Still, my thoughts aren’t far from Rei, who’s also experiencing the Ides of March, but in Tokyo. How I  wish I could get her into something cuter than what she’s been wearing for the last couple of chapters ( men’s jeans, and a newsboy cap and North Fleece down coat). I had an email conversation with Sabrina Chun, a Facebook friend and longtime reader about Rei’s fashion style, and the fashion challenges for petite women who exist outside the world of fiction. You can check out Sabrina’s outfits at her blog,

Q: Sabrina, tell us about where you grew up and how you became a fashionista.

Sabrina: I grew up in the Bay Area (the East Bay, specifically) in a small city forty minutes from San Francisco. Even at a very young age, I still remember my grandmother buying patterns and cloth, sitting at her sewing machine and making me clothes. Ever since then, I’ve always been interested in what to wear, how to wear it, and to wear it well. I also loved reading magazines. Certain haute couture editorials and spread for each season struck me as so beautiful and creative! Also, fittingly enough, novels and literature played a major role. I really enjoy it when authors describe what their characters are wearing–which is part of the reason why I love Rei Shimura so much!

Q. You’ve mentioned that you enjoy the clothing in the Rei books–thanks a lot. Are there any outfits that stand out in particular books?

Sabrina: I’m an enormous fan of vintage. Like Rei, I adore rummaging through my mother’s closet to borrow pieces, although they’re lesser known Taiwanese brands from the 1960s and ’70s. Rei’s style strikes me as feminine but functional; she seems to only favor heels when needed. I love how she runs from professional to dressy to casual, just like me. This is exemplified in The Flower Master, where she is first shown in a casual outfit with her beloved Asics, then is in a flirty little red slip dress and heels on a night out, and later is dressed in an exquisite Japanese kimono for a party.

Q. Rei wears kimono more often than the typical woman in Japan. What are your feelings about young Asian American women wearing national dress?

Sabrina: I greatly encourage young women to embrace their cultures! Although I’m definitely very much an American girl in most respects, I do love my Chinese and Hawaiian background. When the occasion arises, I try to wear cultural clothing; for this past Lunar New Year, I donned a qipao (traditional Chinese dress for women). And there are definitely ways to take traditional items and make them modern again. For example, in one of my posts I wear Chinese style shoes that work surprisingly well with my outfit.

Q. Have you encountered any fashion violations in my books that make you cringe (like her running wear)?

Sabrina: As a whole, I very much enjoy Rei’s fashion choices. But like you mentioned, I would probably nix her wearing athletic shoes (that is, if she’s not actually running). My personal picks are heels, boots or flats, but I understand that a sleuth would need to get around quickly!

Sabrina goes Grecian in Chinatown

Q. There is usually a climactic scene toward the end of each book where Rei winds up wearing a dramatic costume to pull off solving the mystery. She wore anime attire in The Floating Girl, a formal kimono in The Bride’s Kimono, a Lolita look in The Typhoon Lover, and dyed her hair blond for Girl in a Box. Did any of these transformations speak to you?

Sabrina: I have noticed and I love it! It speaks of Rei’s incredible resourcefulness, cleverness and versatility. To me, those costumes are not only interesting to read about, but they serve to further emphasize to both the audience and our heroine what has been learned in regards to a different Japanese subculture–be it Zen Buddhism, anime and manga, or the intricate details of Japanese kimono.

Q. Hugh wears Thomas Pink shirts and Hugo Boss as well as other European labels. Michael dresses all-American in Brooks Brothers. Takeo wavers between Greenpeace T-shirts and loose linen Japanese designer suits. Who’s hottest? Do you have tips for any of them on how to look better?

Sabrina: The hottest for me would have to be Hugh. I’ve always had a bit of a crush on him (and how could I not, as he’s described as looking like a younger Harrison Ford!) I’ve always liked that the three men in Rei’s life are distinctive in their fashion choics. And Hugh’s keen eye for style and interest in Rei’s closet reminds me of my own boyfriend.

As for tips…I’d say that Hugh and Michael could definitely go a different direction for casual wear, maybe invest in jeans (some nice A.P.C. ones, perhaps?). And some classic plain black tees, like Takeo. Speaking of which, I actually rally love his casual style. His vintage Levis speak to my heart. I’m not really one for loose-fitting suits (though I’m sure it looks delicious on him), but I’d advise that he get one or two of them fitted.

Q. Rei has a longtime best friend, Richard, who happens to be gay. For a fashionable young woman, is a gay BFF an asset?

Sabrina: San Francisco is pretty much the gay capitol of the States, so I definitely have more than my fair share of gay friends and coworkers. However, I think that’s a bit of a misperception that’s been popularized by the media and fashion world. In my opinion, you don’t need a gay BFF–anyone who has a sharp eye for style is golden and allowed to romp around Union Square or hunt for sweet vintage finds down in LA with me!

Q. Do Asian women–and small-boned or petite women in general–face unique clothes challenges? If so, what are some things that drive you crazy, and how have you remedied it?

Sabrina: Ah…I could write an essay on this! While being small does have its advantages, there are definitely disadvantages as well. Just the other day at work, I was significantly dressed down for Casual Friday and a coworker kindly pointed out that “I looked like I could be in the fourth grade.” One really can’t do much when someone thinks that you’re supposed to be snapping gum and mouthing off to math teachers, but I do believe you can make outfit, hair and makeup decisions that make you look older, more mature and commanding of the respect you deserve.

And yes, I’m guilty of frequenting both the juniors and children’s department for certain items. Actually, Zara can be on point with their kids’ department. I’ve gotten some excellent skinny black pants and the most amazing trench there.

Q: Have you ever had the experience in the US of being mistaken for a foreigner (I have!). 

Sabrina: This hasn’t happened too often, as I’ve been very blessed to have grown up in this fairly diverse melting pot that is the Bay Area. However, although I’m fifth-generation American, my Asian face has definitely been viewed as foreign by the more ignorant. This ranges from “You speak excellent English!” to outright racial slurs. Let’s just say that the latter hasn’t been met with polite or civil replies. Fortunately, this hasn’t happened in recent years.

Q: How is fashion in Hawaii different than on the US Mainland, and what trends should Rei consider?

Sabrina: She should invest in lots of slippers and flip-flops! Haha. And loose dresses. But overall, her casual street style would not be out of place on the islands. To me, fashion in Hawaii strikes me as quite similar to Southern California–laid-back, casual, and quite beach-oriented.

Thanks to Sabrina for this amusing and thoughtful interview. Until she becomes a features writer for Vogue (I hope) you can find her pictures and writing at

The Kizuna Coast

I’ve heard the following comments in my house earlier this weekend (and a hundred other times).

“You promised.”

“You said!”

“You can’t change your mind.”

My children obviously have been taught to stand by their word. But what to do when one’s conscience says that a decision should be undone?

Four years ago, I finished writing the tenth Rei Shimura novel, Shimura Trouble, and wrote on this website that Rei was going on hiatus. A Hawaii sunset was the best thing for her to enjoy while I undertook a complicated project that I’d been longing to try: a standalone historical novel. Once I started working on The Sleeping Dictionary, my brain traveled to such a faraway place (1920s India) that I worried I might not be able to write about Rei again. I would never want to deliver books that didn’t have my heart in it; it’s not fair to readers.

Recently I checked the Wikipedia listing for my name and read that Shimura Trouble was the final book in the Rei Shimura series. Talk about sad news for me! There it was on the Internet, for millions to believe.

Almost a year ago, I was done with the standalone and trying to figure out my next book. Then came the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Tohoku, Japan. I have no words for how terrible I felt, far away from the country that became my second home. The catastrophic event that had been foretold—and I’d tried to convince myself would never come—arrived, killing more than 23,000 people on a horrific Friday afternoon.

As the disturbing reports rolled in, I felt that Rei Shimura’s Japan was dead. How could I ever write again about salty-sweet Pocky Sticks and whimsical clothing when the country had fallen onto its hardest time since World War II? But I realized that the Rei I knew wouldn’t waste a minute mourning that kind of thing. She’d leave the Hawaiian sunset for a red-eye flight to Japan and do something positive with her grief. The story of Rei’s adventure to Tohoku began naturally unfolding in my mind. And I realized that if I wrote accurately about Tohoku and its people, it might encourage people to visit the stricken areas where the local population is working hard to rebuild. And in the process of promoting my book, I could also raise money for survivors.

So, as I’m telling my kids: sometimes we eat our words. I’m about halfway through writing the first draft of Rei Shimura #11: The Kizuna Coast. Kizuna sounds beautiful, and so is its meaning: the caring bonds between people. The loving outreach of people internationally has given Tohoku a second chance. And the kizuna between you and me is why Rei Shimura’s coming back.

One Step Towards Recovery – Ties Between Survivors and Volunteers – from peaceboatchannel on Vimeo.

This is a video made about the Peaceboat NGO who brought some of the first volunteers to Tohoku. It’s 24 minutes long but shows great examples of kizuna.