Alison McMahan is one of the authors that will appear in Fatally Haunted, Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles’ upcoming 2019 anthology.
STORY TITLE: “King Hanuman” by Alison McMahan
The first Khmer-American police officer on the LBPD has plenty to contend with, but she never expects the simple arrest of a child car thief to lead to a gang war.
Q: What intrigued you about the theme of FATALLY HAUNTED that led to the story you wrote?
The challenge is what intrigued me. As a writer, how does one convey “haunted” without extensive use of flashback or interior monologue? Both are techniques I prefer to avoid. So my challenge was to convey my protagonist’s hauntedness with a judicious use of flashback and interior monologue, to make myself use techniques that I was hesitant to use normally.
Q: Is your story a who-dunit, a why-dunit, or a how-dunit? Why did you make this choice?
Both who and why. The protagonist is a female Khmer-American police officer in Long Beach, CA, in 1990, a time when vicious gang wars were being fought by the established Mexican and Chicano gangs in Long Beach and the newly arrived Cambodian gangs. The battles lasted all through the nineties.
Q: What is different about writing a short story? What did you learn from this experience?
This is my fourth short story to be published in an anthology. I like them because the challenge is limited. It’s like fighting one round of a boxing match instead of the nine rounds of a novel. Also, I’m considering a novel series about this character and wanted to see how readers felt about her before I went another eight rounds.
Q: How did your editor help you improve your story? What insights did you gain from working with her?
Rachel Howzell Hall was fantastic. When I first sent in the story she was about to go on vacation, didn’t have time for a full edit, so she gave me two general comments: to “kill some darlings,” and put in more references to the protagonist’s past as a Khmer Rouge survivor. I made those changes and sent her the new story when she returned. She had a great insight into the last, climactic moment which really makes the story work. She’s a fantastic editor!
Q: What’s next for you? What are you working on?
I’m writing a historical novel (not a mystery) about the first woman filmmaker, Alice Guy Blaché (I previously published an academic study of her work). Once that is in my agent’s hands, I’ll return to a mystery novel about Thavary Keo, the protagonist of this story.
I have two more short mystery stories on completely different subjects coming out with other anthologies this year and next.
Q: What does your writing space look like?
I have two teenagers, so no room for a real writing desk. I write sitting on my sofa with my feet on an ottoman and my laptop on my lap. I get up at 4 am to write, and I watch the sky change colors as the sun comes up. Then I wake the kids and get on with the day, sneaking in more writing time whenever possible.