Gobind Tanaka is one of the authors that will appear in Fatally Haunted, Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles’ upcoming 2019 anthology.
STORY TITLE: “Cat Walks Into A Bank”
A Marine Corps veteran must overcome PTSD flashbacks to thwart a violent bank robbery crew and protect her prospective new girlfriend.
Q: What intrigued you about the theme of FATALLY HAUNTED that led to the story you wrote?
My Catherine “Cat” Suzuki character is a Marine Corps veteran dealing with combat post-traumatic stress disorder. I wanted to explore Cat’s re-entry into civilian life, which no longer feels “normal” to her. Six-months back as a civilian is the point when veterans begin to transform their mindset from what they developed as war fighters. I set the story a year after discharge, so Cat has put in a lot of work and gotten a lot of help.
Q: Is your story a who-dunit, a why-dunit, or a how-dunit? Why did you make this choice?
“Cat Walks Into A Bank,” falls in the suspense or thriller genre. Our hero deals with the heist in progress, in contrast to a traditional or classic mystery in which a hero solves a crime in retrospect. A roller coaster ride versus a puzzle – both are fun, just different.
We meet Cat going about her business, watch her spot the imminent threat, and we see her overcome PTSD and utilize her skill set to save lives, just as she did in combat. In this story we never learn the villains’ motivations (why-dunit), and we watch who-dunit and how-dunit in real time along with our hero. The focus is on our hero Cat: who she is; what her life challenge is; why she takes action; and how she saves the day.
Q: What is different about writing a short story? What did you learn from this experience?
For years I focused my fiction on the novel format; this is my second short story. My first didn’t work because it read as part a larger work – too many settings and too many characters, with too many complications that needed resolution. With this story I put my protagonist in a single setting with a limited cast of characters. Everything gets resolved in short order.
In writing and revising this story I got more effective and efficient in clarifying all my story elements, including theme, character, structure, and foreshadowing. This efficiency will inform my novel writing as I deal with higher quantities and more connections between characters, locations, and scene transitions. The story beats remain in the same relative positions.
Q: How did your editor help you improve your story? What insights did you gain from working with her?
My editor, Rachel Howzell Hall, is amazing. Her story suggestions were on point, improving my story immensely. In particular, I originally had traumas from two life stages haunting my protagonist, and Rachel pointed out that the military backstory alone sufficed. So I put aside the extra subtext for a future story, whether for Cat or another character.
Dialog and action are strengths of mine, but Rachel’s questions inspired me to improve clarity of emotions and hone description and continuity.
Rachel understood the tone I sought. Cat Suzuki is a competent professional character with compassion for others, in the process of developing compassion for herself. Cat has issues, but she is a badass when she needs to be, because she trained to be.
Rachel also appreciated my aim to portray Cat as a well-rounded and particular individual, not a stereotype. Cat is a woman and person of color rooted in her community and the semper fi warrior tribe. At the same time, she is eclectic and idiosyncratic. She is her own person.
I thoroughly enjoyed the editing process. I feel fulfilled by polishing a complete story. I’m thrilled with the result.
Q: What’s next for you? What are you working on?
I’m writing another short story, as well as mystery and thriller novels, mostly detective and police procedurals. Some feature Cat Suzuki, some other characters.
I’m continuing to write poems with an aim toward building two themed collections.
In many stories, whether thriller or mystery, the hero pretty much stays the same at the end of a case as they were at the beginning. We see how resolute, clever, and courageous the detective is as she fights through fear or at least turmoil in every case, but no character change. We love Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone, Robert B. Parker’s Spenser, and Lee Child’s Jack Reacher. We know what to expect and the authors deliver.
Other heroes go through big changes in a case. Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade, Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon, Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire. In “Cat Walks Into A Bank,” Cat takes command and finds purpose, changes and grows. I’d like to have her constantly growing, curious and open-minded.
Q: What does your writing space look like?
I wish I had a dedicated writing space. I mostly park my laptop on our long dining table, but have to clear out every few days. A small worktable in our bedroom worked for a while, but I cannot work there during sleep hours. I don’t use the living room sofa much, too hard on my back.
At home alone I can focus well, but I do react to a lot of sounds. Cats scurrying don’t require my attention unless they crash something, but I’m alert to feeding my dog or seeing what he barks at, answering the doorbell.
When family is home, I’m conscious of needing to take care of people. I react to movements and conversation. Even if they are talking to someone else, I’ll pop out of my flow.
Sometimes I’ll go to a library, or a favorite café or restaurant, and carve words on paper. Unlike at home, I don’t need to take care of anyone at a Third Place, so the hustle and bustle makes great background noise. Business hours and getting a table are sometimes issues, but I get a lot of characters and snippets of dialog at busy places.
My writing group, Midweek Writers, is crucial for social support. I relish time with my tribe of writers. When we listen, when we give feedback, we all improve our story analysis. We brainstorm rewrite directions. We meet frequently, so I’m more productive. I always want to bring a piece, whether it’s a scene or a poem or an essay, so I have deadlines that, while voluntary, are more than self-imposed.
When I read aloud I feel the words in my diaphragm and throat, hear the words come out my mouth. I get instant feedback on rhythm and voice. I feel when words flow or stumble, when they suit a particular character or sound unlike them. So reading aloud at home is good, but reading to my group and also getting feedback is better.
I participated in several writing groups in the past. Most I thoroughly enjoyed. Two I found uncomfortable after several meetings so I stopped. Each functions differently, and I learned what type of dynamic benefits me.
In one we met weekly in a café, greeted one another, and opened our laptops to write in silence. We socialized only after using the scheduled time to get some writing done, and didn’t discuss that night’s unedited work, just writing in general. I found it helpful in building a habit. Nowadays I write every day, even if just jotting a few notes or working out a particular story problem in my head while shopping or walking my dog.
Sisters in Crime Los Angeles truly changed my life. Attending meetings and conferences for over twenty years I picked up a ton of methods, techniques, and information new to me as a technical and business writer. For example, you can read on my blog about the monthly meeting speaker who inspired me to eliminate writer’s block.
More importantly, meetings are fun! Lots of laughs, ah ha moments, that’s right moments, handshakes and hugs. I love belonging to a welcoming community of writers. The friendships I’ve formed far outweigh the other benefits.