Thank you, James, for agreeing to do this interview for my readers. Your work is richly enjoyed, and everyone wants to know more about you.
I call Bombay Monsoon an India Noir because of the tone of its narrator throughout the novel. This is a slight change from your last book, Turn to Stone, an Ellie Stone Mystery. But, of course, Ellie isn’t in this novel. So is Bombay the start of a new series?
JWZ: Yes, Bombay Monsoon is the first in a planned series of three “Emergency” novels. The “Emergency” was the twenty-one-month period of rule-by-decree declared by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1975. My protagonist, journalist Danny Jacobs, will have plenty of adventures and danger. The Emergency was a fascinating time, with lots of momentous events taking place. Over the course of the two books, Danny will run afoul of hostile government officials, drug traffickers, gurus, and Western spiritual tourists searching for enlightenment. There’s also the question of his love interest to resolve.
If a series, how do you see yourself scheduling your writing schedule with working two series?
JWZ: For now, Ellie Stone will have to wait. I’ll definitely get back to her. I have a few ideas rattling around in my head for Ellie. I’ll try to finish the Danny books first, then we’ll see what’s next.
Having spent time in India, I enjoyed some of your commentary on life there….begging children, traffic on roads… Although, I laughed when you mentioned the buses. Knowing you spent a significant amount of time in India, was this book more than just another novel?
JWZ: Absolutely, yes. I’ve made fifty-six trips to India over the past twenty-five years and spent nearly four years there. I’ve worked, traveled, and visited with family. (My wife was born and raised in India, and her family is still there.) It’s truly a second home for me.
I put a lot of my personal experience as an expatriate into the story. The culture shock and the discovery, the food, music, the terrifying mountain roads, and—yes—the monsoon. Danny Jacobs is not me, but his experiences mirror my own. I had a blast writing about India and can’t wait to write more.
As a side note, I enjoy expatriate stories. I believe the outsider’s view can teach us a lot about other cultures, provided the writer is curious, empathetic, and fair. It can teach us different things about the people and culture. Expat stories—even though they reflect a very different experience—can complement those written by authors who live and work, thrive and struggle in those cultures. The key is open eyes and an open mind.
Your protagonist, Danny Jacobs, is an ambitious young journalist, but he also seems dim-witted at times. I was surprised he pulled events together. Why this type of character? Can a broken protagonist be funny, like the famous Fletch?
JWZ: Ha! You’re not the first to notice that Danny doesn’t always make the wisest choices. But dim-witted might be a step too far. He’s certainly naïve. And trusting when he should know better. He’s reckless, too. In many ways, he’s an innocent. All of these traits and behavior are exactly what I wanted to give him. He’s not your typical thriller hero. But I don’t think he’s funny. At least not consistently. He does make self-deprecating remarks. Tries to act sophisticated and initiated when he’s not. Very human things to do. Maybe more like Roger Thornhill in North by Northwest than Fletch. An ordinary guy thrust into extraordinary situations.
Ellie Stone is writing from a female perspective. Were you looking forward to changing your gender in this book? Did you enjoy it more…or do you still like writing a female voice best?
JWZ: Yes, I was looking forward to writing a different gender. I absolutely love writing Ellie Stone, but after seven books, I felt it was time to embrace my Y chromosome. (Just kidding.) Writing a first-
person male narrator took some getting used to at first, but I think I found the voice quickly enough. I enjoy writing both. It makes for a healthy balance. More writers should try it. It builds empathy and sharpens narrative skills.
Wow, I saw a review that equated this book to Graham Greene’s The Quiet American. How does it feel to have your work next to one of the greats, and how does this push you…or terrorize you as an author?
JWZ: It’s wonderful to be mentioned in the same sentence with a writer of Greene’s caliber, but I would never equate my work with his. I might “compare” it, unfavorably of course. I’m sure it’s the setting and the stranger-in-a-strange-land thing that prompted the comparison. Greene is one of my most favorite authors. Such powerful and entertaining novels. And while I can’t lay claim to his talent, I’ll take such a complimentary review any day of the week.
A “coup is underway in India” Was your thought to parallel what is happening in the United States?
JWZ: In truth, no. I wanted to write about the Emergency. The events of January 6, 2021, happened six months after I’d completed the first draft of Bombay Monsoon. Of course the parallels are striking. Mrs. Gandhi actually went through with her coup, while it failed here. There are also comparisons to Nixon’s final days in office. While Mrs. Gandhi declared the Emergency and retained power, Nixon resigned. I wonder what might have happened if he’d attempted a coup.
I know you are very familiar with India, having lived and worked there for several years. Since Bombay is emphasized here, do you plan on a book in other areas?
JWZ: I’m very familiar with Bombay, Pune, and Bangalore, having spent most of my time in those cities. But I’ve traveled extensively throughout the country, from the foothills of the Himalayas to the backwaters of Kerala, from Delhi to Chennai. Danny Jacobs will be visiting some of those places in the next two Emergency books. After that, I have a novel
in mind that takes place during the Raj in Simla, the summer capital for the British administration. That will be a fun one.
Give readers and other authors the best advice on what it takes to improve your craft. Do you read a great deal…in or out of your genre, attend conferences, etc?
JWZ: My best advice is never give up. And read. Read like it’s fuel. But never give up. Never stop dreaming. My first book was published when I was fifty-three. So think of it this way: The first time you sell a book—your first success, if you will—can only come after the very last failure that preceded it.
Your biggest challenge as an author?
JWZ: Frank Norris wrote, “Don’t like to write, but love having written.” That’s me. At least part of the time. When the words and ideas are flowing freely, I do love writing. But all too often, it’s a slog. A devilishly tantalizing slog
This has been fun.
I loved your book and I am sure my readers have also enjoyed it.
Looking forward to your next reveal.