BLACK KARMA opens with a somewhat seedy police inspector asking for Bai Jiang’s assistance as a souxan (people finder) in tracking down Daniel Chen, a man they believe is behind a botched drug heist that resulted in the death of a police officer. Bai, who believes the police just want Chen dead, finds her investigation takes her into a world of international intelligence agencies and merchants of war that deal with death, drugs, and high-jacked information: A world where nothing is what it seems.
Against this backdrop, Bai is juggling a somewhat complicated love life. There is her ex—the father of her child and a triad assassin, the rather brazen young man who finds her irresistible, and a suitor for an arranged marriage whose mother thinks Bai would make an excellent successor to the family empire.
This is Bai’s compelling world of San Francisco’s Chinatown.
Thatcher Robinson, the man behind the WHITE GINGER series, has always been comfortable with the Asian culture. His friends since childhood have been Asian, he’s married to a Japanese woman, and has two Chinese godchildren. “I don’t know why I fit more comfortably in the Asian community. I just do.”
In BLACK KARMA, Bai weaves her way through boxing clubs, arranged marriages, and the power of the triads.
Robinson continues, “I did quite a bit of research on triads, which are mostly made up of street thugs who make their grift through extortion or kidnapping. When compared to the Yakuza of Japan, they have neither the organization nor financial infrastructure to be a major player in the criminal underworld.
“Sun Yee On did migrate from Hong Kong to San Francisco in the late 1970s. They tried to carve out a territory in Chinatown. Their attempt ended in a famous shootout in a Chinese restaurant, which killed a couple of tourists. The fallout from the violence brought the entire San Francisco Police Department down on them. They quickly moved to Los Angeles, where they never really recovered their stature as a viable gang.”
As for other research, Robinson said, “I didn’t need much research for the boxing club. I’ve been a gym rat all my life. I practiced martial arts from the age of fourteen until my mid-twenties when I realized I had absolutely no talent as a fighter.”
And as for the arranged marriage “it is alive and well,” he said, “even in the Chinese American culture. The ‘aunties’ still get together to pair off anyone not married by the age of thirty.”
In beginning his WHITE GINGER series, Robinson wanted “a protagonist who felt empowered as a woman. Bai is a complex character with a genetic inclination toward violence. She’s trying to break away from her triad roots. Her philosophical approach to life and her Buddhist beliefs help to defuse her quick temper and deeply ingrained physical reactions that are a result of martial training.
“Being a mother gives Bai added responsibility. She needs to set an example for her teenage children, who, being teenagers, question everything she does and provide an unfiltered response to her actions. Their behavior and her reactions to their behavior provide a lot of opportunity for humor.”
The humor, Robinson said, “bleeds through into my writing whether I want it to or not. The humor is an aspect of my seeing the world through a skewed perspective. The difficulty I have is toning down the humor. It’s a balancing act between funny and slapstick.”
When asked about details in writing BLACK KARMA, Robinson admitted “the easiest part was writing the book, the hardest was editing it to the point where it hit the ground running and never stopped. The best part was giving more depth to Bai as a character and showing more range of emotion in her behavior.”
He continued, “I never know where a book is going until we’ve arrived. When I do sleep, which isn’t very often when I’m writing, I’m still working on the book subconsciously and will sometimes wake in the middle of the night with a revelation about a character or a plot twist. My books are a reflection of how I process information more than any conscious act. When I write, I’m not even sure I’m wearing pants. Everything goes away, and I live inside my head where my characters come to life.”
Robinson admits he wrote BLACK KARMA when he was angry. He wanted to show critics he could write a traditional piece. BLACK KARMA is a threaded plot that resolves conflicts at the end. WHITE GINGER is a plot within a plot and uses traditional Chinese proverbs as chapter headings. Both novels are cinematic and Robinson would love to see them on the big screen using a “bevy of great bilingual Asian actors and actresses.”
“I’m not sure where the series is headed. I’m working on the third installment, which has proved more difficult to write than either of the first two. WHITE GINGER was a lark: a fun book, its only intent to entertain. BLACK KARMA was thematic. I wanted to take a look at the concepts of good and bad in our milky world—‘milky’ in the sense that in the modern world, and perhaps always, if left undisturbed, scum will inevitably rise to the top. The third book takes a skewed look at delusion because we’re only as real as our delusions allow.”
There is a lot to like in the two offerings from this acclaimed author. To learn more about BLACK KARMA, Thatcher Robinson, and the WHITE GINGER series, visit Thatcher’s website.
Thatcher Robinson is the author of WHITE GINGER. He was previously employed as the chief operating officer of an Internet security firm that develops top-secret cyber warfare materials for the military and various government agencies. Prior to that, he was a software specialist at IBM research laboratories in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.
Photography credit: Gerry McIntyre (GMP digital)