I was recently introduced electronically to Elka Ray, author of Saigon Dark, by Henry at Crime Wave Press and when I realised Elka lives in Hoi An, a place I visited a couple of years ago on an amazing trip to Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, I had to find out how her location has affected her writing.
Saigon Dark is available for purchase here.
Good and bad. Life and death. Some choices aren’t black and white.
Location and Writing
A Guest Post by Elka Ray
After high school, I spent six months backpacking around Southeast Asia. It was 1989 but feels like light years ago. That trip sparked a fascination with this region that led me to study Journalism and Asian Studies at university in my native Canada. After school, I moved to Vietnam “for one year”. I arrived with five-hundred dollars and a backpack, knew no one, and was – looking back – utterly clueless.
This was long before email and the internet. To call home, you had to go to the central post office, wait in line, fill out a half dozen forms and – if there was power – spend six bucks a minute yelling into a dumbbell-sized receiver. Way beyond my budget.
To save twenty-five dollars a month I avoided the nascent tourist ghetto and rented a room in the distant Chinese quarter. Set over a soup restaurant, the room reeked of rancid grease and was infested with rats and roaches. Every time a truck rattled past, dust and paint would flake off the ceiling and stick to my sweaty body below. Aircon? Forget it. There was one painfully slow ceiling fan.
I was so broke I bought a second-hand bicycle from a cyclo driver. At least once a day the chain or a pedal would fly off. Back then, somebody would always stop to help. Being young and blonde helped.
Fast-forward twenty-three years and I’m still here. I didn’t plan it this way. En route I’ve acquired an endlessly optimistic husband, entertaining children and inspiring friends. I’ve switched from journalism to writing fiction, which was always my dream.
Some of my fiction is set in Southeast Asia. You’ve probably heard the writing advice: Write what you know. I know this region. But stories don’t just arise from the known. They come from things that make you stop and go: “Whoa. WTF?” Stories grow from questions.
Two years ago, after two decades of living in big cities, my family moved to the beach, near Hoi An, in Central Vietnam. My life is very quiet. I work, play with my kids and go to the beach. It suits me perfectly.
You might think this peaceful existence would be the kiss of death for crime writing. In fact, it’s been the opposite. I had two books released last year, the psychological suspense novel Saigon Dark and a collection of short crime stories, What You Don’t Know: Tales of Obsession, Mystery & Murder in Southeast Asia. I’m currently working on another psych suspense, this one set where I grew up, on the West Coast of Canada. While it’s not set in Asia, the story grew out of my move to the beach. It follows a couple who relocate to the countryside in hopes of a healthier, less stressful lifestyle – cue evil laughter…
About Elka Ray
Elka Ray is a UK/Canadian author and illustrator based in Hoi An, Vietnam. The author of Hanoi Jane, Elka also writes and draws an expanding series of children’s books about Southeast Asia, including Vietnam A to Z, 123 Vietnam! and The Warrior Queens.
For adults, Elka focuses on crime fiction and mysteries. Her short stories have appeared in Monsoon’s Crime Scene Asia: Asia’s Best Crime Fiction 2014 (Hong Kong); New Asian Fiction (India) 2013 and Lontar: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction (Singapore) 2014. Her travel writing has run in a wide range of publications, including Fodor’s, Forbes, Executive Traveller and Persimmon Asian Arts. Elka holds a Canadian degree in Journalism and Asian Studies and a Canadian diploma in Creative Writing. She has a sporty husband and two kids, and also works as a magazine editor.