Food and family history, cats and crime — these are the things that pique the interest of murder mystery writer Jennifer Chow. Before her current book, Death by Bubble Tea, Chow wrote two other mystery trilogies, the Winston Wong Cozies and the Sassy Cat Mysteries, both focused on ordinary people who find themselves inspired to help solve a murder mystery.
Chow has been hooked on mysteries from a young age. “I grew up on Encyclopedia Brown and Nancy Drew, and my mom introduced me to Agatha Christie,” she recalled. “Mom enjoyed mysteries because it was a genre she could understand and appreciate, and even pick up new English vocab from.”
Even before she encountered Nancy Drew, Chow was fascinated by stories. “My earliest memory is reading one of those Little Golden Books, I think it was Peter and the Wolf,” she remembered. “I loved the illustrations and the action.”
Dipping her toes into the writing world wasn’t far behind. “I remember borrowing my dad’s typewriter and clacking away on it, conjuring a story about twins switched at birth,” Chow said. “That’s what I enjoy most about creating stories, the magic of it all, the transportation to new worlds.”
Chow’s Sassy Cat series also hails from her childhood and creates a world in which a cat can play an outsized role. “Marshmallow is the titular sassy cat in the series, and he’s very much based on my love of Garfield comics,” Chow shared. “As a kid, I taught myself to read upside-down so my brother and I wouldn’t continue fighting over the comics section.”
Marshmallow has a non-marshmallow-like attitude, but he’s happy to help Mimi solve each mystery and provide some fun along the way. “The hardest part of writing a mystery for me is the balance of clues,” Chow said. “I want to keep people guessing while also playing fair and allowing readers to pick up on the trail.”
Meanwhile, Marshmallow’s human caretaker Mimi struggles to develop her new business as a dog groomer, all while solving a murder onto which she coincidentally stumbled. “I try to develop Asian American characters who appreciate their heritage but may also struggle with defining themselves as they navigate a duality of cultures,” Chow said. “They are often strong individuals who take charge, while being open to learning.”
As a professional genealogist, Chow feels comfortable creating stories with multi-generational families and characters of all ages, but building a career as an author isn’t always easy. “It also takes a long time and perseverance to get established as an author, and by no means is it a lucrative career,” she said. “I’m grateful bigger publishers are welcoming new, diverse voices and that I personally have available emotional and financial support.”
Chow has found additional encouragement through participation in professional associations for writers. “Crime Writers of Color is a group founded by Walter Mosley, Gigi Pandian, and Kellye Garrett to provide support for crime writers who self-identify from traditionally underrepresented racial, cultural, or ethnic backgrounds,” Chow said. “There are a lot of barriers to getting published, and it can be particularly difficult for people of color, so I joined for solidarity and understanding. It’s grown to a true community who encourages, commiserates, advises, and boosts one another.”
She has also taken a leadership role in Sisters in Crime (SinC), an international and inclusive community of crime fiction writers, readers, and publishing professionals, currently serving as their President. “One of my writing friends introduced me to the organization when I first started writing mysteries, and I’ve stayed with them ever since,” Chow reported. “I appreciate the mission of SinC, first started to advocate for the equality of women crime writers, and it’s now since expanded the scope to include all underrepresented voices in the genre.”
With appreciation for all the support that SinC has given her, Chow wanted to return the gift. “I decided to give back by volunteering my time and serving on the board,” she said. “We have a lot of programs we offer, including awards for emerging writers, grants to libraries and bookstores, and informative webinars.”
SinC’s programs have ignited Chow’s passion. “This year, we’re supporting The Innocence Project, a nonprofit that works to free the innocent and prevent wrongful convictions,” she enthused. “We also recently put out an anthology of helpful marketing tips for authors. In the future, we’d love to give back to the community by developing younger writers and providing helpful support and mentorship within the membership.”
And regarding connecting with audiences, it’s been nearly a decade since Chow gave a “Stories & Culture” book talk in Seattle in 2014. “The 2014 talk came out of a connection I had with North America Taiwanese Women’s Association (NATWA), a wonderful organization,” Chow said. But she reports having good friends in the Seattle area, so perhaps the sassy cat Marshmallow or another intrepid mystery-solver will visit the Puget Sound for a book reading sometime. “I’d love to pen more Mimi and Marshmallow adventures in the future,” Chow mused.