Wednesday, November 18, 2015

A Conversation with Mystery Author Kate Jessica Raphael

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with Kate Jessica Raphael

We are delighted to welcome author Kate Jessica Raphael to Omnimystery News today.

Kate's new "Palestine Mystery" is Murder Under the Bridge (She Writes Press; November 2015 trade paperback and ebook formats) and we recently had the chance to spend some time with her talking about the book.

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Omnimystery News: Introduce us to the lead characters in Murder Under the Bridge.

Kate Jessica Raphael
Photo provided courtesy of
Kate Jessica Raphael; Photo credit
Jane Philomen Cleland.

Kate Jessica Raphael: Rania Bakara is a Palestinian policewoman. For seven years, she has been the only female detective in the northern West Bank. She's a practicing, but not particularly devout, Muslim. She is married to her college sweetheart, Bassam, and they live in his family home with their six-year-old son, Khaled. Rania's partner in crime-fighting is Chloe Rubin, a Jewish dyke from San Francisco who came to Palestine to support the Palestinian nonviolent freedom movement. Chloe is well-intentioned but hardly subtle, and sometimes rubs Rania the wrong way. Rania needs her help, though, because even though she is a police officer, there are many places the Israeli authorities will not allow her to go. With her magic blue US passport, Chloe can breeze through checkpoints and even gain access to the halls of the Israeli Defense Ministry. Through much of the first book, the two women are wary of one another, but by the second, they're fast friends — albeit friends who don't always understand each other.

OMN: You mention that they're fast friends in the next book of the series; how do you see them developing over the course of the series as a whole?

KJR: I think it's really important that recurring characters evolve over the course of a series. Rania and Chloe both have definite arcs in both of the books I have written so far. With Chloe, it's really clear why she is changing, because she is in an unfamiliar situation — this is her first time in Palestine, she has only been there nine months, so she is still learning about the culture and the environment, and she has never been in close proximity to the kind of violence she is routinely encountering. In Rania's case, I asked myself, why, after a lifetime of living under occupation and seven years in her husband's village and her job at the police, is she only discovering certain things about herself now? But the type of crime she encounters in the first book, Murder Under the Bridge, is unusual in Palestine and new to her, and it brings her face to face with aspects of the political structure she hasn't encountered before. And Palestine is also changing, with the death of Yassir Arafat, who had led the Palestinian people since the 1960s, and the growing strength of the Islamic movement, Hamas, and that affects her reality too. Finally, her son is growing up, becoming a more independent person, and she is torn, as most parents are, between wanting to protect him and wanting him to grow up to be fearless and fierce, like her. So in each book, she learns a bit more about who she is and what is really important to her.

OMN: Into which genre would you place this book?

KJR: I consider my books traditional international mysteries. They have a police officer as a protagonist, but the role and context of the police in Palestine is so different from the U.S. or Britain or any unoccupied country, really, that it doesn't follow the rules of a police procedural. For a while I was in a writing group with an actual police detective — which was super-helpful, but she objected to the fact that in my opening scene, Rania takes a cab instead of driving a police car. She couldn't imagine that there would be three roadblocks between the city where the police station is and the crime scene. And a small city police station in Palestine might not even have any cars. Then too, my books also have a civilian co-investigator, which some procedurals do too, but in most procedurals, the detective runs the investigation while in mine, Rania and Chloe really solve the crimes together.

OMN: How much of your own personal or professional experience have you included in the book?

KJR: Part of the impetus for writing this book was that I had 1,000 pages of journals I'd written while I was an international peace volunteer in Palestine. I'd spent six weeks in immigration prison, and most of the other women were trafficked workers, and that led me to make the murder victim a trafficked woman from Uzbekistan, a country I had barely heard of before I met Uzbek women in jail. In the first draft, a lot of scenes were lifted straight from my journal. And that draft was terrible.

The deeper I got into the story, the less attached I got to what really happened. But now, any time someone says, "That would never happen," usually they're talking about something straight out of my experience.

Several Israeli characters are based on real people, most of them with that person's knowledge and consent. I basically stole my friends lives and put them into my book, but isn't that what fiction writing is? I thought Chloe was pretty much like me, but most people find her quite annoying, so I am going to say we don't have that much in common.

OMN: How involved were you with the cover design?

KJR: The publisher sent me a bunch of photos from Palestine that the designer had found on Getty's website. There were 40, and I hated 39 of them. They were all war and demolished buildings and terrified people, which is not what my book is about. My book is about how Palestinians (try to) live when they're not being bombed. So I picked out the one that I thought might work, I wasn't really sure about it but it had a cool quality and a woman who was not crying. I also sent one photo of my own; I take terrible photos but this one, I thought was not bad and was shot near the place where the book takes place. A day later, the publisher sent two designs, one using my photo and the other using the professional one, which I later found out is by a Gazan named Mohammed Abed. Well, I just fell in love with that design. I thought it was spectacular. So I chose it, just suggested a couple changes in the font, and then I was like, okay, I have this fabulous cover. And then came the bad news — the photo was a lot more expensive than they realized and the publisher's budget couldn't cover it so if I wanted that cover, I would have to cough up a few hundred dollars. Well, I couldn't live without it at that point, so I went for it and I'll just try to recoup by using my own photo or bumming one from a friend for the next book.

OMN: Suppose your series were to be adapted for television or film. Who do you see playing the key roles?

KJR: The sad truth is that there are so few Arab American actresses getting parts in film and television, I've never seen anyone who strikes me as the right kind of person to play Rania. If this book ever got made into a Hollywood film (yeah, right), it would probably triple the number of major roles for Arab women in Hollywood that year. Melina Kanakaredes would be perfect to play Chloe as long as she agreed to gain 50 pounds.

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Kate Jessica Raphael is a San Francisco Bay Area writer, activist, journalist, and clerical worker. She lived in Palestine for eighteen months as a peace worker with the International Women's Peace Service and spent six weeks in Israeli immigration prison because of her activism. She has won a residency at Hedgebrook writer's colony and was once elected grand marshal of the San Francisco LGBT Freedom Day Parade. She produces a weekly feminist radio show that is heard throughout Northern and Central California.

For more information about the author, please visit her website at and her author page on Goodreads, or find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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Murder Under the Bridge by Kate Jessica Raphael

Murder Under the Bridge by Kate Jessica Raphael

A Palestine Mystery

Publisher: She Writes Press Print/Kindle Format(s) Print/Nook Format(s)Kobo eBook Format

When Rania — the only female Palestinian police detective in the northern West Bank, as well as a young mother in a rural community where many believe women should not have such a dangerous career — discovers the body of a foreign woman on the edge of her village, no one seems to want her look too deeply into what's happened. But she finds an ally in Chloe — a gay, Jewish-American peace worker with a camera and a big attitude — and together, with the help of an annoying Israeli policeman, they work to solve the murder.

As they do, secrets about war crimes and Israel's thriving sex trafficking trade begin to surface — and Rania finds everything she holds dear in jeopardy.

Murder Under the Bridge by Kate Jessica Raphael


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