Thanks to CrimeReads for featuring an essay on my journey to writing Skin Deep.
One of my greatest thrills as a college student was when I was let into the intermediate-level creative writing workshop. You couldn’t just sign up and walk in—you had to submit a short story good enough for the professor to deem you worthy. That first day, I sat around the rectangular table with my future colleagues and was handed a set of rules for the class. It’s been almost thirty years since I laid eyes on this single xeroxed sheet, but I can still remember one of them: You will not write stories about serial murderers, or even regular murderers.
There’s a file on my computer with the title MYSTIDEA.TXT. It’s dated 4/27/1993. If someone were to ask me the exact date when I started this book, that’s the date.
There’s another file on my computer titled CH1 — no extension. Not sure how that happened, but the file loads just fine. At the top of that file is another date: 7/16/93. If someone were to ask me the exact date when I wrote the first words of Skin Deep, that’s the date.
Granted, the end product bears little resemblance to my initial notions, but that’s how long it took.
Happy birthday, Skin Deep. That was a very long labor.
To celebrate your entry into the literary world, here’s one of your godparents:
Look for more godparents to drop by as the week progresses, until we celebrate you properly with your book launch.
The ad appears about 2 minutes in (around -52:25 if you are using the player above), but I suggest you listen to the whole episode, as it’s excellent. I wasn’t aware of Jasper Fforde before this interview, but I surely do now and am better for it.
Big thanks to the kind folks at CrimeReads for highlighting Skin Deep in their July roundup!
Here’s more evidence that the private detective is enjoying a very welcomed resurgence in the crime fiction world. Sung J. Woo’s new novel features an inimitable PI, Siobhan O’Brien, a Korean adoptee who has somewhat haphazardly inherited her old boss’s agency and finds herself at a crossroads, unsure if she should continue down the line. The proverbial last job comes through, dragging Siobhan upstate to a seemingly idyllic liberal arts college with a girl gone missing from her dorm. The college is a hotbed of subcultures, and Siobhan has to learn each of their quirks and rivalries to keep the case moving forward. Skin Deep manages to be an entertaining, wickedly clever mystery and also a thoughtful meditation on adoption, culture, and identity. –DM
Despite her Asian features, her father really is Irish, her mother Norwegian. Her name is Siobhan O’Brien, never mind everyone’s surprise when trying to gauge the incongruity between her face and that moniker. Short answer: Siobhan is a Korean-born, upstate New York–raised transracial adoptee. At 40, she’s just inherited a private investigation agency since her boss of two years has suddenly dropped dead (of natural causes). The business has enough banked to last three months, or she could sell and net a comfy $20,000-ish. Inexperience aside, she chooses to stay open, and her first case turns out to be a doozy: to reunite her late best friend’s younger sister with her missing teenage daughter, Siobhan will need to infiltrate a radical womyn’s group at a nearby college, agree to trespassing, check into a yoga center, get poisoned by mushrooms, avoid a multinational billionaire’s posse, and, in between, maybe even risk falling in love.
VERDICT: With just the right mix of clever twists, endearing charm, looming threats, and contemporary issues (identity, privilege, cultural appropriation, the ugliest parts of the beauty trade), literary novelist Woo (Love Love) debuts quite the absorbing new mystery series, hopefully with multiple volumes to come.
Thank you to Booklist, the reviewing arm of the American Library Association, for a nice review of Skin Deep!
Siobhan O’Brien is marking her second anniversary at the Ed Baker Investigative Agency when she finds her boss dead at his desk and then learns that he has left his business to her. A Korean American adoptee, who must explain her name constantly, she takes her first solo case from an old acquaintance. Josie Sykes’ daughter, Penny, cut off contact with her mother just months into her freshman year at Llewellyn College in upstate New York, and after Josie’s efforts to reach the girl are rebuffed by a feminist contingent protesting changes in the direction the college is taking, Josie hires Siobhan to find Penny. It’s a job that takes the neophyte detective into the inner workings of Llewellyn, whose former-model president, despite the college’s supposed financial straits, is launching a yoga and healing center and pursuing bizarre research on forestalling aging. Despite a somewhat hasty wrap-up, this first in a series holds promise, given Woo’s punchy prose style, diverse milieu, and the potential romantic relationship between Siobhan and the lawyer whose office is down the hall. A series to watch. — Michele Leber
The first review of Skin Deep is in, and I’m grateful it’s a good one!
This winning series launch from Woo (Love Love) introduces PI Siobhan O’Brien, a 40-year-old American of Korean descent who was adopted in infancy by an Irish father and a Norwegian mother. After two years working as an operative at the Ed Baker Investigative Agency in Athena, N.Y., Siobhan, to her surprise, inherits the agency when her boss has a fatal heart attack. Her first client as the new owner is Josie Sykes, the white sister of a deceased childhood friend and fellow Korean adoptee. Josie’s 18-year-old adopted Korean daughter, Penny, is missing and was last seen at Llewellyn College. Siobhan enrolls in a program for older students and soon becomes aware of the danger that lurks on Llewellyn’s seemingly placid campus. Siobhan holds her own as she contends with deadly doings at a yoga center, menacing college initiations, and bizarre researchers studying “the science of beauty.” Woo perceptively explores the theme of image and personal identity throughout. Readers will look forward to seeing more of the beguiling Siobhan.