Between the Lines: ‘White Ginger’ goes inside a Chinatown triad

Thatcher Robinson of Carmichael has the right background for writing a thriller. The retired chief operating officer of a cyber-warfare and intrusion-detection firm in San Francisco just published “White Ginger,” the first in an upcoming series (Seventh Street, $15.95, 290 pages). The star is knife-fighting expert Bai-Jiang, whose father is a “prominent member” of a triad in San Francisco’s Chinatown. She’s a “people finder” on a missing-person case.

I caught up with Robinson by phone:

How did you research Chinatown, a famously closed community?

For many years, I worked in San Francisco’s business district, which is only a few blocks from Chinatown. My Asian friends would take me through the back alleys where only Chinese is spoken to give me a glimpse into the subculture of the Chinese community.

Did you interact with a triad?

I did quite a bit of online research, then tweaked reality to give a bit more structure to the way Sun Yee On, a real triad, operates. In reality, Sun Yee On carved out a large (extortion operation) in Hong Kong in the 1970s and ’80s. It tried to open up territory in Chinatown in the 1990s, culminating in a shootout in a Chinese restaurant. It was forced out of San Francisco and relocated to Los Angeles.

Your biggest challenge?

Learning to write. My professional background is high-tech, so the transition from software developer to novelist proved challenging. “White Ginger” required three years and five rewrites. The sequel (scheduled for 2014 release) required six months and only two revisions.

Listen along the way

Audiobooks are good company on the daily work commute and long road trips. Here’s a sampling from an audiobook leader, Simon & Schuster (

• “The Testament of Mary” by Colm Toibin: Academy Award-winning actress Meryl Streep narrates the story, which imagines the life of Mary after the death of her son, Jesus.

• “Si-Cology 101” by Si Robertson: Uncle Si from A&E’s ridiculously successful “Duck Dynasty” shares his “tales and wisdom.”

• “A House in the Sky” by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett: Global traveler Lindhout’s journey came to a tragic halt when she was kidnapped by extremists in Somalia and held for 460 days. Her memoir recalls the ordeal and how she survived.

• “Ghost Hawk” by Susan Cooper: Lessons are to be learned from the unlikely friendship between an American Indian boy on the verge of manhood and the orphaned son of a settler; set in the 17th century.

• “Bones of the Lost” by Kathy Reichs: A fatal hit-and-run leads forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan into a labyrinthine investigation of human trafficking. The TV series “Bones” is based on Reichs’ own career as a forensics anthropologist.

Up for awards

The National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Award form a powerful literary triumvirate that can make a writer’s career and validate his/her works. The NBA foundation judges have whittled their “long list” of 10 finalists for this year’s awards to their “short list.” The winners will appear at the awards ceremony Nov. 20 in New York City.

Here are the short lists for fiction and nonfiction; the lists for young people’s literature and poetry is at


• “The Flamethrowers “ by Rachel Kushner

• “The Lowland” by Jhumpa Lahiri

• “The Good Lord Bird” by James McBride

• “Bleeding Edge” by Thomas Pynchon

• “Tenth of December” by George Saunders


• “Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin” by Jill Lepore

• “Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields” by Wendy Lower

• “The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America” by George Packer

• “The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832” by Alan Taylor

• “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood & the Prison of Belief” by Lawrence Wright

New on shelves

Try these disparate titles:

• Ian Fleming once described his character, James Bond, as “a man who blends in. I see him as looking like Hoagy Carmichael.” 007 has lived in the Bond pastiche since Fleming died in 1964, starring in a long list of titles by numerous authors, including Kingsley Amis, John Gardner and Sebastian Faulks. Add veteran novelist William Boyd to the crowd, with “Solo,” which finds Bond in Africa in 1969 (Harper, $26.99, 322 pages). How Bond-worthy is it? Well, any Bond is better than no Bond.

• It’s a bit early to start eyeing coffee-table books for the holiday gift-giving season, but “Living Shells” by Charles E. Rawlings caught our eye (Ivy House, $49.95, 132 pages). It’s a fascinating photo presentation of seashells and the rarely seen animals that live in them. The author is an undersea photographer and neurosurgeon.

• Third-generation farmer Gary Romano recalls a lifetime of living on the land in “Why I Farm,” and presents a compelling case for why small farms are “vital to our food future.” He owns Sierra Valley Farms in Beckwourth.

Author appearances

A dozen local authors will gather to chat and sign their books at the free Fall Book Affair, sponsored by the Gold Country Writers; 1 p.m. Saturday at the Arts Building, 808 Lincoln Way, Auburn. Included will be storytelling and poetry readings; (530) 885-5670.

Coming to Face in a Book, 4359 Town Center Blvd., El Dorado Hills; (916) 941-9401:

• Judy Schachner for “Bits & Pieces,” 5 p.m. Wednesday

• John Flanagan for the “Ranger’s Apprentice” fantasy series, 3 p.m. Nov. 16.

• Catriona McPherson for “Dandy Gilver and a Bothersome Number of Corpses,” 6 p.m. Nov. 21

Upcoming book sale

The Friends of the Nevada County Libraries will offer thousands of used paperback and hardback titles in most genres, with emphasis on crafts books and cookbooks, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 2 at the Doris Foley Historical Library, 211 N. Pine St., Nevada City; (530) 265-1407.


If you have information on author appearances or other book-related special events, email it to bookmarks@sacbee.comat least two weeks before the event. To read the online calendar, go to Questions? Call The Bee’s Allen Pierleoni, (916) 321-1128.