Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Jamie Lee Sogn

Jamie Lee Sogn is a Filipina American author of adult thriller novels. She grew up in Olympia, Washington, studied Anthropology and Psychology at the University of Washington and received her Juris Doctor from the University of Oregon School of Law.

She is a "recovering attorney" who writes contracts by day and (much more exciting) fiction by night. While she has lived in Los Angeles, New York City, and even Eugene, Oregon, she now lives in Seattle with her husband, son, and Boston Terrier.

Sogn's debut novel is Salthouse Place.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

My novel’s title Salthouse Place was finally chosen after many different iterations of titles before it. I have to say, it’s my favorite and I’m so glad that it ended up being the final title. The manuscript was originally called The Artemis Institute because that was the original name of the wellness company that inhabited the novel. Through many revisions, that changed as well, so of course the title needed to change with that.

Before I became an author, I had no idea how much went into choosing a title for a book! Salthouse Place was finally chosen because not only is it the name of the wellness community on the Oregon Coast that my main character arrives at, we felt it would be a unique name that would grab someone’s attention as they walked by in a bookstore, for example. I want someone to wonder “Salthouse Place? What does that mean?”

When my main character, Delia, arrives at Salthouse Place for the wellness retreat, she finds that the community is actually an abandoned subdivision that this wellness company has bought and taken over to convert to their retreat center. This idea of creating a fa├žade to hide something decaying or unfinished underneath is found throughout the book and the name of the community is a reflection of that theme.

What's in a name?

For my main character, I wanted her name to reflect her heritage, so her last name is Albio, which is a Filipino last name, but not one you might hear often. Her first name is also unique, but has no special meaning behind it. Recently I learned my sister had a secret theory that Delia was named after her - her name is Danielle, but her Filipino nickname is “Danila,” so her theory was that I took out the ‘n’ and rearranged it to “Delia. This theory is false, but I liked her creativity!

The antagonist is named Sage. Since she is one of the leaders of a wellness community, I wanted her name to reflect nature and calm. In Latin, the name Sage actually means Wise One or Prophet, which we come to learn, is very appropriate as well for this character and her aspirations.

Delia’s hometown of Portsgrove is a fictional town in the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State, but the name is inspired by real towns in that region, like Port Townsend and Port Angeles.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

When I began this story, I knew the beginning and the ending - they were the first two things I wrote and ultimately did not change that much at all from draft to finished novel. The difficult part was writing everything in between to connect the two! However, generally, I find it more difficult to write beginnings. I think it’s such a delicate balance of where I can drop the reader into the story at the perfect point - to have something to catch their interest, but not be deep enough already that too much is happening too fast.

In Salthouse Place, we begin with Delia remembering that fateful day on Blythe Lake with her friends when she was a teenager. For me, this beginning was easy to write and made sense. I wanted to convey that feeling of excitement and carefree youth, but also the dread of something bad about to happen, which the reader already expects because from the first sentence, Delia tells the reader that one of them will be lost in the lake that day.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

For Delia, I saw a lot of myself in her, as much as I actively tried not to put myself into her. We are both biracial Filipina Millennials, we both went to law school (but I didn’t drop out!), and we both navigate the world as skeptical and perhaps shield ourselves too much. I wanted to write Delia because I rarely saw characters like me, women of color, in the stories I read growing up. Or if I did, they were stories specifically about race.

I wanted to write a character that experienced the world around her through this lens and through this history, but not have the story be about her being biracial. The story includes a lot of her upbringing, her immigrant mother’s experience through her eyes, and even some good old Filipino comfort food - but the story isn’t rooted in that per se. It’s a thriller and a mystery with a protagonist who looks and thinks like me.
Visit Jamie Lee Sogn's website.

--Marshal Zeringue