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Kwei Quartey & Death at the Voyager Hotel

May 27, 2013
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Accra, Ghana; photo courtesy of Kwei Quartey

Kwei Quartey is a physician with more than 20 years in the field of Internal Medicine, Urgent Care, and Wound Care.

He also writes books. Mystery novels.

Quartey was born in Accra, Ghana. His mother is African-American and his father is Ghanaian. His first book Wife of the Gods (2009) introduces Detective Inspector Darko Dawson who must leave the Ghana capital and return to a small village, with which he was familiar as a child (the memories still haunting him) to investigate a murder.

Children of the Street (2011) has Inspector Dawson in the Ghanaian capital city of Accra investigating a string of murders of young street kids. Quartey’s familiarity with his country infuses his stories with a grounded reality, a polished, observant lens through which the reader sees, feels, smells, and gets a glimpse of the evolution, trappings, and growing pains of a traditional society melding with the modern western world—for good and bad—in regard to technology, economic disparity, fashion/attire, social consciousness, and modern science.

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Accra, Ghana; photo courtesy of goafrica.about.com

Quartey now lives and practices in Pasadena. On his website, he answers the question, “Why did you leave Ghana?”

It was a combination of things. First, my father died of pancreatic cancer. My widowed mother was without relatives of her own in Ghana, and she began to feel like returning to New York City, where her own mother lived. Secondly, the then military government of Ghana had put the country in an abysmal state of financial ruin. There was university student unrest, and our schooling kept getting interrupted. To top it all off, I got into serious trouble with the military government when I was caught red-handed putting up anti-government posters around Accra in the dead of night.

You may not believe this, but it really was a dark and stormy night when I went on this escapade. I was immediately imprisoned for “sedition.” It took me two weeks to the day to get out, after much political haggling behind the scenes by my mother and influential people in Accra. At any rate, several friends advised us to get out of the country because we might be hounded and shadowed by the military government. My mother wasn’t willing to risk more trouble for us in general and for me in particular, so we left for the States.

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Cover art by Ellie Swearl of Publishista

Quartey has offered to the readers of Hometown Pasadena the prologue his new e-novella, Death at the Voyager Hotel, which is due for a July release. His new approach is to make this mystery novella interactive with links. We wanted to know more…

HP: How did you come up with this idea for inserting links (hyperlinks) in the text of your e-novella, Death at the Voyager Hotel?

Kwei: I’m calling them “highly personalized links,” or HPLs. I first thought of something like it back in 2010 when I was still with Random House (RH) as my publisher. My editor liked the idea, but to do something like that for Children of the Street would have been a completely new project for which there was neither the time nor the budget.

Three years later, with the publishing landscape changed and still rapidly evolving, I like my idea even more. Death at the Voyager Hotel is an independent work, so I’m free to try something a mainstream publishing house might not want to take on. At first, most of the links I put in the manuscript took the reader to Wikipedia. My freelance editor Judy Sternlight, who did the editing on the novella, pointed out with customary clarity that links to Wikipedia were not terribly impressive. Instead, she suggested, why not link to parts of my website www.kweiquartey.com and/or personal photographs of the locations mentioned in the novella? After all, I have close to a thousand of my own photographs of people and places in Ghana, where the novella is set. So, the concept of “personalizing” the links was born.

HP: How did you choose the HPLs? What was your criteria?

KQ: I’m still working on them as I do my rewrites and edits of the e-novella, but as the name implies, the links are all personal in that I am or was in some way connected with the person, place or thing that’s the subject of the link, and/or I took any photographs shown. For instance, the location of the Voyager Hotel in the story is Tudu Road, a busy central area of Accra that I’ve been to countless times, experienced both as a kid and adult, and photographed myself. In many cases, my emotional connection with the link is a lasting, poignant one from childhood, and I may have a related anecdote to share with the reader.

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Tudu Road, Accra, Ghana; photo courtesy of Kwei Quartey

HP: What is your aim here? To enhance the reader’s experience, to play with something new, play with the technology available?

Kwei: All of the above, really, but in addition, people often wonder how past experiences influence the creation of a novel, and perhaps supplying these links gives a glimpse into that process. Why not share my personal experiences with my readers? Because Ghana is where I grew up, I write about it with a mix of special feelings that are completely different from if my stories were set in say, Pasadena, California, where I now live. I’m interested in drawing the reader closer to me by giving her a sense of how my very being is sewn into my stories set in Ghana.

HP: Do you worry that the reader’s reading experience—the joy of immersing themselves in the story—will be disrupted by the HPLs?

Kwei: I do worry about it, yes, but as Juliet Grames at Soho Press (my current publisher) likes to point out, readers who enjoy mysteries set in lands outside their own have a particular love of the settings themselves almost as characters in the story, and even though pictures in the mind are often the most vivid, it doesn’t hurt to see images of how locations or people really look. That sets the stage, and then the mind’s eye can take the scene from there.

I’ve tried to make the content of the HPLs as short and sweet as possible. There are a couple ways a reader can approach them: click on them as she reads, finish the e-novella and then go back to take a leisurely visual tour through the links, or a combination of those options. And finally, she’s free to ignore them completely (though I hope she won’t). Some might think it’s intrusive to inject myself into the telling of the story – after all, it’s not about me, it’s about the characters, and that might be a perfectly understandable criticism.

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James Town Lighthouse; photo courtesy of Kwei Quartey

HP: Do you think you’ll use HPLs in upcoming ebooks?

Kwei: I’d like to. We’ll see how it goes. I’m interested to hear readers’ reactions. Perhaps they might want to see more or less or something different, which I can incorporate into my next e-novella. I’d like to do a couple of e-novellas a year in between my once-a-year Darko Dawson series hardcovers. The e-novellas will be non-Darko Dawson stories. My next hardcover is Murder at Cape Three Points, due out from Soho Crime in nine months, March 2014.

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Kwei with Bernard and Frank, his driver companions during his trips back to Ghana in 2010 & 2011

Check out this Thursday’s “What We’re Reading” to read Kwei’s prologue of his new e-novella Death at the Voyager Hotel.

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Cover art by Ellie Searl of Publishista

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2 Responses for “Kwei Quartey & Death at the Voyager Hotel”

  1. [...] Kat Ward, senior editor at HP and the author of Amy’s Own, invited me to contribute a piece to HP, and I have offered the prologue to my upcoming e-novella, DEATH AT THE VOYAGER HOTEL, which will be in the Thursday May 30 edition. Before that, there’s a short introduction and interview about a feature of the e-novella that I’m calling “Highly Personalized Links,” or HPLs. Curious? Read about it here. [...]

  2. Ellie Searl says:

    This is a great article about Kwei, his novella, DEATH AT THE VOYAGER HOTEL, and his use of HPLs. I was delighted to format Kwei’s book and design the cover. I would like to correct the spelling of my last name. It is spelled SEARL, not Swearl. Thanks for making this correction. My very best to Kwei’s success with this book and with future endeavors as a writer and as a physician.

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