Sunday 19 September 2021

The Life-Art Synergy of Lily Wong in Hong Kong by Tori Eldridge

Tori Eldridge is the Honolulu-born Anthony, Lefty, and Macavity Awards-nominated author of the Lily Wong mystery thrillers: The Ninja Daughter, The Ninja’s Blade, and The Ninja Betrayed. Her shorter works appear in horror, dystopian, and other literary anthologies, including the inaugural reboot of Weird Tales magazine. Her screenplay The Gift was a Nicholl Fellowship semi-finalist, and her dark Brazilian fantasy, Dance Among the Flames, is set to release May 2022. Tori holds a fifth-degree black belt in To-Shin Do ninja martial arts and has performed as an actress, singer, dancer on Broadway, television, and film.

The Ninja Betrayed, the third book in the Lily Wong series, has just been published. Things get personal for Chinese-Norwegian modern-day ninja Lily Wong in Hong Kong when she dives into the dangerous world of triads, romance, and corporate disaster during the height of the pro-democracy protests. As Lily and Ma discover shaky finances, questionable loans, and plans for the future involving them both, Lily’s escalating romance with Daniel Kwok puts her heart at risk. Will her ninja skills allow her to protect her mother, the family business, and the renegade teen while navigating love, corporate intrigue, and murderous triads?

Here, Tori discusses the life-art synergy of Lily Wong in Hong Kong. 

My background is as colorful and complex as my modern-day ninja heroine, so it’s not surprising that my life would have inspired certain aspects of hers. What is surprising are the ways in which Lily’s life has coincidentally, serendipitously, or cosmically influenced mine.

I’m a Hapa-Hawaiian writer, born and raised in Honolulu and currently living in Los Angeles. My Chinese-Hawaiian mother was from Maui and my Norwegian father hailed from North Dakota. They met and married in Tokyo where my elder sisters were born. All of these cultures—Chinese, Hawaiian, Norwegian, Japanese, Asian-American, Midwestern, and the culture in Hong Kong where I now have in-law family—have informed who I am and how I view the world.

With the exception of my Hawaiian heritage, each of these cultures is prevalent in my Lily Wong mystery thriller series about a Chinese-Norwegian modern-day ninja in Los Angeles with Joy Luck Club family issues.

Lily lives in Culver City in Los Angeles County above her father’s authentic Hong Kong cuisine restaurant. Unlike the stereotypic lone-wolf action hero—who are either estranged from family or lost them to violence—twenty-five-year-old Lily is deeply connected to her parents who live in nearby Arcadia, a predominantly Asian community where she was born and raised.

Although Lily is not me and her parents are nothing like mine, we do share cultural similarities. In order to reach beyond my own personal experience, I interviewed my Chinese-American and Hongkonger friends, investigated my own Chinese roots, and augmented my discoveries with research. For the North Dakota Norwegian side, I relied on interviews, stories, and experiences with my relatives and memories of my father. This deep cultural pool allowed me to create a unique yet universally relatable protagonist and surround her by a multi-layered cast of family and friends. My desire to portray authentic culture also extended to the martial arts.

As a fifth-degree black belt in To-Shin Do—the modern-day evolution of the ancient Japanese ninja martial art—it was important to me to bust through the sensationalized ninja stereotype and portray a modern-day ninja with depth and authenticity. Not many people realize that ninja have an actual martial art handed down through nine lineages. Up until the late twentieth century, practicing ninja were difficult to find and mostly thought of as assassins or myth. Through Lily and Sensei, I’ve been able to share some of our effective techniques, strategies, and esoteric practices. Lily and I have also trained in Chinese Wushu and American boxing.

East meets West, repeatedly, in Lily Wong’s adventures.

In the The Ninja Daughter, Lily copes with her biracial family drama while investigating a complex mystery and rescuing two women and a child from Los Angeles Ukrainian mobsters and an enigmatic Southeast Asian assassin. Things get more complicated for Lily in The Ninja’s Blade when her grandparents, Gung-Gung and Po-Po, fly in from Hong Kong to “celebrate” Ma’s fiftieth birthday at the same time Lily hunts for and rescues teenage girls from the insidious life of commercial sex trafficking. The characters Lily encounters are as diverse as the city in which she lives.

In The Ninja Betrayed, I take Lily to Hong Kong for reasons that evolved as much from her life as from mine.

Since Lily’s grandparents meddled in her life in book one then visited Los Angeles in book two, it seemed logical that book three would take Lily to them. What surprised me was my own developing connection to Hong Kong, a city I chose for Ma’s background because of its global importance in finance rather than Guangdong Province, where my own ancestors were from. Then, in a surreal coincidence, my eldest son fell in love with a woman from Hong Kong!

When my son announced their engagement, my husband, youngest son, and I flew to Hong Kong to meet his fiancĂ©e’s family. We played mahjong in their sky-rise apartment-block home, grilled fish-balls at the public barbecue, and joined her relatives for Sunday dim sum banquet. We haggled at street markets, rode subways everywhere, and walked endless kilometers through sidewalks, tunnels, and overpasses. We marveled at the symphony of lights, rode the Star Ferry, took a bus up the Peak, and visited many of the districts and locations that appear in my book. And since Lily loves to eat, The Ninja Betrayed is packed with glorious food.

During my trip, I took notes and absorbed the culture for the book I knew I would write. But it wasn’t until later that year, when Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests began, that I realized their struggle would play a fundamental part in Lily’s adventure.

Once again, my life and art melded synergistically to create something greater than I could possibly have foreseen.

My first grandchild was born in Shanghai last December. Because of the pandemic and complex political issues between China, Hong Kong, and the United States, no one in either of our families has been able to meet her. Writing this book and being able to share it now, comforts my heart and brings me closer to the family I cannot see.

Details: The Lily Wong books are published in paperback by Agora Books (USA), priced in local currencies.