Honolulu-born thriller writer Tori Eldridge launched her debut, THE NINJA DAUGHTER, with high praise. Tess Gerritsen, New York Times bestselling author of The Shape of Night, says “If you love a heroine who’s tough, brilliant, and never runs from a fight, look no further. Tori Eldridge introduces the warrior-sleuth you’ll want fighting by your side.”
The first book in the Lily Wong Ninja Mystery Series, THE NINJA DAUGHTER was inspired by Eldridge’s debut short story, which was featured in Suspense Magazine’s Best of 2014.
Like many authors, Eldridge’s debut isn’t her first book. She’s written short stories and screenplays—and she cut her novel-writing teeth on one of those screenplays. But with other areas of life taking precedence, she put the manuscript on a shelf. After raising two sons, becoming obsessed with the martial arts—more on that later—and writing a non-fiction book on empowerment, she was ready to dive back in when the yearning to write fiction struck again.
In addition to joining ITW, she built relationships and used that shelved manuscript to hone her craft before approaching THE NINJA DAUGHTER.
Returning to those martial arts, Eldridge holds a fifth-degree black belt in To-Shin Do ninjutsu and has traveled the US teaching seminars on the ninja arts, weapons, and women’s self-protection. While I was intrigued by the “fifth-degree black belt in To-Shin Do ninjutsu,” I confessed my knowledge of ninja skills was missing a lot of points. So I asked her what she would like readers to know about ninjas in today’s world.
“Ninjutsu emerged 1200 years ago and was passed down through nine lineages to one grandmaster, Toshitsugu Takamatsu, who passed it down to Masaaki Hatsumi, who founded the Bujinkan Organization,” she says. “My godan degree is in To-Shin Do, the modern evolution of ninjutsu founded by Stephen K. Hayes, who was a personal student of Masaaki Hatsumi in the ’70s.”
Moving that into context, I asked her about taking martial arts out of the action flick category and instead making it a component of her heroine’s character. Eldridge revealed one of her biggest goals for THE NINJA DAUGHTER was to present a ninja in a realistic, contemporary, authentic way.
“Everyone is familiar with the assassin warriors and mythological fantasy portrayed throughout literature and film,” she says. “But I wanted to show a modern perspective.”
According to Eldridge, there are thousands of practitioners of the ninja arts. “[They’re] walking amongst us, learning, training, and manifesting our ninja skill, techniques, and knowledge to make the world a happier, safer, more empowering place.”
After the rape and murder of her younger sister, Lily Wong, the heroine of THE NINJA DAUGHTER, takes these characteristics and dedicates her life to the protection of women and children.
We got specific about Lily’s ninja skills. After all, THE NINJA DAUGHTER is an action-packed thriller about a Chinese-Norwegian modern-day ninja with family issues who fights the Los Angeles Ukrainian mob, sex traffickers, and her own family to save two desperate women and an innocent child.
“Lily favors a Fox 599 karambit over a katana,” she says. Now, I know a katana is a Japanese sword with a long, curved, single-edged blade and grip designed to accommodate two hands. (Thanks, Weapons Guy.) The more polite question for Eldridge was: can you explain that karambit bit?
Fortunately, she laughs. “As a modern-day ninja, Lily Wong needs weapons she can legally carry and conceal.”
That makes sense. A long katana slung over her shoulder would raise questions. “[Lily] favors the Fox 599 karambit because of the deadly hooked design of the blade and the security ring at the base of the handle through which she can anchor a finger. This keeps the knife from sliding in her hand during a fight or when slick with blood. The Emerson Wave edition also features [a] latch that catches against fabric for a quick-release draw.”
Okay. Practical, efficient, and deadly—sounds just like Lily.
As we discussed Lily’s character, we moved on to culture clashes and family dynamics. Drawing on her own life history and expanded by considerable research, the family dynamic Eldridge created for Lily is intrinsic to her character.
With a Chinese mother from Hong Kong and a Norwegian father from North Dakota, Lily “carries the weight of her mother’s failed filial obligation to her grandfather. Lily’s father tries to assuage this failure by giving his daughters the Wong family name and becoming an authentic Chinese chef, but the unfulfilled obligation continues to cause friction in a family still coping, in their own individual ways, from the murder of Lily’s younger sister.”
In addition, while Lily is still deeply tied to her family, at age 25, she’s struggling to relate to them as an adult. “She has to hide her true self from her Hong Kong tiger mom, who is already disappointed at her less than feminine ways, and who would be horrified if she knew what Lily has become.” At the same time, as both a ninja and a sister, she’s guilt-ridden for what she sees as having neglected her sister. “It’s a lot to handle while taking on the Los Angeles Ukrainian mob.”
These three powerful influences in Lily’s life—her Hong Kong mother, her North Dakota Norwegian father, and her Japanese ninja sensei—infuse Lily with a rich and ancient heritage. At times, Eldridge says, one aspect can overshadow and sometimes, surprisingly, give way to the others.
“Lily strives to maintain balance and appreciation of all of them while still finding her unique and modern self, which is not an easy task when living a secret life and becoming a big sister to a culturally diverse city.”
That led to a discussion about Los Angeles, a sprawling, multi-cultural city. I asked Eldridge if her choice of setting was based on familiarity or a recognition of the challenging themes presented in the novel.
“It’s a character with a personality that reflects Lily’s multi-cultural identity on a grander scale,” she says. “In the book, I refer to Los Angeles as dot art rather than a melting pot. Look at it from a distance, and you see a glorious mural. Look at the pockets of communities and you discover separate dots of individuality that exist side by side in harmony or dissonance.”
While THE NINJA DAUGHTER is listed as an action thriller, it deals with serious social issues, including sex traffickers and the modern Ukrainian mob. Violence is a hallmark of both.
“I’m a peace-over-violence kind of person, and I would say that, to some degree, Lily is the same,” Eldridge says. “I have the advantage of a more peaceful life and decades of earned wisdom. Lily, on the other hand, has dedicated herself to the rescue and protection of women in violent situations. When she can check violence with strategic behavior and the force of her intention, she does. But most of the situations Lily encounters in THE NINJA DAUGHTER are far too volatile for words.”
THE NINJA DAUGHTER is being released by Agora Books, a new imprint from Polis Books that celebrates diverse crime fiction. Diversity, or the lack thereof, has recently become a hot topic in publishing. As an author with an interesting ethnic heritage, I asked Eldridge how she perceives this issue.
Eldridge grew up in Hawaii, where mixed-race blood like hers—Hawaiian, Chinese, and Norwegian—is common. “When I moved to the mainland, I carried this perception with me and rarely felt any form of discrimination,” she says. “Caucasians thought I was exotic and people of color accepted me as their own. Although the ethnic ambiguity helped me in theater and sometimes hindered me in television and film, as far as I could tell, it didn’t affect me as a writer.”
The early praise for THE NINJA DAUGHTER shows that readers love Lily Wong and found her a fascinating character.
“I have noticed the lack of representation as a reader. Although historical and literary fiction often delved into other cultures and communities, mysteries, thrillers, and crime fiction tended to be more mainstream. I wanted to write a gritty, fun, fast-paced commercial fiction that showed a fresh cultural dynamic that readers would enjoy,” Eldridge says. “These are unusual elements to bring together in one book, but fit perfectly with Jason Pinter and Chantelle Aimée Osman’s vision for Agora Books.”
As a debut author, Eldridge took a proactive approach to marketing her novel. “I had acquired several of those [cover] quotes before my agent began submitting the manuscript, several more in time for the ARC, and the rest in time for print,” she says. “The response from the writing community—most of whom I’ve met through ITW and ThrillerFest—was so incredible that even when I stopped asking for blurbs, the offers continued to come in. It’s a dream come true to have quotes from Tess Gerritsen on the front cover, J. T. Ellison and Publishers Weekly on the back, and stellar authors filling the front two pages of my debut.” High praise, indeed!
Eldridge says she’s turned in the manuscript for the second book in the Lily Wong series (scheduled for release in 2020), and has outlined a story for a possible third. “I’m also finishing up a dystopian thriller, featuring another strong female protagonist, this time a rebellious doctor in an antimicrobial resistant future.”
Tori Eldridge is a Honolulu-born thriller writer who challenges perspective and empowers the spirit. Her debut novel, THE NINJA DAUGHTER, is the first book in the Lily Wong Ninja Mystery Series and was inspired by her debut short story featured in Suspense Magazine’s Best of 2014. Other short stories have been published in several anthologies. Tori’s screenplay The Gift earned a semi-finalist place for the prestigious Academy Award Nicholl Fellowship. Tori holds a fifth-degree black belt in To-Shin Do ninjutsu and has traveled the USA teaching seminars on the ninja arts, weapons, and women’s self-protection.
To learn more about the author and her work, please visit her website.