Monday, December 3, 2018

Happy Pub Day!

Tomorrow is the pub day for Susan Blumberg Kason's anthology HONG KONG NOIR, which the BBC listed as one of the ten books to read this December!  Kirkus's great review for the collection aptly describes it as a presentation "of 14 stories—by Chinese tradition, an ominous number—illustrating their city’s dark side...[,]a city on the brink, haunted by its past but facing an uncertain future. Readers can feel lucky to have such a collection."



Be sure to grab your copy of these darkly atmospheric stories!!  You still have time to pre-order your copy from Amazon!

First off, tell us about this collection and its genesis!


Hong Kong Noir is part of Akashic Books’ prestigious noir series, which started back in 2004 with Brooklyn Noir. Akashic didn’t set out to create this series, but Brooklyn Noir was so successful that they’ve expanded with about 100 noir volumes set all over the world. Writers like Joyce Carol Oates, Dennis Lehane, and Tayari Jones have edited other volumes, while Jonathan Safran Foer, Jamie Ford, Marlon James, and Luis Alberto Urrea have contributed stories. Ever since I heard about the series a decade ago, I’ve wanted to read the Hong Kong volume. So that’s how I came to edit it. There wasn’t a Hong Kong volume and I thought it was high time for one. Hong Kong Noir includes fourteen stories, each set in a different part of the city. The stories are all original fiction and each contributor has a strong connection to Hong Kong. Since I don’t live in Hong Kong now and wasn’t born there, Akashic wanted me to find a co-editor on the ground there. Jason Y. Ng, a writer, lawyer, and activist, came on as a co-editor before we finalized the contributor list.

What made you eager to be involved in an anthology about Hong Kong?

I spent most of my twenties in Hong Kong and know it like no other city. It was where I came of age and experienced many adult milestones: my first relationship, first engagement, first wedding, first pregnancy, graduate school, first publishing job, etc. Some of these experiences were uplifting, but others were dark. I wrote about the latter in my memoir, Good Chinese Wife. The nature of Akashic’s series intrigued me and I was curious to see how others saw noir in Hong Kong. Although the anthology stories are fiction, the contributors must reach into some raw emotions as they craft their stories. And these were what I was interested in seeing, to compare them to my own.

How was it different editing stories rather than being the author of them?  What are some of the things you had to do as an editor that you don't have to do as an author?

The editing process was pretty easy since the stories arrived in great shape. I ended up doing more fact checking than anything else. For instance, one of the stories features a devious relative named Uncle Lo. He lived up in Hunan province, but a non-Cantonese person in Hunan wouldn’t be called Lo. That’s a Cantonese spelling. So I discussed this with the contributor and he came up with a Mandarin last name. In another case, a contributor set his story in a mid-1970s brothel. Hong Kong outlawed polygamy in 1971, so I discussed this with the writer. Since his story is mostly an internal dialogue in the protagonist’s mind, I wondered what the protagonist thought of the new law and if it had changed her life in any way. The author ended up incorporating this part of history into his story.

When I’m an author, I’m solely responsible for my work. As an editor, it was my responsibility to turn in all fourteen stories on time. I also had to collect headshots and contact information from the contributors and make sure they were paid. Whenever there’s a new review or new pub date information, I’m also responsible for conveying this information to the contributors. But none of these things ever seemed like a chore and instead was a nice way of getting to know all the contributors.

What was the process like getting these stories together and also finding authors for the anthology?

Finding authors for Hong Kong Noir wasn’t hard, but the most difficult part of the process was picking which ones would be included. I’ve been a part of the Hong Kong literary community since I lived there in the 1990s. Over the last six years—since I started traveling back to Hong Kong on a yearly basis—I’ve gotten to know even more writers there. When I was putting the proposal together, I didn’t know Akashic now required fourteen contributors for its noir volumes. When you submitted my proposal, I had seventeen contributors and thought that was a good number because it showed I had a decent grasp of the writing community in Hong Kong. Earlier volumes had more, sometimes up to twenty-two. But when Akashic came back and said I could only have fourteen, I had to cut three and felt it was only fair to cut myself first. I recently told this story at a preview event in Hong Kong and the audience gasped, but as an editor I believe it’s about the book as a whole, not one person. Jason and I also brought on some authors he knew so it could be a true collaboration.

Collecting the stories wasn’t difficult. I gave the contributors three months to submit their stories and that worked out fine. After we received the stories, Jason did a first edit and sent me his changes. I then sent those changes to the contributors, as well as any I had. We usually went through 2-3 rounds of edits. In the end, we submitted the manuscript to Akashic more than a month early.

What do you hope readers get out of this collection?

I hope readers who don’t know Hong Kong will gain a good understanding of this exciting and ever-changing city. And for those who do know it, I hope they’ll enjoy reading about places near and dear to them. Hong Kong has such a rich culture and to me it seems more Chinese than mainland China, the latter of which was stripped of its traditions during the Cultural Revolution in the mid-1960s to mid-1970s. Hong Kong never went through that. This book includes holidays like the Hungry Ghost Festival, Grave Sweeping Day, and Handover Day commemorating/memorializing Britain’s return of Hong Kong to China after 150 years. One reviewer lamented the lack of crime stories and abundance of ghost tales. But the supernatural is part of Hong Kong’s traditions and we’d be doing a disservice to readers and the territory if we ignored this part of Hong Kong culture.

And as it turns out, the majority of the stories show how women have struggled in Hong Kong over the decades. Men and women may seem pretty equal on the outside now, but the patriarchy is alive and thriving there, as it is most everywhere. I was really pleased to see so many stories centered around women and their hardships—even some written by male authors—and hope readers can empathize with these female characters.  When I think about 1950s film noir set in Hong Kong, women are always in supporting roles, but in Hong Kong Noir they are front and center in the stories, whether they’re activists, frustrated wives, prostitutes, or shy schoolgirls.

What are some promotional activities you have done for HONG KONG NOIR?  Anything we should be keeping our eyes out for?

I just came back from a week in Hong Kong, which included a fabulous preview event for the book. It was held in a bookstore tucked away in an industrial area near Diamond Hill, one of the settings in Hong Kong Noir. We had standing room only and the book sold out apart from one or two copies hidden under the register.





On January 31st, we’re going to hold our US launch in New York at the Museum of Chinese in America from 6:30 to 7:30pm. I’m extremely excited to have this event at MOCA, a great museum in itself. MOCA also hosts book events for every major Chinese American writer. So this is a great honor!

Is there any other information you want to share?

This book has brought me closer to authors I’d read before but didn’t know well. Two years ago when I was writing the proposal, I asked Tiffany Hawk to be a contributor. She’d raved about Hong Kong and said she used to travel there as a flight attendant in the 1990s and early 2000s. Her novel, Love Me Anyway (St. Martin’s, 2013), is one I love and will never forget. We planned to meet in person a few months later when I was visiting my mom in Phoenix. You had sent out the proposal a month earlier, but we hadn’t heard back yet. In Arizona, I packed up my family and drove four-hours round-trip to meet Tiffany for lunch in Tucson. While our kids were playing, Tiffany asked if I’d go with her to Hong Kong for a long weekend to research her story for Hong Kong Noir—if we got a book deal. I was thrilled to have an excuse to go back and once we got an offer from Akashic the following month, we started making plans. Tiffany’s roommate Kara from their flight attendant years also joined us. The three of us shared an Airbnb and it was like being back in our twenties, staying out late and responsible for no one but ourselves. The only thing that brought us back to reality was taking turns FaceTiming our kids and husbands back home. Kara has since visited me in Chicago a couple time and I’ve seen Tiffany again in Arizona. If it weren’t for Hong Kong Noir, we wouldn’t have this lovely friendship. The three of us hope to meet up again in New York for our Hong Kong Noir launch.

1 comment:

  1. I'm a couple of days late, but congratulations! Out of curiosity, did the publisher give you any pushback on the drift from crime toward ghost stories?
    Congratulations again, and many happy sales!

    ReplyDelete