The Gritty Gritty Highlighting Own Voice in Crime Fiction

The following is the transcript for Episode 001 of The Gritty Gritty podcast, highlighting OwnVoices in crime fiction. You can listen to the audio version on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, and Google Podcasts.

Dharma Kelleher: From Dark Pariah Press in Phoenix, Arizona comes The Gritty Gritty, a podcast highlighting #OwnVoices in crime fiction. I’m your host Dharma Kelleher.

In today’s episode, I’ll be discussing two of the books being launched by Agora, the new imprint from Polis Books focused on diversity in crime fiction.

First, I talked with author Tori Eldridge, whose upcoming action thriller, THE NINJA DAUGHTER centers around Lily Wong, a fierce young woman who has dedicated her life to the protection of other women.

Tori Eldridge: Lily Wong is a Chinese-Norwegian modern-day ninja in Los Angeles.

Dharma Kelleher: Later, I provide a review of John Vercher’s recently-released debut novel about a bi-racial black man, passing for white, who is forced to confront the lies of his past, while facing the truth of his present when his best friend, just released from prison, involves him in a hate crime.

Our guest today on The Gritty Gritty is Tori Eldridge, author of the debut novel The Ninja Daughter, which comes out this November from Agora, the new diversity-focused crime imprint from Polis books.

Tori was born in Hawaii, performed as an actor, singer, and dancer on Broadway, television, and in film, and attained a fifth-degree black belt in To Shin Do Ninjutsu. Tori currently resides in Los Angeles.

Welcome Tori.

Tori Eldridge: Hi. Thanks for inviting me.

Dharma Kelleher: Oh, thank you for being on this episode. What really intrigued me about this story was the concept of studying the art of being a ninja, and I’m talking about the literal art of being a ninja, not the metaphorical American Ninja Warrior, but the actual martial art of ninjutsu.

And so, I’m curious what drew you to the study of being a ninja and what does the word ninja mean to you?

Tori Eldridge: Oh my goodness, ninja has come to mean to everybody this word for awesome, right? It’s a generic word for awesome, tack it onto anything–social media ninja, tech ninja. And I love that.

I love that ninja is associated with something that is just so incredibly cool and well done and out there and and just awesome. And so in many ways I have to admit I do like that about it as well. What I was drawn to with To Shin Do, which is the modern evolution of a twelve-hundred-year-old lineage of ninjutsu is how all-encompassing this art is. This body movement that’s so natural that it’s hard to learn but once you do it’s so natural. It’s almost like, I know right, that is almost like magic where the more you do, the better you get; the less you do, the more effect you cause, and the harder it is for anybody to see. I mean, how amazing is that? So it’s really magical.

Dharma Kelleher: Now are there a lot of women who study it?

Tori Eldridge: There are. There are. Way more now than back in the day, even in To Shin Do. We have a worldwide thing. When I was really traveling the United States and as a guest, teaching weekend seminars, workshops, things like that, no, there weren’t a lot of women. And so it felt very kind of pioneering.

But at the same time, I was very comfortable in the world of men, and so I wasn’t really in the mindset of a woman’s movement, so to speak. Now, now it’s quite different. I mean there really is. We kunoichi–that’s a female ninja–we’re like banded together and our new generation, who are out there teaching now, they’re really like, there’s more and more of them. They have a bigger voice. They’re out there. They’re training. And that’s just in To Shin Do. In the Bujinkan Ninjutsu, oh my goodness, there are thousands. And everybody is in the world out there being empowering, and it is wonderful. It’s a great art for women, really.

Dharma Kelleher: So what are the difference between the two? I don’t know what are the styles or schools of ninja?

Tori Eldridge: Oh. So Ninjutsu comes from nine lineages passed down as I said, twelve hundred years, and it all came together under Takamatsu Sensei, and then was handed down to Hatsumi Sensei.

And Steven K Hayes–who was actually  from Ohio–he went to Tokyo to learn this art. He had been doing Tangsudo, which incidentally is how I started. And he hunted them down, and they accepted him, because, hey who wouldn’t want a giant American guy to meet up and throw around? But he never left. So they’re like, “I guess we have to teach him something.”

So that was back when there was a very small, small core of group. And then at one point from the stories that I’ve been told Hatsumi Sensei told Stephen, “Go west, young man, and introduce this to the west. And that’s what he did.

So he created a modern way of teaching that had direct application to contemporary Western life, still touching on all the ancient traditional things. But with the prime focus of “Hey, this is relevant to you right now, right today, physically, emotionally, mentally. Boom and that’s what that’s about, and it’s very cool.

Dharma Kelleher: Well, that is very cool. So how did you end up getting into writing?

Tori Eldridge: Hmm. Well, interesting. When I was in school, I was one of those people, I always excelled in writing. It was a thing that I did like a lot of teenage girls. I got all my angst out in like Susan Polis Schultz-type poetry at six in the morning, that kind of thing, right?

But I never really thought about a career as a writer, because at that point, I wanted to be a singer, dancer, actress on Broadway. I wanted to be a Broadway star. It was my focus from the time I was 16. And when I was when I graduated, I went to Northwestern as a theater major, and I had a dance scholarship at a studio nearby, which by the way was the only reason I even chose Northwestern. I was so ignorant. I had no idea.

Do you know, it’s the only University I applied to early notification? Oh my God, I think it was like somebody should have been going, “Honey, honey, no, you don’t take that kind of risk. But I did. And  I told my dad, I said, “Hey I’m not going to graduate because, this is a stepping stone. I need to make sure I’m not a big fish from a little Honolulu pond.”

And it looked like it was all going to be good. So I figured my dance could get me where I was going, and I’d continue to take private lessons in singing and acting.

And so the next year I went to New York and, I guess my first Broadway contract was about nine months after that.

Dharma Kelleher: Wow.

Tori Eldridge: Yeah, so that was fun.

Dharma Kelleher: And you transitioned from that to writing?

Tori Eldridge: Oh, that’s right. That was the question. I’m sorry. Wow, yeah. It’s been a long and winding path. So I moved over here, the television, the film thing, that’s what it was. My husband was getting into producing, and he was interacting with a lot of screenwriters.

I was reading what they were writing and I’m like,” I can write this.” So I started writing screenplays and the first one that I wrote, “The Gift”–well, the first one I wrote was horrible and I had to scrap it and start again. The second one I wrote, which is the only one that anybody of worth saw, “Th`e Gift”, was a semifinalist in the Nicholl Fellowship. And I thought, okay, maybe I’m all right at this.

But everybody who read it kept saying, you should be writing novels. So I did, and I wrote a novel, and it was really great. But here’s the thing. I knew I didn’t want to do the business of writing, ?Kay. I didn’t know anything back then, really. But I knew enough to know that there was a business that I didn’t want to do, right?

So I put this this manuscript away on a shelf. And I went, Maybe one day, I will want to do the business that’s required to do this.

Right, and I went on to raising kids and got obsessed with martial arts and all of that. And on my way to becoming this fifth-degree black belt person, I wrote a nonfiction called Empowered Living: A Guide to Physical and Emotional Protection. And from that I create a clothing line, so I’d have something to wear. And then I had an online store of meditation jewelry.

And before I knew it, I went, Wait a minute. I’m doing the business. Hmm, huh? And then I got an idea for another novel, and I started writing that. And a few chapters in, I went, Wait a minute. Well, what’s in that closet? And I went and I read it, and I went, Whoa, this is pretty good. But I got a lot to learn. Yeah, so it’s not The Ninja Daughter, by the way, it’s totally another book.

And it became the project on which I learned my craft. And it began eight years of conferences and mentorships and relationship-building and research, of learning the craft, of writing, and while that book was out getting submitted, I had written this short story that inspired this book.

And my agent at the time said, “Stop writing the sequel to that other thing we haven’t sold yet, and write this one.” So I go, “Yes, ma’am.”

So sorry. Wow, that was a real circuitous route to answer the question.

Dharma Kelleher: It really shows that everybody has their own path when it comes to writing, and we all have our own different ways of finding the way that’s meaningful to us and when we’re ready to get writing, because my first book wasn’t published until I was 49. So it takes some time to get there and we all have our own unique journey.

In terms of crime fiction subgenres, how would you categorize The Ninja Daughter?

Tori Eldridge: Ooh well, she is an amateur sleuth right? So she’s kind of an amateur PI, so there would be that. It’s a bit noir. Most definitely hard-boiled.

Dharma Kelleher: Yes. It’s definitely not a cozy.

Tori Eldridge: Oh, no. No, she’s got a sardonic humor, but it is gritty.

Dharma Kelleher: It’s wonderful. Yes, and it starts out pretty rough. I mean that first chapter or two, it’s like, Oh, wow. Okay.

Tori Eldridge: Yeah, if you’re not going to be okay with this, I’m just gonna let you know right now. I’m going to toss you right to the wolves. So yeah, she’s an action hero, definitely an action-thriller.

Dharma Kelleher: So the main character of the story is Lily Wong. So tell us about her.

Tori Eldridge: I love her. Okay, Lily Wong is a Chinese-Norwegian, modern-day ninja in Los Angeles. So her mother is from Hong Kong. And her father is a North Dakota Norwegian. And they met and fell in love in college. They were not supposed to. Mom was supposed to go back to Hong Kong to fulfill family duties and she did not. This is creating a whole bunch of Hong Kong strife that comes through her mother and falls onto Lily. So that’s it. That’s a huge thing that’s going on.

Lily used to be this really vibrant, active person, Wushu since she was a baby, and Ninjutsu on the sly since she was 12, really active and all this stuff, outgoing, UCLA, and of course, great student, because how could she not be with her mom breathing down her throat.

And then her sister was raped and murdered. This happens in the past, not in this book. This happens in the past. But that was the incident that pushed Lily to become a protector of women, in essence a big sister to a city.

Dharma Kelleher: One of the lines that I found very telling in terms of her multicultural identity, especially when her mother’s Chinese here from Hong Kong. Her father is North Dakota Norwegian. And she has adopted aspects of Japanese culture, notably being a ninja. And the line is, “There are times when each of these three cultures hold so strongly I couldn’t figure out who I was. So instead I focused on who I aspired to be, a protector of women.”

Is this multicultural identity something that you struggled with as well? Because there’s a lot of parallels between you and Lily in terms of cultural background.

Tori Eldridge: Yeah, there is, isn’t there? I want to say straight up I am not Lily. She is not me. Her parents are not mine.

However, I am half Chinese-Hawaiian and half Norwegian. My father is indeed from North Dakota. They met and married in Tokyo where my sisters were born, but I was born in Honolulu. So, yes, a huge amount of multiculture not just those three cultures.

But when you grow up in Hawaii–Hawaii is, in itself, just a cultural mixture and very strong mixture. We do have this kind of Kama’aina blend of a culture. But more importantly, we have strong independent cultures all together, feeding each other and respecting each other and blending with each other.

So when you asked, did I ever have that kind of struggle? No, it was never a struggle. For me, it was a blessing. Being Hapa Hawaiian, these days you hear Hapa as part Asian, part anything else. But back when I was growing up, Hapa meant you were part Hawaiian and whatever else. And the whatever else was almost always some kind of Asian and some kind of white. So on the mainland, I don’t look like anybody, but at home, I look like pretty much everybody.

I was like, if you had to pick a mixture of things I had it covered. So it was great. I loved it.

Dharma Kelleher: Lily is very close with her father who is a rather unique character, Baba is how she refers to him. Tell us about him.

Tori Eldridge: Well Baba is actually, I don’t know if my cousin’s out there, but I kind of modeled him after my cousin’s husband. Because he’s an upstanding salt-of-the-earth farmer from North Dakota. And I just kind of always thought about him.

But so much of the culture between Baba and his father–whom Lily calls Bestefar, which means “best father” in Norwegian–so much of that comes from the heritage that my father passed on to me and some even his stories passed on to me, that I kind of inlaid there, in different people.

So between my dad’s culture, my cousin’s husband, especially the way he looks and everything, and all my other beloved Norwegian cousins who are now all mostly living in Arizona, that’s where a lot of that came from.

Dharma Kelleher: And one of the things that I found really unique about the character of Baba is that he has very much adopted a lot of Chinese culture. He became a chef of Chinese cuisine and runs a restaurant and everyone assumes that and, I’m trying to remember the character’s name–

Tori Eldridge: Uncle.

Dharma Kelleher: The uncle, exactly.

Tori Eldridge: Not “the uncle.” Uncle.

Dharma Kelleher: Right. Right. Right.

Tori Eldridge: Cause he’s not really her uncle.

Dharma Kelleher: Right, right. But everyone assumes that he is the Wong of the restaurant’s name. And it turns out that the real chef is her father and…

Tori Eldridge: No, not quite. Wong is Lily’s mother’s family name. So Lily Wong, her father gave her her mother’s last name, and it’s an ongoing effort to appease the grandfather. It’s a futile effort, but it’s ongoing and yeah, and so all of these recipes and the inspiration for the restaurant, the culture, all of this, it all came from Lily’s North Dakota Norwegian father. He hired Li Chang out of Shanghai as his first chef, but make no mistake, the authenticity of the cuisine, it all comes from Baba and his love of food. He used to grow it, now he fixes it.

Dharma Kelleher: Now Lily’s relationship with her mother, whom she calls Ma, is a little bit different, a little bit more complicated. Can you tell us about that?

Tori Eldridge: It sure is. Yeah, we Chinese gals and our mothers, it’s a complicated situation. It really is. It’s not an easy thing.

It was interesting. Again, I am not Lily. Lily’s mother is not my mother. One of the first things I did when I started writing this story was I called a lot of friends, and I had a lot of conversation with a lot of my first generation Chinese friends. My grandfather immigrated from Canton, but I was looking for people whose parents, friends of mine whose parents immigrated.

And so I talked with a lot of my friends, and we just talk story as they say in Hawaii. What was your relationship like? What was it like growing up? Did you go to Cantonese school? Did you go to Mandarin school? Did you have this? How did your mom feel about that? And so and also there were a lot of Chinese moms who were very important in my life who are not my mothers.

And so I had a lot of influence from them, and, of course, from my own mother. So all of this is in this cultural vocabulary from which to pull. And that’s where that comes from, because ultimately, Lily’s relationship with her father Lily’s relationship with her mother, that this is a unique thing to Lily and them.

Dharma Kelleher: Very cool. Let’s get back to the writing. With all of your experience in both Wushu–you studied Wushu, as well, right?

Tori Eldridge: I did. Not a lot. I started in Tang Soo Do. I went crazy in To Shin Do Ninjitsu, and then after I was a fifth-degree black belt, my favorite weapon was the staff, the bo. It’s a six-foot staff. So bo and spear.

And so my son was on the UCLA Wushu team. And so I had the opportunity to train with his teacher, who was gracious enough to accept me as a master practitioner and teach me what I wanted to learn, which was specifically bo and spear. That’s not a usual thing.

Normally, a teacher from the art wouldn’t do that. But he was a very, very gracious. And so that was very helpful to me.

Dharma Kelleher: So with with your all of your experience in various martial arts, how did you find writing the fight scenes? Was that a challenge? Did it come naturally?

Tori Eldridge: You know, interestingly enough, I think fight scenes do come naturally to me.

There’s something about writing action. You may have noticed. I really move things along, right? It’s a pretty fast-paced book, and I’m very careful with my sentences. If I can say it in one, I want to. And what I really want to do in a fight scene is not just give you a whole bunch of things that are happening, but the feeling and the emotion and the tension and the suspense and the urgency of what’s happening. That’s what’s exciting about a fight scene.

Not “I punched you here” and you fell there. The blow-by-blow. So it really did come pretty naturally, but I like it a lot. It’s challenging. It is requires a lot of care.

You know, sometimes I’ll get carried away, and I’ll go, “Okay Tori, we don’t need that much detail.”

Dharma Kelleher: Can you explain the way Lily’s spiritual practice intersects with her ninja practice?

Tori Eldridge: Well, it’s very interesting because Lily does practice Buddhism. Her mother looks at Buddhism as a religion. Lily looks at it as a practice. So, that is very similar to my experience as well. I came to Buddhism very late, but I began meditating when I was 12. And so that was something that I continued all the way through my life and was tremendously helpful.

So I was overjoyed when I began training in To Shin Do and realized that meditation was part of our training and our curriculum and especially the seminars and workshops that Stephen K. Hayes was giving. I was like, “Yes, thank you. This is my thing.” So that was really wonderful.

I really did a deep dive into that. And so much of this esoteric Ninja practice has to do with Tendai Buddhism, which comes from China. So  it was very neat to me to be able to incorporate what has become so much of my now daily practice and have Lily also introduced that because one of my main goals of this book was to show ninja in a different way.

I mean we’re used to this flashy flashy fantasy superhero. I mean, it’s cool. I love that stuff. I love it. I totally dig that stuff, but that’s not what I wanted to write.

I wanted to write something that to me felt real and contemporary and that would help people understand  what modern-day Ninja can be like. We’re all over the place. We’re all over the world right now. And we are doing all sorts of things, and we are people that you wouldn’t even look twice at, or think at, I mean, you might, but not usually.

And so many of us, the majority I would hope, are out there wanting to do good things, make an empowering impact on the world. And so that’s what I wanted to show. So I thought it was really cool like with this kind of esoteric stuff.

Dharma Kelleher: Absolutely. I think it really took it to a new level in terms of what it means to be a ninja as far as in literature. And so I really enjoyed seeing that aspect of it.

The issue of violence against women has become a bit of a heated topic in certain circles in the crime fiction community. And your book opens–we hinted at earlier–with a scene where Lily is actually being tortured by a thug trying to get information out of her.

How did you approach…some people don’t like the depiction of violence against women. There’s even the Staunch Prize, which created some controversy by rewarding novels or authors who don’t depict violence against women. And yet at the same time, we have to recognize that this is something that occurs with great frequency in our society. And so how did you approach the topic and without getting too graphic?

Tori Eldridge: I really appreciate you asking this question. I put a lot of thought into that, especially with the opening scene. Because as you say, it is this classic situation. What was very important to me was to make sure that there was for me in this scene that this was not a sexual thing. This had none of that overtone. This was all about information that needed to be obtained.

And the way that I wrote the violence, much of it coming from Lily, I might add. The way that I wrote it had everything to do with setting up this character and not to do with the salaciousness of pain or torture.

So, I didn’t waste my time going into more than a comment of what was happening here. It was more about how she was going to use this and what memories it was triggering for her and what ideas it was triggering for her and how this was going to be turned around.

Because obviously it will come as a surprise to nobody that she’s the one who walks out of the situation. Because obviously the first chapter in a book and it’s about Lily Wong, right? So I don’t feel like I just spoiled anything there.

Dharma Kelleher: No, not at all. I think that it’s always a good idea to demonstrate in the opening scene that your character has some certain level of competence in something. So I think you did that very effectively.

Tori Eldridge: Yeah, so it was. I appreciate that. And so it was really, really important to me that this didn’t come off at all salacious, titillating, anything like that.

There was a lot of sardonic humor in it. There was a lot of grit and harshness and reality in it. There was a lot that really showed you who this character was.  And I used it to introduce this character, and so it became a very important two chapters in that light. Rather than–and I think this is where a lot of this violence in literature or even in media goes wrong–it wasn’t about the violence. It wasn’t for the sake of that.

Now Lily, she is all about being a protector of women.

Dharma Kelleher: We see that numerous times. It’s almost like trouble keeps finding her. There was an incident in the bathroom and then there are a few other incidents. Exactly,

Tori Eldridge: So, it’s like if this isn’t…If this isn’t something that you’re going to be able to handle, this is a trigger warning and by all means steer clear, right?

But this is about an empowering woman out to empower and protect and rescue others. Now even in that sense anything that happens to others again, I’m not interested in this salacious violence. It’s not about that.

It’s all a vehicle to moving the story and delving into character.

Dharma Kelleher: Right, absolutely. One of the other things that caught me is the character of Kateryna. And we meet her very early on. And she is a woman who goes back to her abusive husband. That is something that I could relate to you personally.

I’ve been happily married to my wife for 21 years. But before that I was in an abusive relationship with my ex-husband. And despite being an educated, intelligent woman, I kept going back. And I found your portrayal of Kateryna as not simply a victim, but she does make choices. And I like how you portray that. What was your thinking when you were creating her character?

Tori Eldridge: I really, really appreciate you saying this. This is really important to me because it’s not just… There are women and men out there suffering in domestic situations. And sometimes people who are not in those situations and have never been in those situations are looking at them with this feeling of, “Come on. Just walk out. Yeah, go for it. You know this is bad. Change!” And it’s just not that easy.

I have a very good friend who is an advocate for domestic violence. I have quite a few friends who have been very active in this and have been on the receiving end themselves. Very intelligent, very powerful women. And I wanted to make sure that this was clear.

And so it’s very important to me that Lily respect Kateryna’s decisions and her timing, and yet still hold a space open for her to step in if she wanted to help.

Dharma Kelleher: Yeah. I really like that and I like how you did it there.

The character of J Tran is rather interesting. And I don’t want to give away any spoilers or anything like that, but he is a very complex antagonist, I should say. I was curious what inspired him and what kind of research did you have to do in order to create this character?

Tori Eldridge: Oh my own twisted imagination. I gotta say I am bored by black and white, and I just adore shades of gray. And J Tran is as great as it gets boy, and he yeah, he just he keeps Lily on her toes. He’s quite a guy. I mean, he really had me going. And he had me all over the place. I’m just like, wow, this guy. Hoo, yeah. He’s a dangerous one, isn’t he?

Dharma Kelleher: He is because you never know what angle he’s playing.

Tori Eldridge: So he, yeah, he is another one of the most…Because he’s one of the most dangerous people I’ve ever thought up.

Dharma Kelleher: Yeah. Well you did it very well. In fact, one of the more humorous lines in the story came in a scene that involved him. They were there at a sushi restaurant or Japanese restaurant, and one of the lines that I love–and I could totally appreciate this because I love sushi and I run into this problem myself.

Th`e line is, “I nearly choked. Not from the taste. I loved ikura, which is salmon roe sushi, but from the volume of rice, nori, and exploding fish eggs. One of these days, I was going to ask Sensei how women in Japan deal with the issue. Smaller pieces? Secret chewing techniques?”

 I could totally relate because it is considered improper to bite half of the sushi roll. You put the whole thing in your mouth, and there’s only so much room for some of us with smaller mouths.

Tori Eldridge: It’s so true and eating ikura is a real problem because you cannot bite that in half. The whole thing will fall. It will completely self-destruct. But it is so funny that you said this because my editor said the same thing. She just started laughing when she read that part.

Dharma Kelleher: So this is your debut debut novel. What was your publishing journey like in terms of when you decided, “Okay, this is the novel I’m going to publish.” You mentioned you had a literary agent already. Were you considering going with one of the Big Five? Or were you wanting to start off with one of the smaller presses? What was what was your thought process?

Tori Eldridge: Well, when I got really serious about this, I centered all of this on turning 50. This writing fiction was going to be the career for the second half-century of my life. Yeah, I’m staying open to a third half-century, by the way. I’ll let you know what that career is gonna be because I haven’t figured it out yet.

But so I had a very long, long vision. And so in the course of those eight years, I had been working on that other novel that I told you about and rewriting it and re-envisioning it.

And I had met many, many editors from Big Five houses and I had developed a lot of really excellent relationships with people who were just so incredibly generous with their time. And so I had already started early on, I had an offer for an agent, and I just kind of let that one pass for a little bit because I started to have these other contacts. And I was able to submit on my own to really big houses unagented, which everybody told me was not possible. And of course I did.

So I was like, well, I don’t know I’ll just I’ll just do whatever and we’ll see what happens.

And then in the course of that, I was writing another thing. And then I started doing short stories, and they started getting published. And I wrote this one that inspired The Ninja Daughter.

And then I fell in with this agent who I had met long, long, long ago and we were like, “Oh my gosh! You know, we definitely should work together.”

And so we did and so we worked together for quite a while. And she was shopping the first one, while I was writing this second one. And then she shopped that. And then I rewrote the second one. And then I rewrote The Ninja Daughter. And then she was shopping them both. And this basically…and then I started writing a fifth novel, and it was like we’ll just see what sticks first. And so I was just, looking and looking and trying all these things.

And Pam Stack, who is the host of Authors on the Air, and a tremendous friend of mine. She read The Ninja Daughter and went ape over this thing. She just went nuts. And she was like, “You have to take this to Jason Pinter.”

And I’m like, “I do?”

She goes, “Yes, you do.”

And for all of you, if y’all don’t know, he runs Polis Books. That’s his baby. It’s this wonderful, wonderful independent press. Really quality stuff.

And so, I had my agent submit there. And Pam was following up emails. “Have you read it yet? Have it read it yet?”

And it just so happened that he read it in the last couple of weeks as they were putting together the three launch authors for this new imprint. Isn’t that interesting?

Dharma Kelleher: Timing is everything.

Tori Eldridge: Amazing, amazing timing. 

Dharma Kelleher: Were you a little bit nervous about being one of the launch authors with the new imprint?

Tori Eldridge: Nervous? No, excited. Excited. But why would I be nervous?

Dharma Kelleher: Just because there’s so many things. We’ve seen Midnight Ink close its doors. Poisoned Pen Press was purchased by Sourcebooks, and so many things can happen. And  so I was just curious, what was your what was your thought process? So you’re just excited.

Tori Eldridge: You know, I would say that ignorance is bliss. I kind of felt like I did when I was pregnant with my eldest son. I didn’t know enough to be afraid.

Dharma Kelleher: Oh, okay.

Tori Eldridge: To me it was like yes, and and it was the same thing.

I only saw the potential to be part of a bigger story. And when you’re a debut author, of course, the biggest challenge is awareness, public awareness. What better thing than to be a part of a bigger story and that’s the only thing I thought of.

Dharma Kelleher: That’s great. So what’s next for you in terms of publishing?

Are there more Lily Wong books in the works?

Tori Eldridge: You betcha. Just last week. I guess it was, I turned in the book two. Lily Wong book two.

Dharma Kelleher: All right.

Tori Eldridge: So I turned that in along with a synopsis possible Lily Wong book three. Yeah, right now I’m operating on a two-book deal. So and that’s both for Polis Agora and with Blackstone for audiobooks.

Dharma Kelleher: Oh, okay. Wow.

Tori Eldridge: Yeah the audiobook, it’s gonna come out the same time. And I love my narrator. I’m not going to tell you her name because they haven’t put it up on Audible, but she’s awesome. That’s why I’m really excited. So I’ve got those two things going.

And meanwhile, I have gone back to a book that I had been writing at the time that I got this deal. And so I was already 80 pages into that novel, and so I’m back into that. And I’m writing that.

And then I pause because now I’m going through the proofs, the final proofs for The Ninja Daughter. So all these different stories are in my head fighting.

Dharma Kelleher: Yeah. I can relate to that. I can totally relate to that. It would be easy if we could just do one project at a time, but there’s only so many hours in the day and, if you want more than one project coming out.

Tori Eldridge: Actually, I kind of like the fact that there are all sorts of things, because sometimes I can only really get intently focused, especially in the creation process. I can only maintain that intensity of focus and emotional commitment for a period of time. And so that’s when I naturally break into another type of work, either marketing or business or working on the synopsis for a different story or proofreading a different story, that kind of thing. So that actually helps me to be productive throughout my day.

Dharma Kelleher: Well, that’s great. That’s wonderful. Well, thank you so much for being our guest today, Tori.

Tori Eldridge: Oh, my pleasure. This is a blast.

Dharma Kelleher: All right, thank you.

Our guest today on the gritty gritty has been Tori Eldridge, author of the debut novel The Ninja Daughter, which comes out on November 5th. Listeners can learn more about Tori and her work at her website at ToriEldridge.com or on social media by searching @ToriEldridge. There will be links in the show notes. 

If you’re looking for something even a little darker, I highly recommend reading John Vercher’s debut novel Three-Fifths. Like Tori Eldridge’s The Ninja Daughter, Three-Fifths is one of the first titles from Polis’s new Agora imprint, which focuses on diversity in crime fiction. John Vercher’s fiction has appeared in Akashik Books’ Mondays Are Murder and Fri-SciFi. He is also a contributing writer for Cognoscenti, the thoughts and opinions section of WBUR Boston.

In Three-Fifths, a literary noir novel, we meet Bobby, a man struggling to make ends meet, while also trying to help keep his alcoholic mom, Isabella, sober. But his problems balloon when his best friend, Aaron, who is fresh out of prison, involves them in a brutal act of violence, and Bobby must decide whether to report it or not.

Three-Fifths is much more than a crime novel. It delves deep into the issues of race, identity, and the difficult choices people make as a matter of survival. The writing is both beautiful and emotionally raw. The characters are complex and deeply flawed. The deeper the story delves into the character’s backstory, the more human and vulnerable they become and the less black and white the morality of their actions.

Don’t expect the typical murder mystery or even a happy ending with Three-Fifths, but do expect to be emotionally moved by this gripping drama. Three-Fifths was published in September by Agora.

cover art for a broken woman

On a personal note, the ebook for my next novel, A Broken Woman, is now available for preorder on Amazon, Kobo, and other retailers. It is the third book in the Jinx Ballou Bounty Hunter series and will be released on December 10th. 

I hope you enjoyed this episode of the Gritty Gritty, highlighting #OwnVoices in crime fiction. Be sure to subscribe and leave a review. The Gritty Gritty is an audio production of Dark Pariah press in Phoenix, Arizona, I’m Dharma Kelleher.

You can learn more about me and my work at dharmakelleher.com. Thank you for listening.

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