Tori Eldridge’s The Ninja Daughter is a unique take on the vigilante hero. The title character, Lily Wong, is diminutive enough to be nicknamed “dumpling” by her Swedish Father and Chinese mother, but trained in the Japanese ninja arts, she can be lethal. She targets the bad men in women’s lives and offers protection and retribution. Her latest quest for justice gets her involved with a sordid plot involving the Ukraniane mob and L.A. Transit system. Eldridge delivers action heroine excitement, crime fiction mood, and me too justice in spades. She was kind enough to talk about her book and her background that went into it.
Scott Montgomery: The Ninja Daughter is such a unique book, how did it come about?
Tori Eldridge: Lily Wong appeared to me during a stream of consciousness writing for a short story. I discovered her as the words hit the page. She was sitting at a bar with a mysterious man. The night ended badly. She walked away. He didn’t. That scene became a pivotal part of Lily Wong’s origin story. I didn’t know much about her at that time, but I had a clear image of who she was relaying this story to and under what circumstance. Later, I incorporated that short story into an early chapter of The Ninja Daughter and opened the novel with the circumstance I had envisioned. The rest of the story—the complexity of the mystery and the diverse characters—emerged through the outlining stage, which, for me, is a very creative and exploratory process.
S.M. : One thing that differentiates Lily from most other vigilante heroes is her family, especially her mother. What does this allow you to do with Lily as a writer?
T.E. : Most vigilante heroes are older and either estranged from their families or have lost them through tragedy. They tend to be lone wolves who are fighting the demons of their past. Lily, on the other hand, is twenty-five years old, living above her father’s restaurant, and raised in a family-oriented Chinese culture. She can’t escape her family because no matter how urgent or dangerous her professional life becomes; Lily is bound to them by love and duty. Her family isn’t just a plot device to complicate her life, they define who she is.
Lily is at a stage where she’s finding her way as an adult and redefining her relationships with her parents. This process is complicated by the tragedy her family has suffered and the different ways in which they’ve handled their grief. There’s also a cultural dynamic that complicates Lily’s relationships with her parents—an ever-present tension from her Hong Kong mother and the unfulfilled filial obligation that has been passed onto Lily. All of this provides a fascinating playground for me to play in as a writer.
S.M. : There’s echoes of Chandler with the way you portray the city of Los Angeles and its intersections of politics and crime. What did you want to express about your city?
T.E. : I’ve lived in Los Angeles for over thirty-five years—in the city, the valley, the hills, and the beach. I’ve worked as an actress on film lots in Hollywood and taken social entrepreneurship programs into South Central and East Los Angeles. I’ve hung out at backyard parties where a loud crack has everyone in attendance hitting the ground and hosted holiday parties on top of ritzy Sunset Plaza Drive. I could live in my city another thirty-five years and barely break the surface of what lies beneath it. That’s what I want to share—the rich variety of culture, community, geography, and lifestyle.
I want to show the virtue and corruption of my city, side by side, so readers can feel both attracted and repelled. I want them to rethink their perceptions of Los Angeles as often as they change their perceptions of Lily—and as often as she changes her perception about herself. In this way, Los Angeles serves as a macrocosm of Lily’s own polarity and diversity.
S.M.: This being a debut novel, did you draw from any influences?
T.E. : The greatest influences on this novel came from my family, my heritage, and my ninja training. I wanted to delve deeply into relationships and portray culture and modern-day ninja as authentically as possible. I also enjoy complex mysteries and fast-paced thrillers. The challenge was to do it all in one book. For that, I leaned on my screenwriting techniques for plotting, pacing, and keeping track of various story lines. As for being influenced by other authors, I’m a great fan of F. Paul Wilson’s economically descriptive prose.
S.M.: The fight scenes are wonderfully executed. As someone who is a martial artist, herself, what did you want to get across about the art?
T.E. : One of my biggest goals for The Ninja Daughter was to blast through the stereotype and present ninja in a realistic, contemporary, and authentic way. Everyone is familiar with the magical ninja assassins portrayed in literature and film. But I wanted to show a modern perspective. Many people don’t even realize that Ninjutsu, in all its many forms and lineages, is an actual martial art. I wanted to show my readers the subtle grace and efficiency of ninja movement without bogging them down with too much detail. With a mention of alignment here and a stealing of balance there, I hoped to intrigue my reader to want to know more. There’s also an esoteric side of the art that is important to me that I wanted to share. I describe bits of this in the privacy Lily’s home dojo.
When it comes to fight scenes, it’s essential to me that the combat is authentic, exciting, and appropriate to the characters. The way a person fights is as individual as the way they speak. It’s like a signature to their personality—their training (or lack there of), their emotional state, how they view themselves and their relationship with others. A fight is more than a combination of techniques or a use of weaponry: It’s a revelation of character. A good fight scene evokes emotion and moves the story forward. But most of all, it reveals secrets about the person.
S.M. : What is often depicted inaccurately about martial arts in fiction and film?
T.E. : Fights last longer than they normally would. Techniques used don’t always reflect the character’s style or degree of training. Heroes seem impervious to physical damage or pain. Devastating blows, like a pipe swing to the head, have no lasting effects.
On the flip side, films like Grosse Point Blank and The Borne Identity have exhilarating fight scenes that make sense to the characters and circumstances. Even the insanely long fight sequences from Atomic Blonde—which, by its nature, pushes the boundaries of plausibility—comes through as appropriate to the character’s personality, ability, and body type. In fiction, I’d recommend Jonathan Maberry, Zoë Sharp, Taylor Stevens, and Weston Ochse. All of them have hit the mark in every fight scene of theirs that I’ve read.
The Ninja Daughter is available for purchase in-store and online.