Transnational Geek

Author M. H. Boroson shares his geeky passions: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, spirit magic kung fu movies, the ethics of cultural appropriation, Chinese American literature and history, The Dresden Files, Daoist magic, strong female characters, Asian monsters, spirit world depictions, traditional Chinese foods, race, class, gender, and culture.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


Good morning, everybody! Today I'm participating in a viral blogging effort called THE NEXT BIG THING, in which writers discuss the books we're working on, and tag other writers to do the same. Big thanks go to Betsy Dornbusch, author of Exile, who tagged me.

There are a number of questions we're asked to answer, as if we're being interviewed.

What is the working title of your next book?

The book I'm working on now is called CITY OF SPIRITS. It's the sequel to CITY OF STRANGERS, which won first prize in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers' 2012 contest, in the category of Speculative Fiction.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Well, the idea for the series came from watching an obscure genre of Hong Kong cinema, known as spirit magic kung fu movies (靈幻功夫片, or linghuan gongfu pian).  In these movies, Daoist priests use traditional Chinese magic to fight hopping corpses, beautiful ghosts, witches with flying heads, and sneaky fox spirits. 

These Hong Kong movies, like Mr. Vampire, showed a different take on the supernatural, using different technology from what we're used to.  Here the monster-fighters didn't use wooden stakes through the heart, holy water, garlic, sunlight, and crosses; they used peach wood swords, yellow paper talismans with magical writing, grains of raw sticky rice, string dipped in the blood of a white rooster, and more.  I had studied Chinese language and religion in college, and a thrill went through me to see each of these cultural signifiers.

I had also been a HUGE fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the tv show, not the movie).  So when I watched these movies, something clicked in my brain; I saw a place where these kinds of story could intersect and bring new stories to life.

For the current book in my series, I was reading The Malaysian Book of the Undead and I came across a description of a disturbing amulet called an Anak Kerak, which makes its bearer bulletproof.  The Anak Kerak is made from the corpse of a baby who was burned alive in its seventh month.  A fearsome bank robber was said to have worn one on a necklace.  My mind started playing with the storytelling possibilities.

What genre does your book fall under?

It's a fantasy novel, clearly.  One could call it historical fantasy since it is set in the waning days of the nineteenth century, or possibly even urban fantasy, since its strong female protagonist is reminiscent of that genre.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Oh, hm, I haven't spent any time thinking about that at all.

(Yes, I'm lying.  I think about it all the time.)

I'd love to see Li-lin, the series protagonist, portrayed by Chris Yen (Yen Chi-Ching):

I imagine her father would be played by Lam Ching-Ying (yes, I know he passed away):


What is the two-sentence synopsis of your book?

It's 1899 in San Francisco's Chinatown, and a young Daoist priestess has just gotten her hands on an amulet that makes its bearer bulletproof -- but the amulet is powered by the spirit of a murdered baby.  To save the child's spirit, she will need to journey to Fengdu, the City of the Dead, and cross its Eighteen Hells; but will she succeed when everyone wants the amulet, including gangsters, her father who wants to destroy it, and the Ghostkeeper who created it by murdering his own infant son?

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I don't intend to self-publish.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Still working on it.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I think the pacing and characterization are similar to Jim Butcher's Dresden Files, Ilona Andrews' Kate Daniels series, and James Tuck's Deacon Chalk.  It also shares similarities with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Kendare Blake's Anna Dressed in Blood, and the tv series Veronica Mars.

What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?

Uh, it's awesome?

City of Spirits features a strong female protagonist in a rich historical setting, where she uses kung fu and Daoist magic to fight creepy monsters and travel the surreal world of spirits.  It's a culturally-attuned supernatural thriller that highlights forms of magic that have never been written about in the English language while it explores issues of race, culture, class, and gender.

This wraps up THE NEXT BIG THING, starring my work-in-progress, CITY OF SPIRITS.  Now I'm going to tag five writers to tell us all about their current books:

  • Thomas A. Fowler, a writer aiming to instill hope
  • Mary Villalba, author of THE MAGICIAN
  • Guy Anthony De Marco, writer of speculative fiction
  • Emily France, author of LITTLE MISS LIFE, which won the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers 2012 award for Young Adult novel
  • A. M. Schilling, author of GRENDEL; she writes dark fantasy.

Get working, guys! We wanna hear all about your works-in progress. 

A couple of my friends have posted their NEXT BIG THINGS this week:
  • Quincy J. Allen. The Mad Tyrant of Steampunk just had to tell us about his Next TWO Big Things: Jake Lasater and the Blood Curse of Atheon and Legend of the Davijons.
  • Travis Heermann tells us about Death Wind, a "pseudo-Lovecraftian zombie western."
  • Josh Vogt talks about his urban fantasy, The Unfamiliars.