Saturday, May 21, 2022

Brian Klingborg

Brian Klingborg has both a B.A. (University of California, Davis) and an M.A. (Harvard) in East Asian Studies and spent years living and working in Asia. He currently works in early childhood educational publishing and lives in New York City. Klingborg is the author of two non-fiction books on Shaolin kung fu; Kill Devil Falls; and the Lu Fei China mystery series (Thief of Souls and Wild Prey.)

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

There is an art to creating a good book title. It must be catchy, suggestive of the plot without giving too much away, and not something that dozens of other authors have already used for their books.

The working title of the first book in the Inspector Lu Fei series was City of Ice. Pretty catchy, I thought. And relevant, as the book is set in the northern part of China, near Harbin, which is, in fact, nicknamed City of Ice. Unfortunately, many other authors, mostly writing in the fantasy genre, had already used that title. So, in the end, we had to change it to Thief of Souls. Although Thief of Souls is a good title, I’m not sure it let readers know what to expect. As I said to my editor, it sounds a bit like a 1980s synth-heavy pop song by Stevie Nicks.

The plot of this next book, Wild Prey, revolves around the illegal animal trade in China and Myanmar. In keeping with the criteria – catchy, relevant, unique – I came up with a variety of titles that included words like “meat,” “raw,” “butcher,” and so on. Okay, so perhaps I was going for lurid, rather than catchy.

After some back and forth, my editor and I narrowed the choices to either Wild Prey or The Quarry. We both liked The Quarry best – it was evocative and somewhat “literary.” However, when I started polling friends to see if they knew the definition of the word as “an animal pursued by a hunter,” I discovered many did not. So, out of fear that readers might think the book was about chipping stone out of a hole in the ground, we settled on Wild Prey. In the end, I think the title fits the plot like a CSI tech’s latex glove.

What's in a name?

When you’re writing about a country where just 5 surnames account for more than 300 million citizens and the language is wildly divergent from English, it is a struggle to come up with names that a Western audience can both pronounce and keep straight.

In the Lu Fei series, wherever possible, I have resorted to using nicknames or titles – Chief Liang, Constable Sun, Li the Mute, Big Wang, “Monk,” and so on. I’ve also avoided choosing, with limited success, names that I think most readers will find difficult to digest: Xi, Qin, Cui, Xiong, and the like.

For my protagonist, I wanted a name that was easy to read, meaningful in some way, and was authentically “Chinese.” In other words, no Kuai Chang Caines or Charlie Chans. I chose Lu (according to Chinese conventions, surnames go first) because it was simple, and Fei, meaning “to fly,” because it sounded illustrious.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your novel?

As a teenager growing up in a small town – this was before home computers, the internet and cable television – reading was my escape. I read anything and everything, but mostly fantasy, horror, and historical fiction. And although I was reading for pleasure, I always enjoyed learning something new in the process.

I suppose that sentiment has informed my own writing. Wild Prey, and its predecessor, Thief of Souls, are crime/thriller novels, but they are also intended to give Western readers a peek into a different culture and society. While fifteen-year-old me wouldn’t have had an inkling that I’d go on to study Chinese culture and live in Asia, he might have guessed I’d base my writing on factual history or current events.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Endings are much harder than beginnings. A beginning starts with an inspiration. A brainstorm, a “Hey, what if?” Beginnings are full of promise and excitement.

But every beginning eventually comes to a midpoint - and must strive to reach a satisfying conclusion. That’s where the hard work lies. Figuring out how to mold your one brilliant idea into a complete story.

When writing, I usually start off strong and have a general idea of where I’m going but get lost frequently along the way. It’s like driving down an unfamiliar road with a destination in mind, but only a few fragments of a map to guide you.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I suppose all my characters have some connection to my own personality. After all, their emotions, reactions, and motivations all spring from the same well – me!

The protagonist of Wild Prey, Inspector Lu Fei, is a citizen of the People’s Republic of China and came of age at a time when that country’s society and economy were undergoing rapid changes. In writing him, I have worked very hard to create a character who is relatable to a Western audience, but also very much of a product of a culture and setting that is not my own. While I like to think we share a similar sense of humor, romantic sensibility, and fondness for beer, my goal is to make Lu Fei true to his setting and himself.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

I’m a huge movie buff, especially horror movies. Horror movies are designed to tap into a primitive part of your emotional framework – your lizard brain – and produce a visceral response: fear, disgust, arousal, excitement, jubilation.

Good horror films also know how to paint a character with just a few brush strokes, build tension, lull you into a false sense of security, and then BAM! - hit you with a surprise twist.

Although my books are more in the thriller or crime vein than horror, I try to follow some of these same principles. If I can get my readers to feel and experience what my characters feel and experience, then I will have done my job.
Visit Brian Klingborg's website.

My Book, The Movie: Wild Prey.

--Marshal Zeringue