Instead of writing a review for my book of the week, I thought I would take it up a notch and interview the author because 1) I loved Shannon Young’s new novel, Ferry Tale, so much; 2) I had many questions after reading it; and 3) the book is set in Hong Kong, so say no more.
Susan Blumberg-Kason: Shannon, what was your inspiration for writing Ferry Tale? It kind of reminded me of a modern day World of Suzie Wong with the first meeting on the Star Ferry and how Katrina told Sam she was someone else, someone more glamorous and not a lounge singer. So I was wondering if Suzie was an inspiration or was there something or someone else?
Shannon Young: I was interested in the idea of starting over in Hong Kong, something that is quite common here. Whether they want to or not, lots of people end up reinventing themselves. I’d also been reading about the completely life-changing (and sometimes life-ruining) consequences of having something you do go viral. I wanted to tell a story where the protagonist is trying to recover from such an event. Hiding from a viral story is virtually impossible when anyone you meet can find information about you on the Internet, and the subject is often affected long after most people have moved on to the next story. On the other hand, they say you can be whoever you want to be on social media, and people rarely ever see the full truth. Hong Kong, the city of reinvention, seemed like the right place to tell this story.
SBK: That completely makes sense. I think Hong Kong has been a place for reinvention for decades and decades, no matter where people come from. But on the subject of romance, people say love comes to die in Hong Kong, although I think it’s quite the opposite. And your novel really shows that. In the book, Nick thinks the most romantic spot in Hong Kong is the Intercontinental, but what’s your opinion in real life? (By the way, the Intercon was called The Regent when I lived there!)
SY: Lots of couples fall in love in Hong Kong! People are very open to meeting new people and trying new things here, so it can be a great place for romance. Off the top of my head, I can think of a couple who met on the street in Central and are now married, a couple who met on a junk trip and are now living together, and a couple who met in a bar and are now in a long-distance relationship.
My favorite romantic spots are the waterfront, the “sitting out” area partway up the Peak where my husband proposed to me, and the Escalator! It’s actually a sweet spot to stop and smooch. There’s an energy about Hong Kong which is usually connected to commerce and industry, but I think it can be romantic too.
SBK: A random meeting on the Star Ferry seems like such a Hong Kong thing. Although there are more than 7 million people in the city, I found that I ran into acquaintances all the time in Hong Kong, including on the Star Ferry (a friend who was a cross between Polly and Cher). It’s funny because even last year my mom and friend Mary ran into you at your writers’ group one evening after having just seen you for a few hours for the first time in their lives the day before at the HK International Literary Festival. What is the most random run-in you’ve had in Hong Kong?
SY: That was such a funny coincidence! I run into someone I know literally once a week (this week it was at the gym). It helps that I live in Central, but it is such a small world here. My favorite run-in was with someone I don’t technically know. I write at the same Starbucks on Queens Road five days a week. There’s a man who looks like a taller, thinner Nicholas Cage who comes in to have coffee and read the paper almost every day. Once I went to a different Starbucks up in Midlevels to grab a coffee on the weekend and the same man was there!
SBK: That sounds so Hong Kong! When you started writing Ferry Tale, had you mapped out the story in advance or did it come to you as you wrote? I know you started it as a National Novel Writing Month project. All the parts of the story flowed together so well, so I was just wondering how you crafted your story.
SY: I’ve become a dedicated outliner since I started writing SFF books under my other pen name. I usually start with notes and a basic 3-act structure for the rough draft, then I plug what I have into a storyboard before the second draft to help me see where the story needs work. For Ferry Tale I tried making a more detailed 20-chapter outline before I started writing that ended up working remarkably well. Outlining helps me write faster, and it means there’s less need for drastic changes in future drafts because I’ve worked through the big story problems in advance. Figuring out what happens in the story and actually writing the story are quite different tasks, so it helps to tackle them one at a time.
SBK: Maura Cunningham wrote a fabulous blog post about reading Ferry Tale and watching the movie, Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong, around Valentine’s Day this year. I actually saw that movie on a flight from Hong Kong this fall and loved it almost as much as your book. Have you seen it? And do you have a favorite romantic movie set in Hong Kong?
SY: I haven’t seen that one yet, but I’m looking forward to it after Maura’s review. I adore Don’t Go Breaking My Heart. I saw it in the cinema twice when it came out. It’s the perfect romantic comedy showcasing the serendipitous nature of Hong Kong. It feels quite fresh compared to typical Hollywood rom-coms. Most of the movie is in Putonghua, which I don’t speak, but it’s fun to recognize the bits of Cantonese and English that get thrown in, just like in real conversations around Hong Kong.
SBK: I saw that movie, too, in Chicago and remember you had just seen it for the first or second time. I loved it, too! For my last question, I was wondering if you plan on writing more books set in Hong Kong? I hope so!
SY: Thank you! I think I will. We have no plans to leave Hong Kong anytime soon, so I’m sure another story idea will come to me at some point. Maybe this one will feature the MTR or the tram! I’m dedicating most of my writing time to my other pen name at the moment, but I don’t think Hong Kong is done with me yet!
Thank you so much for reading Ferry Tale, Susan!
My pleasure! I can see a transportation series of love stories. The Peak Tram would be another fun setting. Ferry Tale was such a great story and one that really brought Hong Kong to my living room, car, kids’ school–all the places where I read it. I hope readers will pick it up for a very reasonable price on Amazon.
Thank you, Shannon!