By Hiromi Yoshida
Since the 2021 Atlanta spa shootings, women of Asian descent have faced the possibility of further victimization and disempowerment. That’s why Ava Tan, the Korean American superheroine of Todd Hosea’s Steal the Reaper,emerges, colossal and inspirational, from 500+ pages packed with nonstop suspense and action. Hosea leaves you hanging on the edge of your seat throughout Ava’s adventures—culminating in her superheroic act of piloting the Reaper through precariously explosive moments. Ava is no typical superwoman, however, due to the deft ways Hosea humanizes her. She chuckles. She cries. She devours mega-burgers for body fuel. She craves showers and other restroom uses. Yet, she also has the emotional tenacity to move on after her lover’s death to accept an extraordinarily hazardous mission for global preservation. Ava Tan is the superhuman who kicks ass beautifully. In fact, she somehow manages to remain beautiful throughout the most harrowing moments, as Hosea’s dust jacket image suggests. But the Photoshopped, heavily made-up, closeup face speaks volumes for Ava’s beautiful heroism, while suggesting that anything is possible in Hosea’s crazy-ass, fictional sci-fi world. What’s more, Ava becomes ultra-superheroic through her assumption of multiple identities: As Samantha Ri, she joins a humanitarian team to infiltrate North Korea to steal the Reaper. Once there, she stands in for Ji-eun Vong, and defies the slimy advances of North Korea’s Supreme Leader. These are all movingly credible representations of Asian American female superheroism at a time when they are more valuable than ever.
HY: Wow, Steal the Reaper is an amazing page turner, Todd! So much, in fact, that I’m glad to know it’s actually just “Book 1” in your projected series. Can you tell readers of The Bloomingtonian what you have planned for “Book 2” without revealing any spoilers?
TH: Thanks so much. I’m glad you liked it. The sequel, Hunt the Reaper, picks up right after the events of Book 1. It’s coming along nicely and will be released in 2022. There are several storylines to continue in the sequel, such as the geopolitical fallout from the alien encounter; Kypa’s unwelcome return to the planet Aiwa; and the competition to dominate the intergalactic harvester trade. Plus, the Reaper is now the most wanted commodity in the galaxy. Ava has a target on her back that puts herself and others at risk. As I write, it’s fun to get to know the characters even better and see how they handle these challenges.
HY: Sounds great! So, what inspired you to start this series? And what inspired you to make a Korean American woman your protagonist for Steal the Reaper?
TH: I love a good heist and when the idea for Steal the Reaper came to me, I knew this was a story I had to tell. Originally, my protagonist was a Korean American male. However, as I worked through the plot it soon became evident that a female protagonist made more sense and would make the story far more interesting. Switching perspectives was challenging for me as a writer. Fortunately, my three editors were women and they pulled no punches correcting me when needed.
HY: [laughs]. Now, I’m wondering if Ava Tan is based on any actual person you’ve known in so-called “real life,” or if she’s a composite picture of different people. And what about the other characters? Do you think any of them represent any aspect of your own self?
TH: Honestly, I think we can all relate to Ava in many respects. She’s not based on a specific person, but she experiences a painful loss, a tough career choice, and vulnerability in the midst of uncertainty. Even so, Ava chooses to be bold and courageous when facing insurmountable odds. She’s tenacious and refuses to quit, especially with others depending on her. As for the other characters, there’s a little bit of me in all of them, I guess. I really enjoyed writing about General Vong. He takes an incredible risk to create a better life for his daughter and grandson. As a father, I could definitely relate to him. This connection helped me to humanize a high-ranking North Korean officer who had devoted his entire life to serving a sadistic regime. We see him as a penitent man who is willing to risk everything for his family’s freedom. His unlikely pairing with Ava to steal the Reaper was one of my favorite parts of the book.
HY: That’s interesting. So, how long did it take you to write Steal the Reaper? Any writing secrets you’d like to share with The Bloomingtonian?
It took me two and half years to write Steal the Reaper. That feels like a long time. I started out writing it as a hobby and wasn’t in a hurry. After I finished the second full draft, I let others read it and they really liked it, so, it spurred me to quicken my pace. This book was a labor of love, actually. Even though it took a while, I enjoyed writing every bit of it. Each day, I couldn’t wait to sit down and see where the story was going to take me. I had the entire book mapped out and worked off of an outline. There were many times, however, as I immersed myself in the story, it seemed to write itself and went places I hadn’t expected.
As for my secret, I stuck to three rules while writing Steal the Reaper. First, write now and edit later. Don’t get hung up on every word in every sentence trying to make it perfect. Get your ideas down and move on. When you come back to it later with a fresh perspective, you’ll edit it and make it better. Second, stick with your story until it’s finished. This is a common pitfall for writers. It’s easy to chase squirrels when ideas for new stories pop into your head, but don’t veer off your path. Jot down those ideas for other stories, then get back to what you started. Lastly, find a critique group to review your work. Be open to feedback, even if it means addition by subtraction. My book is better because I listened to the perspectives of others.
HY: Sounds like great advice, Todd. You’ve probably heard this many times before, but I’d say Steal the Reaper has blockbuster potential. So, if you were to turn your book over to a screenwriter, is there any particular scene, or sequence of scenes, that absolutely must be included in the screenplay? That can’t possibly be omitted?
TH: It would be a dream-come-true for Steal the Reaper to make it to the big screen. If anyone reading this knows Steven Spielberg, please tell him I have a free copy waiting for him. For me, the scene that drove the entire book is the actual theft of the Reaper—a prototype vessel hidden in the wreckage of a crashed spaceship in North Korea. Reaching that scene in the book was the milestone that kept me writing. I still get chills reading it, so I’ve gotta have that scene in the movie. Also, I think the rescue mission Ava leads in Chapter 1 is pivotal to establishing her character. It shows she is an exceptional pilot and sets the stage for her to later accept the suicide mission to steal the Reaper.
HY: I totally agree with you. I’ve also found it interesting that you’d mentioned COVID-19 at the beginning of your book. That got me wondering how you might’ve responded to the challenges brought on by the pandemic. So, can you tell Bloomingtonian readers how you’ve managed to do that?
TH: Finishing Steal the Reaper certainly kept me motivated during the pandemic. Having a creative goal was important, and the best thing I did was turn off the television and focus on writing. I think this not only improved the quality of my writing but helped my morale as well. As the isolation restrictions are lifting, it feels good to be out and about again. Perhaps this will make it harder for me to be indoors writing another book, but I’m having a lot of fun with the sequel. It promises to be as intense and fun as the first book. Look for Hunt the Reaper in 2022!
HY: Definitely! So, is there any unpublished biographical information you’d like to share with Bloomingtonian readers?
TH: I’m a Hoosier, born and raised in Indianapolis. I graduated from IU in 1997 after serving in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Breaking Away is one of my all-time favorite movies. And, if anyone with season tickets to IU basketball or football needs someone to ride shotgun, I’m usually available. Readers can learn more about me on my website: www.toddhosea.com.