“It has a little bit of ‘The Devil Wears Prada,’” says writer Sarah Kuhn about her new novel, “Heroine Complex.” “But with superheroes.”
And with wisecracking Asian-American heroines, supernatural karaoke battles and killer cupcakes running amok in San Francisco.
Kuhn’s protagonist, Evie Tanaka, is busy washing demon blood out of the wardrobe of her tyrannical superhero boss, Aveda Jupiter, not fetching coffee for a fashion magazine editrix, but the idea is the same: A harried personal assistant finds love, high jinks and professional fulfillment.
Setting the book in San Francisco made sense to Kuhn, who went to Mills College and spent several years in the Bay Area.
“The book kind of touches on themes of coming of age while in your 20s, and I feel like I really sort of came of age in the Bay Area,” says Kuhn, who grew up in Oregon and now lives in Los Angeles. In one scene borrowed from Kuhn’s life, her characters are transformed by a childhood trek to a San Francisco movie house to see “The Heroic Trio,” a wild 1993 Hong Kong action film.
“I grew up Asian-American in a very small, very white town, and a lot of the media I consumed was also very dominated by white faces. I loved sci-fi, fantasy, action, and with a few exceptions, it’s sort of hard to find yourself as a main character in those stories,” Kuhn says. “And when I saw ‘The Heroic Trio,’ it’s basically about these three badass Asian women who are superheroes. … it just blew my mind.”
“Everybody deserves to see themselves in stories,” says Kuhn, who identifies as “hapa,” or half-Japanese.
The novel, released today, is the first part of a trilogy about Asian-American superheroes. Kuhn has the geek credentials to back it up after penning the nerd-love ode “One Con Glory” and writing for comic books such as the Eisner Award-nominated “Fresh Romance” and an upcoming series about Barbie. (Hey, if Barbie can be an astronaut, paratrooper and president, she can be a cool comic book heroine, too.)
“One thing I tried to kind of bring to the prose was that feeling of visual movement,” Kuhn says. The pages of “Heroine Complex” fly past in a flurry of humor and heroics. During the fight scenes, she dialed “up the outrageousness a little bit” and the kinetic language.
Kuhn is appearing at Borderlands Books on July 9 with fellow urban-fantasy writers Seanan McGuire, author of the “InCryptid” series, and Amber Benson, author of “The Witches of Echo Park.”
While she’s in town, Kuhn might make time to visit her favorite local spots, like Humphry Slocombe. “Heroine Complex” includes references to the Mission district shop famed for flavors like Secret Breakfast (bourbon and cornflakes) and Elvis: The Fat Years (bananas, brown sugar, bacon, peanut brittle).
So, what kind of ice cream might “Heroine Complex” inspire?
“There’s a thread in the book about Spam musubi, which is Evie’s sort of childhood comfort food,” Kuhn says. “I don’t know how they would do a flavor of this, but if anybody can do it, it’s Humphry Slocombe.”
IF YOU GO
Where: Borderlands Books, 866 Valencia St., S.F.
When: 6 p.m. July 9
Note: Kuhn will also be at “Writers With Drinks” at 7:30 p.m. July 9 at the Make-Out Room, 3225 22nd St., S.F.
By Sarah Kuhn
Published by: DAW
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