Born in Seoul, South Korea, Jay Caspian Kang grew up in Boston and Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  In 2003, Kang graduated from Bowdoin College and was also awarded the prestigious Sinkinson Prize for Best Short Story.  Shortly thereafter he received his Masters of Fine Arts degree from Columbia University.

Kang has had articles appear in the New York Times Magazine, Wired, Deadspin and The Atlantic.  Along with surfing, he’s an avid sports fan, writing many articles for Bill Simmons’ Grantland, where he is currently an Editor.  Kang’s debut novel, THE DEAD DO NOT IMPROVE was released in August of 2012 and revolves around a disgruntled MFA graduate named Philip Kim, who discovers that his elderly neighbor has been murdered, and who soon becomes the unlikely protagonist of a quickly unfolding mystery.

We had a chance to discuss with Jay his novel, his affinity towards Pop Music, and why surfers are a totally different breed.

1.  Your debut novel The Dead Do Not Improve has been lauded as a neo-noir novel, portraying San Francisco in a light one hasn’t seen since Raymond Chandler novels.  Do you agree with that sentiment?  Was that what you were going for?  Also, what was the genesis of the book, especially the title?  Were you at all influenced by The Silver Jews’ song “Tennessee”?

Not your Summer of Love San Francisco.

I feel uncomfortable with comparisons to Chandler, but the book certainly draws a lot of influence from San Francisco detective novels. There are actually lines in the book lifted straight out of Dirty Harry and The Big Sleep because I wanted to show how our perceptions of a city – especially one we didn’t grow up in – come mostly from movies and novels.

And yes, the title is from the Silver Jews song.

2.  What are your favorite sports teams in all 4 American pro sports?  And how much money would it take to denounce each of those teams and root for the rival?  Your answers may differ for each sport.

I root for the Red Sox, the Warriors and the Seahawks.

Come out and plaaaay!!!

Come out and plaaaay!!!

It would take pretty much $10 for me to denounce the teams because my work as a sportswriter has pretty much gutted my fan enthusiasms.

3.  You seem to be drawn to pop music: doing a report with Bill Simmons on breaking down Mariah Carey’s best performance, reporting on American Idol and X-Factor, and being the sole writer to the Grantland piece entitled Diva Watch.  How did that come about and do you think Psy has got any musical legs or will “Gangnam Style” fade out like “Macarena”?

You can’t Gangnam Style and not make a face.

It seems like K-Pop will have a real moment in the American consciousness with lengthy pieces coming out in places like The New Yorker and constant rotation on morning talk shows and radio. Really, the movement started a while back with the kids from ONTD and other user-generated communal websites that really pushed groups like Girls Generation into the hugely trafficked parts of the Internet.

I don’t know how my interest in pop music came about. I think I just needed something fun to write about while plodding away at my novel?

4.  You’ve written quite a few articles about Jeremy Lin.  We all know his story: not garnering a single college scholarship offer, being one of 11 finalists for the Bob Cousy Award, not drafted by any NBA team, and given little or no playing time with his stints with the Warriors and Rockets.  This is almost exactly like the story of Timmy Chang, the University of Hawaii quarterback who broke the NCAA Div 1-A records for passing yards and completions.  Chang also went undrafted and floated to a couple of teams in the NFL, but did not play a single game.  Would you characterize this as just coincidental, or do you think Pro Sports really are laboring to give AAs a shot?

Not Timmy Chang.

A lot of teams and GMs have come out and said that part of the reason why they didn’t think much of Lin was because he’s Asian. I guess it depends on the sport. Asians have played a huge role in Major League Baseball and Yao Ming was one of the biggest stars in the NBA. In America, the discrimination probably happens more on the lower levels – high school and college coaches might be a bit more wary to give Asian American athletes a chance. That’s probably changed some with the arrival of Jeremy Lin.

5.  As a surfer, it’s a granted that your favorite movie is POINT BREAK.  If this was to be remade, with you cast as Bodhi, what ex-president mask would you wear?  And please explain how surfers are able to free-fall from a plane while having a long-winded dialogue that can clearly be heard without any audio assistance.

Can I say Obama? I kid! And surfers have great lungs.

Dead Presidents

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