24 May, 2013

Interview - Wesley Chu, Author of The Lives of Tao

Wesley Chu is the debut author of The Lives of Tao (review) from Angry Robot. Aliens have been stranded on earth millennia ago and influence some of humanity's greatest people and events in their attempt to make it back to their home. The Lives of Tao deals with one of those aliens and his human host, Roen Tan. This book is a great ride from page one and comes highly recommended.

Wesley was nice enough to answer a couple questions and even give a little of the backstory of how the history of his world has developed, but I have to warn you this is the interview lacking the Banzai Chef. :) And seriously, check out The Lives of Tao, it will only make you happier.


OTBSFF: What made you want to become an author and when did you first start writing?

I’ve always been a huge reader. One of my favorite memories in grade school was when they handed out those little catalogues for the students to buy books. I nearly impoverished my parents buying every damn book on the list. I eventually burned through all stuff I wanted to read and had to venture into Judy Blume territory.

I think my writing career started sometime between second and fourth grade. The exact date is a little fuzzy. I wrote a story about how all the planets in our solar system used to run into each other and got into fights which caused all the pock marks on their surfaces. Eventually, the King Sun got annoyed and enforced gravity on them. My English Professor father read it and told me that it wasn’t terrible. And thus a lowly writing career was born.

OTBSFF: What has been your favorite part of releasing your debut novel?

I’ve had so many highs that depending on what day you ask me, the answer to my favorite part of the release would change. The most recent high was my release party on Saturday May 4th. It was held at NV Penthouse Lounge in downtown Chicago and The Book Cellar was kind enough to do offsite sales. The bookstore had ordered 127 books and sold all but 4.

Originally, I had guestimated that I’d have between 75 to 100 guests and the party would go on for three hours. I ended up having 250+ guests and the party went on until well past 1 AM. It was a pretty surreal night. Imagine if you took your entire life and condensed it to one room. It was like an episode of This is Your Life!

I had my writing friends, my Kung Fu friends, my Asian friends, my old colleagues, and assorted people I haven’t seen in a decade all there. In a way, it felt like a retirement party. I think at one point, I had 6 of my old managers from different jobs talking to me.

OTBSFF: History is such an important part to the story and the lives of the Quasing and it quickly begins to feel like the Quasing influenced everything. Is there any part of human history that the Quasing did not influence?

The Quasing definitely played a significant role in humanity’s history, but they couldn’t be everywhere at once, could they? There were definitely parts of history, some great, some bungled, that humanity did all on its lonesome.

Warren G Harding winning the presidency is a fine example of human ineptitude. The Pig War of 1859 was another wonderful all-human event. And who can forget Coca Cola’s decision not to buy Pepsi Co for a couple of pennies and a sponge bath. Basically, there were thousands of famous and not-so famous blunders that can be attributed to sheer human stupidity.

On the other hand, there were several great events that humans are credit for accomplishing on their own as well. The invention of paper was probably the most significant contribution humans ever made without Quasing assistance. The creation and signing of the Magna Carta was another. The Quasings’ influence, though large, wasn’t absolute. Back during the times leading up to the Spanish Inquisition, they were against any significant peace treaty that would promote stability within the world. During the modern era, certain inventions like choosing VHS over Beta had supporters from both Quasing factions (due to investments), but in the end, it was the porn industry that made the choice for them.

OTBSFF: Are you a history buff and could I easily guess which country’s history you are most fascinated with?

I am a huge history buff, and I’m pretty sure you couldn’t guess which country’s history I’m most fascinated with because I’m not sure myself.

Historical events, to me, are like scotches. What I like and what I’m interested in changes depending on the day of the month. I remember spending two weeks once reading everything I could get my hands on about all the pontiffs between 800 AD to 1600 AD. Then there was a three day period where I researched everything I could on the meat packing industry from 1900s to 1930s. And then there was this one time I spent a few days correlating the sales of men’s underwear to the American economy.

Psst... By the way, my entire investment strategy is based on the Underwear Index. No joke.

OTBSFF: The Lives of Tao deals largely with espionage, from the boring stuff like staking out a mailbox to tracking down secret weapons and killing targets. Are you secretly a spy? (Don’t worry, I won’t tell a soul)

Do you know the pay scale of the people in covert ops? The market value for covert operations is totally wacked. First of all, no one takes into consideration the collateral risk and damage a spy needs to endure, not to mention the fact that whoever this dude dates starts the entire relationship with a lie. That means I’ll never get a girlfriend, and I can’t live without that. Oh wait, I’m married already. Well, same thing.

And let’s be honest, I’m too much like the meerkat in The Lion King. Hakuna Matata, bro. And I guess while we’re at it; I have a very low pain threshold. If I get an ingrown toenail, I’m bedridden for weeks. Me? A spy. Child please! 

You believe me, right? Right? Of course you believe me. In fact, I was never here.

OTBSFF: I’ve heard you are a man of many talents including being an actor and stuntman. What would you say has influenced your writing the most?

To be perfectly honest, neither influenced my writing that much. If I was to answer honestly, I’d have to go lame and say reading has influenced my writing the most.

However, I will admit that martial arts played a huge part in how I visualize fight scenes. I took pride in knowing that I could re-enact every fight scene in The Lives of Tao. That’s all past tense because I’m just not so limber anymore.

Acting has also helped with the dialogues in The Lives of Tao. The craft of acting has always been less about the words and more about the timings and emotions that stems from a scene. That’s the same approach I take when I write my characters chatting it up.

OTBSFF: Are there any literary influences that have really had an impact on your writing?

This is such a loaded question because there have been so many literary influences over the years. That’s why I always default to Piers Anthony and Lawrence Watt-Evans.

They were the authors of the first two fantasy novels I’ve ever read. My English professor father took me to the literary section of a bookstore and told me I could pick out any books I wanted to read. I’m pretty sure he wanted me to choose Tom Sawyer or Macbeth or Thomas Moore. I made a beeline toward the fantasy section and chose the shiny picture of the floating sword and the picture of the goofy lion with wings that had a scorpion tail on it. And in case you can’t guess the books, they are The Misenchanted Sword and A Spell for Chameleon.

OTBSFF: I know authors are not their characters, but I can’t help imagining the author as either looking like a character on the cover of their book or the main protagonist’s description. Would you say you’re more like Roen toward the beginning or end of the book?

I would say I’m more Enzo. Oh wait; you don’t know who he is yet. Well, you’re about to find out come October. Stay tuned. =)

OTBSFF: Who was your favorite character to write outside of Tao?

Looking back, I’m going to have to say Sean. There’s something to be said about complex villains who are not only smart, but also suave and complex. A good villain is better than the hero in every way. He’s not only more powerful, but more intelligent, more suave, better dressed, and definitely better with the ladies. He should be better than the hero in practically everything. Okay, we’ll throw the hero a bone and give him more heart.

Too often in SFF, the quality of villain takes a back seat to the mindless zombies, savage orcs, or feral space blobs. Well, people, it’s time we demand a higher quality of villainy in our antagonists and evil doers. That baddie should be able to kick everyone’s ass and still look sharp doing it!

OTBSFF: Finish this sentence: If I were a Quasing…

I would pretend he doesn’t exist because as a writer, I already have the best job in the word. Lame; I know. Well, that and I have a very low tolerance to bullet wounds. Remember, the low pain threshold thing?

OTBSFF: Your debut just came out and the sequel, The Deaths of Tao, is already slated to come out toward the end of the year, how did you swing that?

Due to the great reception that The Lives of Tao received, the angry robot overlords have pushed up the release of the sequel, The Deaths of Tao, up to October 29th, 2013. 

In Deaths, several years have passed since the events of the first book. I’m not going to give too much away, but it’s safe to say that things have gone slightly downhill for the Prophus since the events of the first book.


Bastard said...

Ah yes, the student catalogs... mine came from Scholastic if I recall correctly, but I didn't care to read any of the books they offered.

I was more interested in there science experiment books, or more importantly, a prank encyclopedia.

Bryce L. said...

I devoured those catalogs too. My mom always had to hold me back because I wanted EVERYTHING.

Unknown said...

Nice interview.