Friday, May 8, 2015

Interview With Wesley Chu

Wes Chu's novel, The Lives of Tao, has been one of my favorite debuts of the year. Chu delivers a thrilling concoction of science fiction, spy thriller, and buddy comedy that is sure to connect with readers across multiple genres. Wes was kind enough to agree to an interview and answered questions about Lives of Tao, the upcoming sequel and his experiences as a debut author. I hope you find his answers as enjoyable as I did. Wes was a pleasure to work with and I am certain he will have a long and fruitful career if his first novel is any indication. So with great pleasure, I give you Wes Chu.


52 Reviews: Though I’m sure you’ve answered this question in countless interviews, can you tell us a little about the genesis of The Lives of Tao? And how did it change from inception to final product?

Wesley Chu: The Lives of Tao started off as an alternate history book that not so much changed history, but changed the reasoning behind why things happened in our past. I always found the why of something happening much more interesting than the how. Having the Quasing war allowed me to create an entirely new narrative.

While world building though, I made a few interesting rules that changed the story.

1.     I decided that the Quasings inhabiting the hosts couldn’t control them. They could only speak with them.
2.     The Quasing couldn’t leave the host until the host died.

Suddenly, the story became less about the aliens changing the world (though still a great backdrop to the story) and more about two personalities stuck with each other trying to make things work out (and not get killed in the process). Suddenly, the relationship that grew between Roen and Tao became the most interesting part of the story.

52 Reviews: I like to think of The Lives of Tao as a genre bender, mashing up science fiction tropes with those of spy thrillers. Chuck crossed with Invasion of the Body Snatchers, if you will. Was the decision to cross genre lines your intention from the very beginning or was it something that developed naturally over the course of writing the novel?
Wesley Chu: It definitely was a natural progression as I fleshed out the characters and plot. I really didn’t think about genres that much. I knew having aliens automatically put it in the Sci-Fi category, so I just shrugged and went with it. The Lives of Tao has been called urban fantasy, a comedy, and a science thriller. My agent has even categorized me as a romance (bromance) writer. I’m all right with all those classifications.
52 Reviews: Your choice of protagonist is an intriguing one. Roen Tan seems to be emblematic of a generation of adults who work soul crushing jobs, not because there are no other options but because they lack the ability to take a risk to change their lives into something different and more fulfilling. Was this an attempt at social commentary, a reflection on your own personal journey, or simply a gold mine for humor?
Wesley Chu: Yeesh. I’ll take all of the above. I admit to be a closet political activist who doesn’t have the balls to actually run for office or try to make a difference. Let’s face it, there are only so many fights one can get involved in on the Huffington Post comment boards before one want to put a fist through your computer.
As for it being a personal journey, I was talked out of becoming an English major by my English Professor father. He basically told me that if I did follow in his footsteps, my “life will suffer.” I took the practical route and studied computer science, and have been trying to get back on this path ever since. It only took about twenty years, but hell, better late than never. In the end, having the corporate career I had afforded me some luxuries (like being unemployed) that I probably would have struggled with if I tried to become a novelist straight out of college.
52 Reviews: One of the things I liked best about The Lives of Tao was the banter between Roen and just about every supporting character in the book. Humor is notoriously difficult for many writers, what advice would you offer to those that struggle with this aspect of fiction?
Wesley Chu: Writing’s not exactly the most social endeavor. Novelists spend their days mostly alone sitting in front of a computer. If it wasn’t for my dog, Eva Da Terrordale, my ass would never see the sun. Humor is one of the most difficult human interactions to nail in a book. I believe that’s why it is underrepresented in SFF.
To do humor well requires a lot of practice socializing with others. Talk to people. Hang out with different sorts of folks. Be stupid and have no shame. Humor is all about timing, and to get a good grasp of that timing, you have to hang out with a lot of people. For me, a lot of the responses Roen had in the book are how I would have reacted honestly with my friends. Yes, I lead a pretty stupid life sometimes.
52 Reviews: Was your decision to turn one of the supporting cast members into a Prophus bearing agent at the conclusion an attempt to demonstrate the hero’s journey from a very different point of view in the sequel, or do you have more sinister plans in mind?
Wesley Chu: What happened at the end of Lives was a setup for the second book. The focus in Deaths will be a little different from Lives. Lives was all about coming-of-age. Deaths will be about consequences.
Let’s just say the complexity of the story is tripled in the sequel. And yes, things do get more sinister, but not the way you think. Let’s just say their five hundred plus year old war might finally be coming to the end. For everyone.
52 Reviews: What can you tell us about the sequel to The Lives of Tao that is dropping later this year? Are there plans for even more novels featuring Roen, Tao and Company?
Wesley Chu: I can tell you The Deaths of Tao is dropping Oct 29, 2013. The ante’s been upped. The new villain, Enzo, is nuttier than Sean and even more deadly. Jill gets more involved in the story and she’s not quite as nice as she was in Lives. That’s all I can say.
As for the third book, that’ll depend on the hive mind and the readers. So, let’s make it happen!
52 Reviews: What is the biggest lesson you learned with Lives? How did it impact the writing of Deaths? And did Deaths teach you something new?

Wesley Chu: The biggest lesson I learned from writing Lives was that there’s a life outside of writing. When I began to write, I quit martial arts, stopped hanging out with friends, and essentially became a hermit. Seasons passed, friends got married and had kids, Duke Nukem actually came out, and people actually paid to become virtual farmers! Uh…wut? So yeah, have a life outside of writing.

I carried that lesson over to Deaths by getting a dog and trying to actually see my friends once in a while, though all I did when I saw them was answer the question, “dude, what happened to you the past five years?”

52 Reviews: The Lives of Tao appears to be widely well received, what has been the most surprising and rewarding aspects of your time as a debut novelist?

Wesley Chu: What I enjoyed the most about the entire experience was meeting and hanging out with all these other writers. Like I said earlier, writing is a pretty damn lonely career. I spent the better part of a decade wandering from café to café in Chicago. I was like a transient tourist going from coffee shop to coffee shop.

Once I went to my first convention and met all these great people that loved books as much as I did and understood me, I was hooked. Or as I often like to say, I felt like a hobbit returning back to the shire.

52 Reviews: The use of the Prophus to tie the events of real world history into the narrative world of the novel was one of my favorite aspects of the book? Is there a chance that we might see a more detailed account of the Prophus and Genjix in a historical setting? 

Wesley Chu: I originally had a completely separate plot line with Tao in the historical settings. My editor felt that the second plot slowed the story a bit too much and asked to reduce them to the historicals at the beginning of every chapter. Not gonna lie; cutting out the 20k+ worth of words hurt, but the robot masterminds were wise. It did speed up the story.

I do plan to release the full historical chapters as either short stories or on my website sometime in the future. Stay tuned.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Tainted Blood by M.L. Brennan

I normally don't read books with vampire protagonists, but when I do they're written by M.L. Brennan. Vampires are probably the most overused trope in urban fantasy, and many discerning readers turn their noses up at books that focus on the vampire as the hero. I am one of those readers, by and large. M.L. Brennan's Generation V novels are the exception. With a protagonist that is far from the popular image of the brooding, preternatural predator, flawless and unconventional world building and a light-hearted sense of humor that keeps me in stitches, these books have earned a proud place on my overflowing bookshelves. The latest installment, Tainted Blood continues to deliver everything I come to expect from the adventures of Fortitude Scott but takes great pains to remind both readers and protagonist alike that being a vampire isn't all superpowers and wisecracks.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence

Mark Lawrence is one of those authors that I've meant to review for a long time. I thoroughly enjoyed his debut Prince of Thorns after picking it up as an impulse buy from the Science Fiction Book Club what feels like eons ago. When the SFBC didn't offer the subsequent books in the series, I allowed my OCD need to have all the books in a series in the same format stop me from reading the rest of the series. I know it's weird but I promise, I'm mostly sane. So when the first installment of his second series Prince of Fools hit shelves, I snatched it up. Then life took a turn for the busy and I stopped reading almost entirely. Fast forward almost a year, and here we are.

Prince of Fools has everything I loved about Prince of Thorns with a much more relatable protagonist than teen sociopath Jorg Ancrath, so readers with more delicate sensibilities can rest a bit easier. Lawrence's tersely elegant prose and well crafted characters are in full evidence and the world building is just as effortless as readers of The Broken Empire have come to expect. I suspect some of that is due to the connection to the previous series, Though my long gap in reading Lawrence as well as having not finished the previous series (a situation I expect to remedy in the coming months) rendered all but the most obvious connections meaningless to me. Even as a standalone, Prince of Fools is a joy to read and readers who haven't read the previous series can start here with no significant disadvantage. Just dive in and enjoy, I guarantee you won't be disappointed.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

After an accidental hiatus from reviewing, I’ve decided that it’s time to put butt in chair and hands on keyboard again. I almost didn’t. For the record I never stopped reading, just writing about what I read. There were several excellent novels that were consumed during my quiet period and I may try to review those novels properly, but given the amount of time that has passed, it’s probably more realistic to say that they’ll appear in an upcoming Trending Ten post. Which brings me to the book that snapped me out of my malaise and reminded me why I enjoyed reviewing and interacting with other readers, writers, and reviewers. 

Sometimes a novel, just kicks your legs out from under you and holds you down until you’ve devoured every single word. And then you’re sad because your plate is empty and you’re already on the hunt for another novel to take the edge off of the hole closing the back cover left inside you. M.R. Carey’s The Girl with All the Gifts was that kind of novel for me. Carey gifts readers with an unexpected coming of age story that is surprisingly intimate, heart warming, and sobering despite the zombie tropes and apocalyptic scenery. Fans of Neil Gaiman should take special note as Carey’s prose has the same simple elegance and off-handed lyricism as Gaiman’s best. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Round Table: Writing the Sequel Part Four

As promised, here's the next installment of the Writing the Sequel Round Table. We're talking about responding to criticism and how the writing may or may not be affected by the effect of writing for a known audience. Mileages, predictably vary. I found these responses to be some of my favorites. I'm sure you will too.

If you haven't read the proceeding installments, you'll find them below.

52 Reviews: Is there any pressure to address any criticism that you may have received from reviews or comments from readers when you sit down to work on the second installment in a series? Or do you view criticism as nothing more than a way to focus the inevitable growth most writers experience over time in a specific direction?

Jeff Salyards: When I first started agent hunting two and a half years ago, Scourge was almost 70,000 words longer than what ultimately went to print. While I had agents request partials and fulls, they all passed in the initial rounds. And while no one overtly said, “Hey, bucko, unless you’re Patrick Rothfuss, you ain’t clearing the gatekeepers with a 170,000 word debut,” the feedback implied that the book was too long, or at least that the pacing was off (there was a lot of the central character’s back story woven in). So I started tweaking the submission as I went, cutting, cutting, and still no dice. A lot of interest, a lot of passes.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Round Table: Writing the Sequel Part Three

So, sorry for the delay. Life has gotten supremely hectic. But the round table still has two more installments to go, If you haven't read the previous entries follow the links below and enjoy. I will post the next part tomorrow. Happy reading.

52 Reviews: Excellent answers, everyone. There's lots of insight from a variety of angles. Many of which, I'd imagine were completely unexpected. Which brings me to my next question, while I'm sure writing a second installment of a series is easier in terms of world and character building as you've got some baseline information well established, what would you say is the most unexpected difficulty in returning to the scene of your success?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Round Table: Writing the Sequel: Part Two

It's been great to see what a success this Round Table has been. We're surging ahead and asking about the pressures of success and how writing for a built in audience effects the writing process. The answers are often unexpected and definitely give an interesting glimpse into what goes on behind the curtain for some of my favorite authors. If you missed the kick off to the discussion you can find a link below. I hope you continue to enjoy

52 Reviews: With each of you having recently completed work on a sequel to the start of very well received series, I'd like to ask you if the level of pressure changes when you know you are actively writing for an waiting audience and if so, does that change the way you approach the writing?

Django Wexler: In my case, the first draft of the sequel was complete before the first book actually came out, so when I was writing it, I didn’t know if the series would really work out with the readers or not.  Writing for a waiting audience doesn’t really add pressure for me – if anything, it’s an encouragement to know that there are people eager to read what I’m working on, and I’m just relieved that enough people like my particular brand of story to make it worth doing.
Right now I’m writing the third book in the series, and I do feel a little more pressure, but it’s from another source.  For the first time in my writing career, I’m writing a continuation to something that’s actually published and in print; the events of book one (and book two, as of fairly recently) are now absolutely set in stone as far as I’m concerned.  It’s a very strange feeling not being able to make revisions to my own work, and I keep worrying I’ll discover something I did in the first book that badly screws up want I want to do in the third, and not be able to go back and change it.  So far it hasn’t happened, but it keeps me a little on edge!