Interview with Wesley Chu

Wesley Chu is the author of Science-Fantasy-Techno-Triller-Comedy-erm-Punk novels The Lives of Tao and The Deaths of Tao from Angry Robot. They’ve gone down particularly well in the genre circles I find myself well encased in, with reviews even here being very positive!

Our very own Lisa Taylor got in touch with Wesley through his publicist at Angry Robot to organise this really quite brilliant and extensive interview – so read on, and get yourself a copy of his books!

You can find Lisa’s review of The Lives of Tao, here and her review of The Deaths of Tao, here.

f935e-14290872Hi Wesley, and welcome to Wilder’s Book Review!

Hi! Thanks for having me. Let’s rocket.

So, first up, give us three words that best describe The Deaths of Tao?

Baggage.
Apocalypse.
Stinky Tofu. (okay, it’s two words)

Can you give us a little more detail on the series and some of your inspirations for writing it?

History was always my favorite course in high school. It’s such a fantastic sandbox for an author to play in. One of the things that fascinated me most about the past was not so much how things happened, but why they happened. I originally set out to write a book about a secret war where aliens manipulated mankind to achieve their goals, and how their actions in this conflict explained many of the important events in humanity’s history.

However, once I got to Roen and Tao, something magical happened. These two personalities just got along so well that their relationship became the focal point of the series.

Yes, my historical alien secret war thriller somehow became a bromance under my nose. I don’t know what happened, but it was awesome.

After reading your books, I can’t help but sometimes relate some current day politicians as either Genjix or Prophus. Do you find yourself classifying politicians this way? Any suspicion that the volunteers for a one-way ticket to Mars are likely Quasing hosts?

I have very strong political views, though if I was a Quasing, I’d probably be a Genjix. And yes, I definitely have a Quasing radar up and running for every politician I see.

Now, I don’t think any of the Mars colony volunteers have Quasings in them. Reason being, you know all those folks that go to Mars are going to die there. It’s a one way ticket after all. It will, however, be a huge step forward for quest into space, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the Prophus or Genjix (or both) were funding the program.

I really enjoyed Roen’s transformation not just from the beginning to end of Lives of Tao, but also TheDeathsOfTao-144dpithe changes we saw in him in Deaths of Tao. Did you have his development planned before you started to write the first book?

I had a new detailed bio for him by the time I started working on Deaths. He’s a complex character and every subsequent event that in his life added to his layers. Sometimes, there’s so much going on with him I have a hard time keeping his drama straight.
Basically, he’s a complete f**king mess. Assuming he’s still alive for the third book (is he? I dunno), I think the dude’s going to need serious therapy.

I saw that you have previously worked as a stunt man, do you think that experience helped you write action scenes?

I used to be able to reenact every single fight scene in The Lives of Tao. I say I used to because I’m not quite so limber anymore. I think having a martial arts and stunt background helps and hinders my writing at the same time.

On one hand, because I can accurately visualize them well, I think I have dramatic realism to my action scenes. On the other hand, I have a tendency to mentally masturbate when writing fight scenes. When you choreograph a stage or film action scene, every placement, timing, and step needs to be carefully planned out. If you write a scene like that in a story, it becomes a real snoozer. It took me a while to figure that out and reign myself in.

Can you tell use a little about the characters of The Deaths of Tao and your influences behind them?

There are three main characters in Deaths.

Roen Tan, the protagonist from The Lives of Tao, is back. It’s been a few years since the events of Lives and he’s no longer the lovable loser we all remembered in the first book. Now, he’s a hardened veteran fighting for what he believes in while trying to keep his personal life from falling apart.

Jill, Roen’s love interest from the first book, is now a Prophus agent with her own Quasing. She’s a political operative trying to prevent the Genjix from taking over the US government. Jill and Roen haven’t been getting along very well lately, and there’s this small issue with them having a kid…

The last guy is a cool dude named Enzo. He’s an Adonis Vessel, raised from the Genjix eugenics program called the Hatchery. He’s tall, smart, and pretty damn charming. He’s also been trained to rule nations and lead armies ever since he was a kid and basically has a PHD in war, civics, and being very, very good looking.

Basically, he’s the perfect human being except for this tiny problem of Enzo being a maniacal psychopathic douchebag.

Is this the end of the Tao saga or are you likely to continue the series beyond The Deaths of Tao?

The ill-tempered automatons have not yet green-lit The Rebirth of Tao, but I’m cautiously optimistic we’ll figure something out. I’ll grab a bottle of scotch, sit down with Lee Harris, my editor, and we’ll make googly eyes at each other until something gets hammered out.

When did you decide you wanted to become an author, and can you tell us a little about your first attempts?

I’d be willing to bet that almost every author started out as a reader and fell in love with this career at an early age. I also like to say that most writers can’t help but write. If I wasn’t getting paid to do this, I’d be writing for free right now (shhhh…don’t tell my publisher).

My first attempt at writing was in the second or third grade. I wrote a short story about how the planets in the solar system used to smash into each other and get into fights, thus causing all the pock marks on their surfaces. The King Sun got tired of mediating their fights so he enforced gravity on them.

My English Professor Father read it and was like “this doesn’t suck” which pretty high praise for an Asian parent. I think I first told him I wanted to be a writer when I was sixteen while trying to figure out what the hell I was going to do with my life.

English Professor Father shook his head and said if I did, my “life will suffer.” So I studied computer science, and have been chasing the dream ever since.

Wesley ChuWhat kind of writer are you? Do you plot down to the last detail, or just start writing and see where the words take you? Do you have any particular writerly ticks, like specific places you work or color of M&M?

I used to be one of those shoot-from-the-hip kind of authors who let my characters take me wherever they feel like. Once I started treating this more like a career than a hobby, I realized that I needed metrics and tools in order gauge my progress and success.

My writing weapon of choice is Scrivener, and I do several layers of plotting before I write. The first thing I do is a high level synopsis where I build the setting, create my characters, and plan the overall conflict. Then I organically write the first four to five chapters to get a feel for the narration and character voices. After that, I write a detailed chapter by chapter synopsis for the entire book. Sounds like I’m on point, right?

Well, I usually jump the shark about two-thirds through and start throwing feces at my computer screen like an orangutan.

As for writerly ticks….every single book idea I’ve ever had originated from a dream.

What’s next in the pipeline for you Wesley? Rumor has it you’ve signed a multi-book deal with Tor (US) – can you tell us a bit about it?

I did sign a deal with the Mighty Tor for a couple of books. First up is my current work-in-progress called Time Salvager, which I hope to be on bookshelves in 2015. It’s a story about James, a time traveler who goes back in time to scavenge resources and technologies from more prosperous pasts. Time travel laws are very strict. Salvagers can only jump back to dead-end time lines—before a ship explodes or places and events right before a disaster happens—so that whatever they retrieve from the past will not affect the present. The problem with this job is that the salvagers experience the last terrible moments of all the victims. It seriously screws with a person’s head.

What’s something the people reading this interview might be surprised to learn about Wesley Chu?

Over the course of my life, I’ve done five backflips where I’ve landed straight on my head, yet I’m still alive and not-paralyzed.

Call me Weapon X. Or stupid. Probably both.

And, finally, what are you reading right now?

I admit I have been derelict in my author reading duties the past few years. Damn that Wow raid schedule! Over the past year, I’ve met so many fantastic authors that I now consider friends so I’m wading through many of their books. Right now, I’m halfway through Red Seas Under Red Skies, Mr. Scott Fabio Lynch’s brilliant Gentlemen Bastards series.

Thanks Wesley!

Thanks for having me.

Joyland by Stephen King

Joyland

Set in a small-town North Carolina amusement park in 1973, Joyland tells the story of the summer in which college student Devin Jones comes to work as a carny and confronts the legacy of a vicious murder, the fate of a dying child, and the ways both will change his life forever.

 

I have to admit, the cover for Joyland  definitely helped lure me in. It is absolutely stunning. It also helps set the reader’s expectations for the retro amusement park setting that this book creates. I suppose other covers may do that, but this one really jumps out at me. And this one really sticks with me. Now, as much as I love the cover, I should probably talk about the book. Joyland is many things in a short novel. It is the story of first love, and the first heartbreak that inevitably goes with it. It is the story of finding your way and place in life. It is the story of recognizing and valuing everyday friends and people. It’s the story of life, love and death and whatever falls in between and possibly after. Pretty much, it is the story of growing up.

The supernatural aspect to this book, while haunting, is in the background. As is the murder mystery that this story is told around. When it comes down to it, this is the story of Devin Jones as he finds himself and his way in life. He leaves school and his broken heart to work in an amusement park called Joyland, located in Heaven’s Bay. Could there be a more wondrous sounding place to try go to forget your everyday problems of money, school and love? I can’t imagine there is, and so that is exactly where Devin goes and where our story begins. And while there, Devin finds more than just how to impersonate Howie the Happy Hound, the park’s mascot.

I absolutely loved the old amusement park setting that King created. The tone and atmosphere really made me, as a reader, feel I was in a 1973 North Carolina amusement park. It felt like going back to live in the cover that drew me to read the book in the first place. Throw in familiar geographic and cultural references, there is a true feeling of nostalgia (even if it was set slightly before my time).

This is a very short book, but I think it works. I would love to know more about each of the characters that touched Devin’s life that summer, where they are now and what became of them. But I almost feel like if the book was lengthened, it could lose something. Similar to The Ocean at the End of the Lane, I am left curious for more but satisfied with what I was given. Which ultimately, was a bittersweet story about life.

Reviewed by: Lisa Taylor