Wesley Chu’s debut, recently published by Angry Robot Books, has been taking critics by storm. It was, I thought, a great time to pester him for an interview. Luckily, it didn’t take too much convincing and I grilled him about his novels, writing, and more…
Let’s start with an introduction: Who is Wesley Chu?
Wesley Chu is a scotch drinking actor and former stuntman, specializing in niche token Asian roles where companies want to prove to consumers that they love diversity. You can also find Wesley playing roles such as security guard #4, gangster #9, businessman sitting on a designer couch, or human prop in background.
Oh, and Wesley wrote a book. His debut, The Lives of Tao is out now.
I thought we’d start with your fiction: Your latest novel, The Lives of Tao, was recently published by Angry Robot. How would you introduce the novel to a potential reader? Is it part of a series?
The Lives of Tao, the first in a planned trilogy, is a modern day science fiction about an alien, Tao, who inhabits an overweight loser and convinces him, kicking and screaming, to train and fight in a war over humanity’s evolution.
Along the way, Roen Tan, the said tubby loser, has his work cut out for him. He needs to lose weight, develop a stiff jab, find love, and stay alive while being hunted by a very powerful shadow organization that is bent on killing Tao, which unfortunately, requires Roen to die as well.
What inspired you to write the novel? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
I’m a sucker for the overachieving loser plot, except my losers don’t have fate or prophecy backing them up. I like real losers that weren’t tabbed thousands of years ago by some legend to be the special ray of sunshine the world has been waiting for.
I often use Rand and Harry as examples, but this time, I’m going to add a few more to the list. Little precious snowflakes like Luke, Frodo, Ender, and even Kirk aren’t my kind of heroes. If I had to choose a character that reminds me of Roen, I would say… Chunk from The Goonies.
I draw a lot of my inspiration from many aspects of my life. I’d like to think a person can get a good sense of who I am and what I’ve been through from reading the book. And in case you’re wondering, the answer is yes.
The Lives of Tao is not so much a science fiction novel but a manifesto on the eventual alien takeover of humanity. There are aliens afoot and if we don’t do something about it fast, we’re all in deep shit!
How were you introduced to genre fiction?
My English professor father brought me to a bookstore when I was kid. He took me to the literary section and said he’d buy any book I wanted. I’m sure he secretly hoped I’d pick up Machiavelli, Macbeth, Portnoy’s Complaint, or something equally literary.
I made a beeline toward the section of the bookstore with the pretty pictures and picked out The Misenchanted Sword by Lawrence Watt-Evans and A Spell for Chameleon by Piers Anthony. English Professor dad was very disapproving, but after a lot of crying and pouting (and book throwing I’m ashamed to add), I got my way. That’s basically when my love affair with SFF began.
Joining the writing community has been the most fulfilling experience of my life. For the first time in my professional career, I love my job. I mean, let’s face it. No little kid grows up thinking “I’m gonna work in corporate America and sit in a cubicle with red rugged walls all day staring at a computer screen. Yeah!”
As for writing practices, I used to be one of those trendy authors who went to cafés as if I was J.D. Salinger, trying to look cool and practice my “art”. These days, I sit at home in my bathrobe with a gallon of French pressed coffee and write. Once in a while, Eva Da Terrordale will drag my pasty ass out for a walk. It’s the only time my vampire white skin sees the sun.
When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?
I realized I wanted to be an author at a pretty young age. I remember reading The 101 Dalmatians once a day every day for a summer. You know, that’s a super hero level of OCD to be able to read the same damn book every day for three months. That was when I first fell in love with reading and became the super geek I am today.
The first short story I wrote was about the planets in the solar system running into each other, thus creating all the pock marks on their surfaces. The planets kept getting into fights until finally, King Sun got pissed off and enforced gravity on all of them. English Professor Father read it and said that the story “didn’t suck.” When an Asian parent says that you don’t suck at something, that usually means you’re actually might be pretty good. Thus, a writing career was born.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
Wow, that’s such an open ended question. It’s a great time to be a reader. There’s a lot of talent in speculative fiction right now and everyone has their own little style and niche. I do think there’s a tendency to chase trends, but the trends tend to be cyclical. Funny, I keep saying that but like the vampire and zombie thing won’t go away.
On the other hand, it’s tough to be a full time writer. It was never easy to begin with but it’s much harder now than say, back in the seventies. I think it’s a little sad that there are so many talented authors that can’t make a living on writing alone.
What other projects are you working on, and what do you have currently in the pipeline?
Well, The Deaths of Tao is dropping Oct 29th during World Fantasy in Brighton so I’m hoping for a little party on my first trip across the pond. If you’re within two hundred kilometer of Brighton, please come party with me. As for the third book, it’s up to the robot overlords and the fans.
On top of the Tao books, I have a series in the works that I’m very excited about. I’m keeping it under wraps for now but the idea came to me in a dream. I woke up and was like “WTF! I need to write this down immediately.”
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
I used to be a single threaded reader, as in I would read a book from beginning to end before I started another. No exceptions. Now, as an author, I no longer have that luxury to read to the very end if the book doesn’t grab me right away. I’ve started abandoning books at an alarming rate.
I just finished up a blurb request for an excellent book called Three by Jay Posey which should be out this fall. Next up will be either 2312, American Elsewhere, or um… The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I was recently informed at Wiscon that the world needs a better Wesley Chu.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
One of the scenes in the book is based on real events. I was the victim of an attempted mugging. Back then, I was young, overly confident, and a bit of an idiot. I was also a Kung Fu master (BTW, I use that master term very loosely). Or was it my Quasing who goaded me?
The mugger pulled a knife and wanted my stuff. The smart thing to do was to just give it to him and be on my way. But you know what? Kung Fu masters and vessels don’t give up their shit so easily, so I picked up these two wine bottles near the dumpster and tried to mug him. And yes, wine bottles are hard to break. The sad part of all this was that, in the moment, all that Kung Fu training went right out the window. I turned my inner caveman on and chased him for about ten or so yards before taking an adrenaline dump and nearly passing out.
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
This is my debut year so I told myself I’d debut right. That means I went ahead and had a big release party and planned to go to as many cons as possible. This year will be nine cons, including my first trip to the UK. I am pumped!
Not gonna lie; I love conventions. Chicon was my very first conn ever and I’m hooked. There’s no other place where a guy can hobnob with all these awesome and talented writers. Every time I’m at a con, it’s like I’m a hobbit back in the shire.