Wesley Chu was actually willing to let me interview him. Can you believe that? What a crazy guy. Read on, my darlings, and learn more about this fantastic author and his amazing book. My questions are in bold. You can find links to Chu’s website, facebook, and other methods of internet stalking him at the end.
One reader wanted a picture of your workspace. Are you willing to send one?
First of all, you kind of caught me a bad time. I’m in the middle of redoing my library, so the room’s a mess. There are paint samples on the walls, furniture and ladders stacked on one side, and Eva Da Terrordale has also claimed the room as her lair. But here ya go.
(Reader question – Steve D.) You took a business career route before delving into writing The Lives of Tao. What led you to take this path? Have you always wanted to write on this level but something held you back? If so, what?
What led me to take a business career first before writing? Well, when I was sixteen, I told my English Professor father that I wanted to become a writer. He basically told me my life would suffer if I did and forbid me from majoring in English.
I studied business and computer science, and essentially worked the soul sucking corporate career for the past twenty or so years. Do I regret it? Hmm, probably not, because you know, monies. I like to eat and not living in my parent’s basement is a good thing.
Who knows? Maybe I could have been prolific. I coulda been a contenda. Then again, I could just have easily become disillusioned (damn tough industry after all) in my formative overly-sensitive early years and never write again. Then I’d probably end up teaching ESL in Thailand which, now that I think about it, wouldn’t be that bad either.
(Reader question – Bradley P. Beaulieu) You seem to like the thriller angle in your books. Would you ever consider writing a straight up thriller and drop the specfic angle, or is specfic part of who you are as a writer?
My agent, Russell Galen, thinks I’m playing in the wrong sandbox. He believes my calling is science thriller. I don’t’ disagree with him (I would never disagree with him) but Science Fiction/Fantasy will always be my first love. That’s what happens you grow up on a steady diet of Xanth, Oz, and Dragonlance. Give me Locke Lamora, Rand Al Thor, Tyrion Lannister any day over Jack Reacher, Alex Cross, or whoever else David Baldacci is trotting out these days.
Eventually though, I’d like to try to dabble in a couple of genres and see what happens.
(Reader question – Paul Weimer) What takeaway did you learn about writing from the experience of writing the two Tao novels?
One thing I didn’t realize about myself is that I like to kill people in my stories. I’m afflicted with George RR Martin-itus. Not the awesome-incredible-writer part of his affliction, but the I’d-like-to-kill-people-I-care-about part.
The problem with this affliction is that I’m not in Marvel universe. If I kill them, they kind of have to stay dead. When I first started outlining The Deaths of Tao, I remember thinking “man, I killed all my coolest people. Whyyyy Wes?”
Browsing through your website I see some very noteworthy, incredibly popular authors saying very, very nice things about your novels – Myke Cole, Anne VanderMeer, Lavie Tadhar and more. Furthermore, I saw today that The Deaths of Tao is already in its second printing and it hasn’t even been released yet. Has anything about your success and popularity caught you off guard? What are some things you’ve learned from your success?
The short answer is: everything caught me off guard. This whole experience has been pretty kick ass and surreal. I’m totally gobsmacked by the reception. Being accepted by the SFF writing community has been the most gratifying experience in my life.
When I first started writing, for some reason still unknown to me, I never bothered to look up the online writing community. For five plus years, I was that lonely dude skulking from café to café abusing bottomless cup coffee policies. I didn’t know about all these awesome conventions, online communities, forums, or retreats. 2012 Worldcon was the very first literary convention I’ve ever attended and I’ve been hooked ever since.
One thing that I noticed, and plenty of other reviewers and readers have noticed as well, is how well balanced your books are. There’s a lot of action, a lot of fast-paced plot, a lot of humor, and a lot of character development. Considering everything that is going on in these books, the balance surprises me. How did you manage to keep everything so even so nothing overpowers anything else? Is there a method to your madness? Was striking such a perfect balance between all the elements in your books something that worried you when you were writing?
I wish I could tell you I had this secret formula or complex pacing algorithm that I use when I plot. Unfortunately, I’m as caveman as they come. I use Scrivener which is a wonderful writing app to help organize my notes. Scrivener has this cool feature called a corkboard, which allows me to look at my manuscript from a top down view and organize chapters into little post-it notes.
I mark each post-it note by color-coordinated POV, list the type of chapter it is, and then a brief summary of that chapter. This allows me to track the flow of the story. That’s it. Post-it cards and color coordinated markers and you have my super-secret plotting technique.
In The Lives of Tao, Roen is uncertain. He lacks confidence and he is struggling to grow and develop in the ways he needs to so he can face what he needs to face. In The Deaths of Tao, Roen is obviously more confident and ready to face what is ahead. His life and his world has expanded, and he seems much more ready and fit for the job. He’s less an everyman and more the man. Did you have an easier time writing Roen in one book over the other?
I had a much easier time with The Lives of Tao Roen. He was a much simpler man than the Roen in The Deaths of Tao. Lives Roen was just a guy searching for himself, a whiny wanting person who just needed the right motivation to blossom and reach his potential.
Deaths Roen, well, he has a lot more on his plate. It’s not just about him anymore and he’s lost a lot more than Lives Roen. By the time Deaths came around, Roen’s already taken quite a beating and has lost everything he cared about.
You’ve added a female perspective to The Deaths of Tao. I hear the comment (way too often) that men can’t write good female characters, but I thought Jill was a fantastic character and was very well done. Was writing a female perspective difficult? How did you keep her so real and believable?
First of all, thanks for saying you like Jill because she wasn’t easy to write. One of the things that I got dinged on in Lives was that Sonya was too stereotypical hot agent chick and Jill was too dull, so for Deaths, I spent the most amount of time on her storyline.
Not gonna lie; I had to rewrite several portions of it. My wife likes to say that I’m emotionally stunted, so that face that you like Jill and think she’s a great character means a lot to me. Thanks!
I wanted to emphasize her competence and yet make her more than an agent that just happened to be a woman. She has to juggle her job, her role with the Prophus, and her family all at the same time.
The one thing I love about your books is how well developed both sides of the conflict are. There are no cookie-cutter bad guys, or the good guy with the almost unbelievably angelic moral code. Characters on both sides of the line are very well developed, and you continue that development into the second book. When so many SFF authors shove their antagonists into boxes, yours really stands out. Antagonists mean just about everything to me, so that development really impressed me. Why did you choose to develop your antagonists so well? (And thank you SO MUCH for doing that)
I don’t subscribe to the evil for evil’s sake sort of villain. There has to be something to motivate someone to want to be the bad guy, some sort of end game they’re after. I believe a villain should always be smarter and more competent than the hero.
I like my good and bad guys to have layers. I’ve had readers tell me they weren’t sure the Genjix were the bad guys, or at least they totally understood where they were coming from. They’re doing what they think is right for the survival of their species. In fact, I think I would agree with them. If I had a choice, I’d totally be a Genjix!
The Deaths of Tao is about to drop, and I think readers will be incredibly impressed by your growth as an author. The Lives of Tao was a jaw dropper. It was hilarious, rip-roaring, and full of action and development. The Deaths of Tao is just as funny, just as action packed, a bit more political, and absolutely sprawling in scope, but it focuses more on story than development. I’m absolutely hooked, but I can’t help but wondering… what’s next for fans of Wesley Chu? You can’t impress us all this much (especially after that ending!) and leave us hanging. Throw your devoted fans a bone!
I have two things on my plate right now. The first, of course, is Tao 3, tentatively called The Rebirth of Tao. The robot overlords have not green lit the book yet but I’m eager to start working on it and hope to have it on bookshelves by the second half of 2014.
I also signed a deal with Tor Books this summer. My current work-in-progress, Time Salvager, is about a time traveler named James who scavenges for resources and technologies from a more prosperous past. Time traveling has strict rules though; he can only travel back to dead end time line—moments before a disaster or an explosion—so that whatever he scavenges doesn’t affect the present.
The problem with his job is that he experiences the last terrifying moments of the victims before they die. That tends to screw with a guy’s mind.
I don’t think artists are ever done growing, developing, and learning. What ways do you want to grow and develop as an author?
I want to write a good sex scene, one that someone will read and think to themself, “man, I want to sleep with this author.”
The first thing I have to do to accomplish this is to not rely on any personal experience whatsoever.
Thank you so much for putting up with this very long interview (I get excited. I apologize.) Are there any final thoughts you’d like to leave your readers with?
I’d like to thank everyone for your support. You guys have been rocking it for me. This song is dedicated to you.
Keep an eye out for The Deaths of Tao dropping Oct 29th, 2013. Yikes, it’s right around the corner!