1. Your first two novels are scheduled to be published by Angry Robot books this year. You originally submitted during AR’s “Open Door Month” in 2011. What was that process like?
The Great Angry Robot Open Submission was probably one of the most fantastic and angst filled experiences of my life, which is unusual for me because I usually live a pretty happy, zero-angst life. I’m like a cross between that singing meerkat in Lion King and a Labrador Retriever.
The robot overlords, Marc Gascoigne and Lee Harris, opened their doors to subs for one month in March of 2011. The subs went through four levels of review, from query and chapters, full manuscript, editorial and finally to acquisitions. At the end, out of a nearly a thousand submissions, twenty-five manuscripts made it to editorials and five received deals. The entire process from submission to signing the deal took fourteen months.
An added bonus about the open sub process was that fourteen of us in the editorial stage bonded on the Absolute Write forums and created our own social Group: Anxious Appliances. Since our inception, we’ve been the most active writing group on AW. Not gonna lie. Those guys kept me sane. I got pretty batshit crazy as the process drew to a close.
2. Once your book was in to the final stages of consideration, you got an agent. How did you find yours? Looking back on it, should you have started looking sooner, or waited longer?
I did query an earlier draft of The Lives of Tao a few years ago. I received some great feedback, and a request for a rewrite, but things fell through. It was still a great learning experience and helped me develop as a writer. It’s fair to say the book wouldn’t be what it is without the suggestions and changes I made from their critiques. I took a year off from the book and then rewrote it with a fresh pair of eyes.
After the manuscript was promoted to editorial during the open sub, I leveraged the potential deal and began querying again, and received offers from two agencies for representation. I was very fortunate to sign with Russell Galen of Scovil Galen Ghosh, who was one of my top targeted agencies. What better person to lead your career than the guy who represented the authors that wrote the books and movies you grew up with (Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, Screamers)?
3. You have a wife, an executive-level job for a major corporation, family, friends, and a dog. How do you find time to write?
There’s a lot of time in the day. You just have to figure out how to prioritize what is important and what isn’t. I admit to being an OCD kind of guy. I am a single purpose driven machine, like a Phillips screw driver.
During my hardcore martial art days, I used to drive an hour to my friend Tony Marquez’s school (he was the original Kung Lao in Mortal Kombat), Extreme Kung Fu, and train at his facility. Then afterward, I drove thirty minutes to another school where I learned from a Bagua Zhang/Tai Chi master. It was four hours of training a day, six days a week. This went on for many several years.
One day, I thought to myself. “Man, I’ve always wanted to write a book. I don’t know how, but I’m going to figure it out.”
So I gave it a shot. Without knowing what I was doing, I began to write when I had the free time. Eventually, writing took over all my other hobbies. I stopped clubbing. I retired from martial arts. I quit raiding in Wow (that freed up a crap ton of time), and focused on what was really important to me.
4. What local authors groups or online communities do you actively participate in? Does that affect your writing?
Besides my Anxious Appliance group, I’ve recently discovered the writing community here in Chicago. I now try to be a regular at Bill Shunn’s Tuesday Funk and I meet with several others on a weekly basis to get our write on.
I admit to only having joined Facebook and twitter last year and now I’m hooked. I can’t believe I spent ten years squatting at cafes all by my lonesome when there’s a whole world of like-minded people just within a keyboard stroke’s reach.
Now, I try to be as involved as possible within the community as well as within the industry. Eric Flint put it succinctly in the last issue of SFWA magazine. Writing is one of the most isolated jobs out there and going to conventions is a great way to make connections and establish lasting relationships.
Now with a supportive community and friends I’ve met through writing, I’m no longer a guy on his own island.
5. Your debut novel, The Lives of Tao, mixes a lot of historical information and political analysis into the plot. Your employment background is in tech and martial arts – where does the rest come from?
I love politics. My favorite show in the world is The West Wing, I was a poll monitor for the past presidential election, and my part of my daily morning ritual is reading through a dozen political sites with my cup of coffee.
I harbor this secret fantasy where I run for office for a parliament seat in Taiwan. Taiwan parliament is infamous for degenerating into full scale brawls. That way, I can combine two of my loves: fighting and politics.
History, on the other hand, has always fascinated me. I’ve always wondered how we as a civilization got to where we are, how the cause and effect of people’s choices made a long time ago affects us now. It’s something I tried to explore that in The Lives of Tao.
6. Your main character, Roen, has to change his life unexpectedly. He sets out to make changes, and over time works his way toward his goals. Why not just write him as a the hero to begin with?
I’ve always disliked the special person or chosen one concept where the main character was destined since his birth to be the prophesized hero that will fix everything wrong with the world. Harry has his scar, Rand’s coming was predicted on Dragonmount, and Bruce Wayne is a billionaire (that’s a special power too).
Given, having an alien in one’s head is pretty special too, but I try to make Roen’s accomplishments his own. One of the observations people have made in The Lives of Tao is that I spend a lot of time in the book training him. You damn right I do! Do you know how long and hard it is to lose a ton of weight and to make the grade as a super spy? To go from where he was at the beginning of the book to how he ends up takes a lot of frigging work and sweat equity! This isn’t like Wanted where the kid became an assassin in 6 weeks.
7. You used to work in the entertainment industry as a stunt man and actor – what made you transition to your current role as a writer with a day job?
There’s not a large market for male Asian actors, and most of them are still stereotypes. Besides playing the roles of doctor, computer dude, or token ethnic guy, or of course the martial arts guy, we’re pretty limited.
To be honest, I don’t enjoy the process of being a professional actor and was never one of those all-in guys when it came to the art. The business is tough, auditioning is pretty degrading, and your options become limited once you hit a certain age. Toss in a minority ethnicity, height limitations, and a sea of good looking talented white people, it wasn’t a hard choice.
As for transitioning to becoming a writer, I’ve always wanted to be one since I was young. I don’t think most writers choose to write as a career. It chooses us. I think most writers can’t help but write. Fact is, it’s very difficult to make a living writing fiction. My father is an English professor and he basically said “hell no” when I told him I thought about following his footsteps. I ended up studying computer science.
In hindsight, I’m glad things shook out the way they did. Having a steady career gave me the luxury to write, not the necessity. With where I’m at right now, if this whole writing thing doesn’t pan out, I won’t starve. I think it’s a very solid lesson for most aspiring writers. Chase your dream and be diligent, but be smart about how you chase that dream.
8. Do you write short fiction as well as novels?
I haven’t written short fiction since college, and would love to get back into it. However, I have four to five novels queued up in my head that I want to get out first.
Writing short fiction and novellas is a whole different beast than novels. The pacing is different and every word has to be exact in a short story. Personally, I think they’re much harder to write than novels. I started out writing novels and have gotten used to the luxury of 120k word manuscripts.
9. What’s your convention schedule look like for 2013? Which one(s) are you most looking forward to?
Oh man, 2013 is my debut year so I’m trying to do it right. On the slate are the following cons: Immortal Confusion, Wiscon, Nebulas (maybe), San Diego Comicon, Readercon, Gencon, Worldcon, New York Comicon (maybe), and World Fantasy.
I’m a relative newcomer at conventions. Chicon 2012 was my first con ever. I remembered afterward thinking to myself “what the hell have I been missing all my life?” It’s been such a wonderful experience and I look forward to every single upcoming one.
The con that I’m most looking forward to in 2013 is World Fantasy in Brighton. I had such a great time at WFC Toronto last year. Also, my publisher, Angry Robot Books is based in the UK so I get to report in to the hive collective.
10. You talk about food a lot – what a perfect meal look like to you?
I never considered myself a foodie, but I do love trying new foods. On a recent trip to Taiwan and Thailand, I learned how to make authentic Thai food from scratch, and then ate a bunch of crazy street food in Taiwan. If you ever get the chance to try it, stinky tofu rocks. I’m also lucky to live in Chicago, a great culinary city. We’re not one of the fattest cities in the country without good reason after all.
The perfect meal is a tough thing to nail down. I’m going to go a little lame and say mom’s pot stickers. Handmade from scratch mind you, not cheating with that pre-made dough crap. Way I see it, a good meal is not only delicious but a great experience as well. It should tell a story and invoke an emotional response. I survived college off those pot stickers, and every time I eat them, I’m pretty damn happy. So I’m going to stick with mom’s pot stickers. Add a fruity beer and I’m set.