I want to thank you for taking the time to answer some questions.
Explain what a day in the life of an author is like?
On the other hand, my wife and I start each day with exercise. Then she usually does a bit of gardening and eventually settles down to write for a few hours and ends the day with more gardening. Since Anchee works to a contractual deadline, her work day grows as the deadline nears.
My work day starts out more relaxed. When I was still a classroom teacher, I wrote weekends and sometimes at three in the morning. Now I wrote whenever I’m free or feel like it.
Since Concubine came out in December I haven’t been doing much writing. I’’ve spent more time promoting the novel than working on the sequel, Elegy for a Concubine. If it weren’t for the small writing group that I belong to, I wouldn’t be writing at all. All of my free time would be going toward promotion. However, since I’m getting chapters from the other writers, I feel compelled to take advantage of the valuable feedback I receive from them. It helps to belong to a group of dedicated writers that support each other.
How long does it take from start to finish to complete a book?
Describe your books in one sentence.
I’'m tempted to pull a Faulkner here. He wrote one sentence in the Sun Also Rises that ran for sixty pages. Since Robert Hart is not like the main character of Faulkner’s novel, I will resist that temptation.
Here goes: “Due to one devout Christian’s bitter sweet love affair with a Chinese boat girl, he learns to understand her culture and people in ways that few from the West will ever attain (even today) for him it was a journey to hell and back.”
Whose books do you like to read?
I’’ve read thousands of books in my life. When I was in high school, I managed to read two a day--mostly science fiction and fantasy. The one author that stays with me from my high school years is Ursula K. LeGuin.
Later, I read many westerns like Louis L’Amour’s work.
This answer could be endless, so I will stick to my favorites. I love James Lee Burke’s work and hope he lives a long time. I’ve read Michael Chabon and have most of his books waiting (I’m about three years behind in my reading. I buy books faster than I read them). John Dunning is another author I admire. I’ve read Lord of the Rings three times--the first time in Vietnam. I also read Rice’s Interview with a Vampire over there. My favorite Vietnam memoir is Chickenhawk by Robert Mason. If you want to taste war without going, I recommend that book. I don’t recommend war. I’ve been there. Another author worth reading is Patrick O’Brian. I have all of his Aubrey/Maturin Novels.
When I was earning my MFA, I focused on twentieth century American writers. I admire Hemingway and Fitzgerald. I wrote a paper on both of them.
Currently I’m focusing on the writers that belong to another writers group I recently joined, the IAG, Independent Authors Guild. Right now I’m reading The Confederate War Bonnet by Jack Shakely. When I finish his historical, I will write a reader’s review and post it on Amazon and on my own Website at http://www.mysplendidconcubine.com/. I have a page there for new writers. War Bonnet is about a chapter in the American Civil War I was unaware of, and I’ve read dozens of books about the Civil War and never heard this story. It’s excellent. I’m only half way through Shakely’s novel and it has already earned five stars from me.
Do you follow any rules when writing your books?
Discipline to stick with it even if that means getting up at three in the morning to write. Never give up. If you give up, it wasn’t meant to be.
I recently finished reading My Splendid Concubine and enjoyed it very much. I have to admit that I did not know much about Sir Robert Hart. Can you explain what you were feeling when you wrote My Splendid Concubine.
Concubine started out as a love story and it grew wings and become a novel of discovery--one man’s journey to discover and fall in love with a culture alien to his own while retaining his own religion and beliefs. I don’t know how he did it but he did. That’s what makes him a unique individual--a man worth knowing about.
At the beginning of the book in the foreword by Anchee Min it was mentioned that it took you 9 years to complete this book and that it was a labor of love. I could definitely tell that from reading My Splendid Concubine. So do you feel like you have accomplished what you wanted with this novel?
Yes. The feedback I’m getting from bookstore owners, readers and reviews is telling me I achieved my goal.
I read that you have a second home in Shanghai, China. I know from reading My Splendid Concubine that I got to read what it was like living in China for Sir Robert Hart but what is it like living there for you and your family?
China is an amazing country and culture that most people in the West do not understand. The stereotype of China that is alive and “sick” in the West today is one that has carried over from Mao’s twenty-seven years as the brutal Modern Emperor of China. Today’s China is not Mao’s China.
Today, China is a thriving, capitalistic market economy that is driving a country ruled by the largest political party in the world (seventy million members)--a party that has term limits and an age limit for the elected officials (something we don‘t even have in America and we should have it).
I suggest that everyone in the West that does not know the China I know erase the stereotype lodged in their brains and start to read. Read My Splendid Concubine to discover what Robert Hart discovered; read China: Portrait of a People by Thomas Antoni Carter (there’s a link on my Website for this book--a true masterpiece); read the May/June issue of Good magazine but do not believe what the Dalai Lama’s prime minster in exile says in the interview with him; read this month’s National Geographic special on China; read this issue of Poets&Writers magazine--they have a piece on the literary scene in China. After you have done your homework by finishing this list, travel to China and stop in Shanghai first.
Go to People’s Square and walk from there to the Bund down the pedestrian mall. Visit the stores and mingle with the people. The next step would be to spend a few weeks visiting the rest of China with a focus on the minority groups. The way China treats its minorities is a model the rest of the world could follow. Forget about all of this free Tibet trash and Western propaganda that twists the reality about Tibet. Most of it is wrong. Afterwards, you will return home a changed person. Sure, the government in China can be harsh but that will change with time. We in the West must be patient.
What has been your best experience so far though this whole process?
My continuing education about China. I’m sure if I hadn’t met and married Anchee, I would still see China as most Americans and Westerners see that country through eyes clouded by the past. It is sad that so many people are being kept in the dark by a misguided mass media. I’m glad there are magazines like Poets&Writers, Good magazine, and National Geographic.
What is on your bookshelf?
More than a hundred books begging to be read. If I could do without sleep, I might be able to catch up. I’m sure you don’t want me to list them here. I’m already long winded enough.
What new projects are you working on?
The sequel to My Splendid Concubine, Elegy for a Concubine. Better a Dead Hero.
This novel is about my experience in Vietnam as a field radio operator in the United States Marines.
The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova. This novel uses my knowledge and experience of the night club scene in America. I was a maitre d’ for a few years in a multi-million dollar nightclub. I draw on that life experience in writing this novel. I also use my years as a self-educated card counter in Las Vegas. I inherited my dad’s love for gambling and like him I control it. He once picked eight winners in a row at Santa Anita in Arcadia, California, but he only gambled small amounts so he never won that much. After he died, my mother lived off of his winnings for more than a year.
Again I want to thank you for your time. I will remember this book for a long time.
Thank you for interviewing me and reading My Splendid Concubine.