What have you had published?
Trang Sen is the first novel I’ve had published. I’ve published a number of op ed pieces, and for two years was a columnist for a paper in
North Carolina; I also
have some unpublished short stories.
What genre(s) of book do you write?
I’m hesitant to consider my work as any particular genre. As I noted in the Q and A, I intended Trang Sen as a coming-of-age novel. It is that, but readers have also found it a way to understand some things about the Vietnam War. So I think it can be different things to different readers. In terms of writing style, it is traditional literary fiction – what used to be called “trade fiction”.
What inspired you to write your first book?
My Foreign Service assignment during the last two years of the war was in the Indochina section of the State Department. In that position I was deeply aware of the way the war, and its ending, tore apart people’s lives, both American and Vietnamese. And there were many refugees, or émigrés really, in and around Washington, and I got intrigued by what their lives must be like here, after starting over. I started thinking, they would make an interesting story.
How long did it take you to write “Trang Sen”?
I wrote it over a number of years. It took me a long time because life kept intervening, such events as the final illness and death of my parents, and other projects to which I was committed. The final version was completed about four years ago.
What is the working title of your next book(s)?
My next book will be a memoir, but not the straightforward type, more image- or memory-directed reflections on some of the more significant parts of my life. I don’t have a working title yet.
When and why did you begin writing?
About the same time I learned to read, because I love it. I have a pencil-written account, on a small notepad, of a trip my family took to
City when I was 8 years old. As a child, I wrote plays
for my brother and me to perform, and some truly dreadful fiction.
Do you self publish your books or go through an agency?
Neither, actually. I worked directly with Pisgah Press in the publication of Trang Sen. Pisgah will almost certainly be my publisher going forward.
What part of writing books do you find the hardest?
That is really hard to say. I love all parts of the process: The creation of characters and situations; the research necessary to ensure accuracy; editing and proofing.
What do you do in your spare time?
Cooking and entertaining, especially Chinese cooking; attending figure skating championships; movies; trying to keep up with my very energetic Pembroke corgi.
Who is your favourite author?
Wow, that is hard to say. Given how much space she takes up on my bookshelf, I’d have to conclude it is Ursula K. LeGuin.
What’s your favourite genre to read?
I love really good fantasy and science fiction, continually enjoy the Harry Potter books, and also the novels of Guy Gavriel Kay.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Just to keep at it and don’t get discouraged. I’m leery of the advice to “write what you know”. Maybe “write what you dream and imagine” is better advice.