Ten Questions About The Lives Of Tao, By Wesley Chu
Wesley Chu’s written a corker of a book — a twisted, funny head-tripper. And he’s a nice guy. Which means we all get to hate him. Talented? Capable? Nice? BURN HIS HOUSE DOWN. Ahem. Point is, Wes is here to answer some questions about his book, so I’ll get out of his way in 3… 2… 1…
TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF: WHO THE HELL ARE YOU?
Hello, I’m Wesley Chu. I’m a member of the Screen Actors Guild and a former stunt man, specializing in being the token Asian male. In other words, I play roles like businessman, doctor, computer geek, and getting my ass kicked. I’m good at that last one.
I get the token role because in every commercial with a group of guys, there always needs to be a token me alongside a token white guy, black guy, Latino guy, fat guy…etc. Do I mind? Nah, being token is my bread and butter.
Oh, I also wrote a book. My debut novel, The Lives of Tao, from Angry Robot Books, came out two days ago. By the way, this Saturday May 4th, I have a release party. If you’re within three hundred miles of Chicago, you should come. You don’t have to buy my book, but at least party with me.
GIVE US THE 140-CHARACTER STORY PITCH:
Fat loser meets snarky alien. Gets in shape. Fights war over control of humanity’s evolution. Gets a girlfriend. Not in order of importance.
WHERE DOES THIS STORY COME FROM?
I’ve always been a big history buff and one thing that fascinated me was the reasoning behind the events. Sure we know that Genghis and Alexander conquered faraway lands for fun, but why did they do it? Did Alexander really just enjoy visiting new places, meeting new people, beating the snot out of them, and then moving on? What were the political motives behind the Spanish Inquisition? How did the Black Plague positively affect humanity?
For me, the logic was more fascinating than the actual deed. Was it murder or manslaughter?
My original idea was to explore and retell that why, and tie it in with the present. How did we get to where we’re at now? The brouhaha going on in the Middle East is the perfect example of all the events that happened since World War II building up into the mess that it is today.
Now, what if there were wizards (the aliens) hiding behind the curtains pulling our strings. Toss in a fat lazy guy who hates his life, and let the fun begin.
HOW IS THIS A STORY ONLY YOU COULD’VE WRITTEN?
This book is a mash up from many different parts of my life. The humor and verbal banter I attribute to my acting and those many dumb nights hanging out with my boys in Vegas. The fight scenes and action are from my martial arts and stunt work background. I choreographed and re-enact every fight scene in the book. Well, I used to be able to; I’m not so limber anymore.
Roen’s transformation from his meandering life to that of a secret agent was also a mental journey as well. I went through a similar transformation when I wasn’t happy with the direction my career and life was heading. I did some soul searching and took a step back to reevaluate my job and hobbies. That was when I decided to stop practicing martial arts and begin working on a book.
WHAT WAS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT WRITING THE LIVES OF TAO?
Lee Harris, my editor at Angry Robot, made a pretty difficult request during the acquisitions phase. He asked that I take out my historical plotline that followed Tao’s progression through several famous historical figures. The book was already a big boy so something had to give in order to trim it down to a svelte 464 pages. We ended up condensing those chapters into expositions and in the end, the story was definitely better for it. The robot overlords are indeed wise! The robot overlords plan to release the historical plotlines in their entirety at a later date as supplemental stories.
WHAT DID YOU LEARN WRITING THE LIVES OF TAO?
I learned that dreams do come true if I sell my soul to the devil. Besides that, I learned that in writing, often less is more.
In fight choreography, every move has to be specifically dictated, from the positioning to the beats to the physics. You mess up one of these and someone gets hurts. So, a good fight scene needs to be fully controlled and laid out.
That is exactly what you don’t want to do in a book fight scene. When I first started writing The Lives of Tao, I wrote out everything in a fight. From hand placement to interlocking to foot positioning, it was all there. Basically, a skilled person could reenact the entire scene. And it was a bore to read. What works on film, television, and stage, does not necessarily work for books.
My wife said I was mentally masturbating when she first read it. My agent told me to look up some of the masters like Lee Childs. I did my research and went back to the drawing board, and ended up stripping the action scenes to its base structures and amped the emotional levels. It worked much better in the end. Thanks Jack Reacher!
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT THE LIVES OF TAO?
I’m very proud of the relationship between Roen and Tao. Sure one of them is a lovable disgusting slob and the other is a gas-life snarky alien symbiote, but their relationship is real. One of the early reviews of the book labeled it a bromance like the Odd Couple or Ocean’s Eleven.
Sure, why the hell not?
Regardless of all the sci-fi elements with aliens, spies, war, and conspiracies in the book, at its core The Lives of Tao is a story about relationships. One of the important rules I made in this world was that the alien cannot control the human. Therefore, if the alien wanted his host to do something, he has to ask. This story is less Invasion of the Bodysnatchers and more Firestorm (bonus geek points for getting the reference).
WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY NEXT TIME?
I would get out more often. I’m a pretty OCD kind of guy. When I focus on something, I’m basically a Phillips screwdriver; a single purpose driven machine. If I’m going to play Magic, I need to have every Magic card in existence. If I’m watching West Wing, I need to watch it all in one sitting. If I want to write a book, it’s all I think about.
I lost touch with a lot of friends writing The Lives of Tao. People got married, moved to the suburbs, had kids…etc… One day, my pasty white ass walked out of the house and the world had changed. Everyone’ was using this damn thing called an iPhone, and Terrell Owens was playing for the Cowboys. Whaaaa?
GIVE US YOUR FAVORITE PARAGRAPH FROM THE STORY:
(This is only my favourite scene because it happened in real life. Roen is getting robbed by a mugger.)
He didn’t know what was going on or who was talking, but he was so scared right now that he did whatever this voice said. He took the two bottles and smashed them together.
Thunk. They didn’t break.
What the…? Roen looked down and tried again.
Thunk. Thunk. The damn bottles wouldn’t break.
“Oh, for the love of…” Roen gritted his teeth and tried again.
Thunk. Thunk. They finally shattered into two jagged shards and he waved them in front of him triumphantly, trying to imitate that already fading image of the gladiator.
Good. Say something mean.
“You… you give me all your money!” Roen yelled.
That is not what I meant.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU AS A STORYTELLER?
Due to the positive early reviews for The Lives of Tao, the sequel, The Deaths of Tao, just had its publication date moved up to Oct 29th, 2013. Huzzah! It’ll be five years since The Lives of Tao and all hell is about to break loose. Without giving too much away, the Prophus are going into the championship rounds of a losing fight.
* * *