I'm a longtime author of science fiction and fantasy, honored in the past to be a finalist for some awards. I also wrote The Yellow Peril: Chinese Americans in American Fiction, 1850 to 1940, which is based on my doctoral dissertation in American Culture at the University of Michigan.
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A Temple of Forgotten Spirits: The Complete Adventures of Jack Hongby William F. WuPublish: Dec 13, 2017Fantasy
Hong on the Rangeby William F. WuPublish: Nov 13, 2017Science Fiction
10 Analogs of the Futureby Rob ChilsonPublish: Mar 13, 2020Science Fiction
I was born in Kansas City, Missouri, and after the age of three, I grew up in a suburb on the Kansas side of the state line called Prairie Village. In most ways, it was a safe and good childhood. My brother and I were the only nonwhite kids at our grade school and in the neighborhood, so we stood out visually. I was always reminded over the years that I looked different.What was your biggest dream as a child? Did it ever come true?
I didn’t have a single overriding dream. I definitely wanted to venture to the kind of places I read about or saw on TV or movies. Of course I had a child’s understanding of what I saw, so it was limited. I became interested in history early and wondered what living in different times and places was like. Westerns were big on TV and movies as I grew up, so I had a simplistic idea of the frontier. I, and the other kids I knew grew up with, played “cowboys” among other things, imitating what we had seen. I liked the novels of Edward Eager, who wrote about kids in suburbs like mine, and their parents as kids—but with magic or a hope of interpreting events as magic. Still in my formative years, I became fascinated by Narnia and Middle Earth, and many of the magic stories written by Edith Nesbit. Looking back, I was fortunate to read the aforementioned books at the approximate age for which they were intended; I think they were more enjoyable in that context. So I craved adventure outside of my ordinary life. While I never found the kind of magic in the works of Edward Eager, I found adventures in the stories I wrote even as a kid.What inspired your first original story? Did you share the tale with anyone?
The earliest story I remember creating was a five-sentence work dictated to my mother, who wrote each sentence on a small piece of colored construction paper. I illustrated it with a ballpoint pen and she connected the pages with brads. In it, my dad left for work and at the end, came home that evening. I don’t know if my parents ever showed it to anyone else. My mother saved it for many years and eventually gave it to me with some other fiction I wrote in childhood. It’s with my papers at the University of Kansas, as are some other works of creative writing I did as a kid.What're the most eye opening lines you have read in a novel?
I’ve read a lot of great novels but no specific lines are coming to me at this moment.Who inspired the character of Jack Hong? Would you like to join him in his adventures?
I think Jack joined me. LOL What I mean is this: While Jack of course is fictional, he’s based on some traits of mine more than any other character I’ve created. I don’t always have his sardonic sense of humor, but when I was younger, I often did. He wears jeans and black boots that I routinely wore. I don’t dress like that any more, but did so for many years, including my twenties. I once had a civilian job at an “honor farm,” a low-security county prison. Jack’s adventures start in such a place. During the counter-culture era, I did some long distance hitchhiking, which gave me a feel for what Jack’s travels could be like. With the exception of the Mississippi Delta, I had been to every location Jack visited before I wrote about that particular adventure. I wasn’t avoiding the Delta, but I just never got there. I chose not to name every place specifically. However, I described them to the best of my ability within the constraints of the story. No, I haven’t met any ghosts or unicorns. Maybe I could join that part of Jack’s adventures some day.How did your friends and family react to your first book?
Very well. My first published book was a revised version of my doctoral dissertation, The Yellow Peril: Chinese Americans in American Fiction, 1850 to 1940. So it’s a work of scholarship and came out in hardback. I’m close to releasing a new ebook version of it that has some minor corrections and some additions. I was happy to have everyone’s enthusiastic response.Is there a way to describe a character's appearance without it seeming forced or overly done?
This is a great question because every writer of fiction faces this issue. I want to start by saying that reading prose fiction is a collaboration between the writer and readers. No matter how much detail a writer gives about a character, setting, or events, individual readers will create an interpretation that may not match those of others. With that as a working principle, as writers we need to pick out what’s most important about characters in the situation. For instance, if a viewpoint character is facing a possibly violent individual, salient details are likely matters of physical strength and weapons. In a different situation, physical details might not matter as much as someone’s facial expression and tone of voice. For another character, a situation might call for details about someone’s clothes. We don’t need to overdo description in one place, no matter what, because we can expand on this later if necessary.How would an author describe you as a character in a book? For example, physically and mentally, the type of clothes you wear, etc.?
I mulled this over quite a while, but I don’t know anyone else would describe me. I’m choosing not to try describing myself as a character.Which is the best compliment or fan-mail you have received for your work?
I’ve written a fair amount of Young Adult science fiction. I’ve had letters and in-person compliments from kids, parents, and teachers. I appreciated that very much. Also, I had a short story in a Twilight Zone anniversary anthology of original stories, edited by Carol Serling, widow of Rod Serling. She took note of it in the introduction, which was also special to me.What are your techniques to improve writing?
Whenever I read prose fiction or watch a movie or TV show – any kind of storytelling –I’m always interested in how the story is told. I think about it ongoing, how I might do something in a different way, what works well and why, what does not work for me, ways I think I could improve on the story. This does not mean I’m always right, of course. It does mean that when I think about storytelling as I read or watch, I’m still working as a writer at the same time. Something I stress when talking to new writers is that you can learn what not to do as well as what to do.What are some tips you have for new indie authors that don't know how the marketing world of books works?
I don’t get it, either. I’m trying to learn this myself.What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?
For fiction, developing a protagonist that readers care about is central. A common exception is flash fiction, where something of a plot is usually the point. In pieces with any length, including most short stories, a reader’s interest goes beyond a simple premise by identifying with the protagonist and that individual’s experience. I also believe strongly that writers should know grammar and all other traditionally correct forms of language – stuff that sounds boring to a lot of people, such as verb tenses and avoiding dangling participles. Still, this is a parallel to playing a musical instrument in that knowing the basics of how to play it is the foundation no matter how skilled someone becomes. Use of slang and colloquialisms, and experimenting with how to use language, all work best if the writer knows the basics.How do you think reading a book can spark a child's imagination?
Kids are naturally imaginative and we see this as they play. Having said that, I would add that we never know which book might reach a particular child. My parents got me a lot of children’s books and I liked many of them, but not all. Some they expected me to like didn’t work for me. As another example, I remember one guy who had no interest in reading fiction until he was about fourteen – though he had been reading nonfiction with interest. Then he tried a novel that he loved and his interest in fiction continued from there. I think in general, kids are naturally interested in the world and they find, like adults, that fiction can take them to new adventures in life.Which is the next book you are writing? What is it about?
I’m working on an Asian steampunk novel, set in Shanghai in the 1890s. The ensemble of “good guys,” using the term as gender neutral, are con artists who only go after the rich and powerful who are also corrupt and exploitative. I’m trying to have the adventure of old pulp magazine stories with my contemporary take on matters of race, gender, culture, and alternate history. The main characters include a guy like me, an American of Chinese descent, and a woman in a wealthy but ruthless family whose father was British and mother Chinese.What are your thoughts on AllAuthor? Is this a website you see yourself using for some time even in the future?
I like it a lot. AllAuthor is extremely handy to use. Beyond that, it’s part of what I’m still learning about marketing nowadays.
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