I had the opportunity a few months back to read Wesley Chu’s The Lives of Tao. When I turned the last page, I was blown away. Not only did I love this book but I thought that it could very well be the best book I’ll read released in 2013. Now, I know it’s early, but it’s that good and I’m THAT confident.
I had a chance to sit down and chat with Wes about his new book.
Is writing something you’ve always been interested in? Tell us a little about your journey to becoming a published author.
I think writing is one of those careers that a person is born to do, or at least born to love. I’m almost willing to bet that most authors start at a young age. My earliest memory of writing was in the second grade. I wrote a story about the solar system and how all the planets used to run into each other and get into fights. That’s why they had craters all over them. Then King Sun got pissed off having to deal with their squabbling and put them all in their place with gravity.
My father, the English Professor, took a look at it and was like, “hmm…this doesn’t suck.” And that’s how my writing career started.
When not writing, what does a Wesley Chu do?
I’m a pretty OCD kind of guy. When I hobby, I hobby hardcore. I don’t like to half-ass anything, so I ended up going pro on some of these interests. I’m a member of the Screen Actors Guild and have done minor stunt work. I competed at a high level in martial arts, and was a *cough* officer in an end game WoW raiding guild. By the way, nothing trains a person to be leader than being an officer in a Warcraft raiding guild. Your level of douchebaggery tolerance increases tenfold.
Then when writing got serious, something had to give. Actually, everything else had to give.
If you could, Tell us about The Lives of Tao.
On the surface, The Lives of Tao is late coming-of-age story about Roen Tan, a fat loser who is drafted into an alien civil war over control of humanity’s evolution. The aliens, known as the Quasing, had crash landed on Earth millions of years ago and have survived by moving from creature to creature. Quasings can inhabit humans but are unable to control them. Their only means of influence on their hosts is by speaking with them, and the Quasing cannot leave that host until he dies.
At the end of the day, the book is about the relationship between Roen and Tao, his Quasing. Tao had inhabited and guided some of the greatest figures in history. Roen lives a meandering life filled with regret and frozen pizzas. The two must learn to get along and train Roen to fight the Genjix, the power enemy that is now hunting him.
Have you always had an appreciation for Sci-Fi be it films, television or novels?
I’m a huge Sci-Fi fan in all mediums. My favorite movie of all time is Gattaca, I love the overachieving underdog story and use a similar theme in The Lives of Tao. It’s important that Roen became who he was without the help of destiny or super powers. He isn’t special like Harry Potter or fated like Rand Al’Thor.
He’s just a guy that got inhabited by circumstance, and it’s up to him train to be a covert operative. Given, having an all-wise alien qualifies as almost a superpower, but Tao’s job is more guidance and motivation than actual powers. I wanted Roen’s achievements to really be his own.
There is a scene in the novel where Tao tries to inspire Roen to take charge of his life. Did you ever find yourself in a situation similar to Roen? Have you ever been given a similar pep talk?
Not so much a zero to hero kind of pep talk. I remember right before I began my first attempt at a novel. I was training at two schools, six days a week three hours a day on top of a two and a half hour drive. Basically, life was work, train, and sleep, with an eight ounce piece of chicken cooked on a George Foreman grill as dinner.
As I became more serious about writing, something had to give. It was a tough call. A guy doesn’t walk away from that lifestyle without doing a lot of soul searching. At the end of the day, it was all about priorities and I had to make a choice. I don’t regret it for a second, though I do miss being limber.
The conflict between the Genjix and the Prophus influences some of the most important events in the history of humanity. Where did the idea come from to root the Quasing mythology so deeply in human culture?
I’m a big history buff, and I’m always curious about what happened in our past. But also important to me is why we got to where we’re at and what were people thinking when they made those choices. Regardless of the outcome, what was the purpose? Was it murder or manslaughter? Purpose matters.
So when I wrote The Lives of Tao, I wanted to play with the idea that our history wasn’t what it seemed, that we’ve had puppet masters playing our strings all these years.
There’s a lot of talk and execution of various fighting styles. Did that require a lot of research or are you yourself personally skilled in any combat styles?
I spent a good portion of my life being around many styles of fighting, and I’ve been fortunate enough to get my ass kicked by several of them. So when I first wrote The Lives of Tao, I approached the fight scenes as I would stage combat or stunt work; I choreographed them out in thorough detail.
I wanted those scenes to be cinematic and then I pared them down for the book. I do pride myself in being able recreate every fight in the book. Well, at least in my limber days I could…
The dynamic between Tao and Roen often leads to some pretty hilarious back and forth. Who are some of your comedic influences?
Humor isn’t often used in SFF because it’s a tough thing to do. There are a few masters: Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, and John Scalzi, but the two biggest influences for me were William Goldman who wrote The Princess Bride and Robert Asprin who wrote the Myth series. Those two were the guys I latched on to at an early age and they really helped mold my dialogue when I write.
Also, Tasselhoff from the Dragon Lance Chronicles. That dude was the shits.
If you could name just one, what would consider your favorite book?
Eek. A dreaded question to ask any writer because there’s so many. I’m going go back in time to the book I’ve read the most, and probably the one that made me love books and dogs. During the summer before my 4rd grade, I read the 101 Dalmatians once a day every day for three months straight. Literally.
Not only did I earn my bone-fide geek card from that, I became a very fast reader.
Do you have a favorite author?
I probably don’t have a favorite author. I go on streaks where I digest everything a certain author writes. Most recently, I just read Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang.
Uh, that dude is a genius. Like a straight up f***ing genius. After reading it, I had that Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure moment where my brain just pauses and goes “dude…”
Best book you’ve read in 2012?
2012 was a bit of a down year for reading. I usually go through twenty or so books a year, but I was busy working on the sequel to The Lives of Tao tentatively named The Deaths of Tao.
If I had to name a book though, I’m going to have to say either the mind blowing Nexus by my Ramez Naam and or the very excellent Wool by Hugh Howey. The future of Sci-Fi is pretty bright with some of these new heavyweights on the horizon.
So, you’re on the eve of releasing your first novel and I’m hoping that you’re already planning a sequel but what else is on the horizon for Wesley Chu?
Due to the great early feedback for The Lives of Tao, the Angry Robot overlords have pushed up the sequel, The Deaths of Tao, to Oct 31st 2013. Needless to say, I’m stoked. As for the third book in the trilogy, tentatively titled The Rebirth of Tao, that’ll be up to the readers. Come on folks, make it happen!
Wesley Chu was born in Taiwan and immigrated to Chicago, Illinois when he was just a pup. It was there he became a Kung Fu master and gymnast.
Wesley is an avid gamer and a contributing writer for the magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland. A former stunt man and a member of SAG, he can also be seen in film and television playing roles such as “Banzai Chef” in Fred Claus and putting out Oscar worthy performances as a bank teller in Chicago Blackhawks commercials.
Besides working as an Associate Vice President at a bank, he spends his time writing and hanging out with his wife Paula Kim and their Airedale Terrier, Eva.