Funny question. I suppose a stiff back is what usually gets me out of bed. Otherwise I might stay there all day. I have a bad habit of working late into the night. Mostly I work on writing and promoting what I write. For this reason, I often wake up late, which is a shame because I love the sights and sounds of early morning. Early morning light has a certain quality that livens my soul. It is also wonderful to see well rested people at the start of each day. They seem so content and happy. I live in China, so I have closer contact with a greater number of people than I would have if I lived in my native US. I enjoy mixing with the crowd of people shopping at morning markets, the children as they walk to school, and the the adults as they journey to work.
Describe your desk
The desk is small--nothing grand or expensive. The knobs on the drawers are broken, and the whole thing might collapse if someone sat on it. The computer on the top of the desk however is a true marvel of modern technology. It is probably smarter than half of humanity, and it is quicker than a back alley cat. I need this machine because I also program, edit sound and image files, and design on the web. Other than the computer, the desk also has a large number of Chinese study books and a few Chinese DVDs that I watch when I have the time. That is nearly the full contents of the desk except for a few pencils and a notebook. I have these items because I often like to write my fiction by hand.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
I don't think so, I learned to read at a very young age, and I learned to read in an unusual manner. I was the youngest child in a family of fifteen, which means that I always had people reading to me. Many of the books that I had as a child, I knew by heart. If you opened a page in one of those books, I could have told you every word on the page, but I had no concept of A,B,C. I just knew the pictures. The words were like pictures, so I knew them too. I was emerged in a great number of stories at a young age, but I don't know when I learned formal reading. I never attended kindergarten, and I missed two thirds of first grade because I had open heart surgery, yet I somehow ended up in second grade able to read.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Yes, very vaguely. The story is something that landed in the trash bin years ago, but I remember that when I was in the third grade, I wrote a story about a girl who was playing in her attic and discovered a door into a secret world. For some reason, the world was a world where everything looked like Halloween. There were giant pumpkins and witches and ghosts—all the typical Halloween stuff. I showed the story to my teacher. All she said was that all my sentences were in the same structure and that the story would be better if I had different sentence types. At the time, I didn't understand what she meant.
What is your writing process?
When I start, I have no idea where my story will end or even where the next page will lead me. I have a general idea of the story's feel and maybe some vague sense of a few scenes that I wish to write, but for the most part I write from the beginning to the end without interruption. For this reason, the characters and plots move me in ways I never foresee. My first draft is generally quite readable, but I want more from my stories than readability. I want my readers to become addicted to what I write. So I edit, and I edit like a mad man with an ax. I chop out anything that distracts from the story, and I rearrange story elements so that they fit together better. For my first novel, Dream of the Yellow Dragon, I threw nearly one-third of what I wrote into the trash. What was a three-hundred page novel shrunk to two-hundred pages after I edited it.
How do you approach cover design?
I design my own covers because I have a fairly good eye. Art is a skill that runs in my family. A couple of my siblings are professional artistS. Only recently have I begun to understand good cover design however. Covers must not only look good; they must draw readers into the story. This is a fact that I need to constantly remind myself.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
I hope this doesn't make me sound like a narcissist, but my favorite book is my first novel Dream of the Yellow Dragon. When I wrote that book, I was possessed almost as if the god of agriculture stepped into my body and demanded that I tell his story. This is funny because the idea for the story came to me in Beijing at a temple where the god is worshiped. I truly fear that I will never be able to write another story like it.
Other than that, the Harry Potter books fall into my top five list. Some people dismiss Rowling's genius because she writes children's books. Other people dismiss her because she is so popular—as if someone who is popular can not be great. These people are not writers. I believe that most writers see what she does with character and plot, and they bow to her immense talent.
Another book that is on my top five list is Tom Robbin's novel Skinny Legs and All. This book has always been one of my favorites even though I do not like his other books. Maybe I like Skinny Legs and All because I grew up in a Christian environment and can relate to the story so well.
Yet another book that I deeply love is To Kill a Mockingbird. If you don't love this book, you haven't read it. Enough said.
The final book that I place on my top five list is Dragon Seed by Pearl S. Buck. This is the book that showed me Buck's true genius. I live in China, so I can probably relate to it better than most American readers. If you haven't read this book, you need to.
What do you read for pleasure?
I will read anything for pleasure, give me the manual for your cellphone. I will probably enjoy reading it.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
My android tablet
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
I am a true amateur. When it comes to marketing, the only thing I know how to do is write a great story and hope for luck.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in southwest Wisconsin. It is a part of the state filled with steep limestone hills, trout streams, and maple forests. The area is a common setting in nearly everything I write. Because I write about my homeland, I have a small group of devoted followers in that part of the world. I now live half the world away in China, but southwest Wisconsin will always be the one place I shall never forget.
When did you first start writing?
Maybe around the third grade if not earlier. By the time I was in sixth grade, I knew that I would one day be a professional writer. Life's necessities led me far from that dream at times, but now that I am nearly forty, I am starting to see the fruits of the dream.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
The desire to write how I want to write in the way I want to write it.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
I have only been on Smashwords a few days. I previously published in traditional paper format, but I love this modern flexibility, and I love the fact that I am not so financially constrained like I was with paper publishing.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
I just like to write. It gives me a certain high. It helps me understand myself.
What do your fans mean to you?
If a person enjoys what I wrote, that means that they approve of a part of me that is deep and personal. Fans give me a sense of social acceptance. They can not replace my family and personal contacts, but they are what is next most important to me.
What's the story behind your latest book?
This seems like it should be an easy question, but if you read Dream of The Yellow Dragon, you will realize why it is actually hard to answer. I have never read a two hundred page novel with a more complex plot or with so many developed characters. This might sound like a form of self-praise, but I hear the same feedback from my readers, so I know that I am not the only person who holds this opinion. I will give the most simple answer I know how. It is the story of the life of a god and the liberation of magic. That god happens to be the Chinese god of agriculture and medicine. For this reason, the book is about living in harmony with nature.
What are you working on next?
I am working on a novel called Lessons from a Dharma Bum. It is a sequel to Dream of the Yellow Dragon, and it is part of what I have recently began to call the Divinity Unleashed series. For the most part, the novel contains an entire new set of characters, but my readers will see how it all connects in the end.
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