Interview (& Giveaway): Wesley Chu, author of The Lives of Tao

Wesley Chu is the debut author of The Lives of Tao (out April 30th from Angry Robot), and he kindly submitted to my interrogation with grace, wit, plenty of style and maybe even some butt clenching, so please welcome him to the blog!

Also, we’ve got a copy of The Lives of Tao up for grabs, so be sure to check out the info at the end of the post!

WesleyChuYour debut novel, The Lives of Tao, comes out next week! How did you celebrate when you found out it would be published?
It all started with an expensive email. Wait, let me back track. I’m sure the Great Angry Robots Open submission of 2011 is old news now, but in case you don’t follow their every spoken word (like I do), here’s a quick recap. In March 2011, AR had their first open submission ever. Nearly 1000 people submitted works, 65 were asked for full manuscripts and 24 made it to the editors’ desk. Out of those 24, 5 received offers. The End.

Back to the expensive email. In December of 2011, my wife and I were vacationing in Bora Bora, which while a fantastically beautiful place, had perfected the fine art of legalized racketeering. Yes it’s a very small island in the middle of the ocean. We get it. But $24 for a 6oz bottle of bug spray? Yeah, you suck, Mr. Convenience Store Owner. Don’t even ask what sunblock was going for. I could have bought 6oz of plutonium for less. So after a week being disconnected from the internet, we finally caved and bought access for a whopping $40 a day.

My wife and I were watching “The Bounty” starring Mel Gibson (ironically, the movie was filmed on the island – no wonder it came so highly recommended) when an email popped in from a certain Mr. Lee Harris expressing interest in publishing The Lives of Tao. I did what anyone wearing a bathrobe in an over-water bungalow would do in that situation. I ran around the room in circles about nine times whooping and making a fool of myself, and then I jumped into the ocean.

Then when I got home, I bought a bottle of scotch which I was supposed to save for the actual signing. My friends got into most of it during my New Year’s Party (/shakes fist at said friends). The rest I shared with my bestie literary friend Laura Lam (of Pantomime fame) over Skype when the contract appeared in my inbox. It was 6AM in the morning. Friendly tip folks; scotch and toothpaste make a foul combination.
(Co-opted from my original signing post)

livesoftaoWill you tell us a little about yourself and your background? Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Hello, this is Wesley Chu. I’m a member of the Screen Actors Guild and a former stuntman specializing in being token Asian dude. What’s the token Asian you ask? Next time you watch a commercial, check out the group makeup. There’s the token black dude, token white, token Latino, and yes, token me dude. Some of them might occupy other minor roles simultaneously such as token fat, token bald, token hunk-you-want-to-take-home-to-mom among others. I never get to be that guy.

Oh yeah, I wrote a book. My debut novel, The Lives of Tao published by Angry Robot Books, is dropping April 30th, 2013. I have a book release party May 4th at NV Penthouse Lounge in Chicago IL, so if you’re within a hundred mile radius, let’s hang out. You don’t have to buy my book, but at least party with me.

I wanted to be a writer ever since I read The 101 Dalmatians once a day every day for an entire summer. I realized I might have had a smidgeon of talent for it when English Professor Father read my first short story. It was about the planets in the solar system constantly running into each other and getting into fist fights, which explained why they all have pock marks over their surfaces. Then the King Sun got annoyed and enforced gravity upon them. English Professor Father read it and said “this doesn’t suck.” And as you know, when an Asian parent says you don’t suck at something, you might be on to something.

What would be your elevator pitch for The Lives of Tao?
Speaking of suck, I suck at elevator pitches. At my very first convention ever, the super cool Matt Forbeck introduced me to Ginjer Buchanan, the Editor-In-Chief of Ace Books and Roc Books. Now, I had already sold The Lives of Tao so I had no horse in this race, but she was still someone that made my knees wibble. We were chilling around the table having beers and she asked me what my book was about. I had never done an elevator pitch before so I rambled on and on… and on. I literally saw her and Matt’s faces melt a little. At the very end, she looks at me and said, “Well, it has an interesting title.” Not gonna lie; I think my butt clenched at those remarks.

Anyway, here it is:
The Lives of Tao is a modern day Sci-Fi about an alien who possesses a fat loser and drafts him, kicking and screaming, to fight a war over control of humanity’s evolution.

What inspired you to write the novel?
I’d like to consider myself a people person writer. The Lives of Tao might have aliens, civil wars, espionage, Kung Fu, and all that jazz, but at its core the book is really about two friends having each other’s back. I wanted to tell a real coming of age story, not the teenage variety where a boy learns what it means to be a man or the faux variety where the character is special with his powers just waiting to be unlocked.

I’m talking about the dirty kind where the main character, Roen, is already full grown and a real loser. He’s unhappy, fat, cowardly, and worst of all, leads a meandering life. And then I wanted to write a character transformation that could happen to anyone. No easy steps like in Wanted where the dude becomes a master assassin in three weeks.

Sure having an all-wise alien in his head helps, but Tao could offer nothing more than advice and cheerleading. I wanted Roen to own his transformation. He’s not special or prophesized to do great things. He did great things because he worked his tail off.

How ‘bout that cool cover? Do you think it captures the spirit of the novel?
I remember the first time I saw it. The cover was running a little late and one morning, Mr. Lee Harris surprised me with an email that knocked me on my butt. At first, I was like “Wtf is this face punching yellow?” I stared at it, and then stared at it some more. I walked to the opposite end of my condo and squinted from afar. Then I studied the details up close. And then I thought to myself, “Holy crap, this is perfect.”

In my opinion (totally unbiased of course), the cover completely captures the spirit of the novel. There’s simplicity to it, yet the silhouettes draw the reader’s attention in to puzzle out the theme. And then the final guy on the bottom right conveys the humor without going cheese. I think Stu from Argh! Oxford did a masterful job with it.

What do you enjoy most about writing SF?
I’m publishing two books this year about a down on his luck guy turned super spy and his alien best friend who had inhabited the likes of Genghis Khan and Lafayette. Hopefully, my next published book will be about a time traveling scavenger. Then maybe I’ll venture into fantasy territory and write about a centuries old eclipse that burned out magic long ago, but now the eclipse is finally lifting. Hell, maybe a book about magic vegetables (never mind, the uber Chuck Wending beat me way to the punch on that one).

That’s the beauty of speculative fiction. It’s defined yet so broad and diverse. I can go anywhere my imagination takes me. Hmm… I feel like a Reading Rainbow commercial right now.

spellforchameleonWhat are a few authors or novels that have influenced you the most?
There’s an army of incredible authors that have influenced me, but I’m going to go far back in time and choose the authors that made me fall in love with the genre. One of the first two SFF books I ever received were A Spell for Chameleon by Piers Anthony and The Misenchanted Sword by Lawrence Watt-Evans.

One of my big misses of 2012 was at Worldcon. I heard that Lawrence Watt-Evans was there. I wanted to shake his hand, buy him a drink, and thank him for setting me on this path. Unfortunately, the only picture I had of Lawrence was when he sported a Teen Wolf beard. I spent half the dang con staring at the fuzz on people’s faces, which at a SFF con, is like half the people there.

If you could experience one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
I’m going to cheat a little and go with L Frank Baum’s Oz series. Nothing kick-started my imagination like reading those books for the first time. Now that I think about it, Ozma was also my first book crush. I remember being very conflicted about by the fact that Ozma was a girl disguised as a boy. For some reason, that blew my mind. But then, I guess it’s all right to be a little confused when you’re in second grade. If I could erase my brain and be eight years old again, I’d lock myself in my room and read all fourteen books over again back to back.

Since you have an acting background, I have to ask…what are a few of your favorite films?
While there are many films I enjoy, but there’s only one that I’ve fallen in love with: Gattaca. It spoke to me because, growing up in an Asian household, I was raised to be pragmatic and not be a dreamer, and pragmatism and novel writing are two trains that pass each other in the night.

I remember one conversation with English professor father about becoming an English major. His answer was basically a variation “hell no” and “your life will suck.” I ended up studying computer science. That was when I buried my dreams to become an author and did the pragmatic thing to study a field that makes money. And you know what? My life sucked anyway.

The first time I saw Gattaca, I couldn’t sleep afterward. I watched it again. And again. By the time the weekend was over, the phrase “there is no gene for the human spirit” kept echoing in my head, and I kept muttering “I’m tired of cleaning the fucking windows” (which is a Gattaca metaphor. I don’t *actually* clean windows for a living). I sat down, prioritized my life, and figured out what I needed to do. A few weeks later, I walked away from martial arts where I was training 6 days a week 3+ hours a day to write my first book.

When you’re not writing, how do you like to spend your free time?
Now that writing has taken over my life, I’ve had to cut a lot of things from my schedule. No more martial arts, World of Warcraft, human interaction, you know… the normal stuff. Now, it’s all writing, family, and a little crossfit to keep my waist line from spilling out of my pants. Thank God Eva Da Terrordale drags me out of the house once in a while to take her on walks or my pasty white vampire skin would never see the sun.

What’s next for you this year, and beyond?
I delivered The Deaths of Tao to the robot overlords at the end of March. Due to the positive press from The Lives of Tao, they’ve bumped up its release date from February 2014 to October 29th, 2013. The timing is perfect because I’ll be at World Fantasy in Brighton, and can celebrate a release party with my publisher and fellow AR authors. Psst… yo Bookish, you should totally come. As for book three, tentatively titled The Rebirth of Tao, that’s up to the readers.

Come on folks, make it happen!

Keep up with Wesley: Website | Twitter

When out-of-shape IT technician Roen woke up and started hearing voices in his head, he naturally assumed he was losing it.

He wasn’t.

He now has a passenger in his brain – an ancient alien life-form called Tao, whose race crash-landed on Earth before the first fish crawled out of the oceans. Now split into two opposing factions – the peace-loving, but under-represented Prophus, and the savage, powerful Genjix – the aliens have been in a state of civil war for centuries. Both sides are searching for a way off-planet, and the Genjix will sacrifice the entire human race, if that’s what it takes.

Meanwhile, Roen is having to train to be the ultimate secret agent. Like that’s going to end up well…

1. You MUST fill out the form below (if you’ve signed into Rafflecopter before, it will remember you!)
2. Giveaway is for 1 copy of The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu to 1 winner
3. Giveaway is open to US addresses only
4. You must enter on or before 5/5/13
5. Giveaway book courtesy of Angry Robot Books
6. Please see my Giveaway Policy.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. “Well, it has an interesting title.” Oh, ouch. I continually push my writer friends to have a coherent pitch ready–yes, it’s hard, yes it’s frustrating, but so much better to do that thinking ahead of time rather than inflicting it on agents and editors.

  2. Sounds like a great read. I can’t wait to pick up a copy! Thanks for the giveaway Wesley!

  3. Heard lots of good things about this book.

  4. Great interview! Though I’m crossing (clenching?) my fingers that my entry is drawn, I’ve added this book to my TBR list so I can pick up a copy regardless as to contest outcome.

  5. Dude, you could so be token hunk-you-want-to-take-home-to-mom. I would have taken you home 😛

    Also, I LOVE your cover. It’s unique and very attention-grabbing. Very excited to finally get to read the book 🙂 (And if I wasn’t going to be partying at RT in Kansas City, I would so try to drag my butt out to Chicago. Have a great time!)

  6. This sounds like a fun read.

  7. congrats Wesley on the new release! Sounds awesome! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  8. Great interview, looking forward to reading the novel.

  9. I attended ConFusion this year and Wesley was on a panel discussing the possible future of space travel IRL. I had no idea what his book was about at the time but his comments were intelligent and insightful and that was enough to make me remember to watch out for his book when it came out! Looking forward to reading it!

  10. I know exactly what he means about growing up in an asian household! My mom being Korean – was like that – whereas my father wasn’t. It’s rough when you aren’t really encouraged in creative ways.

  11. It’s so refreshing to see more asian writers!

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