An Interview with Wesley Chu, Author of The Deaths of Tao

Following the success of his debut novel The Lives of Tao, Wesley Chu is back with the highly anticipated sequel. Be sure to check out our review of The Deaths of Tao, which was everything I could have hoped for and more!

And yet, I still couldn’t get enough. Thankfully, it was Wes to the rescue! He was awesome enough to stop by here at The BiblioSanctum for a nice chat, and I got to geek out about Roen, Tao, the Prophus and the Genjix for a little while longer. I had so much fun doing this interview, and I really hope you’ll enjoy it too!

Mogsy: Hi Wesley! First, welcome to The BiblioSanctum and thank you for this interview!

Wesley Chu: Thanks for having me over. Let’s get the party started.

Mogsy: Yes, let’s! By the way, congratulations on the success of The Lives of Tao, and now the upcoming sequel The Deaths of Tao is to be released pretty soon. I’m just going to dive right in with this: How would you introduce this series to readers new to your work?

Wesley Chu: The Lives of Tao is a modern day science fiction novel about an alien who inhabits an out-of-shape loser and convinces him to train and fight in a civil war over humanity’s evolution.

It’s been compared to Chuck, The Odd Couple, and every single play ever written by Euripides. There’s love, Kung Fu, cats, and pizza; everything anyone ever needs if they get stranded on a deserted island.

Mogsy: See? Everyone needs to go read The Lives of Tao right now. And move over, Chuck, The Odd Couple and Euripides, because in my review of the book I also said that in some ways the book reminded me of a “Cinderella Story”. Roen starts out being a dejected and miserable protagonist but ends up a much happier and healthier man (and I suppose that makes Tao his kickass fairy godmother). Anyway, what draws you to the underdog and what was it like writing Roen’s transformation from overweight loser to super secret agent?

Wesley Chu: I think many people identify and root for the underdog. I’m what you call a late bloomer, as in I don’t think I bloomed until my mid-thirties, so I feel like I’ve been an underdog for much of my life.

A person’s “coming-of-age” transformation fascinates me because at the end of the day, I think it’s 90% mental. When I wrote The Lives of Tao, I was going through an early mid-life crisis where I was unhappy with my soul-sucking job and the direction my life was going. In a way, writing the book was very therapeutic. I’d like to think I found myself in publishing that book.

Mogsy: I have to say I love the idea of Quasings, and yours is probably one of the most entertaining and original alien stories I’ve ever come across. I’m really curious, what are some of your favorite alien movies or books?

Wesley Chu: This is a tough question. I’m going to cheat a little bit and say Star Control II. Bonus geek points if the reader gets it. Best. Aliens. Ever.

However, if I’m going to answer the question, and assuming I don’t use the obvious answers—Aliens, Predator, Star Trek, Star Wars, etc… I’m going to have to say The Last Starfighter, Dark City, or Starship Troopers.

Mogsy: Sweet, someone else who liked the Starship Troopers movie. Back to Roen and Tao, I love the dynamics in their relationship; one moment they can be joking around and the next they’d be bickering, but it’s always amusing to watch their dialogue play out. How do you think you’d personally get along with a Quasing, if you woke up tomorrow morning to find one like Tao in your head? 

Wesley Chu: It’s funny because I kind of already do that with Eva, my Airedale Terrier. As a writer, I’m alone for hours on end, so I’ve started talking to her. That’s normal right? I gotta say; if Eva is like my Quasing, he’s definitely Genjix and very surly. And is destructive and likes to eat a lot.

Hmm, now that you mention it, maybe he is in my head after all, and this is just my Quasing’s way of having me cope with an alien in my head. You know, by projecting his voice into my dog so that I don’t think I’m going crazy. Sneaky bastard that alien.

Mogsy: Pretty sure I’d be the wrong person to ask because I think speaking to my dogs is the most normal thing in the world, thank you very much. Anyway, The Deaths of Tao takes Roen and his team on a secret mission to Taiwan, which was where you were born before you immigrated to the States at a young age. You recently traveled back there to do research for the book, so what was that experience like? Did you get to see or do anything cool? (THANK YOU by the way for spreading the word about the awesomeness of stinky tofu! For those who don’t know what that is, it’s really much better tasting than it sounds…or smells.)

Wesley Chu: Taiwan was a surreal moment. I primarily went back to visit my ninety-four-year-old grandfather. Still smart and still a damn good looking dude, but he watches shows all day on a twenty-five inch television. The first thing I did was buy him a 42-inch plasma.

Other than that, I did a lot of book research during my visit, visiting the markets, taking the train (that’s a damn fine commuting system they have there), shopping, and eating (that’s some damn fine food they have there).

I had already written a lot of the Taiwan scenes by the time I visited, but they were all based off of twenty year-old memories. And wow, the island really cleaned up nicely since then. I had to rewrite a lot of those scenes to portray the island correctly.

Mogsy: Damn straight about the food, reading your book made me so hungry. Another thing I really like is the idea that Quasings have helped shape humankind since the beginning of time, and that many famous figures in history have been hosts in the past. It was a nice touch, and I’m just wondering if you have an interest in history which led you to include this, and if there’s a particular historical era, period or event that’s your favorite?

Wesley Chu: I love history. It was my favorite class in high school, and probably the only education material I read for fun as a kid. My favorite time periods and places were Ancient Greece and US history up to the 1700. More recently, I’ve become fascinated with the history of furniture from the 1940s to the 1960s. To be honest, I’m not sure how that happened, but it did. My brain sometimes runs on tangents and veers into strange pockets of the past.

Next up, I want to know the history of hats. Again, this damn brain is dragging me to weird places.

Mogsy: Speaking of your brain and the weird places it takes you, your new villain Enzo scares the hell out of me. There were so many points in The Deaths of Tao where I seriously wanted to jump in and yell at him to “Stop hurting the Prophus, you big meanie!” but he’d probably crush me like a gnat. As the author, do you ever have strong reactions like that towards any of your characters, and do they ever evolve in ways that surprise you?

Wesley Chu: I think most of my characters surprise me in one way or another. There are scenes when I had plotted for a certain character to act in such a way, and then when I’m writing it out, he/she pulls me in another direction. When that happens, I usually shrug and let them steer me wherever they feel is natural.

Enzo is a character that evolved a lot from his original conception. He used to be a f**king batsh*t crazy bastard. He still is but he’s more of an onion bastard now. He’s got layers. For me, he’s kind of that cool guy that you know is an asshole but still can’t help but want to like. Well, that’s how he is for me. He has a method to his madness and as for most of the Genjixs’ philosophies, it makes sense if you view it from a coldly objective standpoint.

Mogsy: So we’re all pretty big geeks and gamers here at the BiblioSanctum, and my personal interests are in MMORPGs in particular. I hear you were a pretty big raider in WoW back in the day (just please don’t tell me you were a Warlock or we’re going to have words). Now that you write full time, do you still do much gaming, or what are some of your hobbies holding your interest these days?

Wesley Chu: No more MMOs for me. Back in Vanilla, I was a Tauren Shaman (For the Horde baby!). In Outlands, I was a Blood Elf Paladin, and then Orc Death Knight after that in Northrend. I do miss raiding in WoW.

My guild back in the Outlands was the #1 raiding guild on the server, and I was the recruiting officer. On that server, that basically made me the UN Secretary and Ms. Universe all wrapped into one. People who wanted fat loots had to go through me, the gatekeeper. The power at my fingertips; it was intoxicating.

These days, writing takes up all my time. I still try to work out on a regular basis but that’s usually relegated to running Eva ragged. I also play a little Heroes of Newerth, and before anyone asks, I suck, so please don’t challenge me. You will kick my ass and will laugh.

Mogsy: Gah, you’re a Hordie. I guess I won’t hold that against you though, since your books rock 😉 The Deaths of Tao pretty much raised the stakes – the story got bigger and so did the scope of the Prophus and Genjix war. I couldn’t believe that explosive ending! At the same time, it leaves room for so much more to come. Is there anything you can tell us about the next book at this point?

Wesley Chu: I have a synopsis for The Rebirth of Tao fleshed out. At the risk of not giving too much of Deaths away, the survivors of The Deaths of Tao struggle with the consequences at the end of the book. There will be another new main character joining the fight (kind of a family affair), as well as a few returning players that the reader thought were gone. And yes, hell in a hand basket and things are coming to a head. Oh yeah, and a new interested faction is joining in on the festivities. That’s all I can say about that.

Sorry if I sound a little cryptic. =)

Mogsy: Oh awesome, “The Rebirth of Tao”! So what else is next for Wesley Chu? Are there any projects on your plate currently or in the near future, either writing or non-writing related?

Wesley Chu: Besides The Rebirth of Tao which hasn’t been green lighted yet by my agent or the robot overlords, I also just recently signed a deal with Tor Books and hope to have my current work-in-progress Time Salvager out in bookstores by 2015. It’s about a time traveler who scavenges for resources and technology from dead-end time lines to sustain a dying future.

Mogsy: Okay, that seriously sounds like a book I want to read. Can’t wait! And that’s it, folks, we’ve come to the end of the interview. I admit I was very excited when I found out I would be getting the chance to interview you, so thanks so much again for taking the time to answer my questions, Wes!

Wesley Chu: Any time. Thanks for having me over!

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