So you all know that I read Flesh by Khanh Ha (review here) and he was gracious enough to answer some Thank you, Khanh so much for this interview!
You’re welcome and thank you for having me on your blog.
1) There is a lot of imagery woven into the story especially since it’s set in the turn of the 20th century: how much research was involved in creating a realistic depiction of Tonkin?
Setting is an extremely important aspect in grabbing your readers’ attention. I spend much, much time in researching before I write. I’m a perfectionist and a harshest critic of myself. I have to know everything about what I’m going to write—well, sort of—before I ever pen the first word. For Flesh, I took time to research for the setting that took place at the turn of the 20th century in Hanoi of Tonkin. The notion for Flesh began after I read a book called War and Peace in Hanoi and Tonkin, which was written by a French military doctor. I wanted to created an atmospheric setting. Though the setting is an important aspect in any novel, the culture, the heritage, the people’s deep-seated belief in animism that all foster the setting of Tonkin were even more fascinating to me. If done right by the author, the novel will be atmospheric. I tried to bring in such an atmosphere in Flesh that made readers feel they belonged. I bought reference books which were available only in printed books and complemented them with additional research materials obtained on the web. Indeed much research was done before I felt dead sure about writing it.
2) What scene was the hardest to write?
There are no hard scenes to write in Flesh. Really. Those so-called difficult scenes are what writers make them out to be with their paranoia. So before they can write such scenes, their anxiety has already killed their creativity to write them. However, there are scenes that, as their creator, I handled with more trepidation than others, more care and sensitivity. The scene when Tài and Xiaoli became intimate the first time took me longer to write, because I had to weigh and choose words with utmost care. Those words must be imaginable because I write with cinematic visuals in my mind. Words then must flow like a river, at times fast, at times slow. Cadenced words exhale emotions, breathe scents and thus create moods.
3) If you could be a character in Flesh who would you be and why?
I would be Tài. I would love to live his deprived life and in his dystopian world. But I want to come out of it alive and atoned for the way he did. Flawed in character yet capable of redeeming himself in the end. I value redemption in a novel after the clash of good and evil.
4) How has getting a book published changed/expanded your views on writing and the publishing industry?
To have your novel published through the traditional channel of publishing is a Cinderella story for any author who, as a person of merit, now finds himself emerging from his obscure existence to be bathed in the spotlight. Yet you’ll quickly find out how finicky the publishing industry is, despite your absolute conviction in your work.What you’ll discover much to your horror is the herd mentality ingrained in mainstream publishers and literary agents. Their code of conduct has a rule: Thou shall not publish anything that hasn’t been published before. Another rule is: Is it safe? Is it safe? Is it safe? Then you’ll quickly learn about the bandwagon behavior among critics: If a book has been praised by The New York Times, thou shall not buck the trend. Very soon you’ll find yourself reading accolades from the press, which sound like they have been copied and pasted from one to another. Then you’ll come to appreciate what Hemingway once said: ‘Most live writers do not exist. Their fame is created by critics who always need a genius of the season, someone they understand completely and feel safe in praising, but when these fabricated geniuses are dead they will not exist.’
That is the major frustration for a published writer. But that frustration is negated by the sense of self-fulfillment when you hold a copy of your book in your hands. Your book is the link that connects you with the world.
5) What advice do you have for an aspiring writer?
Find your own writerly voice! When you do, write as the only writer that exists, none before you, none after you.