The Price of Death is Whiskey: Highlights from Wesley Chu’s Reddit AMA

Wesley Chu leads a fabulous double life: writer/ martial arts stunt guy! He’s a member of the Screen Actors Guild, and specializes in “being the token Asian guy in commercials or that anonymous guy that gets killed in the background. In the Kung Fu world, we call them arrow fodder.”

Chu’s debut novel, Lives of Tao, was a finalist for the Goodreads Choice Awards in the “Best Science Fiction” category, and won the Alex Award for adult SF that also appeals to teens. The sequel Deaths of Tao, upped every possible stake, and the final book in the trilogy, The Rebirth of Tao, comes out this December and promises to be amazing. After that he has a novel coming out with Tor Books (tentatively titled Time Salvager) about a time traveler named James who scavenges for technologies and resources from a more prosperous past.

Only problem? “Salvagers can only scavenge from events preceding an immediate disaster, explosion, or accident—and the salvager experiences the last tragic moments of the victims before the disaster happens. That tends to mess with a person’s head.”

Kindalas kicked things off with some very writerly questions! ”As an author how much time do you spend world building and do you do it before writing or do you do it as you go? Also do you find that different genres require more or less world building? And an unrelated question, whose work are you reading now?“

Chu: “I usually world build as I go. I tend to be more of high concept author and world build around my idea. However, I also rewrite the first 1/3 of my manuscript after I get about um… 1/3 to 1/2 in. You could say it’s my way of doing a test run before getting it right. My Tao series is based in our modern times with several references to history. It requires the least amount of world building but requires a lot of fact checking. My SF requires a lot more world building but again, I have a easier foundation to work upon drawing from reality. I’d say Epic Fantasy would be the toughest. I’m currently reading two big boys. Brandon Sanderson’s Words of Radiance and Ken Liu’s Grace of Kings, coming out next year by Saga Press.”

Purdaddy asked two questions: ”Do you plan on writing any other stories in the Tao Universe that involve different characters and plots?“ and ”Time Salvager sounds very intriguing and I’m sure it will be a great read. What other stories do you have planned for the future? Is there something really big you want to write eventually?“

Chu: “The short answer is I really really hope so. If I get the opportunity, I’d love to write another trilogy with the next generation of Tao’s hosts. For now, I’m planning on filling out the lost years in between the books. I’m bouncing around a couple novellas in between Tao 1 & 2. Against my agent’s recommendation, I kind of want to write an epic fantasy. First though is a couple more SFs and an urban fantasy idea I’ve been tossing around.”

Sollasollewmn asked about Chu’s martial arts background, and Chu elaborated:

Chu: ”I started off in Tongbei chuan and Fanzi chuan. My weapon of choice was the rope dart though I was adept at most of the weapons. Eventually, after a few years, as we’re all wont to do, I wanted to one-inch punch (known as Fa Jing) someone and got onto the hardcore internal sauce. At one point, I was training in Bagua Zhang/Hsing Yi/Chen Taichi 6 days a week 3 hours a day. Then I woke up and realize that I had no friends and wanted to write a book. Full disclaimer. I am retired. Very retired. When you’re in your twenties and you get punched in the head, you’re like ‘that’s a good hit.’ When you get older and you get punched in the head, you’re like ‘that’s a concussion.’ That’s when I quit.”

Elquesogrande cited several fracas Chu has been involved in, including the shot above, in which Chu is being “strangled by a gauntleted Sam Sykes,” and this one, in which “Chu battles Hugh Howey” and asks: “How do you get yourself into these situations?”

Chu: “Dude, conventions are fucking Thunderdome. Every con I go to, it’s Lord of the Flies meets Running Man. Katniss wouldn’t make it past the first dealer room booth. Last Worldcon, they had to use the crash cart twice on me. You know guys like Scalzi and Rothfuss have to be absolute killers to survive years of con-going.”

Author Jason M. Hough greeted “Campbell-nominated Goodreads-choice-awards-finalist Wesley Chu” and then asked “What sort of settings can we look forward to in the Time Salvager book(s)?”

Chu: “Hello New York Times Bestselling author Jason Hough! For Time Salvager, imagine how bad things are trending right now with our world, with the way corporations act, wars…etc. Now add 500 years of us staying on the path. It ain’t pretty.”

Angry Robot’s Michael Underwood asked: “How much detail do you think is appropriate to include in fight scenes? What factors go in to making that decision for each fight scene?”

Chu: “Fight scenes are a tricky balance. If you’re someone from my background, you’ll have a tendency to overwrite it. It’s something I have to constantly reign myself back on. Nobody cares that much about the authenticity and exactness of my moves.”

Pseudoboss11 had a question about the writing process: “When you started writing, was it difficult, something you had to force yourself to do? Or was it easy, something that you hated not being able to do? How did that change as you continued to write?”

Chu: “Writing for long periods of time is like working out a muscle. When you first start out, it’s hard to sit down and write for more than 30 minutes at a time. Eventually, you get better and can focus longer. When I first started writing, I would go after work to the gym, work out, and then go to a cafe. At the cafe, I’d order dinner, play poker online, and write all at the same time. It was the only way I could plant my ass in the chair for 3 hours at a time. In the end though, it left me with a greasy keyboard, crap ton of grammatical mistakes, and a lot of money lost from not paying attention. I wouldn’t recommend working your writing muscle that way but that’s how I did it.”

Realrakdaddy had two questions, one about writing and one about…hair. “Are you able to sit down and get to work writing without any distractions? And how does it feel to have the same haircut as Myke Cole?”

Chu: “Writing is a marathon, and just like my 6 hour marathon, I sprinkle breaks into my writing and editing by getting my ass kicked playing Heroes of Newerth, getting my ass kicked in FTL, or getting my ass kicked by scotch… As for having a Myke-cut, I suddenly feel more powerful, like I can run through walls and crush heads like melons in between my hands. Unlike Myke, I’ll probably use my new-found powers to rob banks, because that’s my litmus test for how all superpowers should be used.”

The awesomely named Polter-Cow asked about the genesis of Chu’s next project, Time Salvager.

Chu: “You might not believe me but this is 100% true. I dreamt it. It’s kinda fuzzy and I think the Titanic sinking and naked Kate Winslet might have been involved but I think I was trying to steal the hope diamond or something. I woke up and was like….da hell…I gotta write this down!”

Finally, Driftpeasant came in with a personal request. “My incredibly quixotic hobby is trying to bribe authors with liquor to get killed off as a background character in an upcoming novel. Thus far I’ve been successful once, and will be killed off in an upcoming Janny Wurts novel (that one cost me a bottle of Ardbeg and some artisan BBQ sauce). Can you be similarly bribed, and, if so, what’s your price?”

Wesley Chu: “You just said the magic word. Ardbeg Corryvreckan is my dram. Janny Wurts has good taste. I dunno how I feel about bribery. Hmm…peaty goodness…Heh. Why don’t you send me a message and we can see if this will work. To be honest, a lot will depend on your name and if it easily fits in the story. I can probably do better than a background character but yeah, you’ll probably die.”

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