Salvaging Darkness and SFF Spirit Animals: Highlights from Wesley Chu’s Reddit AMA

Kilimanjaro-climbing, ninja-fighting author Wesley Chu always makes for a wonderfully amusing Reddit AMA subject. Last time, he traded whiskey for “tuckerizing” a reader (i.e., making them a character who will most likely get killed off). This time around, he recalled his worst acting gig (it included Kanye West) and discussed the merits of the bathrobe as a “standard author uniform” that allows the wearer to “Jedi up” at a moment’s notice.

Chu also discussed the dark inspiration behind his new book Time Salvager (out July 7 from Tor Books), which follows “chronman” James Griffin-Mars, who must travel back in time to recover treasures and valuables from Earth before major accidents. The twist is, James can’t change the tragedies of the past that have made Earth the toxic landscape it is today.


On the Full-Time Writer Life and Trying New Genres:

elquesogrande: How have things gone for you as a full-time writer so far? New routines and challenges? Complete freedom?

I really enjoyed the Tao series so far—fun, relatable, and clever. Will you likely stick with this type of world and writing style or are you thinking of shifting into other areas? Grimdark, historical fantasy, pure Science Fiction, and such?

WC: I sometimes forget to shower. I’m usually reminded when my scalp gets all itchy. Hmm, the internet is forever so I probably shouldn’t have said that.

Thanks for enjoying the Tao books and I’ll keep that tone in the Io books. Time Salvager is a little more serious and epic SF. I’m also working on some super secret manuscripts that are still SF but different from anything I’ve done before.

Darkstar559: Your books seem to take a more decidedly Sci-Fi tone over fantasy (not that there is anything wrong with that at all). Do you think you would be interested in trying something with more of a fantasy grounding in your future?

WC: I pitched an epic fantasy to my agent. He loved it, and then told me to table it. I’m still building my SF brand and changing genres too early can hurt my career.

One day, as Cthulhu as my witness, I will write it!


Series vs. Standalones:

RichardPF asked about the potential for more Tao stories, and inquired whether Time Salvager stands on its own or is the beginning of a new trilogy. Chu answered:

I’m starting a new series next year based in the same world. The first book is The Rise of Io, and will feature a new main character and a new Quasing. Everything gets turned upside down in Io. Some of the old characters in Tao might make appearances as well.

Time Salvager is a trilogy. I handed book two in last month to Tor.

To a later question about expanding his existing series, Chu explained some of his thoughts for future books:

I have three trilogies under my belt already (Tao, Io, TS). I have a little series fatigue and would like to work on some standalones. Just to mix it up a bit.


The Real-Life Inspiration Behind Time Salvager:

Time Salvager Wesley ChuWhen GeekyLibrary asked about the tone of Time Salvager in relation to the “clever geekiness of the Tao series,” Chu made a point to clarify the difference in tone between the two. Linking to Kevin Carter’s famous photo of a vulture watching over a starving Sudanese child as the inspiration behind the book, he explained:

Time Salvager is about an alcoholic with PTSD. So….yeah.

I struggled with the direction of Time Salvager. Part of me wanted to keep writing that fun and snarky tone like in the Tao books. You know, build a brand as a fun author. However, I thought I’d stretch myself and explore something a little darker.

However, it seems I can’t escape my nature. A lot of my blurbs still say Time Salvager is a fun book. I’ll take it.

Later, Chu also explained the thought process that goes into his books:

I start with a question and then world build around that question. Part of finding the answer to that question is figuring out what the ramifications are.

In Time Salvager, if a time traveler’s job is to go back in time to moments before a disaster and salvage stuff, what happens? Why does he have to do that? What about all the people in the past that he interacts with? How does knowing they’re all going to die affect him? How does that screw with his head? What happens when he snaps?

I actually dreamt the plots of my last three books. I remember reading the Kevin Carter article and then dreamt that I was on the Titanic trying to steal the Hope Diamond. I had to spend a few days wandering the ship to locate the diamond and befriended several people, knowing full well that they were all going to die in a few days.


On Painless Time Travel:

kultakala: Do you have a preferred theory/method of time travel, or are you open to different options?

WC: Sorry, no DeLoreans in Time Salvager. A lot of the tech the salvagers use in the book are worn on metal bands that wrap around their wrist. Time Salvager is a time traveling book but doesn’t focus on time travel. The technology is only a tool used to explore the relationship between the characters. And also to go to cool settings.

If I had to personally choose a preferred method of time travel, I’d like one that requires the least amount of pain, kind of like in Outlander where you just fall asleep and wake up some place new. As I get older, I realize that I’ve developed a very low pain threshold. Or is that laziness?


On SFF Works as Spirit Animals:

xetrov: Question: Do you have a life changing book? Something you’ve read that just rocked you to the core and changed your perspective? Doesn’t have to be a genre book.

WC: There’s many books that changed my life but the one property that I think is my spirit animal is the movie Gattaca. That’s the movie I always go to when I think I can’t do something.


On His Other Job:

focus417: Non-writing question… what was your worst acting gig?

WC: I was once a corpse stuffed in plastic wrap. That really sucked ass. I was also a “sound engineer” in a Kanye West commercial for Boost Mobile. I spent 9 hours bobbing my head while staring at a blank computer screen.


A You-Had-to-Be-There Story:

Author Sam Sykes, who has had strong words with Chu about gauntlets in the past, dropped by for some fun:

Dear Wesley,

Thank you for joining us and congratulations on your Hugo nomination. I understand that you’ve been a big fan of this award for quite some time and have been quick—some might say hasty—in declaring your love for it.

I recall one time when we were at a convention, unwinding after a lengthy day of programming, deep in our cups, when you suddenly placed a corncob pipe in your mouth, tucked your thumbs into your suspenders and loudly proclaimed that the Hugos were “the finest establishment to grace these United States this far of the Mason-Dixie.”

It wasn’t until later, when I awoke in a pool of my own blood, that I realized you hadn’t won. You may recall these moments where Brian McClellan was lodged half-way through a wall face-first, his legs flailing impotently for purchase in the empty air, where Robert J. Bennett was unconscious with his arm bent halfway around his neck, where Delilah S. Dawson had gone mad with fear, scrawling crimson pleas to a blind god that would not come for us that night. You were, of course, in the offing of the carnage, swinging a model rocketship around and screaming about how all sinners would be judged for not seeing the obvious merit in your work.

My question, sir, is twofold. First, do you ever feel guilt? Do you ever look back on that fateful night, at the minds you shattered and lives you ruined in your mad quest for glory, and feel the slightest twinge of loathing and fear for the monster that lurks inside you? Do you ever put yourselves in my shoes, wondering how I felt that night as I tried to work the handle to a door, my fingers broken and my palms slippery with blood, as Myke’s screams were drowned out by the sounds of his fists bashing against the wood as he begged to be let out of the inferno you trapped him in?

Also, where do you get your ideas?

Chu responded:

Ladies and Gentlemen, help me get Sam Syke’s question nominated for a Related Works Hugo next year.

What? Am I creating a Sam Sykes slate?


And Sam, the answer is “while birthing Gladius”


Chu’s Next Adventure:

Princejvstin: Your Kilimanjaro adventure was amazing. What other adventures like that would you like to tackle?

WC: Hey Paul, I have three things on the slate that I’m mulling over. Either: Learning how to mountaineer and summiting the Tetons Backpacking through Iceland Swim the Great Barrier Reef.

I also want to teach Eva how to balance a treat on her nose.


Read the rest of Chu’s answers here.


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