Planting Cabbages: When did you start writing and what motivated you?
Christopher Loke: I started writing when I was about twelve. I wrote a lot of garbage, things that I am too embarrassed to even share. But the fact is, I got a lot of practice from writing things that did not matter. As the saying goes, “Practice makes perfect.”
As I grew older, I started to read more—from Shakespeare to Jane Austen to Michael Crichton. Then I realized what was missing in all of my stories: the so-what factor. I began to find subjects that I cared about and wrote them down. I wanted to write about things that mattered, subjects that could trigger an emotion and cause people to think. But as easy as it sounds, it was anything but easy. It wasn’t until I was in my early 30’s that I even began to write seriously. At this time, I had all the experience in life I needed to write a book that might matter to a lot of people. Hence, The Housekeeper’s Son.
The one thing that motivated me as I wrote was the sheer fact that one day I would be read across the globe. My book would change someone’s life.
The Housekeeper's Son Book Trailer.
PC: Often the journey from being a writer to being a published novelist is a story in and of itself. Tell us about yours.
CL: My journey as an author is really an unconventional one. There was patience, and then there was serendipity.
After completing my first draft, I started the editing process, which took a little more than a year. I slowly adopted the insecure writer persona, in which nothing I wrote was good enough for anyone to read. I edited and re-edited my book until all of the once juicy parts were left on the editing floor—I learned, very quickly, what it really meant to “trim the fat.”
After that, I started the querying process with high hopes and the dream that I might be picked by a super duper agent. It was quite ironic, really—I was previously an assistant editor for a major publishing house, and I thought getting myself in the door was easy. But no, none of what I dreamed actually happened. As rejections started to trickle in, I became more and more discouraged. After about a year of querying with many partial requests but no takers, I moved on to other things.
As serendipity would have it, some of my editor friends from my previous employment had expressed interest in starting a publishing house, and had asked to read my manuscript. Well, the rest is history, I guess, for The Housekeeper’s Son, my debut novel, was acquired and prepped for a nationwide release on May 19.
PC: Who are the writers who first inspired you to write and who are the
writers you read now? What's changed?
CL: Nothing has really changed in my selection of books and authors. I am a sucker for literary fiction, stories that focus on life’s little (and oftentimes big) dramas. I was inspired by Elizabeth Kostova, Dan Simmons, Chris Bojahlian, JK Rowling, and last but not least, all my writer friends who’ve shown me that as long as you have passion and drive, you have everything.
PC: How important is 'everyday life' to your work?
CL: When I write, I am usually on a roll. I write on a strict schedule, usually nine in the evening to midnight, without any disturbances and interruptions. I have to focus and make sure I can sink into the world that I am creating. Sometimes, I would stay up till four in the morning just to finish a chapter. It is quite unpredictable, but at the same time, it is also a routine.
As far as “everyday life” goes, I try to still make time for my family and my favorite TV shows. But when I am on a literary high, I am obsessed in finishing my work.
PC: Do you see your work in terms of literary traditions and/or broader
cultural or political movements?
CL: I do see my work being made into a movie. While it is still too soon to predict that kind of achievement, I am very confident that my book’s film rights will sell. I sincerely hope that my novel will trigger some very serious questions about life and how we deal with them.
PC: What aspect of writing and working as a writer is the most challenging?
CL: My biggest challenge as a writer is to balance my personal life with my author life. As an author I just want to write all day long, but as a normal person, I still have to keep a day job and take care of my family, read to my son, and hang out with my family. My job as an author will not be possible if not because of my wife’s sacrifice and her believe in me and my work. Family support is everything to me.
PC: What reading, other than fiction, is important to your work and why?
CL: I read a lot of news and current affairs, as well as writers blogs. I love reading other authors’ success—they inspire me. Of course, I love reading Facebook postings and Twitter feeds (call me a nerd).
PC: What genre is your fiction? Do you see yourself as changing genre or "branding" your work?
CL: I tend to write literary fiction, or just plain drama. No fantasy or science fiction. I don’t want to brand myself in any way, but at the same time, I know that I will never write science fiction. I like life and the reality of it, not fantastical worlds that are not real. Don’t get me wrong, I do love reading fantasy books, but I just don’t like to write them.
PC: What is the current state of American fiction, as you see it?
CL: American fiction has always been high in quality. I am proud to be a part of a country that produces some of the best literary works in the world today. At the same time, I am not very happy with the state of self-publishing that we’re seeing today, especially with the huge emergence of eBooks and Amazon’s self-publication platforms (Createspace, etc.) While these tools make it easier for writers to publish their works, the fact that these tools can be so accessible opens up the door for any Tom, Dick, or Harry to publish their book without much care. This being said, there is a reason why we are seeing a lot of junk out there in the eBook market today.
As authors of high integrity, we need to employ ourselves gatekeepers—editors, designers, etc—to create quality books. Just because you have written a book does not mean it is ready for publication. I am still very much in favor or traditional publishing and working with a publisher of good repute and caliber to publish amazing and outstanding literary works.
PC: How do you think American fiction might best develop in the next ten years?
CL: I think eBooks will go hand in hand with printed books, and brick and mortar bookstores will take on new responsibilities and role in the book industry. I see a lot of fantasy books and new ideas in the next ten years, which is good. I’m a believer of good things—fiction in America will only go better as we challenge ourselves to come out with new ideas and concepts for books.
PC: How is Fiction relevant or valuable to contemporary society and culture in the U.S. and/or at an international level?
CL: Fiction is very important in our society today. It not only gives us the opportunity to dream and escape into some place extraordinary, it also provides us with a platform, on which we are able to address social issues and things that affect our lives today without limitations. We can address any subject we think important and write it in a way that even little children are able to understand. Such is the power of literature. Books like Les Miserable, Beowolf, Pride and Prejudice, Peter Pan, and so on, all played very important roles in their time.
So, as authors, we have the responsibility to write a piece of fiction that speaks of—and for—our time and generation. We are the voice of the present and future. JK Rowling has made this decade a magical one, and her legacy, together with the Meyers, the Koontz’s, the Browns of our time, will keep the fire burning. It is time that we join in the bandwagon and start creating (and preserving) a universal culture or books, reading, and storytelling. Will you join in?
PC: Chris, Please tell us what you're reading right now!
CL: I am reading The Swan Thief by Elizabeth Kostova. But mostly, I am reading manuscripts for JFP--as the executive editor and also author, I wear multiple hats. I am looking to clone myself one day. All in good time, all in good time.
PC: Chris, as I recall, cuisine was an integral part of the story, can you give the culinary muses something to feast on; tell us how food impacts the theme of The Housekeeper's Son?
CL: In The Housekeeper's Son, we see a lot of the culinary juxtaposition between the modern world and the traditional world. Eleanor, the main character, is obviously a woman who's lived through a few important decades in our history--from the early 1900's to the 21st century. The culinary description and processes in the book serve as imageries that prompt the reader to ask, "What era are we in?" I want the reader to see how tradition will always have a place in our modern world, and in every form of ugliness, there is always one glint of beauty. In a story that evolves around an heinous murder, the beauty of food--the elements of sweetness and bitterness and taste--plays an important role in creating this world, in which time, fashion, and trends don't matter at all. What's matter most are the players in the story and their intentions.
I grew up in a home that is centered in the kitchen. Everything--good or bad--starts in the kitchen, whether it is the announcement of a death in the family or the celebration of a marvelous achievement. And many times, it is not the big news that make the kitchen a significant place in my family--it's the shoptalks, the small giggles, the how-are-you's and I-love-you's that gives the kitchen its own persona. My mother used to tell me, "You can know a lot about a person by just the way she prepares her food," which is how I portray Eleanor. Her meticulousness in how she cooks is almost like a reflection of her character--she pays a lot of attention to details. Everything she does has to be in a certain order and method, and when she is robbed of that order by her son's death, her world goes spiraling down. But she always manages to turn to food as a form of escape. Food reminds her of moments in her life that are worth remembering.
Merci so much, Chris -- and please let us know when copies of The Housekeeper's Son are available!
Merci so much, Chris -- and please let us know when copies of The Housekeeper's Son are available!
Chris's blog: A Writer's Notebook.
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Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChristopherLoke