Thursday, July 25, 2013

Asian Artist Profile: Peter Tieryas Liu

You’re able to weave old stories to shed light on many of your own stories. The Wolf’s Choice, for example, mentions a Chinese tale about a wolf that becomes human for a day. Did you learn these stories growing up or did you have to do research?

The other day, I received a message from a Chinese banker in Hong Kong letting me know he had five million dollars he’d kept hidden from the days when HK was part of the UK and that he’d send me half the money if I wired him two grand. In a separate message, two Nigerians promised me diamonds the size of my fist if I sent over a mere five grand. I was tempted, but then I thought of the dream of the earth worm aspiring to be a dragon and finding out earth worms can’t be dragons. One of my aspirations in life is to know, who writes spam mail? Is there someone locked up in some Eastern European corridor, conspiring and thinking up ways to cheat suckers/dreamers out of thousands? Maybe they’re fighting for a piece of bread or they have a demanding girlfriend who wants to drive German cars. Imagine the prevalence of all these spam messages. Now imagine a thousand years from now, as historians filter all the tales and myths of our culture (myth/culture = Facebook and email posts), they find millions of spam messages and think it is an actual part of our history. Who were these Chinese bankers and African miners offering these jewels for paltry sums of money? Or will they laugh at us for our obsession with shiny rocks? Lucian’s satires from two thousand years ago resonate for their insights into the human condition. Will they read our messages as satire?

I did not know many of the Chinese myths until I was actually in China. I was stunned to find out how hilarious and dark many of them were and immediately incorporated them into my stories. Fortunately, many have English translations, though some aren’t translated well, and in many instances, I took creative liberties in incorporating those myths into the stories I wanted to tell. I’m really sorry though, Mr. Kong, from the Hong Kong Bank. I don’t have two grand to wire over to you as much as I’d like the five million dollars. STOP MAKING ME FEEL GUILTY!!!

Who are some of your influences? What’s most important to you in a story?

I once went to a beach in Thailand and there were hundreds of tiny crabs that ran around the ocean. Their footprints looked like fractals in the sand and together, they seemed to form the layout of a language and a universe. Those crabs are my influence. I hope to suck you, the reader, into my universe. But if not, get your feet wet, covered in sand, so that your toes are icky. A part of you is immersed into the water and maybe you’re curious about what crabs say with their claws in the middle of the night when they’re not scouring for food. Maybe you’ll take a dip into the ocean. Just don’t swallow the water as it’s salty and you may end up hating me for the promise of bliss ending only in bitterness.

Watering Heaven is published by Signal 8 Press

Many of your stories have Asian American characters intersecting with both Asia and America. Many times they find themselves as foreigners to their country of origin, which I always find very interesting. With Asia, in particular, China, becoming a more dominant geopolitical power, do you see Asian Americans being perceived differently here in America and abroad? Do you think Asian Americans will perceive themselves differently?

Do you think a house can be painted red and purple and green and not have it clash too much? I hope so as I just spent my life savings painting the tiny studio I rent in a bunch of clashing colors that give my wife a headache. I wouldn’t mind spray painting my house in strawberry green and apple orange. I love when they put slices of apples in water rather than lemons. Asia is such a big place, I wish I knew more about what anyone thinks about being Asian in Asia and Asian in America. I love the Chinese and Korean languages, love their food, love their culture, love their movies, and love the fact that when you go to restaurants, there is no additional tip and tax that adds about 30% average to the meal. Then again, when I go to China or Korea, they view me as a foreigner. But in California, they also mistake me for being a foreigner. A few months ago, I went to the DMV and the lady there said something quickly so I couldn’t understand her, and she asked me in an irritated, but oddly slow, tone, “Do you understand English?” Curiously, she added a fake Asian accent to her question. I responded in like, “I think I undo-stand Engleesh,” but I didn’t sound like someone with an actual Asian accent, but someone trying to recreate an Asian accent while speaking English (look at any American movie in the 80s featuring an Asian to get an idea for what I mean). Do you think if I was older in the 80s, I could have gotten a job as a voice actor pretending to have a bad Asian accent in English?

Besides writing stories, you also work with technical writing on video games and special effects for movies! Do you think working in these other fields has shaped your fiction writing?  

Many writers who have played Nintendo as a kid are trying to recreate the madness and joy of Mario and Link in prose mushrooms and heart containers. But I have a secret fetish for Deadly Towers, deemed the worst Nintendo game of all time. I’m actually hoping to interview one of the creators of the game, profess my love for one of the most difficult games of all time. I have a secret place in my heart for the unwanted. "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” I think more of my gaming experiences come out in my two forthcoming novels, Bald New World and The Wingless. Can we do a redux of the question then? Oh, no more interviews with me? Too many non sequiturs? Too many rhetorical questions? My sincerest apologies. Can we instead play Street Fighter II together and I’ll better illustrate my feelings on writing when Vega combats Chun Li while warding off Dhalsim’s elastic arms and Blanca’s munching ways?

Read Rodenticide here.

I’m beginning to see a small wave of Asian and Asian Americans writing stories that bend towards science fiction, fantasy, and the bizarre: Wesley Chu’s “The Lives of Tao”, EJ Koh’s “Red”, just about anything by Berit Ellingsen, and you, to name a few! Are we seeing the beginnings of a new writing movement of Asian writers?

Tim! That’s an amazing wave. Do you mind if I take a surfboard and ride that wave? Oops, I forgot I can’t really surf and the only time I did try, I nearly died in the rip tide until some kid came out and saved my life. True story. Wesley Chu and EJ Koh are awesome. Berit Ellingsen is incredible. I am that annoying surfer out in Malibu who gets in everyone’s way and occasionally stumbles on a decent wave which causes people to say, maybe he has potential, until I stumble and tumble and fall and then everyone laughs and tells me again to get out of the way. But because I keep on stumbling and tumbling, they get amused, watching for comic relief. Hopefully, they’ll even start to miss me when I’m thirty minutes late. Though I did recently hurt my knee playing basketball so I don’t think I should surf anymore. I like seeing more Asian-American surfers. Has anyone ever tried riding a tsunami? What would it be like riding a tsunami wave to shore? Would five minutes of exhilaration be worth an excruciatingly painful death?

Check out Peter's blog or visit his and his wife, Angela Xu's website here

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