the chicken spits the cook
the interviewer quoted
Charles Tan on fiction
Charles Tan is an
enthusiastic and accomplished interviewer (see his
interview of Lucius Shepard), reviewer — and recently, a
writer of some superb fiction.
He recently contacted me for an interview, but
time to hoist him instead.
AT: What do you look for in a book?
Charles Tan: I think the
most important part is that it accomplishes what the author
intended it to.
Are authors' intentions so transparent—and if
so, should they be?
An author shouldn't be
transparent but rather his story should be. After reading a
story, one can't say "I'm not sure how to feel about this."
If that happened, you've failed as a writer. One needs at
least one dominant reaction or emotion: it struck me, it was
horrific, it was amazing, etc. Readers must be able to grab
the thesis of the piece, although some skilled writers make
their readers work hard to attain that insight--but it's
hardly an unfathomable agenda.
of 'the industry'. What do you mean by this?
isn't limited to just the business side of things. It could
be the people, the environment, whether positive or
negative. It might be how people aren't giving credit to
non-American writers, or the exploration of works by foreign
authors. It all depends on your experience and point of
I'm engrossed in the business side of things too much. I
mentally start crunching the numbers to examine how feasible
a project might be. Or in my case, I want to promote
Philippine speculative fiction and I can't do that by being
ignorant of the practical limitations.
What do you think of children standing in line for an author
to sign their books?
This will always be a
two-fold experience. Sometimes, people read authors because
the author is popular, not because their fiction resonates
with them personally. I think many of our popular
best-sellers are like that, whether it's Dan Brown, J.K.
Rowling, or the recent Stephenie Meyer.
On the more positive side, if you're a genuine fan, it can
also form a relationship. The reader has a relationship with
the book but standing in line also enables you to form
relationships with the other people standing in line or
simply getting the chance to thank the author for what
they've written. A dialogue can start, much like fan
letters. And for me, it can also be a source of pride, that
you're willing to stand in line because you're really
interested in a book. For all the ills of book signings,
it's one of the ways we shout to the world 'hey, we love
Of course peering in from the outside, there's honestly no
way for me to tell whether a child is waiting in line
because of the former or the latter.
As much as we might hate the commercialization of
fiction, commercialization is the most efficient way to
you think of author intrusion?
I want to know
the author as well as their work--although
making sure the two are apart. For example I don't like it
when people start making claims that the author's work is
autobiographical (unless it's true--although there are
certain levels of autobiography as most of us write to a
certain extent based on our actual experiences, even if our
characters will never behave the way we do).
The relationship also intrigues me.
There are also other times when I'm more interested in the
author than their work (whether it's because they live
really exciting lives, are kind and good people, share
similar interests, etc. or because the latter the latter
isn't up to snuff as we wish it would be). Then there are
times when you dislike the author but like the work.
Do you have any other
reason to read fiction?
Lately, because I've
chosen to be a writer, it's important for me to read. Being a
passionate reader is a requisite to wanting to become a writer.
in the Virtuous Medlar
for the first time in
A Retrospective on Diseases
a short story by
details there too, with links to more of his published fiction)
Philippine Speculative Fiction Sampler