Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Peter Tieryas Liu A Fascinating Interview with the author of Watering Heaven

I recently read a new collection of short stories Watering Heaven by Peter Tieryas Liu that simply amazed
me.  Peter has also authorized me to let my readers know of a special price of  $1.99 on Amazon.

There are in all 20 stories in Watering Heaven by Peter Tieryas Liu, each one stranger than the one before it.  They are sort of interrelated in that several of them deal with an IT worker and his life.  Most of the main characters are Chinese- Americans, mostly with American roots but still with ties to a very different world.   Some of the characters speak Mandrian and three, though we think they are not related, have the same last name, "Chao". 

I really liked the stories in Watering Heaven by Peter Tieryas Liu.  They contain strong elements of surrealism, I think Alfred Jarry would like them, and magic realism.  The stories are very mega-city urban and very tuned in to how social media and its permeation of the world connects us no more than it isolates us.  There is a preoccupation with death and suicide.  Someone kills themselves in a number of the stories.  There are a lot of hookers and no happy old fashioned relationships or marriages except maybe of a character's grandparents and even that may have been a sham.  The use of language is marvelous, the details are perfect.   At the start of the e-book there is a quote about the book that says "his surreal brilliance and vulnerability reminds one of the best of Borges, Calvino and Pynchon".   When I first read this I thought "oh, sure" but I now fully agree with this (with the clarification I have not read much Calvino, not enough Borges but I have read all of Pynchon's work more than once). 

I am very honored that Peter has agreed to do an interview for The Reading Life.

Hi Mel! Thank for having me on The Reading Life

1.    Who are some short story writers you admire?    

I loved your earlier article about Hemingway’s short stories and I loved his stories when I was growing up. There’s a punchy terseness in his writing that is very powerful and deceptively simple though it is very difficult to recreate. While we’re on classics, I enjoyed Fitzgerald, Kafka, and a lot of the older Greek/Roman/Chinese myths. Current authors I enjoy include Tim Horvath, whose imagination has no bounds; Kristine Ong Muslim, whose stories are disturbingly beautiful and is from the Philippines; Berit Ellingsen, a Norwegian writer who writes words as though she were writing music;  and Leza Lowitz who is a writer I greatly admire; there’s an intangible lyricality to her writing that draws me into her world. She actually was the one who suggested I make a collection of all my published stories, for which I’m very grateful. There’s so many others, I could go on and on.

2.   Many of your stories have suicides and are preoccupied with death-what is the genesis of this preoccupation?   

Writers like Camus and Maugham would say suicide and death are the only relevant questions in story-telling. Why do we live?  I think that’s at the core of all the questions of identity and part of what I love so much about the American dream. Anyone can live for whatever reason they want. I also think the power and shock of suicide is it seems to go against everything in nature. So when a suicide rocks the character, say as in the “Political Misconception” or “The Wolf’s Choice,” the memories of those who’ve passed on haunt the character and unconsciously shape the paths they choose. In context of their pain, their reaction, often bizarre and extreme, reveal layers of their humanity as they rethink what is really important in their lives. 

3.  You have worked in the video game industry.   Recently after the wave of school shootings in the USA, some commentators said violent video games are very much a part of the cause of this.   Do you agree at all and why or why not?  

This is a really difficult question and I want to tread carefully, especially in light of the tragic circumstances in the recent months. I’d say the question is extremely complex and I don’t have enough research and data to feel like I can make a fair conclusion without generalizing. I will say this; earlier last year, I played a game called Journey that was quite possibly the most beautiful game I’ve ever played. There are no weapons, no deaths, just a journey one wanderer makes to reach a mountain. It nearly brought both my wife and myself to tears. After we turned the game off, we did not go and try to climb a mountain.

4.  The future world-more like Mad Max or Blade Runner?

I loved both movies but I’ll have to go with Blade Runner. I loved the Noir feel, the people speaking languages that are a hybrid of multiple nations. My personal hope for future worlds though? Star Trek with its Federation and its exploratory ideals. Having said that, according to Star Trek history, some pretty terrible things happened before humanity achieved that peace. I’m hoping we can skip that part.

5.  I noticed a lot of hookers in your stories.  Is that in part a commentary on people like game programmers selling their talents to any one who will pay?  

I think one of the things that’s important for me as a writer is to explore the outcasts and rejects in society. While I wasn't per se commenting on programmers, or for that matter, anyone selling their talents for pay, I felt there was more I could explore using characters out of the norm as in the stories, “Rodenticide” and “Resistance.” I find it interesting that prostitutes play such a big role in many of the Biblical stories and force readers to shift their assumptions about right and wrong. While I was traveling through Asia, through friends, I actually met a handful of ‘paid escorts’ who had amazing (and tragic) stories to tell. That in part shows itself in the stories contained in the collection.

6.   Are your stories in part a reflection of the issues of  being a "hyphenated American?"

I grew up in a very diverse set of communities where race rarely came up as an issue. So I never really thought of myself as a hyphenated American, more an American who loves Asia. I thought it was fascinating while I was in China, most people didn’t view me as Asian, but as American. My outer appearance didn’t matter to them. And culturally, we were so different, it made sense. Having said that, I love it when people refer to me as Asian-American as I love both cultures. I don’t see any conflict between them as part of America’s greatness is it absorbs all. Though I am of course grateful to all those who came before me and fought so hard to achieve that equality through blood, sweat, and tears. In regards to my stories, you’ll find that racial issues rarely pop up and I think that’s a reflection of the way I was raised where race was less important than what you believed and what you fought for.  

7.   When did you first begin to write stories?   Are you interested in other literary forms?

When I was a kid. I wrote about everything. I’ve tried my hand at all sorts of other literary forms including non-fiction essays, game articles, book reviews, reporting of events, and experimental fiction that didn’t make much sense. Some of it has been disastrously embarrassing, others somehow got published. All of them were valuable to me growing as a writer. 

8.  Why do you think most of the classic literature of the world was written in the Temperate Zone?

That’s a good question. Could it have more to do with actual exposure? I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t have equally amazing literature? I’m not sure though, but in relation to writing under different weather conditions, I will say my own best writing came in the summer months while I was traveling in China and Thailand. My weakest came while I was in China during winter when I was nearly freezing. It was so cold, I had a hard time writing. I was mainly focused on keeping warm and staying alive. 

9.  E-Readers?   The end of a great era  or the harbingers of a great new era in literature?  

Both. Publishing is changing. I love print books. But I also have to admit that lugging around forty heavy books while I’m traveling halfway across the world is hard, whereas a download to a portable device is much easier to carry. I also love how the digital format is opening up the world to voices that otherwise would never have been heard, including Watering Heaven, which entered the top 100 among short story collections in the digital format. It’s fantastic.

10.   Are gadgets enslaving us with a need to make more money to have better gadgets?  
I really laughed hard after I read this question. Now please excuse me while I go download a music track to my Ipod and make a call on my Galaxy phone and play some games on my Xbox and watch a movie on my Blu-Ray player.

End of Interview

There is an interesting book trailer here

Author Data

Peter Tieryas Liu has almost 200 publications in magazines and journals including Adirondack Review, anderbo, Bitter Oleander, Bookslut, Camera Obscura Journal, decomP, Evergreen Review, Gargoyle, Indiana Review, Kartika Review, Prism Review, Toad Suck Review, Word Riot, and ZYZZYVA, and was the recipient of the 2012 Fiction Award from Mojo, the magazine run by Wichita State University. He has also worked as a technical writer for LucasArts, the gaming division of LucasFilm. 

You can read some of his work online

Word Riot published the Death Artist:

decomP published Colony

Johnny America published Cold Fusion:

Kartika Review published Searching for Normalcy:

You can learn more about his work on his webpage

The publisher, based in Hong Kong, Signal 8 Press has a very interesting webpage.

There is a  very perceptive post on Suko's Notebook on the book.

I am very glad to have read this debut collection and I look forward to following the literary development of the author.   

If you want to see why I am so excited over this collection, please read my post on Watering Heaven.


Suko said...

Excellent interview--interesting and unique questions and answers. I wish this young author much continued success!

Tamara said...

great questions Mel. I particular like your question about suicides, and I appreciated Peter's response. I've just finished reading Norwegian Wood where death and suicide was a central theme too and it perpelxed me - but Peter's point makes good sense - death helps us understand life.

Anonymous said...

Mel, thank you again for such an interesting interview! I really had a lot of fun answering these questions- they really got me thinking about a variety of different topics related to the book.

Hi Suko, so glad you enjoyed the interview!

Tamara- I've heard wonderful things about Norwegian Wood and need to put it on my to read list. Thanks for reading!