BY BRYAN THAO WORRA
William F. Wu is the author of the unique 1989 wild west/science fiction adventure Hong on the Range. It’s not often you see an Asian American space cowboy, and Wu pulls it off in grand style: In the future, most people and animals are partly mechanical, so totally human cowboy Louie Hong faces some odd adventures.
Nominated five times for the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Awards, William F. Wu has published over a dozen novels and over 50 short stories that appear widely including Omni Magazine and the best-selling 1996 anthology, STAR WARS: Tales from Jabba’s Palace.
Wu is known for his contemporary fantasy short stories, such as “Wong’s Lost and Found Emporium,” which was adapted into an episode of the television series The Twilight Zone. Wu is often celebrated for his historical accuracy and action-adventure. He holds a a Ph.D. in American Culture, and this August, he will be the Guest of Honor for the Twin Cities science fiction convention, Diversicon.
Asian American Press caught up with him to talk about his work. www.williamfwu.com.
Asian American Press: When did you first really notice your interest as a writer emerging?
William F. Wu: I actually decided to be a writer when I was eight. However, I thought I’d be a poet. My mother was a much published poet, with a collection published by a small press late in her life. I “wrote” stories before I could write, telling them to my mother, who would write them down. I still have one from when I was about five years old. It’s about five sentences long. To be more specific about your question, though, I wrote a story that was about 100 typed pages long when I was twelve years old, and I continued writing prose fiction and poetry through high school. In college, I stuck to poetry (getting none published) until my senior year, when I realized the poems kept getting longer. I realized I was trying to tell a story, so I switched to short stories. After getting my bachelor’s degree, I focused on a professional approach, writing science fiction, fantasy, and crime fiction.
AAP: Who were some of your earliest influences as a writer?
WFW: My favorite childhood writer was Edward Eager. I loved all his work, but especially Knight’s Castle. I also really liked Howard Pyle’s The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood. At the same time, though, I read just about everything I could find. I read comic books of all kinds, the work of Robert Heinlein and other science fiction authors as I got old enough, and I loved history. I discovered the work of J.RR. Tolkien when I was fifteen, and was very much drawn into it. I was also raised with a strong sense of ethnic American identity, being a Midwestern American of Chinese descent. I did not find any written work that expressed my life and feelings about this subject until I read an essay by Frank Chin that first appeared in Ramparts magazine, I think originally published around 1968. He was writing about the failures of Hollywood in depicting Asians and Asian Americans. It was important to me because it showed that someone else felt the same way I did. In my early twenties, I discovered the work of Harlan Ellison, which demonstrated that fantasy and science fiction could be excellent genres for making social commentary.
AAP: What keeps you going as a writer?
WFW: As you can see from my early origins with writing, I seem to be driven to write. My parents were both very supportive. In fact, my mother’s mother wrote a book published by Dutton and Co. about her experiences as a white woman who married a man from China, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. My father wrote nonfiction, including his autobiography, published by a small press, and occasionally travel articles and short memoirs. His father was a scholar in China, and wrote essays and poetry that were published. So maybe it’s deeply ingrained in me.
AAP: What are the themes you really enjoy examining in your work?
WFW: All of my fiction has an Asian character, usually of Chinese descent or Chinese, but in a few cases I’ve written about other Asian ethnic groups. In some cases, the story is specifically about ethnic and racial subjects; in many other cases, I’m writing deliberately about universal subjects with Asian characters. So one ongoing theme is that Asian Americans have stories that are distinct from anyone else’s – not the same as other Americans’ and not the same as Asian nationals’. To me, this also means that those of us born and raised here have stories that are distinct from the immigrant experience, as well. I also have certain universal themes that return. One is that humans personally grow through sacrifice as well as effort; another is that sometimes an experience that seems minor at the time can turn out to be a lifechanging moment when we look back.
AAP: Where in your latest work do you feel you are you really trying to push yourself?
WFW: Right now I’m working on a crime novel. I’ve had one crime short story published, and I have one complete crime novel at the marketing stage. I want this new one to be a thriller, which I’ve never tried before, so it’s a challenge.
AAP: What’s your next project you’d like to take on?
WFW: I have lots of projects
I keep trying to make time for. But if I could, I’d really like to have a collection of my short stories published. Diversicon is July 30-August 1, 2010 at the Best Western-Bandana Square in St. Paul. For further information you can visit www.diversicon.org.