Sunday, July 10, 2011


There was this dinky book-for-rent store in Huế, Vietnam, my older brother and I used to haunt. I was nine. We would pool our money we got from grandma and rent all the books we could read, most of them Chinese classics. My favorites then were The Tale of the Three Kingdoms and Journey to the West. One day we ran out of books to rent.

Bookish addiction! Gnawing! I started making up stories in a chapbook and hid it from my brother. I wanted to charge him one đồng for a reading. I never got a xu from him when one morning he recited the stories I wrote—in my face. Did I want to become a writer someday? No. But something was sowed in my fertile mind during that time. It must have started with The Count of Monte Cristo. Fifty some volumes of it in Vietnamese translation, pocket-sized, were sent to us in serial each week from my mother who was then living in Saigon. I would devour each volume and grow hungry for more. Outlandish worlds. They would ebb and flow in my mind, leaving the fecund silt on its bottom and one day in my adulthood I wanted to become a writer.

In the village where my father came from there was a wizened old man. Folks called him "The Eye". He lived alone in a thatch hut, its earthen walls studded with hand-rolled cigarette stubs. I asked him if he could help me become a writer.

"Did you pass the shrine when you entered the village?" he asked, rolling himself a cigarette. "We built it in memory of a man from this village. He died a year ago in a tiger hunt." He took a deep drag, I coughed in the burning smell of the smoke.

"Not too long before he died, a man came to me," The Eye said. "He was our village's schoolteacher. He said, 'Elder, I was told by several fortune-tellers that someday I would become wealthy and influential. But that was many years ago. I'm now in my forties. Why am I still poor?' I told him I could make him rich with a potion. It would have to be made from a tiger's whisker. And he had to get it himself. He was speechless. Then he left. A few days later the village was alerted to a lurking tiger. From the footprints, they said it's the three-legged tiger. You know what that means?"

He gave me his hand-rolled cigarette, its chewed-down stub wet with his spit. I shook my head. He took a quick puff and said, "The year before they set a trap and he got away. But he lost one leg. Now he was wiser, meaner. The village sent out a team to hunt him. And you know what? Our schoolteacher tagged along. One morning a crow flew over the village's communal house, cawing his head off. Then he perched on the roof, shrieking, with a bone in his beaks. He cawed on till sunset. When the villagers chased him off, he dropped the bone. A wristbone. The dead man was one of the chaps that went after the tiger. He was the casualty when the tiger got away. After that the villagers built a shrine to house his spirit. They would talk to him through a medium. He told them when the tiger would come back. He wanted that tiger. Bad. He said."

"What happened to the schoolteacher?" I said.

"Back with the men hunting the tiger," The Eye said. "Second time now in a year."

"What if he becomes the next casualty?" I said.

"He was willing . . ." The Eye said, "that counts."

"And if he gets the whisker?" I said.

"There is a small problem," The Eye said, fumbling in his shirt pocket for his tobacco pouch. It was empty. He sniffed at the pouch then said, "There's no such potion."

At my scowl, he turned to the earthen wall and peeled off a hand-rolled cigarette stub. He lit it, puffed hard. Then, blowing bluish smoke out of his mouth and his nose he offered me his skinny cigarette stub moist with his saliva. Again I shook my head.

"You know," The Eye said, "all that time and energy he's spent chasing after the tiger . . . well, he could've used all of it to catch his dream. For me, all I wanted in my life is a tiger's whisker for a toothpick."

Saturday, June 25, 2011


A Vietnamese boy . . .
An alluring Chinese girl . . .
The execution ground in Hanoi at the turn of the 20th century . . .
The boy witnesses the beheading of his father and sets out to recover his head.
He vows to find an auspicious burial site to inter his father’s body and then find the traitor who sold his father to the authorities.
On this quest, the entire world will shift.
By twist and turn, he falls in love with a Chinese girl who works in an opium den in Hanoi only to find out a crushing shock that sends him spiraling downward.
His employer, the most enigmatic, most influential entrepreneur, has the answer for his problem.
When the boy faces the truth about the girl he’s madly in love with, and the employer whom he considers his surrogate father, he knows he has only one answer. . . .
From this backdrop . . .
FLESH takes you to the darkest side of life . . .
Where human relationship could take a sharp turn from killing for revenge to forgiving for the sake of humanity  . . .
Where romance could bring you the bleakest love . . .
Where innocence is lost and the heart forever aching.

FLESH will be available in  May 2012. Order it at, Black Heron Press,
and through your local book stores.

[Image: Just a teaser. The real book cover is forthcoming.

Monday, March 28, 2011


You’ve read every word of your prose in the draft at least ten times, each time except for the first knowing what’s there. And you detest it. You know you need that first-time sensitivity, but the mind archives everything you’ve read and then reads every word back to you before you even read it on the page. It’s true then that by the tenth time most of the words won’t make sense to you anymore. By the time the book is published, you'll have felt cold about it. If there's hope, then you hope 'for sound, intelligent criticism . . . as writing is the loneliest of all trades.'

You know that many writers are prone to criticism of their works. Is reading reviews such a vice? Like Hem said, it’s destructive to have your book published and then read reviews of it. When critics slight you, you get angry. When they praise you, they say nothing new about you that you don't already know of yourself.

Critics? Aren’t they a bunch who ‘have a habit of hanging attributes on you themselves’?

Friday, March 25, 2011


Most live writers do not exist. Their fame is created by critics who always need a genius of the season, someone they understand completely and feel safe in praising, but when these fabricated geniuses are dead they will not exist. Ernest Hemingway


Monday, March 14, 2011


She moved the lantern into the corner where it burned, now yellow, now blue, and she lay inclined on the floor, resting her head on the rim of the wooden crate. The side of her face went dark, only the white of her throat glowed. When I lay down by her, her hands came up soft and warm touching my face like she wanted to feel the remains of the smallpox scourge. I held still, forgetting myself.  Warm, fragrant heat clung to her skin. The curve of her throat sloped into the valley of her shoulder. Wind came sweeping through the door, the air infused with a tinge of wet moss. Her curved back, hollowed to kiss the fingertips. Patches of light on her feverish skin, white worms writhing in the sky. From the corner, the lantern’s flame sputtered and dimmed.

Excerpt from FLESH, forthcoming novel from Black Heron Press © 2011

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


Every day when I sit down to write, I try to stay true to myself the only one I'm accountable for in every word I pen. Yet there are times when I'd look at words and see only empty spaces. I know it is not a writer's block. Rather it is the ebb and flow during an act of creativity. I don't need to 'squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made.' [Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast] But I know that 'in a day when you don't come across any problems, you can be sure that you are traveling in a wrong path.' [Swami Vivekananda]