Interview with Travis Lee

Today’s interview is with up-and-coming author Travis Lee, who writes about expats and China. Topics to be discussed will include the nature of living abroad as well as meditations upon the act of writing.

 

More from Travis Lee can be found at these links:

http://www.travis-lee.org

https://www.facebook.com/travislee19

https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/travislee

 

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Firstly, can you tell us about how you came to China?

My how I came to China story is nowhere near as interesting as yours, I’m afraid. I was a French major in college, and as graduation loomed like a fall into a deep pit, I applied to teach English at a French high school, in the assistant d’anglais program. I wasn’t selected.

To this day, I’m not sure why. I had a high GPA, good recommendations, good French and previous in-country experience, so I had all the right checks in the right boxes. It could have been the sheer number of applicants; the professors who assured me that everyone gets in had done the program in the seventies and eighties.

Whatever the reason, that changed everything. Had I gone to France, I wouldn’t have my wife, my daughter, the books I’ve written. We wouldn’t be doing this interview. Right now, I’d be finishing my PhD, praying for tenure.

So instead of preparing for a summer in France, I moved back home and worked on plan B: volunteering in France. While I looked for positions, I received an email through my university’s career services distro: a Tennessee alumnus who worked in Wuhan was looking for English teachers. I read through the email. Free apartment, travel money, chance to see a dynamic country in a real Chinese city. Plus, a Western toilet. Don’t you love how he used Western toilet as a selling point?

I did all the paperwork, and on August 26, 2008 I touched down at Tianhe Airport in Wuhan, China.

 

What your life was like here?

Like most experiences, it looks better in hindsight. The earlier times are not better, just earlier, but it can hard to acknowledge that.

So, my life, in a word? Free. I felt like I had a lot of opportunity. I had enough time to pursue any hobby I wanted. I studied a lot of Mandarin, kept up with my French, taught myself some Calculus, and I wrote. This was the time in my life when I began to take writing very seriously. I “turned pro”, as Steven Pressfield would put it.

Although I was poor and twenty pounds overweight, I look back on my two and a half years fondly. My life changed completely. My first year and a half or so wasn’t easy — a lot of ESL teacher politics, personal issues — but once I moved past that, things got better. One thing that helped was Wuhan University. There I had only one co-worker, a normal guy, and I never saw him anyways. I taught great students in the afternoons, freeing up my mornings to study and write. I made friends with some great classmates. Wuhan University has a sizable international student population; a very cosmopolitan atmosphere.

I read a lot of expat blogs too. There was a certain buzz in the air. I found some great writers, who unknowingly helped me a lot, just because I read what they wrote.

 

What do you miss about China? What do you not miss at all?

I miss the free time I had. I miss how even the simple act of going to the store and buying a soda could turn into a story. And travel. I saw some nice places; wish I’d seen more.

What do I not miss? Respiratory infections, one. Internet censorship, the typical stuff that can make life in China hard.

At Wuhan University we were letting my brother-in-law stay over sometimes. The guy who worked the front desk noticed him coming in and out, and he asked us for 200 RMB a month. I said no, and the Foreign Affairs Officer came over and told me to either pay more or my brother-in-law couldn’t spend the night. Their excuse was the electric bill.

 

Can you describe your writing process?

I’m very much a cover-the-canvas guy. I can’t do outlines; I’ve tried it before, and I ended up either deviating from the outline or not writing the actual story. Outlines work well for class, not so much for writing. I prefer the spontaneity; I can’t write if I know exactly what’s going to happen. It kills all the fun.

So I write and write and write until I have something, and after some time has passed, I revise it. I go through about three drafts. I used to retype my drafts, I stopped doing that. I don’t have the time. I work and right now go to school full-time; I write new stuff in the mornings, revise at night unless I have a big test coming up.

I listen to Final Fantasy music when I write, either Final Fantasy Radio or my own playlist. It helps lock me in my own little world.

 

Which books and authors have inspired you?

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. Beautiful writing, very emotional. Child of God is good too, mainly for the prose. There’s a line in Child of God where Cormac McCarthy describes a woman’s widening pupils as a “breaking brimstone galaxy”.

The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo. This book captures what it’s like to chase your dream against many obstacles.

The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield. It has the best writing advice I’ve ever seen. But it’s not limited there; you can apply it to any calling.

 

What are you working on now?

The Pale Ancient & the House of Mirrors, about a missing foreign journalist and his friends’ efforts to find him. I want to publish it through a China-based publisher.

Richard, an amateur foreign journalist, goes missing while investigating a blood cult in Hubei province. Four people are affected: Mary, a newbie China writer who dreams of cementing her name alongside the expat greats; Ying Li, a small-town police sergeant; Chris, a freelance translator whose own experience with the cult has left him scarred; and Daniel, an expat media mogul with drug problems and a failing marriage.

 

Why did you choose to write this particular story? Continue reading

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Interview: Darcy Shillingford

Interview with the amazingly well-traveled Darcy Shillingford, Canadian novelist and blogger for the travel site travelingspaceopera.com

 

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Pic info: “just as I was about to hop on a bus, leaving Cabanaconde to head to Arequipa, then eventually Cuzco. Caesar, who I’m pictured with, was our host in Cabanaconde.”

 

What is your writing process like?

It varies depending on the kind of writing I’m doing. With my travel blog posts, I try to put myself in a relaxed, informal state of mind. I give myself freedom to let my stream of consciousness flow, while trying to maintain some kind of structure and thematic consistency. Imagery is important to me, and despite the fact that I can throw in as many pictures as I want, my goal is for my writing to be able to evoke colourful detail with or without them. I want the reader to feel like they’re walking alongside with me.

As far as fiction goes, I can’t force creativity. I can sit there looking at a blank page or computer screen for a long time and nothing comes to mind. Other times, I’ve been lying in bed at two in the morning and suddenly think of an idea concept that I have to write down and develop a little bit before I can go to sleep. When I’m on a role, though, I try to let it snowball and see how far I can take it. The only fiction I’ve put a lot of effort into is in the sci-fi genre, and I try to write what I would want to read if I were to pick it up myself.

 

How do you compare travel writing with fiction writing?

For me, fiction writing has been far more time consuming. In addition to creating a plot, out-of-this-world (literally) settings, characters, and so forth, there is a great deal of research involved due to the genre choice. I’m no scientist, but I do take advantage of the relatively unlimited academic resources at my disposal and have put in countless hours researching elements of astrophysics, the gathering and employment of military intelligence, planetary and solar physics, religious and political history at a global level, various elements of the social sciences, philosophy, and so forth.

 

What gives you inspiration for fiction?

It depends on what aspect. I get inspiration for characters from my daily interactions with all kinds of people. I work at a restaurant and meet dozens of people a day. Also, the people I’ve met traveling are so varied and interesting that I can’t help but be inspired by them. When it comes to plot, I’m inspired by my education, particularly in the realm of history and politics. I like grand, I like big, I like epic, but I also like obscure. Random bits of military or colonial history that were glossed over in school, or missed altogether, fascinate me.

 

What are your favorite books?

Use of Weapons and Feersum Enjinn, both by the late Scottish author Iain M. Banks are certainly in my top five. I also appreciate classic or golden-era sci-fi, but I also think some of the classics haven’t aged well, particularly in regards to their social commentary. I also grew up loving the Harry Potter series. Stephen King is awesome as well; very psychologically immersive and vivid.

 

Why did you choose to spend your time in 2013 traveling in Southeast Asia?

I simply had to. I was at a point in my life where I’d recently graduated from university and didn’t quite know what I wanted to do with my life. My girlfriend and I had done some all-inclusives, but had also discussed doing some “real” travel. What began as an idea for a month or two in South America turned into half a year in Southeast Asia. When I look at a picture of the two of us at a wedding a couple days before we left for this trip, I get jealous of that guy. He has the best adventure of life just on the horizon.

 

Is it difficult to write about your experiences going back two years? Did you keep journals at the time or anything like that to help you to write about it now?

I did keep journals, but I rarely need to refer to them. I usually only look at them to remember the name of a person I met along the way. Having taken a couple thousand pictures makes it fairly easy to track everything we did, but every so often, a detail or nuance will creep into my memory that I hadn’t thought of since it happened.

 

You most recently traveled in South America, correct? What cultural differences have you come across that contrast with the Southeast Asian experience?

I actually wrapped up the Peru trip in mid-April. We were there for 18 days. The first thing I took into account were the similarities with Asia: the scorching heat, the abundance of cheap stall food, the hokey tourist areas where local merchants spout silly lines to travelers in order to charm them into overpaying for whatever product or service. All great stuff, in my opinion. The thing with Southeast Asia is that I visited seven countries so there are dozens of differences even between those countries. I found, though, that the food in Peru is a lot heavier and starchier. Also, the weather was far more erratic, perhaps because we spent much of the journey either in the Andes or the Amazon Jungle.

 

Which country or countries (Southeast Asian and/or South American) gives you the most inspiration?

Vietnam may have been the most inspiring, but as I’ve written in the past, I have a heavy bias. My girlfriend, Teresa, was born in Canada but her parents are from Vietnam and she speaks, reads, and writes it fluently. This had a vast impact on our experience there when it came to interacting with the locals and we really got to know people there more than anywhere else we’ve ever traveled. Also, Vietnam has a great deal of variety (accents, landscapes, cuisine) and its geographical makeup made it really easy to travel in a fairly straight line without missing too much along the way.

 

Do you prefer the bustle of developing cities or the splendor of natural, untouched-by-man places? Continue reading

Chinglish, and more (toys)

It’s been a long week, and I always kept my eyes open for good weekend Chinglish to share

Without further ado:

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Some grassy poetry

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I am so ready for the dribbling!

 

Lastly, while this is not Chinglish I do find it both amusing and amazing. A bootleg Wonder Woman Lego figure, and they seem to have gotten something wrong about those Marvel-Avengers films…

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Calling All Interviews

Hi there fellow bloggers and writers,

Do you have anything interesting on the horizon you’d like to promote? Do you have a backstory worth telling, and some good advice on the craft of writing?

Then I just may like to interview you.

For the sake of new content, mutually satisfying co-promotion, and of course always looking for something cool to read/write, I have decided to utilize my finely-tuned journalism skills yet rarely honed of late and post more interviews here.

Previous interviews, both the newspaper sort and those concerning myself, can be read at this link:

https://rayhecht.com/category/interviews/

 

What do you think? Don’t be shy! Please hit me up via email and let’s share and share alike

rayhecht@gmail.com

Redtory Art District in Guangzhou

Despite the disappointing ‘comic con’, my little trip to Guangzhou wasn’t a total waste. In fact, I had a great time. It’s an amazing city, even bigger than the already-overwhelmingly mega cities of Shenzhen and Hong Kong. I recommend Turkish restaurants for example…

We decided to head to the Redtory/红专厂 art district, to showcase the lovely artistic side of the city. Like 798 in Beijing, it is made up of a former factory that has been refurnished into a space for galleries and hip little coffee shops. While Beijing’s version is far more successful and artistically valid, we make do with what we can in the Pearl River Delta.

 

http://www.redtory.com.cn/english

 

To get there, simply go to Yuancun station and right outside exit B there is a shuttle bus which only costs 2 yuan. Drive through an urban village area, it’s a little out there, but transportation is very convenient.

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Open 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.

 

And then we made it!

Looks like a lot going on:

 

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There was a quaint market, always fun to buy little trinkets and gifts.

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Take a stroll to see the various shops.

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Even some factory-themed readymades.

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With many galleries featuring powerful works of painting, photography, and sculpture

 

 916 Studio: The Persistence of Images curated by Wang Chuan

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 RMCA Hall: Black Birds  exhibition by Israeli artist Avital Cnaani

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 The Redtory Museum of Contemporary Art featured an exhibit on “Neo-Mororism”
Tickets only 10 yuan

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 Lastly, I love this little mascot guy posted all over the place!

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GZ Chinglish

Hey, just because I’m taking it easy with blogging (am I really?) doesn’t mean no more Chinglish!

A bit from my Guangzhou trip:

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As a vegetarian I find it very offensive to eat a pig bag

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Simple, accurate, but I find funny for some reason

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Just at a restaurant-pub. Listen to the boss!

 

Epic Fail Comic Con

One of the things I’ve missed out on by living in China is the glory of comic conventions. I went to the San Diego con — biggest in America, a number of times. I used to go to small ones in Cincinnati. Buy discount bundles of comics, get some signed by artists and writers. In San Diego, of course, many big-time celebrities to gawk at. Pretty much the funnest thing there is to do.

I did go to an animation festival in Shenzhen a few years back, and it was fun. Students making CGI films, Japanese manga translated into Chinese. But no Western comics.

With the popularity of the Marvel films all over the world, Wizard World — and I’d gone to a Wizard World in Chicago back in the day — decided to host their first convention in China at the nearby city of Guangzhou. Imagine my pleasure at hearing this!

Then imagine my extreme disappointment when I went last month and it was an abyssmal failure. 😦

Now, I didn’t expect much. Wizard World Guangzhou was beaten by the Shanghai comic con, and the reviews weren’t great. Just a bit of cosplay, toys to buy, and very little actual comics to purchase but apparently at least a few. As Marta Lives in China had written about: https://martalivesinchina.wordpress.com/2015/05/18/shanghai-comic-con/

What a long story the failure of the Guangzhou con. Where to even start?

Only a few days before schedule I’d suddenly heard that they changed venues. Guangzhou, host city of the large scale international Canton Fair, should know how to do big events. China has trade conventions all the time; I’ve been to many. Yet the new venue was suspiciously small. Apparently they built a big tent or something.

We arrived Saturday in the afternoon, and heard from friends that they’d been waiting in line in the scorching heat for several hours. Two Americans in China has more details here: http://www.twoamericansinchina.com/2015/05/the-big-con-nightmare-guangzhou-comic-con.html

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Nothing but long lines. Hours and hours of this. We decided to go eat nearby, in no hurry to join the lines and wait, and gather some intel.

Finally, after hours of walking in circles just wondering if the line was even moving, the story had been pieced together. Turned out the the original venue had backed out. There were rumors they wanted to overcharge the westerners at the last minute, and/or they double-booked. Probably another stupid boring trade show about cell phone parts or something. Gosh forbid they do an exhibition with some culture.

Fanstang, the incompetent Chinese-based organization working with Wizard World (and Wizard bears responsibility too), only had time for this very small alternative location. Seemed all the vendors were cancelled. Couldn’t even buy a dang T-shirt. I never did get to see the inside, but a few others had and said it was extremely disappointing.

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The only discernible point of this thing was to look at a few celebrities.

I felt silly taking pics with the crowd, but what else was there to do?

This guy is Stefon from Vampire Diaries, so I’m told. Paul Wesley.

20150530_143243The bald guy walking away is, believe it or not, is Dominic Purcell the older brother from Prison Break.

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And this girl on the right walking away is Skye from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which I don’t watch. Actress Chloe Bennet.

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And that is unfortunately all I got.

The biggest name was Lee Pace, Thranduil from the Hobbit and Ronan from Guardians of the Galaxy. Whatever.

 

I took these pictures when the celebrities were leaving. It was scheduled until 6:00, I figured the last hour or so could be enjoyed there, but at 4:00 the stars got fed up and left. It was over.

The remaining crowds were not happy. It was very difficult to get a straight answer about refunds. Finally, an American in charge told me the rest of the story. The police wouldn’t let the people in, as there were something like 7000 tickets sold but the venue could only hold several hundred people. Yes, that big a discrepancy. Only “VIP” tickets would be let in the next day, which cost 500 yuan, and absolutely not worth it. They were still figuring out details on regular-priced ticket refunds and sending signed autographs or something.

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In the end, what a clusterfuck. An epic China fail if ever there was one.

What bothers me the most is how much it embarrasses China. Talk about losing face. All these celebrities, who have much social capital, are left with a terrible impression of doing business in China. These people are not impressed with Guanghzou. If this worked it could have been a lot of fun for fans and opened up Western pop culture to this grand country. Instead, it reinforced the worst examples of how China is not quite yet ready to be a modern country. I’m very sorry about that, but what other conclusion can be drawn? It’s true.

The lesson is to tread carefully in China, and don’t have high expectations.

 

That said, with my low expectations we still had some fun in China.

Next post: an overview of the Redtory arts district in GZ

Book publishing update, and how this blog shall go from now on…

Sorry, no comics-related update this Monday. All finished. It’s a new month at that. A fine welcome to the warming season to you all.

Here I am with this post, and I’d like to briefly go over the future of the blog…

Life hasn’t been letting up, and there’s been a lot keeping me busy. I hope to focus my energies on upcoming writing projects, new fiction and a bit of journalism. Something’s gotta give, and now that I’ve completed my comics fandom I may have to take a break from regularly-scheduled themed postings.

There will be the occasional interesting update about my life, China-related and otherwise. Stay tuned for news of a certain disappointing convention in Guangzhou, for example.

Moreover, next month my novel South China Morning Blues will be published.in Hong Kong! Thanks to the good people at Blacksmith Books. I’m trying to play it cool, but in fact that is quite the dream come true. And with that will come endless self-promotion.

Prepare for forwards of reviews, pictures of me at literary events, and plenty of general getting-the-word-out. That’ll be my content for a while yet.

Hope you enjoy my tale of expat opera and postmodern locals. Happy summer. Don’t melt.

(The following is a working cover)

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http://www.amazon.com/South-China-Morning-Blues-Hecht/dp/9881376459

From Canton to Hong Kong, the booming megalopolis of the Pearl River Delta has endless stories to tell. Who finds themselves in rapidly changing 21st-century China? There’s Marco, a businessman with a penchant for call girls; Danny, a culture-shocked young traveler; Sheila, a local club girl caught up in family politics; Terry, an alcoholic journalist; and Ting Ting, an artist with a chip on her shoulder. Their lives intertwine in unexpected ways.