March 2013 eBook Dynasty Resident Writer Benny Chi Q & A

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Q: Can you please describe how you started writing? Why do you think you have to write?

A: I was one of the first authors in Taiwan to publish on the web. Before then, all I did relating to writing fiction was composing scripts for English-language stage plays in my university. After graduation, I saw people publishing their novels online and enjoying lots of readers. I also had plenty of free time, having completed my military service but yet to find a job. So I started writing the most popular kind of Internet novel back then — Web-related romantic stories for teenagers.

Back then my writing style was free and nearly comic, ignoring all formalities in grammar and punctuation without intentionally breaking any rules. While this style was perhaps the result of the genre, it was indeed popular among the readers. My first story for the Internet, called The Adventures of Dinosaurs, took me about a month to write. Even before its completion there were reporters approaching me and asking how it would end. It has since remained my best selling story.

One of the reporters introduced me to Red, the biggest publisher of Web-based novels in Taiwan back then. It was a very successful publisher — may God rest its soul — and those were the days when I could simply PUBLISH. Then I started writing a series of fantasy novels and sent the first book to Red, with no response at all. There was a clause in my contract with Red that required me to give them a “first look” at my next piece of work before approaching other publishers, so I had to do it. (I hope this kind of “option for next work” has since ceased to exist.) I was bothered by their lack of response, but at that time I did not know who else to approach with the book. Those were the days before the Harry Potter books and The Lord of the Rings films arrived. Who cared about the fantasy genre?

Then one day I met a lady online who worked in the publishing industry and kindly introduced me to a publishing studio. The boss is a dreamer who knows how to persevere, and he wanted to publish “fantasy novels by local writers” before the genre even took roots in Taiwan — which required a lot of guts. Later he upgraded the studio to a publishing company, which has since become the leading publisher of fantasy novels — Gaea Books. Without this person, fantasy novels would never have become popular in Taiwan.

I have stayed with Gaea Book since then. Although I have slowly shifted my focus from writing to translation, because of money concerns after marriage and kids, I would never give up writing fiction. As Abraham Lincoln once said, “Always bear in mind that your own resolution to success is more important than any other one thing.” I do not know whether I will succeed in the end, but I am determined to press on.

Q: Among the world’s writers, who do you think have most influenced you?

A: I will not pretend I know anything about literary fiction. As for popular fiction, when I was young I read plenty of books by Hong Kong science fiction writer Ni Kuang and martial arts fiction writer Jin Yong. For artists overseas, I would say Quentin Tarantino.

Q: You have published two Chinese ebooks so far, Psycho Justice and A Time of Chaos. What do you try to convey in these books?

A: Psycho Justice is my reaction to all those Hollywood movies on serial killers — a style that I would regret for the rest of my life if I had not tried my hands on it. Through the eyes of a group of serial killers undergoing therapy, the story explores various issues faced by our society in Taiwan. But I really want to discuss the pressure of life, the so-called mid-life crisis, and a fear that fathers often have for their kids. This is a story about family. All ordinary families have potentials to become extraordinary.

A Time of Chaos is my first martial arts novel, a style to which I have always aspired since my young and romantic days. It is an excellent story that requires lots of research — all sorts of weird things happened in China’s Ming Dynasty, and it feels great to be able to connect a whole bunch of historical events well together, to make a story complete. Those who write would know what I am talking about. I am happy that my first martial arts novel can be so good, even though not many publishers these days would want to publish in this genre. As for what I want to convey in this story? Nothing actually, at least not in the beginning. I just wanted to write a good story.

Q: In terms of fiction, what do you think a writer should be aware of when constructing plots, creating characters and managing the overall themes?

A: Your plots should echo each other. The questions asked earlier should have their answers in the end. You should never write anything you do not understand. Nothing unreasonable, in particular. For example, I have seen someone having the male protagonist doing his military service but bought a plane ticket during the Chinese New Year holidays to visit his girlfriend overseas. Anyone who has done the military service in Taiwan would know this is absolutely impossible to happen. Without research, you would be a big joke in the eyes of your readers. Please treat your writing seriously.

All characters should have a past. There should be motives when they do things. They should mature or change as the story develops. Even when your characters are stereotypical, they should be so in their own unique ways

The most important thing about managing themes is to know which theme you are managing. To do this, you just need to read more books and watch more movies.

Q: Have you ever encountered problems while writing? How do you conquer them?

A: It is impossible to avoid bottlenecks. However, there is only one solution to this problem, and that is to go on writing, no matter how hard it is. The biggest bottleneck I am going through at the moment is to become concerned that my story will not be good enough. I worry the story would not be good enough, so I a great variety of ways to start it, without really pressing on to develop and complete it. Maybe this has something to do with my so-called mid-life crisis. Still, the solution is to press on. As long as I can get a story out, it will definitely be good. The key is to get it out.

Q: If someone asks you how to become a novelist, what will you say?

A: Perseverance leads to success. All words are empty until you can write and complete a story.

I would like to take this chance to ask people not to send their stories to their favorite writers “for a comment”. This is really, really rude.

Q: Among all the books out there in the market, which types of writing do you think should be further developed and promoted? Do you think most readers would share your view?

A: I like science fiction — science fiction like Star Trek; science fiction that publishers would consider as “poison” to their sales. I think I will try writing a science fiction novel when I realize my stories can no longer attract the attention of publishers. That is to say… my next story may be a science fiction.

Q: You are one of the very few writers in Taiwan who have studied and achieved a lot in terms of digital publishing. As a writer, in your view, what are the advantages and disadvantages of publishing your stories as ebooks?

A: The advantage is that you can bypass the publishers. You can publish whatever you want, without being hindered by markets, editors and promotional budgets. Even if your ebook costs very little, what you receive from the sales of each ebook is still more considerable than what paper-based books can give you. This is because there is no publishers and distributors there to take the money from you.

On the other hand, the disadvantage is that the Chinese ebook market at the moment is really, really small. Even when you can get a fair bit out of the sales of one ebook, in total there is not enough money for you to buy butter and bread. Sorry for being so frank and businesslike. Anyhow, at the present we are all working hard to promote paid Chinese ebooks. No one knows what will happen in the end, but at least we are trying.

Q by Nacho: You have written at least two martial arts novels. Considering the current frenzy about martial arts-based computer games, would you try to make your books compatible with computer games?

A: I have worked with the computer games industry before, without a happy ending. Since then I have given up trying to be compatible with anybody. Computer games are a part of my romantic youth, but if you have ever come into contact with that industry, you would know the industry in Taiwan is a place where your boiling blood will turn cold. Unless you can bleed out and still survive, like some supernatural hero in the games, my advice would be to remain as a player in front of the screen. Obviously there would be space for negotiation if there is a manufacturer knocking on my door, but judging by my reputation, I doubt people would want anything from me, except for a novel that relates to computer games. We may have to wait many years before my novels get to be adapted as computer games.

Benny Chi welcomes questions relating to writing, illustration and creativity from all readers. Please post your questions here so that Benny can answer them. Thank you.

Image Source: “Best Buddies Australia” (www.bestbuddies.org.au)

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