Today I am interviewing a new author Khanh Ha, who will be talking about his debut novel Flesh. Read about his book and his inspiration. Khanh Ha was born in Hue, the former capital of Vietnam. During his teen years he began writing short stories which won him several awards in the Vietnamese adolescent magazines. He graduated from Ohio University with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism. He is at work on a new novel.
Tell us about your book Flesh.
This novel, Flesh, is set in Tonkin (now northern Vietnam) at the turn of the 20th century. It tells the story of a sixteen-year-old boy who witnesses the execution, by beheading of his father, a notorious bandit and sets out to recover his father’s head, and then find the man who betrayed his father to the authorities.
A coming-of-age story of brutal self-awakening and also a tender love story, Flesh takes the reader into places, both dark and wonderful, in the human condition where allies are not always your friends, true love hurts, and your worst enemy can bring you the most solace.
2. Flesh is a deep and thoughtful story and it touches the reader at various points. What inspired you to write about this specific subject?
There was an image formed in my mind after I read a book called War and Peace in Hanoi and Tonkin, which was written by a French military doctor. In one chapter he depicted an execution by capital punishment. The scene took place on a wasteland outside Hanoi. This bandit was beheaded for his crime while the onlookers, some being his relatives with children, watched in muted fascination and horror. While reading it, I imagined a boy—his son—was witnessing the decapitation of his father by the hand of the executioner. I pictured him and his mother as they collected the body without the head which the government would display at the entrance of the village his father had looted. I thought what if the boy later set out to steal the head so he could give his father an honorable burial. What if he got his hand on the executioner’s sabre and used it to kill the man who betrayed his father for a large bounty. However, it really started with a story within my family. My mom told me that my grandfather was one of the last mandarins of the Hue Court, circa 1930.
At that time the Vietnamese communists were coming into power. They condemned any person a traitor, who worked either for the French or the Hue Court. So my grandpa was a traitor in their eye. One day news came to him that a communist gathering was to be held in one of the remote villages from Hue. He set out to that village with some of his bodyguards to punish the communists. Unfortunately, news leaked out about his trip. He was ambushed on the road—his bodyguards were killed—and he was beheaded. The communists threw his body into a river.
My grandma hired a witch doctor to look for his headless body. Eventually the witch doctor found it. They were able to identify his body based on the ivory name tablet in his tunic. My grandma hired someone to make a fake head out of a coconut shell wrapped in gilded paper and buried my grandpa on the Ngu Binh Mountain. The beheading of grandpa surfaced again while I was reading the decapitation scene in War and Peace in Hanoi and Tonkin.
3. Did you do a lot of research for the book? If yes, can you tell us how it was conducted?
I spend much, much time in researching before I write. I’m a perfectionist and the harshest critic of myself. I have to know everything about what I’m going to write—well, sort of—before I ever pen the first word. For Flesh, I took time to research for the setting that took place at the turn of the 20th century. I bought reference books which were available only in printed books and complemented them with additional research materials obtained on the web. Indeed much research was done before I felt dead sure about writing it.
4. How long did it take you to write Flesh?
5. Who is your favourite character in the book and why?
Tài is my favorite character. I wanted to create a boy who was impetuous, single-minded and yet tender-hearted and loyal. He is flawed in this coming-of-age story. But he redeems himself with his charismatic and magnanimous personality in action. I hope that’s how he is seen by readers.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m a husband and a father of two sons. I began writing stories around the age of nine or ten. That was when I had enough vocabulary and my thoughts had become more refined. I wrote my first short story when I was a young teen. I won a magazine’s short story contest with that piece and was the youngest among the guests to accept the prize.
2. Do you write for a living or do you have to work?
I have a day job like most other writers. But to me writing is like breathing the air around you. It’s a lifelong job, regardless of whether or not you hold a full-time job. And it will only end when you stop breathing.
3. How have you found the publishing process for Flesh and what marketing techniques have you planned?
My publisher is Black Heron Press in Seattle, Washington. I pitched Flesh to a number of literary small presses after I’d gone with one agent and then another—New York based and California based—and in that first round going solo, Black Heron Press acquired the manuscript.
About marketing the book: I give away Flesh copies on Goodreads periodically, and from that social network for writers, readers, I’ve received very good reviews in return. Also I rely on virtual book tours to give Flesh the visibility it needs. It might not translate into the sale for your book, but it does one thing: giving the book a certain degree of exposure. And that is what you as an author must go after. In other words: Think of getting exposure like putting a tiny plant in enough sunlight every day until it grows strong. 4. Where can the reader find your book? Flesh is available through the wholesalers and booksellers: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s Books, Indie Bound, Midpoint Trade Books, Black Heron Press.
5. What are your current WIPs?
I’m about done with my next novel. I’ve seen light at the end of the tunnel. Yay! But I rarely talk about what I’m working on. It may sound like a hard-line stance. But well, I can give you a harmless description. When I was still a struggling young writer, I came across a very old Vietnamese magazine article written about a centenarian eunuch of the Imperial Court of Hue. He was already dead the year the story was published, circa 1966. Two years before I was born. A sketchy story whose facts were gleaned from the eunuch’s adopted daughter, that ended with a small halftone photograph of her portrait. I put the article away. But I couldn’t put the story away, even months after. It dawned on me then that it wasn’t the story.
It was the face in the photograph. I traveled to Hue, Vietnam in the summer of 1991. I was 23. I went with her image in the photograph and when I finally met her, the eunuch’s daughter, that image hadn’t changed. She was someone like a forbidden love to a young man half her age. The first time she gave me a glimpse of her past from her spotted memory, it was in a sugarcane field where two decades earlier, her lover—a young American—had died in her arms.
Thank you Khanh for the wonderful insight into your novel Flesh and wish you every success.
Wanna win a $50 gift card or an autographed copy of Flesh? Leave a comment on my blog. One random commenter during this tour will win a $50 gift card. For the full list of participating blogs, http://www.novelpublicity.com/flesh/
Enter the Rafflecopter contest! I’ve posted the contest form below, or you can enter on the tour page linked above. https://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/sharecode/YzE3YzI0YTkzYTJkODQ0ODQxZDUwNTUwMTQ3OTkxOjI3
Connect with Khanh on http://www.authorkhanhha.com