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When the Elephants Dance

When the Elephants Dance by Tess Uriza Holthe (Random House, 2002)

When the Elephants Dance by Tess Uriza Holthe (Random House, 2002)

How did this novel develop? Have you always been a writer?

I have written journals and read all of my life. The book took a year and a half to write. Two years ago I wasn’t a writer, I was just a controller for a private company here in California. Growing up, I always had creative tendencies, but my folks said I had to be a doctor or lawyer or an accountant, something very practical. It was only after I had my degree and a career that I thought I would take up writing as a hobby. I took a writing class and it hit a vein and this book just came out whole. I think it was ready and I was ready to be a writer, but I just kept depressing it and putting it away in a box.

Who are your influences?

I wish I had read Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things before I wrote this book. I read it because a publicist compared me to Arundhati Roy and I had never read her before. I loved that book and I read it twice. Before that I was influenced by Cormac McCarthy because I loved the dialogue in his books. The dialogue was always lively and never stilted. I love Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. I think the books about family and that have a sense of adventure [have inspired me]. Amy Tan was of course a big influence because it was the first Asian voice I read.

What are you working on next?

I can’t tell you. When I was working on When the Elephants Dance, I had read talking about a novel [before it came out] was like telling a joke. You don’t want to tell it too many times or else it gets stale. Also, when I keep myself from telling people what the next novel is about, it makes me want to write more each night so that I get closer to letting people know.


Interview conducted by Michelle Caswell, Asia Society.