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.