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Interview with author Peter Tieryas Liu

Today, I'd like to welcome Peter Tieryas Liu, author of the short story collection, Watering Heaven.

Who or what inspired you to become an author?
Stories in general have inspired me since I was a kid. I always loved reading books, watching movies, and I also had the fortune to play some amazing video games that had really compelling stories. I loved listening to all the stories older people told me about their lives and had an inclination to write everything they said down. That kind of evolved into my stories.

Can you tell my readers a little about Watering Heaven?
It’s a collection of short stories written while I was traveling throughout the world with many of them having been written in China and Thailand. There are elements of magical realism involved and many are about the question of identity. The title comes from the William Blake poem, “Tyger,” and represents the pain one can undergo in the quest for change. As a bit of a shameless (or shameful, ha ha) plug, Watering Heaven entered the top 100 in best-selling short story collections on Amazon recently.

That's great! Congratulations! What led you to write a collection of short stories instead of a full-length novel?
It was an organic buildup. Short stories are great in that they allow me to explore an issue that’s been bugging me without the huge time commitment of a novel. At the same time, some of the short stories have taken me months and months of reworking. I’ve had more than half published in various literary magazines and at some point, a writer I greatly admired suggested that I put the stories together as a collection and send it out. That was how Watering Heaven came to be.

What are you working on now?
My publisher, Signal 8 Press, just optioned my first full-length novel called The Wingless. The synopsis is, it’s about a group of Asian-Americans who track down a serial killer in Los Angeles. On a deeper level, it’s a story about a group of individuals who’ve suffered personal tragedies and find meaning in this search. I love working with my publisher and the editing process has just begun. We’ll have a couple of months of rewriting, more rewriting, and even more rewriting as we sculpt out and polish.

What are your strategies for making characters seem real so the reader connects with them?
That’s a great question and I think there’s a series of strategies I incorporate, the primary being listening to people and really trying to capture who they are. I read a story that Steinbeck used to go around when he was poor during the Depression and give people coins in exchange for stories. I don’t necessarily give coins, but I’m always down for a good yarn. I also think I struggle less at trying to achieve realism and more at consistency. Is this what the character would do? If you make a character consistent with relatable motives, even if in a consistent inconsistency, readers will identify and understand the character.

What sorts of relationships and experiences do you most like to explore in your writing?
I love writing about times people can relate to. Historical sagas are amazing as are foreign stories. But I love writing about now or the near future and the possibilities of life now. I explore friendships, and as you can tell from Watering Heaven, romance. A lot of those stories were written while I was chasing my wife (then girlfriend) throughout the world so that’s a prominent aspect of the collection.

What genres and authors do you most enjoy reading?
I love expanding the genres I read. I’ve found a lot of times, I’ll randomly pick a book and start reading and be totally blown away. In high school, my school library was giving away free books and I picked up a thick one by a Russian writer I’d never heard of. It was Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky and I can honestly say it changed my life. I’ll read anything, from Kenzaburo Oe to Fifty Shades of Grey to The Corrections to any of Sedaris’ essay books.

I love to read a wide variety of genres as well, so I can definitely relate to that! What do you enjoy doing when you're not reading?
As reading is one of my favorite pastimes, I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can. But I also love playing and watching basketball, although the Lakers have been suffering a lot. I also really enjoy video games and have been immersed in the story telling of Dragon Age.

Thank you so much for visiting My Book Retreat!

You can connect with Peter Tieryas Liu on Twitter, GoodReads, or on his blog.

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