Q: What kind of novel is this?
A: Fire from the Sun is a big, realistic novel told in a straightforward way, and with a broad range of incidents and characters. It is not adventurous in technique, and has no point to make about the Meaning Of It All, though for all I know some such point might occur to you as you read it. My aim is just to tell a story — a realistic, interesting, and, I hope, occasionally moving story.
Q: Did you model it on any writer you admire?
A: It would be impertinent of me to claim a resemblance to any well-known writer, and I have no conscious models. I'd be very happy to hear Fire from the Sun spoken of in the same breath as the works of great modern popular story-tellers like Jeffrey Archer, James Clavell and Sidney Sheldon. This is not intended to be Lit. Fic. It's intended to be Pop. Fic.
A: Well, all human life is there, and to the degree that they are part of life, s. and v. are there too. Not actually much s., but a few scattered episodes, both hetero- and homo-, done — I hope — with sufficient delicacy and reserve to keep me off the lists for Literary Review's Bad Sex Award (given once a year by that London magazine for the most risible descriptions of the generative act in current fiction).
Violence likewise. There are several deaths on- or just off-stage, from concussion, pneumonia, decapitation, defenestration, exsanguination, infarction, gunshot and AIDS, but by today's standards — the standards of, say, Blood Meridian or American Psycho — the book is not violent at all.
Certainly neither s. nor v. is the point of the book. The point is to show two very different people whose lives, by the unfathomable processes of fate, get tangled up with each other, and with some of the big public events of the last few decades, and with interesting lines of work. It's a story, that's all.
A: No. I have modeled my stage sets on places I know & have lived or worked in, but none of these people is me, even approximately, and there are only two or three incidents taken from my own life. For the rest, I made it all up. That's what fiction writers are supposed to do.
Q: "The tone and presentation of the novel are strongly influenced by the author's interest in classic Chinese novels and poetry." That's from the description on the bookstore's web site. What's that all about?
A: Well, it is only to say that there's a certain detachment, a certain distance between the omniscient narrator (it's all third-person) and the inhabitants of the book, as there is in the classic Chinese novels like Red Chamber Dream (titled The Story of the Stone in the Penguin Books translation) or Journey to the West (titled Monkey in Arthur Waley's translation), or in much medieval Chinese poetry, especially Wang Wei's and Po Chü-I's. The catch-phrase is (or used to be) "All Chinese novels start in Heaven." Fire from the Sun doesn't start in Heaven, but the narrator operates from a considerable height.
The great Chinese authors, and many of the poets, wrote from a standpoint of Buddhist other-worldliness. Fire from the Sun doesn't have exactly that sensibility. I am not a Buddhist; but one of my characters is, and the heroine is headed in the same direction by the book's end.