Liquid Ink

The official website of Gint Aras, Finalist 2016 CWA Book Award


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Expressing gratitude on the first anniversary of my novel’s publication

Today marks one year since the publication of my novel, The Fugue. I have so many reasons to express gratitude. Thank you  to my readers, to the many people who visit Liquid Ink religiously, especially those who share my writing with others. I’m just humbled to think that my writing has reached so many people in such a short time.

I’ve received notes from readers enjoying the book as far away from Chicago as Madagascar, Seychelles, Sydney and various parts of Europe. In November of 2014, before I agreed to terms, I had labeled the book a failure. Set aside, it had been collecting dust since I had finished it in 2006.

The story of how my book got published has been a topic about as interesting as the book itself. After my original publisher went out of business, the book got dumped, only to be picked up in less than 24 Hours by Tortoise Books. In short, it has been a roller coaster.

Prior to it getting published—prior to newspapers like the Chicago Tribune calling it “magisterial” and comparing it to Dostoevsky; prior to Rick Kogan glowing about it on WGN Radio, comparing it to the likes of Stuart Dybek and Nelson Algren; prior to it becoming a finalist for a Book of the Year Award—The Fugue had been rejected for being “too long” and “too focused on a community unknown to most readers.” It had been called inaccessible, convoluted and unreadable. I had been told to think more carefully about what actual American readers wanted to enjoy, and had my attention drawn to books about 5th Avenue shopping culture and immature divorce stories. I was asked to stop fantasizing about becoming one of my favorite writers, authors “no one reads anymore” and to write something snappy and original. People told me no one had any interest in long novels; that year, a pile of 110,000 word debut novels had been released.

Of course, now I stand in bookstores selling my novel, talking to readers, and I see how often books the size of lunchboxes are purchased. Two of the last three times I had a book-selling event, I sold out of the copies I had brought.

The moral of the story for writers, or for anyone pursuing an ambition against odds, is never to give up, no matter how many times you’re rejected, how many times you’re told there’s no interest in you. The most important lesson I learned while getting my MFA was that criticism revealed much more about the critic than the critiqued. That lesson keeps me soldiering on. It’s universally true.

Interested parties should know that I’m almost done with another manuscript. You’ll have something new to read soon, hopefully.

Thank you for accepting, reading, sharing and talking about my work.  You’re all the best.

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Thoughts on switching publishers

My publisher, Jerry Brennan of Tortoise Books, recently wrote a blog post to share his thoughts about taking over publishing and production duties for The Fugue. Writers aspiring to publish novels should read it. Today I want to expand a bit on Jerry’s thoughts.

It turns out that, unbeknownst to either of us, Jerry and I were students at Columbia University at exactly the same time. He was at the J-school while I attended classes one building to the north at the School of the Arts.

I often used to peer at the J-school and feel pangs of jealousy. Journalism students, I was sure, didn’t struggle with feelings of illegitimacy the way I did as a mere writing student. They were all sure of themselves and would one day offer society valuable skill. How could I know one of them would be publishing my book?

It’s possible that Jerry and I ate in the cafeteria at the same time or stood queued up in the bookstore at the very same hour. I would pass the J-school every single day, no matter if I was going to class or to the library. Al Gore was teaching there, and I once tried to pry in to a lecture only to get paranoid at the last minute and hide away. Jerry attended those classes.

I’ve known Jerry on Facebook and Twitter ever since the publication of Finding the Moon in Sugar in 2009. He and I caught wind of one another through Chicago’s indie writing community. Of course, I had no idea we had been classmates, trading places in rather classic ships-in-the-night fashion. I was quite literally working on the earliest version of The Fugue while Jerry was studying under Al Gore.

I experienced a roller coaster of a day this past February when CCLaP and I parted ways. In less than twelve hours, I went from being suddenly unpublished to published again, with a new marketing plan and a ton of support.

As with virtually anything in life, luck and diligence conspired to see me find a second deal. And I see no small bit of weirdness in the story, that a book I had essentially put under my bed, hung up as a failure, ended up published not once but twice, and in the span of less than a day, the second time by a guy from essentially the same graduating class.

I got good advice from wise people when I published Finding the Moon in Sugar. Here it is: reach out to everyone you can and take an active interest in other people’s businesses and stories; look at others in the publishing world as collaborators, not competitors, and understand that a team effort is necessary for a book to do well. Of course, many things are just beyond your control. You go to graduate school, at least partially, to “develop a network”. How fitting that a guy in my network was someone who shared my college experience when neither of us had any idea until the ink had dried on the contract.

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My new publisher

I’m thrilled to announce that my novel, The Fugue, has been picked up by Tortoise Books, a very specialized publisher with keen attention to detail. They’re here in Chicago, and I couldn’t be happier with how I’ve been treated by them.

In terms of content, the new book is, barring a few minor typographical adjustments, identical and tells the exact same story as the version originally published by CCLaP. Tortoise decided to redesign the cover and layout, and the result is a more classic feel. I love the paper its printed on. It smells the way old libraries used to.

Now…there are still first editions floating around out there. If you were totally in love with the old cover—it was a photograph I took in The Netherlands, in an old church converted to a bookstore—you might contact The Book Table or City Lit Books in Chicago. Those copies stand to become the rare versions.

If you immediately want this, the 2nd edition, your independent bookstore can order it for you. You can also get it at Amazon, and it’s available on the Kindle (or, with an app, on any device). I’ll be reading from and selling copies of this new version in New York on March 30th and in Seattle in April.

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The front

Cover Fugue 2 single


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Live, moderated Q and A this Thursday

This Thursday’s reading at The Looking Glass Bookstore in Oak Park will feature an interesting twist, something I’ve not done before. Amy Danzer of Newcity, one of Chicago’s alternative weeklies, will interview me live before opening the evening to questions. Amy was the longtime editor of Newcity Lit, and has a ton of experience in the publishing world.

I first met her at Tuesday Funk back in December. If you have not read her review of The Fugue, which she calls “A must read,” you can find that review here. She’s an obvious fan of my work and thought of this herself. I’m really excited to do this, and I hope you’ll come.

An Evening with Gint Aras

The Looking Glass, 823 S Oak Park Avenue, Oak Park, IL. 7:00.

(708) 434-5515

You can RSVP by clicking here to access The Looking Glass Facebook page.

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Photo of me standing against a wall in Vilnius, 2007. I took it with a timer, leaving the camera on a dumpster.


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Reading in Oak Park, IL next week 

Next Thursday, Feb. 18, I’ll be reading at The Looking Glass Bookstore in lovely Oak Park, IL.  The Looking Glass is a gorgeous bookstore, only two years old, located less than a block from the Oak Park Avenue Blue Line station.

The details:

The Looking Glass, 823 S Oak Park Avenue, Oak Park, IL. 7:00. 

There are two quality pubs down the street, and I hope to join some friends and strangers for a beer afterwards. Hope to see you! 

  


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Reading at Tuesday Funk: (video)

Thanks so much to Eden Robins and Andrew Huff of Tuesday Funk for shooting and posting this video of me reading from The Fugue at Tuesday Funk in December of 2015. This video actually represents only the second time I had read from the book in public.

Tuesday Funk is one of the best reading series in any city. If you’ve never had a chance to attend, the next one is February 2nd at the Hopleaf. Click here for more information.

The following bookstores promise to keep copies of The Fugue in stock:

The Book Table, Oak Park, IL (Autographed copies, will ship in continental USA)

City Lit Books, Logan Square, Chicago

52nd Street Bookstore, Hyde Park, Chicago

The Morton College Bookstore, Cicero, IL


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Decency amounted to naïveté: An interview with Leland Cheuk

Leland

Leland Cheuk has titled his novel The Misadventures of Sulliver Pong perhaps in jest. The novel is a faux prison memoir composed by Sulliver, or Sully, documenting four generations of mis-adventuring Pong men: Chinese-American migrants and their offspring. They work mines and railroads, invent video games, run brothels, casinos and—in the case of Saul Pong, Sulliver’s narcissist father—an entire town.

Most of the action takes place in the fictitious (hilariously named) Bordirtoun, population 157,000. Bordirtoun is surrounded by mountains, crossed by two rivers, and sits right on the Mexican border.

Sulliver is at once tragic and comic. His self-awareness allows him self-deprecation, but he can’t avoid his ancestors’ misadventures. A gargantuan loser, he’s unable to communicate, have sex without injury, find stable employment or play a good card. Tragically, Sully seeks, not to be present anywhere, but to be absent from Bordirtoun, something he can’t achieve even by marrying a Danish woman and living in Copenhagen.

The novel is multi-layered, at once satirical and historical, concerned with male identity and the Chinese-American experience. Among Cheuk’s many achievements is the portrait of a narcissist father, an asshole so insufferable that it hurt my stomach to read about him.

I had a chance to talk to Cheuk about the book.

Your novel is a critique of American capitalism, a system where a local politician can also be tycoon and pimp, and few people see any contradiction. To me, Bordirtoun resembled the world of a dictator, Saul’s portraits and statues everyplace, including the airport. Why did you choose to make Saul so malignant in his self-absorption?

I was inspired by Coen Brothers’s films like Fargo and No Country For Old Men, in which larger-than-life villains threaten to overwhelm the innocent, virtuous, and/or inept (in the case of Sulliver). Sully’s dad, Saul, is an absurdist amalgam of my father, the President of Turkmenistan (Saparmurat Niyazov, and his golden statue that rotates with the sun), and P.T. Barnum. A more recent analog, of course, is Donald Trump. Saul grew out of the novel’s aesthetic: part-absurdism, part-realism.

My father is very much like Saul. He risked his life to come to America with nothing when he was 29. By his mid-40s, he was a self-taught engineer working at a big Silicon Valley telecom company, and he owned a real estate firm. As a toddler, I remember mom working at Taco Bell and in sweatshops. By the time I was a teen, we lived in a 3,000 square-foot house in the suburbs, and it seemed like dad bought a new Mercedes every year. He liked to show off his wealth in gauche ways, like a lot of immigrants who come from nothing.

Like Saul, dad was chronically unfaithful to my mother. Like Saul, he won all the fights with her with his fists. I have no recollections of him teaching me to be decent. Like Saul, he often claimed that decency amounted to naïveté, and to survive and thrive, you had to cheat. He would threaten to send me back to China, said I’d have to use my wits to survive there.

I’m the son of displaced persons, and grew up in an enclave, so your narrative’s really familiar. But I can’t say I’ve encountered it very often in Asian-American novels.

I think the dark side of the Asian-American immigrant experience is underwritten or underpublished. It seems like “diaspora” writers feel compelled to write about the complicated but well-intentioned person of color. With Saul and Sulliver, I wanted to go a different direction and stay true to my lived experience.

For my parents’s generation, domestic violence and philandering are accepted. Casual racism, sexism and homophobia are accepted. To me, that’s not okay. I didn’t want to gloss over any of those truths with an “Oh, they’re hard-scrabble immigrants…” or “Oh, it’s just the Asian culture…” subtext. An asshole is an asshole in any culture, methinks.

Are my dad and Saul assholes because of…or in spite of…becoming American? Did they misinterpret or distill and absorb America’s capitalistic values? Those questions interest me as a writer. I’m pretty sure I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to answer them.

Sully also has narcissistic traits, not least of which is his inability to communicate his feelings to those he cares about. Do you feel there’s an antidote to narcissism for the sons of narcissists, or are they doomed in a way?

I would say the book’s plot leans toward the latter, but in reality every moment is an opportunity to change, and every generation evolves. I would bet on Sully changing, even as he continually claims to be doomed to repeat his family’s mistakes.

Personally, I’ve considered it a great life achievement to have avoided my father’s bad deeds. I’ve tried to live free of empire-building, its emotional toll on relationships. I have tried what Saul suggests: learn only from my father’s good traits. But his behaviors have probably seeped into mine in ways I’m not conscious of.

For much of the novel, Sully is running against this father in a race for mayor. He’s not really motivated to win the race for himself but simply to topple his father’s empire, expose him as a fraud. In your view, is that a flaw in his character or a strength? 

It’s most certainly a flaw. They call it government service for a reason. Any politician should be serving the people and be willing to sacrifice for his/her constituents.

Sulliver is in way over his head. At the risk of being topical, I liken Sulliver’s motivations during the mayoral race to him being seduced by The Dark Side of The Force. If we wanted to be a Jedi, Sully would have had to run for mayor with the intent of being a better mayor than his father. Instead—excuse another contemporary reference—Sully broke bad.

I get that, but there’s a greater mission in the mayoral race: If Sully wins, he can foil his father’s plan to displace Bordirtoun’s poor. Sully needs to overcome himself just to run, because he seems overwhelmed by most any situation. An old lady steals his bike. Sex injures him. In a way, he gets past some portion of his complacency, even if the race leads to his own demise. I guess I’m wondering if you think Sully has a redeeming quality that isn’t ironic. Doesn’t he?

I definitely identify closely with Sully, and I would say that his most redeeming quality is his awareness of right and wrong. At the highest level, for the most part, he intends to do to the right thing. But as the cliché goes, God is in the details. Sully’s not so good with those.

 

Photo provided  by Leland Cheuk.