Saturday, April 06, 2013

The Next Big Thing

A couple weeks ago, my friend May-Lan Tan , a wonderful writer, asked me if I wanted to participate in a project called the Next Big Thing.  May-Lan's also a very talented artist, so my interview page is going to look pitiful by comparison.  Here goes.

What is the working title of the book?

The Fortress of Light is a novel whose plot explores the power of the movies as a storytelling device. The story alternates between a current day digital special effects studio and Mongol China, though it’s a Mongol China that already has the movie projector.

 Early movie film stock was celluloid which was flexible but also perishable, because it was highly flammable.  In order to show movies safely in a crowded public space, they had to develop projection booths with fireproof, usually concrete, walls. In the novel, the title refers to both the projection booth and the human imagination.

Where did the idea for the book come from?

About three years ago my wife and I went to a Silk Road exhibit at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.  Being Chinese-American and old enough to remember a time when multi-culturalism wasn’t a word used by ordinary people, I was fascinated to see how much mixing of cultures took place under Kublai Khan centuries before public service announcements. It’s no accident that Marco Polo might be  the most famous individual from the 13th century.  I not only share a name with him (more or less), I made him a character in my book.

Into which genre does your book fall?
I call it ‘Silk Road Punk’. Steam Punk is a science fiction/alternate history genre where modern devices are re-imagined as creations of the Victorian era, so flying machines might be powered by steam engines and computers might be mechanical instead of electronic.The Chinese already
knew about the camera obscura and the zoetrope. The Persians had Greek fire.
It also has bits of romance, ghost story, and what they used to call the ‘novel of ideas’.  There’s a lot of stuff in it about the nature of storytelling that threatens to push the book towards the “L” word, though not the L from the TV series.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
 It’s a ghost story in part, so I guess it’s fair to use actors who are dead. I’d love to have Sessue Hayakawa, who played Hollywood romantic leads in the silent era and Anna May Wong, the Chinese-American actress who couldn’t get the lead in the Good Earth over a Caucasian actress.  I’d also want John Cho (Harold and Kumar), Gong Li (Raise the Red Lantern), and Julianne Hough (Dancing with the Stars).

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Two teenagers make romantic comedy movies in Mongol China.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

The main character is a ghost with an eight-hundred-year-old case of writer’s block.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
My father loved to read.  I’d give him books for birthdays and Christmas. We’d both read them and talk about them. He died when I was twenty-two.  I’ve often thought about how stories and storytelling connect us to people who are no longer with us.    

Six writers  I'm tagging
Wendy Fleet
Myra Sherman
Sarah Amador
Patrick Fanning
Shirley Kwan
L. McKenna Donovan


At 4/08/2013 09:30:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great to hear the origins of this fantastic novel, Marko. The end product will be fascinating!

At 4/08/2013 11:28:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Good luck! This is quite an interesting challenge you've taken on and I'm sure it will be a great journey! Like your bike trip!

At 4/08/2013 11:33:00 AM, Blogger Townsend Walker said...

Marko, sign me up for a copy. It sounds fascinating.

At 4/08/2013 02:55:00 PM, Blogger Bev Jackson said...

oh, you talented rascal. This is such good news.

At 4/08/2013 05:03:00 PM, Blogger Len said...

The novel is going to be great. I think you need to rethink the casting, though.

At 4/08/2013 05:05:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Your novel sounds amazing. I want to read it.

At 4/09/2013 06:42:00 PM, Blogger Shirley said...

omg, *you* may think you have writer's block, but this sounds like an all-out full-fledged novel of depth with a great reach and a storyline that makes for an alluring read. A contemporary novel worthy of the name.Damn. I want to read this.

Please get it done and out there.

At 4/04/2015 09:18:00 PM, Blogger AlansJourney said...

Hey, are you still around? I'd like to get in touch with you again. Please contact me at

Alan (previously of


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