Writer Peter Tieryas Liu recently published the novel Bald New World. In this book Tieryas uses his characters to look at the corrupt world around them and ends up creating a novel that is both fascinating to read but also makes the reader think about how appearance affects our day to day lives. Tieryas recently took time out of his busy writing and traveling schedule to answer a few of our questions.
FGN: You have said Bald New World was a very personal story for you. What was it that made you say “I need to write this book”?
Peter Tieryas Liu: I don’t think I could have written this book earlier in my life as I wasn’t emotionally prepared. But there was something in the congruence of my growth as both a writer and person that compelled me to write this story at the time that I did. Initially, it was more of a plot-based story, but as I delved more into the narrative, I knew I wanted to make it more personal. In fact, I felt compelled to deal with some of the issues that have plagued me through my life, particularly in relation to what defines family. A big part of it is in the dedication; my in-laws and my wife have taught me the significance of family in ways I could never imagine. That gratitude, mixed with my exploration of the ramifications of a hair-less world, was what made me feel I needed to write it.
FGN: Why did you choose to have mass hair loss be the major affliction that changes the world rather than the oft used plague or zombie concept?
Peter Tieryas Liu: Zombies and plagues are so frequently used, I don’t think there’s anything new I could have added to the genre. And even if I did, it couldn’t help but be compared to some of the great zombie and plague themed books/films/games out there (of which there are too many that are just amazing). On a spiritual and philosophical level, I also feel in many ways that the reliance on the apocalypse to provide meaning in real life is detrimental. I was stunned to read that in the year 999, people were convinced it would be the end of the world when 1000 came around and were doing all sorts of crazy things as a result. I’ve also heard people say to me they didn’t care about climate change because their religious beliefs led them to believe the Rapture was going to happen in their lifetimes. I wanted to explore the idea of a global event that would change things, but not in a way that would lead to the end of the world. Instead, a more subtle shift, at least in comparison to Armageddon. The loss of hair seemed like something that would both be significant, and yet ultimately, at least in a survival of the species sense, insignificant. Filling in the blanks in terms of what the specific implications (especially in regards to appearances, vanity, and beliefs) was a huge part of the challenge in writing Bald New World.
FGN: Where did your idea come from for connecting human beings into battling bugs?
Peter Tieryas Liu: In certain regions of China, cricket fights are a big pastime and the amount of dedication that goes into the matches is astounding. At the same time, the allegorical comparisons of an economic slave to bughood seemed like an interesting parallel which would recontextualize the symbolic nature of the story I wanted to tell. No one wants to be thought of as a bug. And yet a bug’s life is extremely hard, and in many ways, brutally admirable. The other day, I was with a group of people when we saw one of the biggest roaches I’ve ever seen scurrying across the sidewalk. People were terrified and jumped back. And yet, no matter how scared we were of it, it was a thousand times more terrified of us. One misplaced step, and it dies a horrible, gruesome death, smashed into a sticky goo. The most it can do to us is give us shivers. Still, bugs persist, fight on, do their best to survive through every type of global catastrophe the planet has seen even with us humans bent on exterminating them. I think we could learn a thing or two from their instincts.
FGN: What is your favorite part about the future world you’ve created? What scares you the most about it? What scares you the most about our current world?
Peter Tieryas Liu: I love the cosmopolitan nature of it all, how there isn’t race or nation so much as just interests. On the inverse of that, suffering is also equally distributed among all nationalities. Heidegger posited an interesting concept in the dasein always in the world, and even when we individualize ourselves, it’s in relation to the backdrop of society. The Faceless invoke nightmares. But at least they’re transparent in their motives. The North Korean spies are more insidious in that they seem seductive and alluring, yet represent an even more terrible fate for those who get entrapped. Both are an extreme form of conformity which Nick does his best to escape. But his alternatives, in some ways, aren’t much better, setting up his dilemma. How to remain an individual when he can’t even make a basic living to support his family?
FGN: Do you have any particular habits when it comes to writing? What do you do to prepare to write?
Peter Tieryas Liu: I’m really big on research and buy way too many books. I also do lots of field trips to investigate details of my books. For Bald New World, I visited every local wig shop I could find and asked lots of questions of all my salonist friends. I also read quite a few science journals to imagine the world and the technology that would blend into the backdrop of the world. As for habits, the main thing I try to do is really have fun and not think about genre limitations or what the audience may think. To be honest with you, when I wrote Bald New World, I did not think of it as science fiction, but rather, a literary work about family with futuristic elements. Only after the reviews started referring to it as SF did it occur to me; oh yeah, I wrote a science fiction book.
FGN: You have been published in a great many journals and magazine presses. Does the joy of having your work accepted feel different when it’s a novel or a short story?
Peter Tieryas Liu: As Bald New World is my first novel, I can’t make a definitive statement on this, but so far, absolutely. The biggest thing is that as much as I put into a single short story, it doesn’t compare with the time and investment of a full novel. I love being able to spend time with a cast of characters, really get to know all of them them. Whereas a short story, no matter how in-depth, feels at best like an amazing date that has to end. I prefer commitment.
FGN: As a fan of traveling, where has been your favorite place to go? Where has been most inspiring for your writing?
Peter Tieryas Liu: Almost every part of China. I loved my recent trip to Xi’an. My trips to Beijing were life-changing. I wrote many of my best short stories in a cafe in Beijing and even got the idea of a hair-less world there while waiting for my wife (then my girlfriend) to get off work. I love the vitality of the city, the sense of energy that permeates everywhere. Don’t get me wrong. I’m an American and dearly love my country. At the same time, China has a special place in my heart.
FGN: Where is the best place for readers to follow you and your works?
Bald New World is now available.