Today, I bring you an interview with Vincent Chu, author the debut short story collection Like a Champion. Chu's eighteen stories are self-deprecating in their humor and sharp in their style- odes to the underdogs, the disappointments and the people who try really, really hard but still fall short. Happy Reading!
"Chu finds ways to turn the everyday into the revelatory." -Kirkus Reviews
What drew you to the genre you write in?
I think short stories are a great way to get into writing fiction. I was always a fan of literary fiction, that just happened to be what I read and related to, and stories were a natural entry point because you can jump right in, experiment and get easier feedback. Once I started writing stories I fell in love with the genre, uncovering a whole history of unbelievable writers and collections. With short stories, I love this idea of jumping suddenly into a new world, right into the action, into someone’s head and then jumping out. For a writer, it’s a dream come true because it lets you try out so many different voices, characters, formats and settings.
In your eyes, what does it mean to be a “successful” writer?
For me, being a successful writer means being able to write something that makes you happy, and at least one other person happy. If you can satisfy these criteria, and build from there, of course, I think you can consider yourself a successful writer. The secondary stuff, getting published or selling books or getting good press, means little without those first two things.
Did the collection have any alternate titles?
For a long time, I had the working title of Little Wins, which a friend and confidant suggested to me, which is fine and accurate to the collection and the corporate tone fits some of the themes of office drudgery, but I felt like it was perhaps missing something. I also loved the idea of using sports terminology, especially as some of the stories are about sports and all are about notions of victory and defeat, and competition of some sort, and so I also bounced around with the title of Look Alive, which probably triggers traumatic memories for anyone who has ever played organized sports growing up. I still like this title a lot. In the end, Like a Champion just felt right, and just that word 'champion' I love so much aesthetically.
How important is the setting in your collection?
Setting is really important, even if I don’t always specify the actual location. Some of my stories take place specifically in San Francisco or Germany, but most are in an unnamed big city or small town, that perhaps seems American, but perhaps could be elsewhere. Setting is so important to empathizing and understanding a character, and of course it can just be such a fun element to write.
What single book has been the most influential to you as a writer?
There are a lot of good and true answers to this question that perhaps reveal how basic I am, like Catcher in the Rye or The Sun Also Rises or High Fidelity, and I could gladly go with one of these, but I’ll back up and go with John Grisham’s The Firm. I read this when I was 10, and certainly had no idea what the hell was really going on, but it was the first grown-up book I read that had me really hooked, that I read start to finish in a month, wanting to jump back in as often and for as long as I could. The Firm has little to do with my writing style now or what I write about, but it was the first book that showed me what was possible with a book, reeling a reader in and keeping them engaged. That should be the goal of any writer, regardless of genre, to get someone as addicted to a story as I was to The Firm in the fifth grade.