ABOUT KHANH HA
Khanh Ha was born in Hue, the former capital of Vietnam. During his teen years he began writing short stories which won him several awards in the Vietnamese adolescent magazines. He graduated from Ohio University with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism. Flesh is his first novel. He is at work on a new novel.
What is your favorite quality about yourself?
What is your least favorite quality about yourself?
Impatience. Being overcritical.
What is your favorite quote, by whom, and why?
When you are free of fear then Heaven is with you.—J. Krishnamurti
(This is my beacon light in my darkest moments. Fear is rooted in desire, in ignorance. You try to live without either then you will be a happy human being.)
What are you most proud of accomplishing so far in your life?
Having raised my two sons and having been happily married.
How has your upbringing influenced your writing?
It taught me endurance will teach you humility, and no success is guaranteed even when you have tried your hardest. But in spite of that, you will never consider yourself a failure.
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
Yes. It began with reading when I was between seven or eight. It must have started with The Count of Monte Cristo. Fifty some volumes of it in Vietnamese translation, pocket-sized, were sent to us in serial each week from my mother who was then living in Saigon. I would devour each volume and grow hungry for more. Outlandish worlds. They would ebb and flow in my mind, leaving the fecund silt on its bottom, and one day in my adulthood I wanted to become a writer.
When and why did you begin writing?
There is no ‘why’. You write because the urge to write has always been within you since you are a young boy. Then when you have enough vocabulary and your thoughts have come more refined, you are then driven to put them down in words. I wrote my first short story when I was a young teen. I won a magazine’s short story contest and was the youngest among the guests to accept the prize. Between seventh and tenth grades, I wrote a lot of short stories, each of them paying good money. I also translated stories in English into Vietnamese and sold them to newspapers and periodicals.
How long have you been writing?
As an amateur: four years as a teen. As a serious writer: a decade.
When did you first know you could be a writer?
After I finished my first novel. Or to put it differently, when I had completed a novel-length manuscript.
What inspires you to write and why?
I write because I was born with a desire to work with words. That desire had matured in me and become an extension of myself in the form of words. And I was not inspired by any external factor to write. Just write!
What genre are you most comfortable writing?
The only genre: literary fiction
What inspired you to write your first book?
There was an image formed in my mind after I read a book called War and Peace in Hanoi and Tonkin, which was written by a French military doctor. In one chapter he depicted an execution by capital punishment. The scene took place on a wasteland outside Hanoi. This bandit was beheaded for his crime while the onlookers, some being his relatives with children, watched in muted fascination and horror. While reading it, I imagined a boy—his son—was witnessing the decapitation of his father by the hand of the executioner. I pictured him and his mother as they collected the body without the head which the government would display at the entrance of the village his father had looted. I thought what if the boy later set out to steal the head so he could give his father an honorable burial. What if he got his hand on the executioner’s sabre and used it to kill the man who betrayed his father for a large bounty. I took time to research for the setting that took place at the turn of the 20th century. Indeed much research was done before I felt dead sure about writing it. That was how Flesh was conceived.
Who or what influenced your writing once you began?
I have Faulkner, Hemingway, Cormac McCarthy hovering over me while I write, before I write, and after I write. They are in my soul as a writer. But the voice in my work is mine. And mine only.
Who or what influenced your writing over the years?
Faulkner, Hemingway, Cormac McCarthy: their writing craft varies from one to another. Faulkner with his lilt in the prose which brings its beauty home in The Sound and The Fury. Hemingway with his precision masked by simplicity in the words, sentences put together – hardest art to achieve. McCarthy with his unparalleled use of the regional dialog and how he paints the landscape that sets the mood.
What made you want to be a writer?
The desire to work with words.
What do you consider the most challenging about writing a novel, or about writing in general?
Finding the voice – the author’s true voice. Writers have influences on one another. Faulkner, Hemingway, Cormac McCarthy have influences on me. But when you have found your own voice, then nothing can take it away from you. When you have your own voice, you are indestructible. You are now a mature writer.
Did writing this book teach you anything and what was it?
Somewhere in the early going with Flesh, I found my own voice—the author’s voice. I never looked back after that.
Do you intend to make writing a career?
Writing is like breathing the air around you. It’s a lifelong job, regardless of whether or not you hold a full-time job. And it will only end when you stop breathing.
Have you developed a specific writing style?
Yes. It comes from my own voice as an author.
What is your greatest strength as a writer?
The setting is Tonkin (northern Vietnam) at the turn of the 20th century. A boy, Tai, witnesses the beheading of his father, a notorious bandit, and sets out to recover his head and then to find the man who betrayed his father to the authorities. On this quest, Tai’s entire world will shift. FLESH takes the reader into dark and delightful places in the human condition, places where allies are not always your friends, true love hurts, and your worst enemy may bring you the most comfort. In that emotionally harrowing world, Tai must learn to deal with new responsibilities in his life while at the same time acknowledge his bond, and his resemblance, to a man he barely knew-his father. Through this story of revenge is woven a another story, one of love, but love purchased with the blood of murders Tai commits. A coming-of-age story, but also a love story, the sensuality of the author’s writing style belies the sometimes brutal world he depicts.