Yesterday I reviewed a book by new-to-me author John Shors entitled Dragon House. It’s about two Americans who travel to Vietnam to open a center to give Vietnamese street children a safe environment and an education. I was amazed by the rich attention to detail and I was transported to the streets of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) in this story. John was gracious enough to stop by and answer a few questions about his book and writing process.
John, will you tell me a little about yourself and how you started writing?
I’m from Des Monies, Iowa, and started writing when I was in high school. I grew up reading a few books a week, and that passion is what first interested me in the idea of being a novelist. Of course, I had no idea that becoming a full-time writer would be so difficult. I think it would have been much easier for me to climb Mount Everest!
How did your characters present themselves to you? Do you make an outline or do they come to you some other way?
At the outset of each novel, I do a character outline for everyone in my book. But I really don’t get a feel for my characters until I’m well into the editing process. At that point, after maybe seven months of writing every day, I establish a rapport, an intimacy with my characters. This is such an enjoyable experience, as writing becomes so much easier.
Who was your favorite character to write, and why did you have an affinity for that character in particular?
In Dragon House, I really enjoyed bring the two street children, Mai and Minh, to life. I have spent a lot of time with street children during my travels to Asia, and was/am so inspired by the hope, brilliance, and resilience of these children. The prospect of creating two such children within Dragon House greatly appealed to me, and I think that Mai and Minh really reflect my enthusiasm. I’m quite happy with how they turned out.
Noah and Minh have both lost limbs, but from different experiences. Was that something you purposefully wanted to explore with these characters?
In some ways, yes, in some ways, no. I wanted Noah and Minh to connect, at least initially, because of their lost limbs. But I wanted them to move beyond that particular connection into something deeper and more profound.
The imagery in Dragon House was extremely vivid. I found myself physically reacting to thedescriptions in the book. How were you able to accomplish that? Have you had a lot of experience with Vietnam?
First, thank you for the compliment. Second, I have been lucky enough to travel three times to Vietnam (in 1993, 1999, and 2007). I love almost everything about Vietnam–the people, culture, food, climate, history, affordability, etc. It’s a country that is near and dear to my heart, and I know it well. I’ve explored much of it by motor scooter (not a particularly safe endeavor), and some of the excitement of those adventures is experienced by my characters as they undertake the same sorts of journeys.
In Dragon House you explore questions of alcoholism, poverty, child neglect and abuse, and the different effects that the horrors of war has on veteran…did you know that you wanted to write a book that included these issues and did that influence your decision to set it in Vietnam? Did any of these things arise out of what was coming from your characters or a master plan you had?
I did want to explore some of those issues, and Vietnam seemed like the perfect place to do it. My home country of America obviously has a history with Vietnam. And America’s involvement with Vietnam isn’t that different than its involvement with Iraq, I believe. So, I wanted to compare and contrast those two conflicts, and did so by setting Dragon House in Vietnam, and having one of the central characters be a vet from the Iraq war. As far as the questions of alcoholism, poverty, and child neglect, those are universal sufferings, and could occur in any country in the world. Modern-day Vietnam seemed like a good fit for exploring those issues, though; as such suffering is out in the open in Vietnam.
What was the most interesting thing that you found out while researching this book but ultimately decided not to include?
That’s a tough question. All of the interesting things I discover tend to make their way into my books. Unless of course, I lose a sticky note or two, which has been known to happen.
What types of books would some of your characters have if they were readers? Given their issues what book(s) would you suggest for them to read?
Well, one of my characters, Iris, is quite well read and is a fan of the classics. The street children would be delighted to come across books of any sort. Street children dream of going to school, so books are quite magical to them.
In the past I have visited a blog called Daily Routines and it’s all about the schedules of writers and creative people. I’m kind of obsessed with it- probably because there is so much that I am involved in and like to do, that I’m always looking for ways to make all of it work time wise. What does a typical day look like for you?
I usually am at the computer by 8:30 a.m., checking emails. I do that for a bit, and then roll up my sleeves and start to write. I try to write until about 3 p.m., at which point my brain has turned to mush. Then I answer more emails (I get at least 100 emails a day from readers). I may look over a contract or participate in an event. I also continue to speak (via speakerphone) with five or six book clubs a day. These conversations mainly occur at night, after my wife and I have put our little ones to sleep.
What’s next for you? I really enjoyed reading Dragon House, so I want to know if you are working on something new and when we can expect it.
I’m so glad to hear that you enjoyed Dragon House. Thank you for reading it. My forthcoming novel is called The Wishing Trees. My editor and I have been working on the back-cover copy, which for now, reads: Almost a year after the death of his wife, Kate, former high-tech executive, Ian, finds a letter that will change his life. It contains Kate’s final wish—a plea for him to take their ten-year-old daughter, Mattie, on a trip across Asia, through all the countries they had planned to visit to celebrate their tenth anniversary.
Driven to honor the wife and mother they still deeply mourn, Ian and Mattie embark on an exotic journey that retraces the early days of Ian’s relationship with Kate. Along the way, they leave paper “wishes” in ancient trees, symbols of their connection to Kate. Through incredible landscapes and inspiring people, Ian and Mattie are greeted with miracles large and small. And as they grieve over what they’ve lost, they begin to find their way back to each other, discovering that healing is possible and that love endures—lessons that Kate hoped to show them all along…
Anything else your readers and potential readers might like to know?
Well, a lot of good is coming out of Dragon House. I’m donating some of the funds generated from the book to Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation (www.bdcf.org), which helps street children in Vietnam. In three months, Dragon House has raised enough money to buy complete sets of school books for 500 street children. I’m grateful for this outcome.