Frequently Asked Questions (and Answers)

Do you respond to emails/letters?

I do my best to write back to everyone who writes to me. If I’m really lucky, I do it in a day. Most of the time, however, I take weeks and sometimes months. I apologize. Besides being a writer, I’m a scholar, teacher, husband, son, and father, and all those tasks have to take priority. That being said, I’ll respond to emails faster than letters or cards sent via the post office, and I really do write back to just about everyone.

I want to learn more about Vietnam or the Vietnam War. Where should I begin?

I wrote about how the Great Vietnam War Novel was not written by an American, and provide a reading list of Vietnamese and Vietnamese American writers. Nguyen Du’s The Tale of Kieu is Vietnam’s classic epic poem and is in English translation. Curbstone Press translates a great deal of Vietnamese literature into English. Subscribe to my blog, diaCRITICS.

How does one buy your books in Viet Nam?

For physical books, you can also take a look at certain bookstores that are known to carry international titles such as The Bookshelf Hanoi, BOA Bookstore Saigon, or Gác Xép Bookstore. For e-books, you can try downloading a VPN, placing you in the US/Canada, and paying with an Amazon gift card for Kindle.

Can I interview you for a school paper/scholarly essay?

I can only do interviews for print, internet, or broadcast purposes. However, this website has an extensive archive of the interviews that I have done and the reviews of my books, and in them you should find the answers to most, if not all, of your questions. My essays should also provide some insight into my work.

I have a book/manuscript. Will you read it/blurb it?

Unfortunately, I can do neither. See above about all the things I must struggle to balance in my life, and hopefully you will understand that I cannot spend more time reading the works of people I do not know, no matter how worthy those works may be. I wish you all the luck and strength that a writer needs.

Will you speak at my event, campus, or institution? 

Please contact Kevin Mills of  The Tuesday Agency, who handles my speaking arrangements.

How do I get an agent/publisher? 

I have little advice based on personal experience in this regard. I wrote a lot of short stories and published them in small literary journals. Literary agents sought me out from reading some of these stories, which is how I eventually found one. The timing was right; he came looking after I had finished a collection. It’s challenging to get an agent without a book being done, although it can definitely happen, especially in nonfiction. My agent sent my book to publishers.

There are websites and books that tell you how to find an agent and how to solicit an agent by writing query letters, and how much of a manuscript you should have done, and the like. My best advice is to read those sites and books.

What kind of advice do you have for writers?

Read a lot. Read deeply in the categories of writing that you imagine yourself to be in. Only by doing so will you know what is a cliche and what is original, and how to avoid the former and seek the latter in your own work. Reading deeply, you will realize that most work in a category is not very good. That should inspire you to recognize what is good versus bad, and should encourage you to do better.

Read widely. Genres and boundaries are artificial, and a writer should look everywhere for great writing and powerful ideas, which exist in all fields of writing. Reading the best in a wide variety of genres, styles, and disciplines will provide a writer with greater inspiration and aspiration.

Write a lot. It could be every day, it could be in big occasional bursts. Whatever works for you. But nothing beats just writing a lot, over time. All the classes in the world won’t help you become a better writer if you don’t write. The more you write, the more you will figure out how to deal with technical issues and the elements of craft. You will also learn to edit yourself, and recognize when something is working and when something isn’t.

Develop a very thick skin, and develop discipline. The thick skin is to protect you from rejection. The discipline is required because writing demands a great degree of sacrifice–at least of your time and possibly much more. Discipline is more important than talent, if one had to choose (ideally a writer has both). Someone with minimal talent and great discipline will write a book, even if it’s not great. Someone with talent but little discipline probably won’t finish a book (although someone with huge talent might pull it off).

Give yourself time to mature and grow wise. Young writers with lots of talent who get a lot of attention when they first publish often don’t stand the test of time until they mature and add wisdom to their writing.

Category: News

 

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46 Comments

  1. Johnny Nguyen Vu says:

    Hi Professor Viet,

    My name is Johnny and I am a student at UCI, I look forward to your events here during our winter quarter. I haven’t yet gotten the chance to explore your work but seeing another Vietnamese American man “make it”, especially someone who is close to my parent’s generation, is inspiring, badass, and brings me and students like me joy. There are times where I am unsure about my place as a Vietnamese American and perhaps even ashamed of where I come from. As I journey through life I’ve gained pride and courage to know my people’s history and battles today. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

    • Viet says:

      Glad to know we could connect, Johnny, and that I could help clarify your path. We need the new generation like yourselves to lead us.

  2. Bob Campbell says:

    I am enjoying your award-winning novel The Sympathizer immensely! I have a deep interest in the Vietnam War and its aftermath. Born in ’64, I can remember watching the American POWs returning home after the U.S. involvement ended as well as some of the evacuation efforts. My older brother served in Thailand during the war and my father is a WW2 combat veteran and served in the all-Black 92nd Infantry Division in Italy. In addition, I find the Captain, the narrator, to be an astute observer of the American psyche.

    As a first-time novelist, I find your work inspirational both in your storytelling and technique. Bravo!

  3. Luke Nguyen says:

    Hi anh Viet,

    I’m a Vietnamese currently pursuing a psychology track in New York. The Sympathizer is a book I identified with a lot, especially with the disparity within the psyche of the main character and how he lives in both worlds. And man, that squid chapter, how raw was that. But not as devastating as the interrogation scene, that stuck in my head for a really long time. Thank you for creating such an incredible, impactful, and lasting work.

    I’d love to contribute to your work and The Sympathizer project. Is there a way?

    • Viet says:

      Thanks for reading, Luke! If you wish to support my work, please look at dvan.org, Diasporic Vietnamese Artists Network. I helped to create DVAN to foster Vietnamese artists in the diaspora. If you would like to become a lifetime member, it’s $1000, and I am matching $25,000 this year.

  4. Stacy Mosher says:

    Dear Mr. Nguyen,
    First, I’m a great admirer of your books — congratulations on all your well-deserved accolades! But I’m writing today with a question that has attracted interest in the community of China scholars — Why is a Chinese-language conversation blacked out on p. 98 in your novel The Committed? Was this a purposeful design? Some have suggested censorship, which seems extremely unlikely to me, but I wonder why you didn’t just use XXXXX or something like that, less obtrusive than black-out bars, to designate a conversation that the narrator could not understand. Many people would be interested in understanding the background!
    Sincerely,
    Stacy Mosher

    • Viet says:

      thanks for reading, Stacy. The blacked out text is not a comment on Chinese or any other kind of communist censorship, but is instead a comment on the American government’s use of redaction to censor documents (such as interrogation reports). Also our protagonist doesn’t understand what’s being said in Chinese.

  5. Viet,
    You may recall speaking to our group at the Jonathan Club in Los Angeles shortly after The Sympathizer was published. We’ve recently read The Committed and enjoyed it, as well. We’ll be discussing the book in more detail in a few days, and I’m writing to inquire about your use of “apercus.” They left me reading (and re-reading) sentences to pick up on the clever use of alliteration, and contrast. Can you please give us ore insight into their use, what you’re trying to demonstrate and how you come up with such clever phrasing.

    Best regards,
    Jeffrey Kirschner

    • Viet says:

      Hi Jonathan, thanks so much for reading, and glad to know that the book made it again to the Jonathan Club. Not sure which phrases in particular you’re talking about, but the word play in general brings attention to the protagonist’s (and mine) use of language. He sees language from inside (like a native) and outside (like a foreigner), given his status as a man of two minds, and this allows him to play with the language.

  6. Lars Borghem says:

    Hello! I am a swede living in Spain. Every Sunday I watch a popular swedish TV-program about new books, and sometimes old. Yesterday Kim Thúy was interviewed on her new book Em. I have not read it but the conversation focused on Memory. Your name did not come up. The program is called babel and has a Facebookgroup where I am a member. I will mention your name in it. I write sometimes for a kultural webmagazine called Opulens.
    There I wrote a long introduction to your book Nothing Ever Dies. Here is a link:
    https://www.opulens.se/opinion/129-kommentarer-om-en-bok-och-krigsmaskinen/
    This book has opened my eyes.
    Best Regards
    Lars Borghem

    • Viet says:

      thanks so much for reading Nothing Ever Dies and spending so much time on it; I’m delighted that this book in particular could have an impact on you. I think I did come across your post on this a couple of years ago.

  7. Ceri Marsh says:

    Dear Viet,
    I hope this finds you well in these crazy days.

    I’m writing to you from Flying Books School – and including a link so you can check it out. https://www.flyingbooks.ca/school-1. Flying Books is an independant book seller, publisher, and a school. At the school, we focus on short-ish classes taught by working writers like Desmond Cole, Karen Solie, Thea Lim, Fonda Lee and Jen Sookfong Lee, among others. In the before time, classes were held at The Gladstone Hotel, but now, like everything else, they happen over Zoom. Which has allowed us to reach beyond Toronto for teachers and students.

    I wonder if teaching a class with us is something you’d consider? If so, I can explain a bit more about how it works and what the financial proposition is.

    Thanks so much for your time and I hope to hear from you.

    Best,
    Ceri

    • Viet says:

      Dear Carl, thanks for thinking of me, but I don’t do teaching outside of my university.

  8. Mitch Kern says:

    I listened to your interview this morning on MPR and appreciated your articulate opinion on the challenges with assimilation in the US. I have been following your successful career. Your voice is so needed in these challenging times and your timing uncanny. Huge congratulations.
    Warm regards from Mitch Kern (proud ‘88 Bellarmine classmate).

    • Viet says:

      Hi Mitch! It’s great to hear from you again. I was pretty sure I remembered your face and pulled out my yearbook (it’s under my desk) and there you were, as I remembered. Thanks for listening and reading.

  9. Linda Heffernan says:

    Greetings. I just purchased The Refugees for myself and for a friend who came to the US as a Vietnamese refugee with her family. Is your book available in Vietnamese? I would like to purchase it for her father if so.

  10. Dear Mr. Nghuyen:

    I’m writing to you in the name of the team of our library, “Biblioteca Safo”, in a Secondary School in Spain.

    First of all, I want to apologise about my English. I’m really sorry about that.

    We would like to congratulate you on your Pulitzer Prize.

    We are writing to you to request your help with an activity we are organizing for the Book’s Day:

    Our team, formed by four teachers, are writing these days to several writers and illustrators around the world asking for a message, and we think that you are the best person to represent Vietnamese literature.

    We want our students to become good readers, and better people so we are looking for messages from women and men like you, who have made literature part of their life.

    We would love to receive a message from you encouraging them to continue reading. It could be a written message, a little sentence, a picture, a video or anything that you want to send to us. We will do an exhibition on April 23rd with all the material we are recollecting.

    Thank you very much for the attention you give us. Thanks for your time and have a good day.

    Yours sincerely,
    Beatriz Hernández

    IES Espiñeira, Boiro (Coruña, España)

    • Viet says:

      my apologies for the late reply, I only checked my website today.I hope your Book’s Day went well.

  11. John M. McNamara says:

    Viet,

    Having finished “The Committed,” I wanted to express my praise and admiration for the novel and for your writing. The colloquial, meandering tone set by Crazy Bastard’s narration carries the theme of duality through the work seamlessly, especially as characters, philosophies, and ideals confront split natures. You captured the heartache I imagine every refugee feels, of not belonging either to where they fled or where they settled, and that duality taps into a universal root. Refugees of war experience the most heinous version of being “others” and are often never fully accepted in their new countries because they constitute reminders, especially here, of a failed effort, however doomed that effort was from its ill-conceived beginning. Americans hate failure almost as much as we hate one another.
    I particularly responded to the notion of “Do something” or “Do nothing” as you presented it. Is that not the primary duality of our natures?
    You may not remember, but I was a Vietnamese linguist in the Air Force during the war. The members of my language school class conduct Zoom sessions once a month, often to discuss a book we have all read. I’ve convinced them to read “The Sympathizer,” (better late than never) in hopes that it’ll prompt them to read the sequel. It’s a small group, self-selected by our political leanings. No MAGA allowed.

    Again, congratulations on the novel, which shattered the “curse” of a sophomore slump. It has inspired me as a writer.

    John M. McNamara

  12. Charles Schultz says:

    Professor Nguyen:

    I watched your interview on Democracy Now and though I do not know if the murders in Atlanta were racially motivated as many people have determined without any demonstrable evidence proving that they were. However, that is not the purpose of my writing to you. The reason that I am writing to you is your false statement on Democracy Now that no Germans or Italians were put into internment camps. In fact many people of German and Italian ancestry, US citizens and others who were lawfully in the Untied States, where put into holding facilities during World War II. These individuals were forced into internment camps including Crystal City Internment Camp, Camp Seagoville and Camp Forrest and others. The Germans were the last people released from these camps.

    Respectfully;

    Charles Schultz

    • Viet says:

      Thanks for your comment. I hope I didn’t say that no German or Italian Americans were put in internment camps; if so what I meant to say or thought I said is that Japanese Americans were interned en masse as Japanese Americans, while German and Italian Americans were selectively imprisoned.

  13. Thomas Haskamp says:

    Dear Viet Tranh,
    the last day I finished “The Sympathizer” (german translation), and I finished been very happy reading your book, see Vietnam history and learning about people living in Vietnam. While been very happy, i must acknowledge being disappointed for not knowing more before.. So the thank you goes to you personally for bringing people these information/story to knowledge.
    With kindest regards from Hanover
    Thomas Haskamp

    • Viet says:

      Thanks for reading and sharing! I have had the pleasure of visiting the University of Hanover twice.

  14. Malcolm Bryant says:

    I recently viewed and enjoyed your talk on Democracy Now. Marvelous. If you can please read, analyze my text/manual on public schooling, Visionary Schools: Liberating At-Risk Students, Transforming a Nation.
    It includes some at-risk Asian students and their plight.
    In the near future a discussion of Black/Asian cooperation in education would be welcome.

    • Viet says:

      Thanks for watching. The Black/Asian conversation will likely happen on “Under the Blacklight,” put on by the African American Policy Forum.

      • Malcolm Bryant says:

        Wonderful! The Black/Asian unity is long overdue and another nail in the coffin of brutal White power. Your writing is great medicine and I salute you as an inspiration to all freedom-loving people in America.
        My publication Visionary Schools: Liberating At-Risk Students, Transforming A Nation was inspired by the pain of being a Black man in the south and a teacher in the North. Consider reading it and let’s expand our conversation.
        Malcolm

  15. Rick Passaro says:

    Just finished reading “The Sympathizer” (yeah, yeah, I know, but better late than never!) Wow, just wow.
    As the jacket says “a Vietnam War novel unlike any other.”
    I lived in Vietnam for three years or so (2011-2014) living on Cat Ba Island managing a wildlife conservation project.
    A very humbling experience for an American. Lovely times.

  16. Noelle Nguyen-Phuc says:

    Dear Author NguyenVietThanh,
    I am looking for a Vietnamese translation of your book The Sympathizer. I am afraid to ask. It’s for my Dad. He is 98 years old and he prefers to read in VNese now. We would love for him to read your book.
    Is there one?
    Thank you,
    N

  17. Helena Jerman says:

    Dear Viet Thanh Nguyen, I got to know about you in February this year (an article in our Swedish speaking daily in Helsinki). Now that all the libraries are locked because of the corona virus situation there are no possibilities to borrow your books.Have to wait!In short: I am asocial anthropologist working on a monograph.My parents came as refugees (my mother was a baby then but My father was 19) from former Soviet Union a few years after the Russian revolution to Finland. Our whole life my siblings and me have had to EXPLAIN, interpret and so on, a phenomenon that is close to your heart I have undrstood.i there any chronicle or paper in the net where you write about this phenomenon in your own life? I would love to have a reference in my coming monograph.Thank you very much and Faithfully, Helena Jerman

    • Viet says:

      Dear Helena Jerman, Thanks for thinking of my work. I’ve written so many short pieces over the past few years that I have a hard time remembering where I might addressed your question. Perhaps:
      “Becoming Bilingual, or Notes On Numbness and Feeling,” Flashpoints for Asian American Studies, ed. Cathy Schlund-Vials. New York: Fordham University Press, 2017: p. 299-307
      “Dislocation is My Location,” PMLA, 133.2 (2018): 428-436; response to the “Theories and Methodologies” section of this issue devoted to The Sympathizer, The Refugees, and Nothing Ever Dies, p. 364-436 (this will be online through the MLA database)
      “Follow This Voice.” Light the Dark: Writers on Creativity, Inspiration, and the Artistic Process, ed. Joe Fassler. New York City: Penguin Publishing, 2017: 227-232
      “America, Say My Name”, New York Times, March 9, 2019 (online)
      “Asian-Americans Need More Movies, Even Mediocre Ones,” New York Times (online)

  18. Kinh chao ong Thanh – I was delighted to learn of your recent appearance at Hamilton College. I graduated from there in 1970 and was drafted into the war as a civilian conscientious objector for two years. So Hamilton and Quang Ngai Province are closely connected in my memory, as utterly different as they are culturally. In 1985 I bewailed (in the Christian Century magazine) the lack of Vietnamese accounts of the war (in the Christian Century); since then I am delighted to see strong voices such as yours emerge. That hasn’t kept me from publishing my own diary of the war (Any My is the title), however, and recently uploading all my pictures from 1971-72 for the people of Quang Ngai to see. It’s important not to forget how the war was experienced by civilians. And it terrific of you to encourage voices of the Vietnamese diaspora.

  19. Anders Persson says:

    “The quote All wars are fought twice, the first time on the battlefield, the second time in memory” has been known in Sweden since the 1960’s but nobody I have asked know who has said it. Where have you got it from?

    • Viet says:

      I came up with it myself, which is not to say that it might not have existed elsewhere. I never saw it in any English language or English translated discussions of memory.

  20. John says:

    Hello Viet Thanh Nguyen,
    I just found your article in TIME via apple news.
    Your words are so touching, I am the lighting director on the US Tour and Broadway Miss Saigon.
    So much of your story rings true to experience, at least one side of the experience.
    I look forward to learning more about you.
    Thank you for sharing.
    John

  21. Scott smith says:

    Dear sir, I read with great interest your essay regarding “love it or leave it”. I remember when that phrase was bandied about quite frequently. The mentality was on the wane until recently. My own view is that, if one loves one’s country, one must strive to elevate it. Point out the warts, credit the progress and, above all, be engaged. I come at this problem from the unique perspective of having been an Air Force (u.s.) dependent for all of my childhood. My criticism of issues was downplayed because “you’re not from around here”. I got that all the time. If I have a point, it would be that one would be surprised at how rampant is marginalization. Continued success and best wishes. Scott smith.

  22. Nancy Shane says:

    Hello, Professor Nguyen. I was happy to learn about you and hear your interview on PBS News Hour. I hope sometime you will get a chance to read Eleanor Stewart’s account of her time as an American UN volunteer in the Philippines in the early 80s – Not Just A Refugee, and share your thoughts with us. I am sure many of us would be most interested in hearing your thoughts – not from the ‘other side,’ exactly, but certainly from a very different perspective. I don’t think there are too many works like yours and Ms. Stewarts’.

  23. Nick Dao says:

    Greetings Professor,

    Congratulations on your Pulitzer Prize Nguyen (“Pulitzer Prize Win” . . . sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun). I just finished “The Sympathizer.” If metaphors were morsels of food, I would certainly be well-fed right now. As a matter of fact, I’m still savoring one of your alliterative creations: “marrow of my memories”

    If the act of writing consisted of constructing tangible prose on a physical page, I get the sense that you would go about your craft with tweezer-like precision – placing each letter, meticulously, in order to produce a crop of words that would convey a concise connotation.

    Furthermore, I wonder if your book provoked so many chortles from me because I bumped into you at Saigon airport in April of 1975, and your funny bone rubbed off on me. It’s hard to say since all of us were anxious to make an exodus before the country had “a change in management.”

    All in all – well done, Wordsmith.

    Sincerely,

    Nick Dao

    • Viet says:

      thanks for the kind message, Nick. And you remember the airport–more memory than I have of that time.