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.

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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11 Comments

  1. 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.

    • Viet says:

      thanks for being a conscientious objector–that was an act of courage.

  2. 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.

  3. 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

  4. 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.

  5. 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’.

  6. 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.