It’s FEBRUARY already!! Can you believe it? I can’t. I still think Christmas was last weekend… o.O But alas, it really IS February.
On a good note though, we have a brand spankin’ new Featured Author to introduce! Douglas Jaffe has just published his first novel, Chasing Dragons. He piqued my curiosity when I found out he lives in Asia. But enough of my blathering. Check out his Q&A! Get comfortable, because it’s a good one, and we have more stuff for you after!
Douglas Jaffe has been in Asia for most of the last two decades and originally came to the region from New York as a graduate student, studying in China and Taiwan. He has a dual Masters in Chinese Studies and International Affairs and speaks passable Chinese on a good day.
In recent years, Douglas has pursued his interest in writing fiction and has published his first novel, Chasing Dragons. A second book is currently in the works.
drey: Hi Doug! Do you go by Doug? Or Douglas?
Welcome to drey’s library, and thank you for taking the time to visit us this month!
DJ: Hi Drey! Thank you for having me! I go by Doug, Douglas, Jaffe and as much as I hate to admit it, “Dougie”.
drey: “Dougie” – now that’s stuck in my head… At least it’s not Doogie! Ok, ok, I’m done.
Please introduce yourself to us. Who is Douglas Jaffe?
DJ: I’m a 39-year-old transplanted New Yorker who has spent most of the last two decades outside the US. After graduating university, I headed off to Taiwan with a language school acceptance, two suitcases, a room booked at a YMCA, and no idea of what I was getting myself into. That began a multi-year fascination with Asia that saw me wear the various hats of graduate student, analyst, traveler, entrepreneur and most recently, writer.
In many ways, my own personal maturation process has run parallel with that of Asia itself, which has grown and evolved over the last two decades. Today, Asia rivals North America and Europe as a new economic and cultural hub, and I’ve been fortunate to have watched this process first-hand.
drey: I went the opposite direction from you – I came to the US for college, and here I am two decades later…
When did you realize you had a story to tell?
DJ: I’ve always been fascinated by the written word and knew that fiction would be my chosen outlet. I didn’t have a set plan or timeframe when I would begin this adventure and like most things, life conspired to open up an opportunity soon after closing another! I’d quit my job and was seriously burned out of all things corporate. I elected to take some time off and being a mildly obsessive person, I decided to put my focused energies to work writing, and jumped in with both feet.
As for subject matter, I was compelled to tell a story that incorporated elements from my life in Asia, and more specifically, the Chinese influences of the last couple decades. After the countless hours I spent studying the Chinese language; deciphering characters and fumbling through ancient parables, it was a necessary catharsis to bring this hard-won experience into my story.
drey: I am incredibly jealous that you know more Chinese than I do. Then again, getting a “D” in spelling in 4th grade didn’t help get me excited about learning where all those strokes and dots et al go…
Tell us about CHASING DRAGONS. Why should we pick it up?
DJ: Chasing Dragons tells the story of Sebastian, who is the owner of a bookstore café in Hong Kong and provides informal counseling services to an array of offbeat characters. His quiet life is suddenly upended when he meets Chloe, and their relationship takes a startling turn, as it begins to parallel the relationship of a pair of mythical dragons from Chinese history. The lovers struggle with questions of mortality and immortality, before a choice is made that could pull them apart.
I would encourage anyone to pick up Chasing Dragons who wants to immerse themselves in a completely new world. The book brings together the ancient China of lore with the modern, manic, megalopolis that is Hong Kong. It is a fun, fast-paced love story that weaves together mythology and fantasy to tell the tale, not just of Sebastian and Chloe, but of a city and a culture that are racing at break-neck pace into modernity.
drey: Who and/or what inspires your writing? How do you get from idea to pages?
DJ: It’s funny. I was interviewed for a magazine article recently and the editor jokingly suggested that I must have been smoking something to come up with the storyline! His comment referred to the oft-cited “chasing the dragon” reference, which is a druggie term.
To be honest, this first novel was tough. I’m sure other first-time writers have had a similar experience, but for me, it was difficult to remove myself from the story. I had to bin the first forty pages when I realized it was self-absorbed drivel that seemed more a reflection of my state of mind at that moment than a real attempt at writing! It took me time to settle down, find my voice, and let the story unfold properly. I had no shortage of ideas but it took the gentle but firm hand of a wonderful editor to really give my draft coherence.
drey: Ha ha! I laughed at the druggie reference.
What brought you to Asia? Why stay? Besides for the food, I mean. Nothing tastes as good as Asian food – real Asian food, that is, not the stuff I get here!
DJ: Yes!! I cannot emphasize enough to your readers just how different Asian food and flavors are out here, as compared to what you get in the States and Europe. The food is reason enough to settle into Asia for the long haul.
For me, I wanted something different. I graduated university in Philadelphia and the world outside beckoned. I could have chosen Latin America, the Mideast, Russia/Central Europe or Asia. All of these places seemed more interesting than what waited for me after graduation!
I chose Asia simply because it was so completely alien and exotic. In addition to a summer internship in Tokyo, I’d taken a few courses in Chinese history and politics, which opened my eyes to all things “Asia”. Once I got hooked on the region and developed relevance out here, it was a simple decision to stay and build a life.
drey: Noooooooo, don’t start talking about the food… Too late, I’m already salivating for foods I can’t get. Thanks a lot, Doug. (Just kidding!)
(Ok, not really kidding at all…)
What do you indulge in, when not writing?
DJ: Food/cooking, current affairs/sciency stuff, my girlfriend, friends and my company. I co-founded a small technology investment firm and it is as demanding a child as my literary offspring!
drey: Smackdown: Your favorite characters face off in the ring. Who are they, who wins, and why?
DJ: Spongebob Vs. Stewie from Family Guy. Stewie wins each and every bout but Spongebob wins the war because you just can’t prevail over someone that friendly and single-mindedly upbeat!
drey: Oh no! Not Spongebob! You’re turning me into a mess here, Doug – first with the foods, now with that theme song that started playing in my head… o.O
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
DJ: Get that first book out of the way. Finish it and the idea of a life-long writing career will become less daunting.
drey: Baby steps. Great advice!
What would you say to someone who wanted to pack their bags and move halfway ‘round the world?
DJ: As the Chinese say… 讀萬卷書，不如行萬里路. It roughly translates to ‘Reading ten thousand books cannot compare with travelling ten thousand miles’. It is meant to remind people of the limitations of book learning and that you need to get out there and experience new places for yourself. Moving countries may not be right for you, but I would encourage everyone to travel at least once to somewhere completely new and foreign!
drey: Ah, but do the Chinese follow that with “Travelling ten thousand miles will incur great hunger for home”? I so need to stop thinking about food…
What’s your favorite breakfast food? (Dang it, I did try!) Did it change upon relocation, or does absence truly make the heart fonder?
DJ: Breakfast food is different everywhere, and I try to adapt to local cuisine as much as possible. I’ve gone from youtiao, fried turnip cake and soy milk in Taiwan to a proper fry-up in England to plain prata with fish curry in Singapore to a nice bowl of muesli this morning!
drey: *grumble* *growl* Sorry, my stomach has joined my salivary glands in contemplating a quick trip home… Too bad the bank account is not playing along. Enough about me though!
What item/location/food/etc. from home do you wish were available in Hong Kong?
DJ: Autumn in the Northeast of the USA. I miss the colors of the leaves and the scents of the season.
drey: What’s your favorite swear word?
DJ: Cocksucker. It became a favorite to describe a wide range of people in the business world who for reasons unknown would make your life unnecessarily difficult!
drey: That’s a good one, and a never-before mentioned as a favorite. Ten points! *Ahem*
What’s up next for you?
DJ: I have a second book in draft form that needs serious revisions. Before that, however, I’ve got a vacation to Taiwan to plan!
drey: Double awesomeness! Thanks for dropping by, Doug!
Alright, y’all. You’ve met Doug. But don’t leave yet, stay to enter the contest for a copy of CHASING DRAGONS! And after that, grab a cuppa and check out the excerpt Doug’s sharing with us.
Doug has one e-copy of CHASING DRAGONS for you, and this one’s open INTERNATIONALLY! To enter, fill out the form below before March 1st. Good luck!
Excerpt from Chasing Dragons:
“That evening, he conducted an elaborate ceremony in our ancestral hall and only myself and a few of my inner circle were permitted to attend. I can’t recall much from the evening, but I will always remember the gentle coils of blue-grey incense smoke that spiraled upwards during the ceremony. It is strange what you remember, but those coils remain as fresh in my head as any memory, while I couldn’t for the life of me remember the details of the ceremony.”
Mrs. Liu paused to take another sip of tea. I noticed that she was wearing her hair in the same style as the last time I saw her and wore the same fusion of clothing that spoke of an elegant familiarity with the elite strata of both Chinese and Western societies.
“After several hours of praying and chanting, something happened.” At this, Mrs. Liu looked uncharacteristically troubled and looked behind her, as if to check that the room was still empty.
“I cannot tell you exactly what transpired but something changed in the air around us. The texture of the air itself changed and I know this because the coils of incense smoke that I had been watching so intently began to drift upwards in a new pattern. Where they encountered this agitated air, they broke apart and mapped the contours in smoke.
“As we watched, the smoke began to trace the outline of what appeared to be a face of some sort. I cannot describe the face to you because it drifted in and out of focus depending on the flow of smoke that fed its image. It was not human though and I distinctly remember the eyes. They were cold, ancient eyes that appeared to be watching us intently.
“The Daoist priest explained that his prayers had been received and an audience granted. He then proceeded to recount the series of events that I had revealed to him and would occasionally look to me to provide some additional details or clarification. Whenever I spoke, I noticed those smoke eyes turn in my direction. I felt as though I was pleading my case before some imperial magistrate and I recall using very formal language.
“When we finished, the face continued to watch us impassively, with those eyes moving slowly across each of us. When they fixed on the priest, he lowered his head in supplication and began chanting. Eventually, they reached me and paused. I am no priest and while I felt respect for this adjudicator, I am not in the habit of cowering before anyone. When our eyes met, I did not blink and matched its stare with my own. After the briefest of pauses, I saw one of the eyes wink.”