Today I am excited to introduce Hock G. Tjoa, an eclectic author. I am partial ancient historical retellings, so can’t wait to hear more about his approach to these.
What genre(s) do you write in?
I started with historical fiction, specifically, the retelling of an old Chinese classic that I selected from and translated. It is the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, with 120 chapters from which I chose twenty-three. I added short paragraphs to provide transitions for the sections and chapters that I omitted. Next I tried my hand at a spy novel and thought of a trilogy set in China but involving parts of the world that would be of concern from a point of view within that country. Action/thriller types provide what seems like cheap thrills and do not strike me as realistic so I accordingly wrote The Chinese Spymaster and The Ninja and the Diplomat with more awareness of interaction with political, bureaucratic, and personal issues.
The Ingenious Judge Dee, A Play resulted from a question I asked friends about detective stories not set in the western world. I decided on writing that as a play because of an interest in community theater. I wrote Agamemnon Must Die because I had to read the Oresteia of Aeschylus in college and had been told that this was a foundation work for western civilization – but I never “got it.”
Do you have a favorite passage you have written?
I don’t know if one could call it a favorite passage when two people die, but I think of myself as not very emotional and in one scene I tried to convey the feelings at the death of two main characters in Agamemnon Must Die –
“Aigisthos, no,” cried the queen as Orestes finally found the resolve to string his bow and brought it up with an arrow expertly, instinctively, nocked. In a fluid motion, the king swung Clytemnestra behind him so that he faced Orestes. It was forty paces between the two men. The arrow, aimed at the king’s heart, was a little low and pierced his abdomen. Dark red, almost black stains spread from the wound through his chiton almost immediately.
“Kill me too,” shrieked the queen.
Moving slowly and deliberately, like one whose will was no longer his own, Orestes raised his bow a second time and shot. This time the arrow found its mark and the queen fell as bright red blood spurted from her chest and stained her tunic.
The felled couple scratched slowly and painfully along the floor and crawled into each other’s arms.
“I love you, Aigisthos,” choked the queen gamely as she struggled to find breath. “You make my toes smile.”
“More; I wanted to love you more,” wept Aigisthos, fighting vainly to hold off the dark mist that flowed inexorably to cover his eyes and cloud his mind. He pulled the queen closer and laid his head on her shoulder as he slipped out of consciousness, out of life.
What are your favourite books and who are your favourite authors?
I read a lot of new authors but my favorites are mostly older works like the science fiction of Arthur C. Clarke, the spy novels of John LeCarre, anything by Larry McMurtry or Salman Rushdie. Recently, I came across Louis B. Jones’ Particles and Luck and Radiance which impressed me as writing of a fantastic quality. I have also read all of the Narnia Chronicles, the adventures of Harry Potter and the works of Tolkien.
What’s the best advice you’ve received as a writer?
Revise, and get an editor, several in fact. Get others to read and critique your work. Ask for more help than you think you need (or can afford) with proofreading.
What challenges have you faced in your writing and how did you overcome them?
Finding the time and place to write regularly and the discipline to do so for two, three, or more hours a day, every day. I’m still working on this.
What new projects are you working on or are excited about right now?
A couple of years ago, I reread the Book of Job and was intrigued by how little I understood it since I remember having read it once or twice before with the sense that I understood it. So I am now trying to re-tell the story (most of which consist of arguments) as a novella. I also learned that John Calvin preached 158 sermons on this Book and have the urge to read those sermons one of these days.
Thank you so much for being here today, Hock, and for sharing your books with us. I am fascinated by how you seem to write to understand something better. It’s coincidental, but I’m in the middle of writing a book about Clytemnestra, which relies on the Oresteia, as does yourAgamemnon Must Die.
About the Author:
Hock G. Tjoa teaches Accounting at Sierra College. He was born in Singapore to Chinese parents, studied history at Brandeis and Harvard, and taught European history and Asian political thought at the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur. Subsequently, he attended the Business School at UCLA and worked in banking and finance. He is married and lives in the Sierra Nevada foothills of California.
In 2010, he published The Battle of Chibi, selections translated from “The Romance of the Three Kingdoms” (one of four traditional Chinese classics). In 2011, he adapted Lao She’s “Tea House,” Mandarin original dated 1953, publishing it as Heaven is High and the Emperor Far Away, a Play. Both are part of his goal to contribute to a wider and greater understanding of China and Asia.
Since then he has published The Ingenious Judge Dee, a Play and The Chinese Spymaster, volume 1: Operation Kashgar and Agamemnon Must Die, a retelling of Aeschylus’ Oresteia. Most recently, he published The Ninja and the Diplomat, volume 2 of The Chinese Spymaster series. He is working on a revision of The Battle of Chibi.