I’m excited to share an interview this week with Leland Cheuk whose novel, The Misadventures of Sulliver Pong, is coming out in November. Leland is a member of my writers group and agreed to pilot a series of questions I wanted to try out.
The Misadventures of Sulliver Pong is a black comedy about a dysfunctional Asian-American family. I have read many of Leland’s short stories and can attest to his wit. He sees the world though a comedic story lens. And has a great way with language. I’m excited to share this interview with you.
What are some “firsts” that happened during the process of getting your book published?
The first 30 pages of the novel got me into The MacDowell Colony when I had no writing credits. Soon after, I got my first agent. I’m a believer in listening and paying close attention to what the world is telling you. And those firsts were telling me that the work that I was doing was not just good, but special. It’s so hard to publish a book. Your chances, if lucky, are like always 1-2 percent. Because it’s so hard, you’d better believe deep, deep down that your work is special, otherwise you should probably be spending your time on something more additive to society.
Who was the first person who believed in your as a writer and who helped you think you could do this—publish a novel? And what did they do to let you know they believed in you? How did they support you?
I had a writing teacher in my early twenties named Paul Cohen. He ran a private workshop in Berkeley and was the first guy who gravitated to the humor in my work as well as the absurdity. Without saying as much, he made me feel like I was doing something special, even though our work has few similarities. Basically, he was a great teacher. We’re still very good friends and share work with each other.
Which part of the book did you write first? Did you start with what the reader will see on the first page?
I definitely started with what’s in the book: a very self-conscious narrator’s take on multiple generations of his family’s comic misfortunes. In a lot of ways, it’s exactly opposite of what most writing teachers tell you to do. They would tell you to start somewhere immediate, start in scene. But the first 6-7 pages of the novel are all “telling,” and dominated by the first-person narrator’s brooding, darkly comic voice. The last thing I wrote was the 60 pages or so of third-person narration about each of the Pong patriarch’s lives dating back to the 1850s. I wrote those on the advice of my former agent, and I wrote it fast, over two months, after agonizing over the other 260 pages for years and years. And those chapters are actually the ones I’m proudest of, because they’re historical, absurd, and even poignant, and made the present day story more resonant.
And was the title you published with the original title you had for the book or did it have other titles before this one? If so, what was the first title you had for the book and how did you land on the final title?
I had a horrible title for a long time, and I’m convinced that the title itself led to many, many agent rejections. It was “Sulliver’s Bordirtoun.” Bordirtoun is the fictional town in the book. It was created (misspelled) by the Chinese people who started the town. A friend visited NYC and suggested “The Misadventures of Sulliver Pong,” and once the title changed, stuff started happening with the manuscript. I got an agent, and then went on another five-year run of rejections! I like the title, but to be honest, I still agonize some over it. Like maybe it should be simpler.
Cheuk lives in Brooklyn. The Misadventures of Sulliver Pong will be published by CCLaP Publishing. I really enjoyed these stories he wrote. He will be reading from his book on November 20th in Brooklyn. He also created a fun book trailer.
Thanks, Leland for talking with Proto Libro….I look forward to reading The Misadventures of Sulliver Pong and hope some of you want to read it too!