My fiction is preoccupied with the legacy of the Vietnam War: for the Vietnamese who remained in the homeland, the Vietnamese who immigrated to America, and the Americans whose lives have intersected with both. I write with an awareness of American postcolonial narratives, particularly in the context of cultural identity.
My pedagogical approach is to teach literature in terms of how it moves, intrigues, and challenges the reader, and to teach the craft of fiction writing in terms of how one might do the same for one’s readers. I promote the idea that good writing is the absence of bad writing: those common mistakes in craft that all writers initially make and must prune from their work through constant, meticulous revision. Great writing is something else altogether…
My first novel, Dragonfish—a NY Times Notable Book and a San Francisco Chronicle Best Books of the Year—is a literary crime novel that follows a white American police officer’s search in Las Vegas for his missing ex-wife, a troubled Vietnamese woman who has escaped an abusive new marriage and is now secretly writing letters to the daughter she abandoned twenty years ago, after they first arrived in America as refugees from the Vietnam War. While Dragonfish draws on noir tropes to dramatize the traumas inherent in the immigrant experience, my novel-in-progress, Origins, draws on the Gothic tradition—ghosts, horror, madness, tragic and transgressive love—to dramatize the anxieties of identity and erasure in those immigrants who’ve been deprived entirely of their past. It involves a Vietnamese-American painter, an orphan from the Vietnam War, who was adopted and raised in Oklahoma by a troubled Caucasian mother. In the wake of a tragic relationship, the painter seeks refuge at an obscure artist residency in Louisiana, founded by a Vietnamese couple who have meticulously recreated parts of Vietnam on the estate. It’s in this ersatz landscape that the painter starts encountering phantasmagoric manifestations of the life he might have lived had he never left Vietnam, including a figure who might be an alternate version of himself.
My fiction has appeared in the O. Henry Prize Stories and the Best American Mystery Stories, and I’ve received fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts, Bread Loaf, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, Yaddo, and the MacDowell Colony. In 2009, I won the Whiting Writers’ Award, and in 2011, I received a Finalist Award for the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Literature.
Work with Students
I work with both undergraduate and graduate students and have advised all kinds of fiction theses: short story collections and novels (the most common), novellas, even fiction with an online graphic component. My students also work in various genres: literary fiction, speculative fiction, science fiction, fantasy, young adult. I want them only to write what they most want to read, and to recognize that good writing transcends genre and can move, intrigue, and challenge any reader.
- Arts Core: From Page to Film
- Technical Seminar in Fiction: Scenes & Seeing
- Big Problems Course: Narrating Migration
- Thesis/Major Projects in Fiction Workshop
- Advanced Fiction: The Love Story
- Advanced Fiction: Beginning a Novel
- Advanced Fiction: The Importance of Plot
- Advanced Fiction: Refining Your Voice
- Advanced Fiction: Exploring Your Boundaries
- “Origins.” Ploughshares. Summer 2019.
- “Under the Murakami Spell.” Virginia Quarterly Review. Spring 2019.
- “A Refugee Again.” Displaced: Essays on Refugees. New York: Abrams Books, 2018.
- Dragonfish: A Novel. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2015.
- “This Or Any Desert.” The Best American Mystery Stories 2009. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2009.
- “The Gift of Years.” The O. Henry Prize Stories 2007. New York: Anchor Books, 2007.