Scott Cheshire (Rail): Okay, first, tell me how you came to write this book, and I’m referring specifically to a Chinese-American, born and raised in Bayside, Queens, writing the experience of a young black male in the early 20th century South?--Marshal Zeringue
Bill Cheng: Blues, especially country blues, is something that’s been important to me for a long time. I listened to it almost obsessively when I was in my late teens and early 20s. So when it came time to write the book, I wanted to pay tribute to that. It has a kind of language, and landscape, and mythology all its own.
When we were in grad school together, we had this ideology drilled into us that we shouldn’t write “what we know” but what we wanted to know. It’s liberating to believe as writers that, the stories we tell aren’t limited to where and when we live, or how we’ve grown up but by the things that drive us. For me, it was blues and the kind of world it paints; that feeling of being set upon by the universe and suddenly realizing how fragile the structures in our lives are.
I already know what it’s like to be Chinese and from Bayside. I personally don’t find that experience is particularly interesting or worth sharing, right now. It hasn’t really set a fire in me the way...[read on]