An American Software Engineer Pursues his Novelist Dream in Taipei

 

Baseball’s my favorite sport; after all, I’m an American too. I gather you already know the Taiwanese are crazy about it. You think we’re fans? Well, let me show you something. Take a look at this bill here in my wallet. You see that? That’s their little league baseball champions. That’s how much they love the sport. They put a baseball team on their money.

This is an excerpt from “Taiwan Tales”, a short story compilation highly recommended by Taipei Times. Subtitled “One Country, Eight Stories: a Multicultural Perspective”, the tales were created by eight local and expat authors respectively, based on observations from their daily life in Taiwan. They are from different walks of life, but are all interested in literature writing. They are also members of the “Taipei Writers Group”. Since 2010, they have been meeting every other week, reviewing and discussing each other’s works.

 

Patrick Wayland, one of the founders of “Taipei Writers Group”, has been working as a software engineer for the past twenty years. Originally from Texas, in the United States, Whalen had been working in the Silicon Valley for ten years before he moved to Taiwan. Exhausted by the working environment there, he quit his job and traveled to Taiwan, aiming for a long vacation. Unexpectedly, Taiwan became his second home, for almost ten years now, and he even started the community for writers in Taipei.

“At first, we only had two or three members. We didn’t actively promote the writing group, and we didn’t have Facebook back then. Now we have more than a hundred members from all walks of life. We believe that those who are really interested in writing will eventually find us on their own.”

Making use of his off-work time, he spends hours a day, a couple of days a week writing. It takes him about a year to complete a novel from drafting to publishing. Though novel writing is time-consuming, he never feels tired of it, as if writing brings him the meaning of life. “Everyone has his own way to express himself. Some people sing, some people dance, and I write.” Seeming to be introverted, he actually writes thrillers. Via writing, he is able to engrave his imagination on the pages.

 

Whalen also shared with us how he writes his novels: Create a main character first, and develop a plot for this character; then structure the whole story, and reform it at the end. Most of the time, he decides the ending first and then outlines the plot, which allows him to write faster and makes the story better structured.

To cater to modern readers’ reading habits, recently he has been trying to write in a more straightforward way. He describes what the protagonist does directly, so the readers can easily understand the character. Instead of using piles of descriptive paragraphs, he deliberately makes each chapter shorter, to make the whole novel more punchy and to keep it moving forward with sufficient tension.

After finishing a novel, editing for seven, eight, or even nine times is very normal. “Good editing is very important. We write novels not only for ourselves but for our readers as well. We need an editor to review and discuss with us.” Whalen explained his motivation to build the writers organization in Taipei. It was not just for meeting people with similar hobbies, but for gathering people who can edit and polish their works for each other. “Nowadays online publishing is very prosperous, like Amazon, Goodreads, iBook. Everyone can sell their own writing online. Self-publishing is overwhelming, which also leads to the mixed quality of the works available online.” He emphasized the importance of quality control: “Even Ernest Hemingway had ten editors editing for him back then. Shouldn’t we at least discuss our work with our friends?”

How to write an eye-catching story? Whalen answered, “Use your imagination wildly.” Also, he doesn’t recommend authors to bring too much of themselves into the protagonist, which may limit the development of the story. “For example, I could unconsciously make the main character a software engineer or a guy with a high-tech background. And because I live in Taiwan, the bad guys often end up being Chinese (laugh).” He raised these “bad” examples of himself. These may lead to stories that only echo to the authors, but don’t resonate with the readers at all.

 

The interview was held in English. Interestingly, Whalen doesn’t speak much Chinese despite living in Taiwan for over nine years. He shrugged and said, “Many Taiwanese people don’t seem to notice how comfortable it is to live in Taiwan. 30 minutes wait for seeing a dentist? You don’t have to speak the local language to survive? Many foreign friends of mine hadn’t expected to stay long in Taiwan either, but life here is way too comfortable. Now ten years have passed in the blink of an eye.”

Hearing Whalen’s story, we somehow felt a bit more down-to-earth. The world is full of chances. Don’t always see the difficulties that are caused by the environment. If you focus on what you really want to do, there’s always a place for you to approach your goal.


 

Patrick Wayland

Patrick Wayland was born during a hurricane in Corpus Christi, Texas. He graduated from The University of Texas at San Antonio in 1995, worked in Silicon Valley in the high-tech industry and later studied Asian languages in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Patrick lives in Taipei and spends his time writing mostly long fiction, travelling and walking the line between technology and culture.

 

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