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Ep 13. Ken Liu

“Very few people can say that they wanted to play with a whole world and to invent it, and to make it real and to build it and to tell stories in it…I got to do all of that and to tell the story I wanted to tell. It makes me feel like I didn’t come into this universe and leave empty-handed. I left something behind that I thought is the best I could do, and that’s pretty darn awesome.”

Ken Liu is a Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Award-winning author of speculative fiction. His short story "The Paper Menagerie” is the first work of fiction to win all three of science fiction’s major awards: the Hugo, the Nebula and the World Fantasy Award.

His latest book Speaking Bones, the final installment in his epic fantasy series The Dandelion Dynasty just came out on June 21. The 10-year, 1.7 million word saga is the culmination of all his effort as a writer where he has put all of himself – his knowledge, his understanding of the world and his life experiences – into the massive work of fiction. It’s likely his magnum opus and how Ken’s choosing to leave his mark on the world. But the interesting thing about Ken is that he never set out to become a writer.

“I never thought of myself as a full-time author,” he tells me during the interview. “It wasn’t until a few years ago that the writing got to a point where I had to make a choice – choose between writing or doing something else. And that’s when I chose to write.”

It took Ken a long time to become a full-time author after working previously as a software engineer and a lawyer, but I think he was born to tell stories and just didn’t see it as a viable career path early on. Ken has a unique perspective on nearly every subject shaped by his unusual life experiences, and this allows him to bring something entirely new to the world of fiction, captivating readers of all backgrounds.

I thoroughly enjoyed his short story collection The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories and highly recommend you to check it out if you’re new to his work. (It resonates with readers of all types, not just sci-fi or fantasy fans.)

Ken’s latest work The Dandelion Dynasty series is him offering the best of himself to the world and achieving his full potential as a writer and as an individual. It’s an enormously challenging project, but the result is this incredible joy and pride from fulfilling his vision; a story that only he can tell, Ken shares.

While Ken’s personal journey to becoming a full-time author is a long and circuitous one, I’m reminded of the saying that all great things take time, and he certainly needed the motley of life experiences he had to be able to write the way he does.

In this episode, Ken talks about:

  • His Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy Award-winning short story “The Paper Menagerie” and how it relates to the current political climate in America

  • What makes a piece of fiction resonate with readers

  • His career choices and how he got to become a full-time writer

  • On being an autodidact: how he taught himself to write

  • The importance of experimentation as a writer

  • What makes a writer worth reading

  • An introduction to The Dandelion Dynasty series (final book Speaking Bones is out now)

  • How it feels to have completed possibly his most important work as a writer

Wiser Living with Sissi Wang: @wiserlivingpodcast


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