Reading with... Mike Chen

photo: Amanda Chen

Mike Chen is the author of Here and Now and Then and A Beginning at the End. His short fiction is featured in Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View--The Empire Strikes Back, and he has written about geek culture for, Nerdist and In a previous life, he covered the National Hockey League for Fox Sports and SB Nation. His latest novel is We Could Be Heroes (Mira), about two super-powered individuals trying to make a name for themselves and figure out who they really are.

On your nightstand now:

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow and Star Wars--Dooku: Jedi Lost by Cavan Scott are on my nightstand right now. I want my brain to really de-stress before I dive into them. Also on my phone is an ARC of Anne Tibbets's upcoming Screams from the Void.

Favorite book when you were a child:

When I was younger, A Royal Pain by Ellen Conford was something I constantly re-read--it was the first book I read that really felt like the voice and pace drove the story, which is something I appreciate to this day. When I was a little older, Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles became a teen obsession.

Your top five authors:

It's hard for me to pick a top five because I find my tastes fluctuate. So each of these represents something different:

Top influence (voice and character): Nick Hornby
Top influence (world and story): James Luceno
Top Star Wars author: Claudia Gray
Top instant-buy author: Kat Howard
Top author whose writing makes me jealous: Alix E. Harrow

Book you've faked reading:

I could not get through Heart of Darkness in high school. I think it's only like 100 pages? And it was worse than reading a technical manual (and I should know, I used to be a technical writer).

Book you're an evangelist for:

There are two books I constantly tell people to read. The first is An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard, which is a beautifully written adult urban fantasy that takes Harry Potter-esque houses with modern New York City mob rivalries. The second is Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, the novelization of the film by Matthew Stover. Much more than just a novelization, this is the closest to literary fiction as I've seen in Star Wars media--it plays with structure, tone and tense while diving deep into character. They are both among my favorite books ever.

Book you've bought for the cover:

I actually don't think I've ever impulse-purchased strictly from a cover. I'm a very word-of-mouth reader, which is why having author friends is both a blessing and a curse when it comes to a TBR pile.

Book you hid from your parents:

My parents were actually pretty cool about me reading anything. My dad is a big reader, so we were always allowed to ask for as many books as we wanted. So they bought me pretty much Anne Rice's entire catalog when I was a teen--I don't think they realized just how sexual those were!

Book that changed your life:

Nick Hornby's About a Boy is the first book I read that made me think that I wanted to try to tell stories like this.

Favorite line from a book:

I mentioned the Revenge of the Sith novelization by Matthew Stover above, and one thing I love about it is how it presents the dark side as this all-consuming evil. It closes with this passage on how to defeat the dark, and these are words I lean on when things are rough (so a lot in recent years):

"The dark is generous and it is patient and it always wins--but in the heart of its strength lies its weakness: one lone candle is enough to hold it back.

Love is more than a candle.

Love can ignite the stars."

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

At the midpoint of Fonda Lee's Jade War, there's a fight that involves my favorite character from her Green Bone Saga. The fight and its stakes were so intense that I actually read line by line by moving a sheet of paper to make sure I didn't pick up any accidental spoilers by looking away for a second. It was probably the most visceral reading experience I've ever had, and it would be really cool if I could always read that section without knowing what happened.

Book you had to read in high school that you actually liked:

I read Judith Guest's Ordinary People in high school, and it's a book I still have on my bookshelf. It was my introduction to literary fiction and it did several things for me. First, it showed how artful prose could be while still telling a compelling story. Second, it played with structure in a way that I hadn't seen before. And third, it demonstrated how an emotional arc can drive a story forward without necessarily being plot heavy. Even though I don't revisit this book that often, it's still a milestone read for me.

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