Colleen Chesesbro, one of our Book Reviewers here at LWI brought author Mark Sasse to my attention after reviewing a book called The Recluse Storyteller (review). I believe her words had the basic meaning of “INTERVIEW THIS MAN!” His writing style blew her away due to its uniqueness. Then she did another review and she was submersed in his descriptions in The Reach of the Banyan Tree (review). With that in mind the first thing I asked Mark Sasse to share with us how he developed his writing style.
Others have mentioned that I have a unique style, but I really don’t know. I just write from my heart (whatever that means) and see what comes out. I will say that The Recluse Storyteller certainly has a unique structure with the stories inside of stories, but that’s the only novel I’ve written with that kind of structure. I’m humbled that some people like my writing style. I try to keep it simple – try to keep it real. Other than that, I have no idea how I write.
Mark and I discussed how people perhaps over analyze a writing style and then lose something along the way, or those are my words.
This certainly might be true. I purposefully try not to compare myself to others. Actually, if you want to know the truth, I really don’t read anymore. I know that is sacrilegious in most author circles. One of the reasons for this is that I don’t want to be influenced by other styles and ideas. I don’t want to imitate anyone. I just want to be myself and let the words flow. I feel guilty at times that I don’t read. In the past I have read; I was an English major as an undergraduate and read through all the major periods. Hemingway was it for me. But now when I have free time, all I want to do is write. I just try to tell the story that is currently on my heart and hope that it makes sense and can touch someone else. It’s humbling when it does.
I just write from my heart (whatever that means) and see what comes out. I will say that The Recluse Storyteller certainly has a unique structure with the stories inside of stories, but that’s the only novel I’ve written with that kind of structure. I’m humbled that some people like my writing style. I try to keep it simple – try to keep it real. Other than that, I have no idea how I write.
When I started getting into Mark’s background and even his present I was surprised. It turned out that this Lit Major in college who was from western Pennsylvania had actually been living in Asia for 20 years, 10 of those in Vietnam. Now he resides on the tropical island of Penang in Malaysia, the country our very own Florence is originally from. That led us into the book of focus today, The Reach of the Banyan Tree.
My ten years living in Vietnam inspired The Reach of the Banyan Tree. I wanted to paint a picture of what modern day Vietnam is like, wrapped around an engaging story. It was the easiest title I’ve ever come up with. The banyan tree in the story stands as a symbol of the passing of time and how the past keeps reaching into the present.
Being a Historian I became jealous that Colleen was the one that ended up reviewing The Reach of the Banyan Tree. But I wanted to know the wrapping and the reaching that the banyan tree represented. If you don’t know how a banyan tree comes to exist and grows, you need to look into it and things become clear and Mark’s genius jumps out at you.
The Reach of the Banyan Tree chronicles three generations of American men who have been impacted by Vietnam – one at the tail-end of WWII, one during the Vietnam War, and one in the year 2000 as a humanitarian worker. It’s about the women they love, and the generational ties between families. It’s also my treatise on Vietnamese culture.
Chip is a twenty-something who has run away to Vietnam to get away from the family business. He falls in love with Thuy, a young Vietnamese woman. Each of these characters symbolize family in different ways. Chip begins to learn about his family’s past from his grandfather’s diary when he was in Vietnam at the end of WWII. This learning process helps to even heal the issues he had with his father. Thuy, on the other hand, represents a formal and strict Vietnamese family which values status, loyalty, and obligation over everything else. These two characters are on a remarkable journey through 20th century Vietnam, trying to break the chains of family and culture just to experience a little love.
Mark told me he doesn’t like the labeling of genres but I did get him to share what elements he thought would be used to describe his latest novel to you, and to me as well really.
It is partly all of the following: historical fiction, contemporary romance, contemporary fiction, love story, war and adventure, cross-cultural, literary fiction. I don’t know what it is.
When I asked Mark to describe his book in one word he said ‘Legacy’. Then I asked what what message he thought The Reach of the Banyan Tree gives its readers.
We can’t escape the past. We can run away from it for a time, but its reach is endless. We eventually have to come to grips with who we are. The symbol of the banyan tree is fleshed out well in the novel, teaching us of the bonds of family and history. Those bonds are not easily broken. Some bonds should be preserved, but others need to be carefully removed. But it’s a painful process.
Mark is the definition of write what you know. His books are about where he is, not where he wishes he was or what he wishes he could be. As a drama teacher and a person who does the casting for productions Mark lives in creativity. When some authors escape from writing at times, even reluctantly so, Mark is “always escaping to writing”. His life in drama, that creative eye and mind seeing the world in a different way. In fact that’s how he came to be an author.
I always wanted to write, but I spent twenty years doing hardly any of it. But those twenty years were a period of preparation. I started writing seriously when I began collaborating with a group of high school students on an original play back in 2007. I had so much fun that the collaboration (and production that followed) got me hooked on writing drama. I turned one of our dramas into a novella, Spy Blue, and that gave me the courage to try writing my first novel, Beauty Rising, with I published in December 2012. Since then, I’ve published two more with another on the way. I’m totally hooked.
I haven’t had the honor of reading any of Mark’s work YET but I am already a fan. Here are a few of those things fans like to know.
Since I’m in Malaysia, let me go with Teh Ais – Malaysian sweetened milk ice tea. Completely addictive. (I confirmed with Florence here at LWI and she agrees it is so good.)
Honestly, when I have free time, I write, not read. My reading consists of news, opinions, blogs, and other interesting stuff that catches my eye. I have a lot of interests: politics, economics, tech, culture, life, entertainment, etc … haven’t read any books in a while though.
No representation. I’m a proud indie author! Since I publish independently, my advice is write a quality book. That’s the key. Don’t settle for good enough. Push it and make it the best it can possibly be. Take criticism in stride and learn from it. Then push the book out there. And write another one.
As you know Mark is not just a one book guy, nor is he a novella and two book guy. I asked him about what he’s done and what he’s doing now.
My first novel was Beauty Rising, released in Dec 2012. It’s about a thirty-something going-nowhere man, who is convinced he needs to take his veteran father’s ashes to Vietnam and bury him. As he steps out of his comfort zone, he experiences a soul-awakening and an unlikely love interest. I followed up that novel with my second one, The Recluse Storyteller, in Oct 2013. It’s a fascinating story about a recluse who tells stories to herself about the neighbors she spies on. However, as the recluse begins to have contact with the people of her apartment, those neighbors begin to realize that her stories have something to say about their own lives.
My fourth novel is finished. I just sent it out to some readers for feedback. It’s entitled “A Love Story for a Nation” and is scheduled for release in mid 2015. I’m very excited about this one. I’m also 15,000 words into my fifth novel, set in a fictitious southeast Asian island. Besides that, I just re-wrote a musical script which I’ll be producing with my drama troupe in the spring of 2015. Lots of good stuff ahead!
One thing you will notice is that Mark doesn’t rush his novels. I have to say many Indie Authors push those books out as fast as they can. Mark practices what he preaches about putting out quality. Building up a catalog of books will pay off over time. A catalog of quality books that is. Mark was a great interview. I could feel the effects a culture had on him in his answers and even in his thoughts about writing. He lets the heart lead and he follows. When I get the chance I am going to read this book, and the others if possible. I’m not as avid a reader as I once was because of a concussion I suffered but I do make the effort when I see something special. The Reach of the Banyan Tree is going to be added to that list. Connect with Mark at the places mentioned below, and buy every book he has written. And once you’ve read a book, you know what to do then . . .
Read a Book, Write a Review.
Writers Blog: www.mwsasse.com Find out what more about Mark that you didn’t read here.
Facebook Page: Author Mark W. Sasse
If you clicked the title of Mark’s books you’ve already been to Amazon, if not click the book covers and you’ll be there in seconds. Also you can get them in paperback at pretty much any retailer.
“In a moving work of sweeping scope, The Reach Of The Banyan Tree explores themes of love versus loyalty, desire verses duty, destiny versus fate, and family versus the individual – illuminating the familial ties that either bind us together or tear us apart.”~Literary R&R
“He weaves his extensive knowledge of Vietnam and the splendor of the countryside into his writing, as he did in ‘Beauty Rising;’ and with such vivid narratives, I could see the story unfolding in my mind. I love the compassion and complexity he puts into his writing. “~Marilou George of Confessions of a Reader
“This romance spans fifty years through three generations of American men whose lives are interwoven through the women they love, their courage to face reality, and the lifetime friendships they forged. I loved the richness of the characters and the rites of passage into adult-hood that each endured.”~Colleen Chesebro of LitWorldInterviews
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3 thoughts on “The Reach of the Banyan Tree @sassevn Mark Sasse Q&A”
Cross-cultural and generational tensions, the search for self and identity…with perhaps political overtones…? This book is on my list of books-to-read… 🙂
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