Where Honesty Never Ends.
Greetings everyone! For this special spotlight, TRB has called on Mini Truth to conduct this particular interview. Grab some snacks and a refreshing beverage. Time for some Coffee Talk!
1) Hello Zen. Thanks for being a part of Coffee Talk. I’ve seen that you write both children’s books as well as inspirational. What led you to those genres?
I found myself in a sour mood every morning on the drive to work. After doing some introspective thinking, I realized how blessed my life really was – I had a good job, good health, good friends, and so many of the modern conveniences others do not enjoy. I wrote The Daily Thanks and The Daily Power to remind myself daily of all the wonderful things around me and to appreciate them. It wasn’t my intention to publish these books but I realized that perhaps others could be benefit from the daily reminder as well.
As for the children’s books, the inspiration came from the children around me. I have two nieces and most of my friends are starting to have children. When You’re Not Home was written as a gift to them. The Bullying Bull was the first of a series I’m hoping to continue for my nieces and for children (girls specifically) who are getting to that difficult age when body image, gender roles, and etc become more prominent. I’m hoping to empower them through adventurous stories as lived by Kimmie and Annie (the protagonists of the series).
2) You have two inspirational works; The Daily Thanks, and The Daily Power. What is the difference between the two and what were you trying to accomplish with them?
The Daily Power and The Daily Thanks each contain 365 entries to empower and remind readers of their potential and blessings. The Daily Power should be the first thing you read in the morning. You can think of it as a mini pep talk to get pumped up much like athletes do before a game. Here’s an example entry, “Today I will start that journey of a thousand miles with the first step.” At the end of the day, you should reflect on your accomplishments and count your blessings – and that’s the focus of The Daily Thanks. Here’s an example entry, “Today, be thankful for what extra money you have. It may not be much, but it is a lot more than people who have nothing. It might not buy you luxury, but it does afford you with simple comforts others might lack.”
3) Personally, I read your children’s book, When You’re Not Home, to my son who loved it–as did I. What was the message you were trying to portray with this little story?
My girlfriend and I have a cat together, and he is a part of our family. My Buddhist background teaches me to appreciate and to empathize with all living things. What I see in my cat isn’t just a pet but a being with all the life force we humans think we possess. When a dog gets hit and whimpers, is that not sadness and pain? I think so. The underlying message behind When You’re Not Home derives from that belief. I saw a quote some time ago that goes something like, “To you, your pet might just be another piece of your life, but to him, you might be the only piece.” I wanted to convey that while you’re carrying away with your life (at work, or school, or wherever you might be), someone is waiting for you to come home: so don’t neglect, abuse, or mistreat the ones who love you the most. While the story is about a cat and a boy, you can relate it to people as well.
4) I must ask, who does the illustrations for your children’s book? They are marvelous.
I’m grateful for Joyce Hu, the artist for When You’re Not Home. I was introduced to her through a mutual friend and she was absolutely fantastic to work with. It takes her 30 minutes to do beautifully what would take me a week to produce horribly. She is open for collaboration and can be reached at email@example.com.
The Bullying Bull: The Incredible Adventures of Kimmie and Annie
For The Bullying Bull, I employed my nieces for the artwork. I think it’s wonderful for them to illustrate the books that are based on them. It’s also very humorous. In one of the illustrations, my nieces didn’t really know how to draw feet – so one of the girls in that drawing has hands for feet. I think it’s great and have put in zero effort to fix it.
5) Are you a family person? How does your family impact your life and your writing?
My family is the backbone of my life. I am who I am because of who they are. And while I don’t get to see them very often (we’re 2 states apart), my parents have done a great job in giving me the mental strength and aptitude to be on my own – to trek my own path.
My writings reflect my family’s collective views. My dad is a Buddhist monk. My mom is on her way to becoming one. And while I have no plans of ever joining such ranks, my values and philosophy on life are reflections of those teachings: inner peace, self-reflection, empathy towards sentient beings, and a host of other things.
6) Can you share with us a little bit about your background, or your childhood?
I was born and raised in Vietnam. We moved to the States when I was 12 through the refugee program. I could probably devote a series of books to tell my mom’s story: on the run her wedding day, spending years raising her children in the harsh countryside with her husband in “re-education” camps, and overcoming countless trials and tribulations to give her children and grandchildren the life they currently enjoy.
To say the least, my childhood when viewed from my mother’s perspective must have been incredibly painful; however, from my perspective my childhood was the best that I could have hoped for – not because it was all rainbows and sunshine but because it was that tough. I remember sometimes all we had for dinner were rice and fish sauce. We had stars on the ceiling from all the holes on our ceiling. My childhood and how it shaped me can probably be summed up in this song I wrote a few years ago. You can view it here:
7) How did you go from being an Engineer to writing children’s books and inspirational books?
Engineering in a big corporation is all about process. Creative problem solving is a part of the process but a major portion of it is driven by pre-defined steps. This is good and necessary but is a major black hole for creative-minded people like me. Writing is one way for me to escape this structure and to freely explore the realms of fantasy. Among other things, writing is my mental playground.
8) I’m intrigued by The Bullying Bull. Could you please share with us the premise of the story and what made you decide to write it?
I mentioned earlier that my nieces are getting to the age when those difficult questions are starting to be asked. Because I don’t get to see them often, I wanted to find a way to empower them and this was my vehicle. The Bullying Bull is my attempt to teach my nieces about bullying, its negative impacts on life, how it could begin, and how to beat it if it rears its ugly head.
The story takes Kimmie and Annie to a magical forest where animal citizens are terrorized by an angry and unreasonable bull named Billy Bull. Inspired by their courageous uncle, nicknamed Ranger Danger, the two girls join a hapless turtle to overthrow Billy and restore peace at the watering hole.
9) Random Question #1: If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would it be and why?
To travel is to live. To be anywhere that I haven’t been would really make happy. My girlfriend and I have a long wish list of where we’d like to go next but top among that list for me is to see the Great Wall of China covered in snow and cherry blossoms floating in Kyoto, Japan.
10) Random Question #2: Who is your hero and why?
I have a long list of heroes with my mom being on top. I’ve been inspired recently by a cat at the animal shelter I volunteer at. Even with a broken paw, she is full of energy and is one of the most playful cats I’ve seen. There’s a lot we can learn from our furry friends, and this one taught me to live exuberantly no matter what.
Thanks for the honor of interviewing you. I have definitely learned a lot about your life and your books.
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