Some of the Vietnamese characters of my new novel THE REACH OF THE BANYAN TREE

I’d like to highlight a few of the characters whom I have come to know very well inside the world of my new story.

Year 2000:

Thuy – She is a pretty, yet simple Vietnamese young woman twenty-two years old. She has a degree from the local agricultural and forestry university, but her real skills is English. Excellent English speaker including the ability to understand the idioms of the language. Actually, I have had Vietnamese students like this and I kind of modeled her after some of them. Truly impressive grasp of the language. She has a strong sense of duty and obligation to her family, especially her father. She has become, to her surprise, attracted to a young American man, Chip Carson, who has been doing humanitarian aid in northern Vietnam.

Thang – Thuy’s father. He is a drunk. The eldest child of a large family and extended clan dating back seven generations. Besides Thuy, he has a seven year old son named Quat who is everything in the world to him. Thang is rather indifferent to Thuy’s relationship with Chip, thinking it’s good for her to learn English from him for her future. What he doesn’t expect is Thuy falling in love with the American. That will complicate everything.

Mr. Hung – Chief of Police in Thai Nguyen. He is protected by his famous and well-connected father in Hanoi. He should have been executed for drug running, but was able to skirt the law through framing others. He is extremely ambitious, but most people want nothing to do with him. That is why he is stuck in a small provincial town.

Mr. Dung – he is the Chief Minister of the Interior. He has few scruples and is willing to do whatever to get the oil contracts his government wants.

Miss Thanh – the naive translator for Mr. Dung, who has to deal with the abrasive C.R. Carson, Chip’s father and CEO of Carson Oil.

Year: 1945

Long – a fourteen year old boy who befriends OSS paratrooper Charles Carson, Chip’s grandfather, and goes on an incredible adventure with him during the waning moments of World War II.

Mai – the beautiful young translator and officer who travels with Charles and Long on their unexpected adventure. Mai and Charles are thrust in a love relationship which neither of them could have expected.

I hope you will join in the story and meet these incredible characters.



I had a great time being interviewed by the very perceptive Simone Da Coste. She asked some great questions about my novel, The Recluse Storyteller.  Below is an excerpt, and make sure you click over and read the rest. Thanks all!

SD: Could the tragic death of Margaret’s mother have had an effect on her unconventional behaviour leading her to not face the reality of her mother’s death and to fight her inner demons by using storytelling as an escape?  

MS: That’s a good question. Certainly Margaret’s mother’s death had a profound impact upon her. What it seems to have done is to sharpen her senses, making her especially vulnerable to the stories and actions (whether hidden or not) of her neighbours, whom we can assume used to have contact with Margaret’s mother. This makes the storytelling not an escape. In fact, she can’t escape from the stories and the truth in front of her eyes.

SD:  When people think of the word ‘recluse’ and the character Margaret, they will automatically think of someone who is a loner and they would say that Margaret is a hermit who has a vivid imagination rather than someone with discernment or psychic abilities. Would this be a fair assessment of Margaret?

MS: Not at all. Margaret’s neighbours, perhaps, have that perception about Margaret at the beginning of the novel. They all think she is at least a little weird and most probably a little crazy. But there is always more to Margaret than meets the eye and everyone who encounters her certainly finds that out.

Read the entire interview: HERE!

Characterization: A thought from Sir Lawrence Olivier

Lawrence Olivier said the following about acting:

“If I play a beggar, I look for the king, and when I play a king, I find the beggar.”

This is wonderfully simple expression of how to approach an acting role that you’ve been awarded. In real life, there are no regal people or destitute people. There are people who act as if they are regal and other people who act as they are destitute.

Can you show me a king who doesn’t have his doubts? Can you show me a beggar who doesn’t have his moments of grandeur in his mind?

People are not cardboard – one dimensional beings. We all have vulnerabilities. We all have our grand moments. That’s what makes us human, and that’s what makes Olivier such the accomplished performer.

But his thoughts can also mean much to writers. To make well-rounded, believable characters we, too, need to find the beggar in the king.

Everyone has redeeming qualities. Even the bully. Even the pest. Even the murderer. The criminal. The adulterer. The dictator. No one starts out on the road to evil without passing a few moments of beauty along the way. So as you craft your villain or your antagonist or your whomever, make them real. Make them easy to like and easier to loathe. Bathe them in consistent contradictions. Have them be conflicted. Put them in situations which stretch their resolve. If you do, you’ll be on your way to crafting a believable, three-dimensional bad guy or girl.

Everyone has faults. Even the saint. Even the reverend. Even the … you get the picture. There’s no such thing as a hypocrite in real life (more on this later) because everyone fails, falls, stumbles, and makes mistakes. We’ve all seen writing where characters are too perfect. Who can relate to that? The “good guys or girls”, the heroes, the protagonists the whomever also must be bathed in contradictions. What gives them doubts? What causes them to do things they say they will never do? What drives them to a precipice they swore they would never reach? What hard things can they do which will steel their resolve? This is also the start of building a solid character whom your readers will be engaged with.

Thank you Sir Lawrence Olivier for a good reminder.

(And yes, that was a preposition ending a sentence. It’s fun making grammarians squirm.)