Lifetime Achievement Award


Thomas Russell Wingate
February 2018


Q:Why are we doing such an interview?
A:I have much to say. This is the sweetest and shortest way I can get it said.
Q:What led you to take up writing?
A:I am fond of saying that I have been a writer since my prenatal experiences. Chronic bronchitis and asthma kept me bedridden in boyhood. I drove myself to become an increasingly astute spectator.
Q:Did you have support from any quarter?
A:The United States Army has very few millionaire sergeants. My father was not one of them. My mother valued reading and made sure I had the classics available. She also enjoyed traveling. I owe the Army a lot for taking me out of upstate New York and sending me to Europe and California. My first Christmas in San Francisco, age nine: 70°F, not a cloud in the sky. I ended up spending eighteen years in California. All my life, I have sought and found role models in historical and fictional personae, not real persons close at hand.
Q:How have you structured your works?
A:When poetry took me over, I decided to throw in as much place as possible. A.E. Housman, Shropshire ... Thomas Hardy, Wessex ... myself, California, the only state named from a work of fiction. And I have always loved the night sky and maps and globes. In the long run, it will be impossible for anyone educated to look at the night sky and not think of my works. When I became a novelist, my central character, a taxi driver (as was I), correctly describes the stars on a certain hour of a certain night as seen looking eastward from the Golden Gate Bridge. I do my homework. I am meticulous.
Q:How did you become a novelist?

It had long been my professional opinion that, just as no one excels at both the violin and the trombone, no one can be a first-rate poet and a first-rate novelist. Kipling was a great poet but not much of a novelist. Hardy's novels are far better than his poems. No one returns to Poe's novels. Victor Hugo has admirers who disdain his novels and others who disdain his poems. I will leave you in the dark as to where I stand.

When we met, my second wife, known now as Anne Wingate, was a novelist eager for an academic career. She gained her doctorate, but her health collapsed. She was under contract to publishers. Every writer feels, or has felt, the pinch. I found myself providing characters and plots to her novels. It was easier than I had supposed.

Q:Marquis wants to know your two most recent achievements.

Both are what writers call “works in progress.” The first, available instantly, is our website, Anyone aspiring to be a writer will be grateful for this resource. It has taken years to compose. It is as intricate as a novel.

The second is eight connected novels collectively called The Laughing Emperor. (I invented a Chinese idiom roughly meaning Untellable Fate.) It is alternate history from 1973 to 2023. Volumes I and II are complete; III IV V and VII are in progress, to be followed by VI and VIII.

My characters move from San Francisco to China. (I have lost count of the books I own about China.) If you were the twelve-year old Chinese-American son of a Presbyterian minister, and you made up your mind to become emperor of China, how would you go about it?

My French is playful and inventive. My primary narrator is Victor Hugo Forth (who goes forth). His Chinese-American wife bears three sons, one named from Stevenson's last novel, followed by twins Edgar and Allan.

Stevenson, Poe, Swift, Mark Twain, Tolstoy, Nabokov, Michener, Orwell, Herodotus, Gibbon, Cervantes, Rabelais, Verne—satire, parody, murder mystery, and overarching history mingle. The reader will be doing much laughing and wanting more. Yet the prose is “clean”; despite all the murders, you would let your fifteen-year-old daughter read it if she wanted to.

I am deliberately following Stevenson, a Scot well remembered in San Francisco. Just as the central character in Hunchback is the cathedral, so my novels display as much of the Golden State as they can: YOU ARE THERE. Every continent, even Antarctica, comes plausibly forward.

Like Tristram Shandy, like Catch-22, like Notre-Dame de Paris, like Dune, like Ulysses, The Laughing Emperor creates its own category.

My discursive octology—vivid characters in tightening situations— fits together. The last page is a tear-jerker.


1 Suggested by Marquis Biographies Online.

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