Author Vu Tran Talks Living And Writing In Las Vegas

Before taking a positing teaching creative writing at the University of Chicago, Vu Tran called Las Vegas home.

Tran is the latest in a long line of successful writers who have earned their Ph.D. in English and Creative Writing from UNLV’s creative writing program.

He was in Las Vegas recently to take part in the Black Mountain Institute’s Alumni Reading Series.

Tran’s debut novel Dragonfish” has been described as that rare hybrid marvel – a literary thriller, a narrative of migration and loss that upends the conventions in any form.  

Interview Highlights:

On the title: 

The title is not terrible meaningful, at least I don’t want it to be, especially because it was suggested for me, but in retrospect I think it does have a little meaning in the sense that I added this part that Asians believe the dragonfish bring good luck, bring the family together and keep away evil and I love the irony that it does none of those things in the book. 

Why write a novel?

“I took that short story ("This or Any Desert" featured in the Las Vegas Noir Anthology by Acacia Books), it's crime fiction, but I decided that I wanted to reach deep in and find an emotional center and I found that in the back story of Suzie escaping Vietnam with her daughter, living on a refugee island… And that back story kind of connected all the characters both literally and emotionally. When I figured that out I kind of found the rest of the novel and it came together.  

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Educational experiences impact on writing?

“At UNLV, I feel like I matured as an individual as an adult that’s why Vegas will always be important to me. I think my seven years here I matured as a person and I think along with that I matured as a writer not only developing the right style and coming up with interesting things to say. But also hopefully becoming a better human being.  

On Las Vegas making you a better human being?

It’s a circumstantial. It's about the people you know. The friends you have. The enemies you make that make you who you are. And better human being I might be completely wrong. (laughing) I might have become a horrible human being, I don’t know… It gave me the space to kind of figure out who I was and to start becoming that, whatever it is.     

On finding something to say?

I don’t know. I think it is one of those things that happens very differently for every writer probably. For me, I think, you know, you just write. You just write and whatever comes out on the page. And at some point you have to say, ‘Well, do I actually believe that? Or am I just wishing that it has meaning? Am I just hoping that people will get whatever they get out of it, or am I just imposing myself on the page’”

On the inspiration for the novel?

The novel is really a novel about a bad relationship, for me. It might be different for different readers. But for me it’s a novel about a bad relationship and out of that came all of these ideas about the post-colonial narrative, there’s the immigrant novel, there’s ideas about Vegas, about immigration all these things but really it’s a novel about a man who loved a woman deeply and wanted to have access to her but she was unwilling to give him that access.

On finding the ending?

I kept trying to write an ending or the later parts of the novel and every time I tried to do that I slowed down. I finally realized I had to do it literally sentence by sentence, chapter by chapter, scene by scene. And I didn’t know the ending until the last week before my deadline before turning it in. Because of that I think everything happened organically.


From Desert Companion: Summer reading: Excerpt 'I have brought you here to tell you a story'

From NPR: Review: 'Dragonfish' by Vu Tran: Things Left Unspoken Haunt Hard-Hitting 'Dragonfish'

From Weekend EditionAn Immigrant's Experience, Recast As Noir, In 'Dragonfish'


Editor's note: This story originally aired on Sept. 8, 2015


Vu Tran, author, "Dragonfish"

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