Stories aren’t created in a vacuum—at least not mine. While The Rent Collector was inspired by the real-life journey of Sang Ly and Ki Lim, as portrayed in the documentary film River of Victory, I also relied on several wonderful books for reference and inspiration. A few of the more prominent are listed below.
To Destroy You Is No Loss: The Odyssey of a Cambodian Family, the story of Teeda Butt Mam, as told by JoAn D. Criddle. This book is life-changing and highly recommended. If you think your life is full of problems, read this story. I used it as a reference to accurately portray Sopeap’s experience with the Khmer Rouge.
How to Read Literature Like a Professor, by Thomas C. Foster. I know, this book sounds—dare I say it—boring. It turns out, it's just the opposite. This books is funny, thought provoking and extremely well written. Did I mention it was also a New York Times bestseller?
The Writer’s Journey, 2nd Edition, Mythic Structure for Writers, by Christopher Vogler. This book explores ideas from Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey. If you are into literature, story elements, and wonder about questions like, “Why do the same plots repeat over and over again?”, then this book is for you. If you are a writer, it’s a must-read.
Reading Like a Writer, by Francine Prose. In the same vein as How to Read Literature Like a Professor, this book proclaims itself, “A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them.” It was also a New York Times bestseller.
Secret Formulas of the Wizard of Ads, by Roy H. Williams. This is a book on advertising, but it's also one of the best books on writing (and on life) that I've ever read. Thank you, Roy Williams.
Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen. I know what you’re thinking, “Why would a book about a depression-era circus be used to write about Cambodia?” The answer is simple. I wanted to write my story in first person, present tense—which is actually an unusual approach. Most fiction is written from the third person voice, or if it is written in first person, it’s almost always past tense. (I kept trying to use this narrative style, but the story kept screaming that it needed to be written in present tense.)
Anyway, to get a better feel for the task at hand, I dropped by my local bookstore and began to peruse. Water for Elephants popped up as an excellent example, and Sara Gruen is an accomplished writer—so there you go.