Book Keeping: A Reader's Community

Book Keeping with James Sie

Still Life Las Vegas by James Sie

We loved hearing from professional voiceover actor James Sie about the experience of recording the audio book of his debut novel, Still Life Las Vegas, and are just as excited today to be able to share these stories from his life in reading! If you’ve been looking for recommendations, James has you covered.


Still Life Las Vegas by James Sie
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Who is your ideal reader?

I think the ideal reader for this book is someone who enjoys ellipses . . . who is happy or even excited in not knowing everything at once. A reader who likes to fit the pieces together. Still Life Las Vegas is told through different points-of-view, jumping from the past to the present to the more distant past, to the future. I imagine the book to be like an archeological dig of a family’s history, with different strata of discovery, different artifacts to examine. There are sketches embedded in the book, graphic novel sections . . . a lot to explore. The story itself is straightforward, but the truths are not. There are a lot of twists and turns, and you have to be ready to go along for the ride.

What’s the earliest memory you have of writing a story?

When I was a fourth-grader at Kutz Elementary in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, our school had a book contest. We would all write stories and poems and bind our own books. Mine was called Take a Peek and it had a blue fabric cover with yellow and red flowers on it. I think I won second prize. The next year I wrote “Stories Gruesome and Nice” and because of this book my mother would hereafter accuse me of always killing off red-headed women (she was herself a red-head). Perhaps not so coincidentally, in Still Life Las Vegas there is a mother who dies; I don’t explicitly say she has red hair, but she does have the same tortoise shell sunglasses my mother once owned. Sorry, Mom!

What book would you consider an ancestor of Still Life Las Vegas?

The World According to Garp was one of the first contemporary adult novels I read that wasn’t for a class, and that didn’t include space travel, wizards or the supernatural. It has definitely influenced this book, and my writing. John Irving creates worlds and families that are so complete and rich and textured, his characters are so full of life you feel like they live on beyond the page. And in Garp there’s this blend of humor and melancholy, absurdity and tragedy, that I strive for in this book. On the other side of the family tree would be the Sandman series by Neil Gaiman, not only because of the graphic novel element, but because of the myths, both ancient and contemporary, that his books are steeped in. My book is all about myths, and storytelling. Gaiman and Irving are both masters at these.

What’s the last book that made you cry?

Gabriel, a Poem, by Edward Hirsch. It’s an elegy to his son, who died of a drug overdose at the age of twenty-two. It’s a sometimes harrowing, sometimes heartbreaking, look back at the life of a boy, from time of adoption to time of death. We watch him grow up, moment to moment, much like the movie “Boyhood,” except instead of ending with promise and possibility, we are left at a graveside. Beautifully composed, and devastating.

Who is your favorite literary character? Why?

Poor, doomed, Lily Bart from House of Mirth by Edith Wharton. She’s such a complex character—self-aware but deluded, deeply vain and shallow at times but with flashes of real genuine depth, which she seems to hide, even from herself. Every time I read the book I am pulled in by her plight and hope against hope that she will somehow prevail. Wharton has created one of the great tragic figures of literature.

What are you reading now?

Life #6 by Diana Wagman. It’s about a woman who, diagnosed with breast cancer, remembers another time in her life when she faced death, on a catastrophic ocean boat ride on the ocean. It’s very suspenseful; Wagman does dread really well. Also on the nightstand: A Life in Men, by Gina Frangello. Don’t be put off by the title—Frangello is such an exquisite writer, both formal and fresh; she’s this generation’s Edith Wharton.

James Sie was born in Summit, NJ. and raised on the East Coast by a Chinese father and an Italian mother. He attended Northwestern University and lived in Chicago for many years, working as an actor and playwright, most notably at the Goodman Theatre and Lifeline Theatre. He continued his migration west by moving to Los Angeles with his husband and soon after adopted a son from Vietnam. He currently works as a voiceover artist in animation, most notably featured in “Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness”; “King of the Hill” and “Jackie Chan Adventures.” He wrote and performed in a solo show about his bi-cultural upbringing, “Talking with My Hands,” as part of the East West Players/Mark Taper Forum New Works festival.

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