Saturday, April 06, 2013

The Next Big Thing

A couple weeks ago, my friend May-Lan Tan , a wonderful writer, asked me if I wanted to participate in a project called the Next Big Thing.  May-Lan's also a very talented artist, so my interview page is going to look pitiful by comparison.  Here goes.

What is the working title of the book?

The Fortress of Light is a novel whose plot explores the power of the movies as a storytelling device. The story alternates between a current day digital special effects studio and Mongol China, though it’s a Mongol China that already has the movie projector.

 Early movie film stock was celluloid which was flexible but also perishable, because it was highly flammable.  In order to show movies safely in a crowded public space, they had to develop projection booths with fireproof, usually concrete, walls. In the novel, the title refers to both the projection booth and the human imagination.

Where did the idea for the book come from?

About three years ago my wife and I went to a Silk Road exhibit at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.  Being Chinese-American and old enough to remember a time when multi-culturalism wasn’t a word used by ordinary people, I was fascinated to see how much mixing of cultures took place under Kublai Khan centuries before public service announcements. It’s no accident that Marco Polo might be  the most famous individual from the 13th century.  I not only share a name with him (more or less), I made him a character in my book.

Into which genre does your book fall?
I call it ‘Silk Road Punk’. Steam Punk is a science fiction/alternate history genre where modern devices are re-imagined as creations of the Victorian era, so flying machines might be powered by steam engines and computers might be mechanical instead of electronic.The Chinese already
knew about the camera obscura and the zoetrope. The Persians had Greek fire.
It also has bits of romance, ghost story, and what they used to call the ‘novel of ideas’.  There’s a lot of stuff in it about the nature of storytelling that threatens to push the book towards the “L” word, though not the L from the TV series.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
 It’s a ghost story in part, so I guess it’s fair to use actors who are dead. I’d love to have Sessue Hayakawa, who played Hollywood romantic leads in the silent era and Anna May Wong, the Chinese-American actress who couldn’t get the lead in the Good Earth over a Caucasian actress.  I’d also want John Cho (Harold and Kumar), Gong Li (Raise the Red Lantern), and Julianne Hough (Dancing with the Stars).

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Two teenagers make romantic comedy movies in Mongol China.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

The main character is a ghost with an eight-hundred-year-old case of writer’s block.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
My father loved to read.  I’d give him books for birthdays and Christmas. We’d both read them and talk about them. He died when I was twenty-two.  I’ve often thought about how stories and storytelling connect us to people who are no longer with us.    

Six writers  I'm tagging
Wendy Fleet
Myra Sherman
Sarah Amador
Patrick Fanning
Shirley Kwan
L. McKenna Donovan

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The Haircut Lady

 For the last eleven years, I've gotten my hair cut by the same woman. My wife, who's not Asian, was convinced that most people who work in those ten dollar haircut places have no idea how to cut Asian hair. My guess is that it might have more to do with their working in ten dollar haircut shops. We happened upon this one woman who happens to be a Cambodian immigrant and my wife decreed that I should always go to her to get my hair cut.

I've since followed her to three different salons. Somewhere around year eight after talking about Asian restaurants, vacations, learning that she never learned to swim because she almost drowned in the river as a child when her family was trying to leave Cambodia,her family's real estate misadventure (they bought 6 rental houses at exactly the wrong time, for about a year I kept wondering why a woman who owned 7 houses was cutting my hair). I eventually learned that she sings in Cambodian and performs for weddings, birthday parties, and other gatherings. Most recently someone she didn't really know asked her to sing at her daughter's sixteenth birthday party. 

First I was surprised thata sixteen year old living in Santa Clara county would want Cambodian singers at her birthday party. When I was that age, the last thing I wanted was any hints of being that different. Times change and people get smarter I think. I then asked the inevitable American question. "Are they paying you to sing?"  link to Khmer singer not my haircut lady

She looked at me, "No, I coldn't charge for singing. I do it because it's fun."

"I'm sure they'd be happy to pay a little bit." She was driving across a couple counties, spending hours at strangers' parties, etc. Surely these people were taking advantage of her.

"They probably would, but I couldn't do that."

But why? I thought. Obviously after going through 6 foreclusures, having to sell your hair salon, etc., she could clearly use a little extra cash. 

"I just couldn't charge people. It would change things."

Here I was getting my hair cut by a female-Cambodian vesion of Searchiing for Sugarman

Somewhere between the time she was aksing me for the 200th time if I wanted gel in my hair (yikes!) and my saying "No, not this time." It struck me that she's maybe saner about what she does than I am about what I do (the writing thing). 

She sings because she loves to sing. She only sings in Cambodian. She loves knowing that people appreciate her singing and ask her to share it. She simply doesn't want to equate it with money. I'ts not about that and it's not for that. It's sane, admirable, quite beautiful in a way that I can't quite grasp because I'm maybe too American except for my hair. 

I've asked her if she had a CD, Mp3, or something, but maybe it's almost better that I have no idea what her singing sounds like. 

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Monday, March 25, 2013

Wordrunner e-Chapbook is proud to announce the publication of "Our Place", excerpts from Atar Hadari's novel. It's a fascinating multi-layered look at kibbutzes c. 1938.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Cirque in Atticus Review

I'm pleased that the Atticus Review has published my story, "Cirque". link to Atticus Review

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Monday, October 29, 2012

Two out of Three

I used to be a long-suffering fan of the San Francisco Giants. I can’t say that any longer and likely won’t be able to say it for the rest of my life. I was born in 1955, the year after the New York Giants won their last world series against the Indians. Most people remember 1954 as the series during which Willie Mays made “the catch” off of Vic Wertz. I first attended a major league game in 1963, the night after the Marichal vs. Spahn 16 inning 1-0 game won on a Willie Mays home run. It was also the year after the Giants took the Yankees to 7 games in the Worlds Series and Willie McCovey lined out to Bobby Richardson. After that, it was 48 years of bad karma best exemplified by the Loma Prieta World Series in 1987 when the first World Series game in Candlestick Park in 25 years was interrupted by a major earthquake. In the 2002, Rob Nen’s arm suddenly gave out right before the world series. This ended with 2010 and the Island of Misfit Toys team. Edgar Renteria was the MVP of the World Series. The next spring he was with the Cincinnati Reds. Cody Ross, Aubrey Huff, Juan Uribe, Andres Torres, and Brian Wilson all played major roles on that team. Only Huff played in 2012. That team was built around ultra-reliable starting pitching and the ability of the entire lineup to hit a home run now and then. Pablo Sandoval looked like he’d eaten his way out of baseball and Barry Zito was left off the playoff roster. The 2012 team hit fewer home runs than any team in the majors. The starting pitching was up and down all year and through the first half of the playoffs. Sergio Romo’s career high for saves before 2012 was four. The team dealt with the loss of Freddy Sanchez, Brian Wilson, and Melky Cabrera. In fact, the Giants went through two suspensions for performance enhancing drugs. Guillermo Mota was suspended for 50 games too. Marco Scutaro had the best three month stretch of his 12 year major league career. The team went with an All Brandon infield. Both Belt and Crawford were homegrown and neither player was a lock to even make the team in the Spring. Partly because of them, the team morphed from leading the majors in errors in April (Crawford went through a really bad stretch) to being the best fielding team in the baseball. Fear the beard became bullpen by committee. Barry Zito started the first game of the World Series and beat Justin Verlander. Tim Lincecum suddenly became a middle reliever. Bottom line, the team won 2 championships in 3 years and even more amazingly totally changed formula in doing so. It may be time to recognize Bruce Bochy and Dave Righetti as the best manager/pitching coach combination in baseball. Believe it or not, Davey Johnson (deserving in many ways) was named the Sporting News National League Manager of the Year. The baseball writer’s award is yet to be announced. As much attention as Buster Posey has received, the other factor is that Bochy has quietly gotten guys to produce, set guys down who weren’t producing without any disruption to the team’s chemistry, and found ways to keep players like Ryan Theriot relevant and ready. Bottom line, I don’t know that I’ve seen a team managed better than this one. Righetti’s run as pitching coach has been similarly miraculous. One last thing. In the sixties, the team built around the best player in baseball, Willie Mays, and finished second 5 times in a row. That team had 5 Hall of Famers who played significant roles for the team. Mays, McCovey, Cepeda, Marichal, and Gaylord Perry. In the Nineties and early 2000’s, the team built around Barry Bonds who like him or not was the best player of his generation. Throughout that time, there was this whole steroids business hanging over the team and there was sense that whatever success the team had during that era was some sort of deal with the steroid devil. In 2010, the Giants became the Los Angeles Dodgers of the mid-sixties. Under Bochy, the Giants transformed from one man show into a team. Melkey Cabrera could have joined the team for the playoffs. He had been the MVP of the 2012 All Star Game and had the highest batting average in baseball, though Buster Posey officially won the batting title. The team simply said ‘no’, one player does not a team make. Tim Lincecum quietly gave up his starting role for the playoffs and turned into a tremendous middle reliever. Hunter Pence, in the middle of a horrible slump and a late season pickup, rallied the team after it went down 0-2 to the Reds. This team was all about being a team and the result was a run through the playoffs that appeared to be about winning the right way. No high-priced free agents (Zito being the exception), no egos, mostly home grown starters, no one caring about who was getting the credit or the attention. I could make the argument that this Giant team (the playoff version) might be the best thing to happen to baseball in the last twenty years. As the team with the fewest homers in the game, they spiritually put the steroid era behind the game for at least a little while. Just think, had it not been for Scott Cousins (btw he hit .163 in 2012), it might have been 3 in a row. But would it have smelled this sweep?

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Friday, October 19, 2012

My articles about the electronic chapbook are now up at Flash Fiction Chronicles.

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Sunday, September 30, 2012

e-Chapbook Anthology "Found"

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Tuesday, September 04, 2012

George Washington and the Teabaggers

I’ve been reading Ron Chernow’s excellent biography of George Washington, Washington: A Life.  It's a fascinating portrait full of unexpected details like the fact that George Washington had issues with his mother who may have even sympathized with the English during the revolution and that Washington had frequent money troubles.  

In the last several years, the conservative movement and the Teabaggers in particular have made a point of claiming the Founding Fathers.  I've even seen Chernow quoted in one blog as a source to support Washington's view of Jesus as essential to the American government.  Chernow's book does nothing of the sort.  He acknowledges that Washington prayed and mentioned "Providence" frequently.  He also mentions that Washington was not a regular churchgoer, very rarely used Jesus's name in public,  and made a point of visiting a variety of churches and synagogues to underscore his belief that the government did not have a chosen religion or religious sect.  He even said nice things about atheists on at least one occasion.

The Teabaggers have always puzzled me with their talk about history, because they so often leave out the fact that Alexander Hamilton was a Founding Father. In fact, Hamilton and Jay (both Federalists) were two of the three main authors of the Federalist Papers.  Hamilton did things like help establish a bank of the United States (not the Federal Reserve, but something of a cousin), persuaded the President to go to war to enforce a Federal tax on whiskey, and encouraged what became the national debt.  No, he probably would be upset that it's gotten as big as it has, but the bigger wealthier states were none too happy when Hamilton endorsed the idea of the federal government taking on the debts of the individual states and borrowing a large sum of money from (get this!) France.  Washington almost always backed Hamilton in financial matters, which might suggest that Washington who wanted a stronger Federal government and who discouraged the formation of militias in favor of a Federally-controlled standing army wasn't exactly a Teabagger.

Maybe most significant, Washington, in his own life, regretted the formation of political parties because he believed that we were Americans-first not members of a political party.  Of course, the Tea Baggers claim to not be affiliated with a party.  They just happen to vote Republican and never support Democrats.  If they believe what they say they believe, Shouldn't they be voting for Gary Johnson anyway?

Washington was also very much in favor of the new government encouraging the manufacturing sector, by investing in it and in developing infrastructure through roads, bridges, etc.  When it came to the growth of the US, he wasn't anti-tax at all (though they didn't have a federal income tax back then).  

Bottom line, George Washington, if he were alive today, likely wouldn't be agreeing with the Teabaggers or the conservatives about much of anything. Just as interesting, the Constitutional period and the early years of the Republic reflect a period when there was vigorous disagreement about most every imaginable matter.  The great minds from both sides Hamilton, Jefferson, Adams, Madison found ways to work together on the basics rather than demonize one another.  It was part of Washington's greatness as a President that he presided over this and the mix that resulted was the result of give and take between big state vs small state, merchants vs farmers, east vs. west, pro-English vs. pro-French, strong central government vs. states' rights. This country was the result of any number of compromises.

In that sense, the Teabaggers have run deeply counter to the spirit in which this country was founded and how it evolved.  It's little wonder that they've depended so heavily on a "fantasy" history of the United States.        



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