Sunday, April 29, 2007

Literary Boothing

I spent some time this weekend sitting at a booth at the LA Times Book Fair. I sat at a table with my two novels prominently displayed, ready to sign a copy for one of the thousands of people who attended the fair over the weekend.

I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around to a man holding a book that wasn't mine.

He asked, "How much is this book?"

"Oh, I don't know. I'm an author. I wrote these novels," I said, waving my arm to the small display in front of me.

"So, you don't know how much this book is?"

"Maybe you should ask that woman over there. She runs the booth."

A few moments later, a woman presents me with a stack of books--none of them mine--and hands me a credit card. She said, "I'd like to pay for these."

"Actually, the cashier is over there. I'm an author signing my novels."

The woman joins the line to the cashier.

A student approached my table and picks up one of my novels. Before I could say anything, he flops the book down and walks away.
So it went like that for half an hour. Then I decided to take charge. I do work for the Asian Pacific AIDS Intervention Team. I was a guy who spent a good part of the 1990's and the early 2000's in booths at community fairs coaxing people to talk about anal sex, vaginal secretions, and condon use. If I could talk to complete strangers about how to properly shoot up without getting HIV infected, I could certainly talk to someone about my novels.
I took the offensive and began chatting people up in the booth. You know, I sold a good amount of copies and made some pretty good contacts. I felt my time at the festival was well spent and the money for parking was put to good use. Of course, I loved hanging out with fellow writers Brian Ascalon Roley and Mae Respicio also selling their books.
Sitting in a booth waiting for someone to buy your book can be excrutiating, but when you have fun and just talk to people it becomes less painful.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Literary Shambhala

I regularly pick up Shambhala Sun magazine because it provides insightful articles on the history and practice of Buddhism. It's had fine writers like Charles Johnson, bell hooks, and Pico Iyer write the most amazing essays.
This particular issue was quite literary. It has pulitzer prize winning novelist Alice Walker being interviewed on meditation, along with a published talk that she gave at the "first-ever African American Buddhis retreat" and how she "describes the great toll, both personal and societal, of racism in America, and how Buddhism has helped her heal its wounds."
AND it has an interview with Booker Prize winner Yann Martel (The Life of Pi) on his yoga practice, stating that he followed "too many gurus."
I always suspected that Eastern thought can somehow lead to interesting creative behavior.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Literary Disturbance

My heart goes out to the victims of the Virginia Tech shootings. I've been depressed about it. What goes on in the heart of an individual that causes this type of grief? I'm disturbed for another reason. People are looking at the gunman's writing as a sign that something was going terribly wrong in his head. This worries me. My immediate reaction was that writers might feel stifled, worried that an ounce of darkness developed in stories would be seen as psychotic. Or teachers might become mind police if a student submits work that might be seen as gruesome.

Hell, I've written about people getting shot, mutilated, raped, and tortured. Indeed, writing these things freed me as an artist, forcing me to confront some of humankind's most horrific qualities. Going to that bleak place is where the good stories are.
Where would Stephen King, Paula Woods, James Ellroy, and Alice Sebold be if they didn't write about murder and other forms of mayhem.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Literary Conversation: Liu and Min

I went to the Aloud Series at the Central Public Library. Aloud is a wonderful series where writers converse. Aimee Liu (bottom)interviewed Anchee Min...and the evening was wonderful. The women talked China like it was nobody's bizness. It was interesting seeing the two on stage. Liu, a Chinese American woman, talking with Min, born then raised in China's Cultural Revolution.
It was amazing listening to Min discuss life under Mao. This includes learning how to attack three people at once with rifle and bayonet. And pulling tapeworms from her ass (she got tapeworms from eating out of trashcans when she was hungry).
What was also illuminating was when Min thought that the best writer of China and her peopole was Pearl S. Buck, the subject of a future book of Min.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Literary Encounter: Jonathan Lethem

Mr. Lethem (pronounced Lee-thum) dropped by Skylight for his new novel "You Don't Love Me Yet." He was talking to the audience about what it's like writing a novel, comparing it to a "sucking chest wound." He said no matter how much you can plan out a novel, it always turns out into something else. You sort of end up writing as "structured improvisation."

I told him how my agent wants me to write a book a year. He was not dismayed. He said that that's not a bad way to start. For him, he had several unpublished novels already before getting published. So, when his publisher wanted a book from him, he easily gave them one.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Literary Death: Kurt Vonnegut

There are certain writers that are imprinted at certain times in my life. In my teenage years, Kurt Vonnegut's novels "Slapstick" and "Bluebeard" left an impression. I loved how he left a page break after several paragraphs. He did it for no particular reason. I read an article written by John Irving who asked him why he did that. Vonnegut simply acknowledged that a reader needs to rest every once and awhile, maybe go to the bathroom.

I heard the news while working at Skylight. We turned off the music and asked patrons to observe a moment of silence. Thank you, Mr. Vonnegut, for all of the words.

Literary Canoe

I feel like this guy in this boat. My agent is a wise man. I respect his opinion. He's guided the careers of some people that I truly respect. Coming down from the high of making the LA Times Bestsellers List, he e-mailed me with some sage advice. It's advice he's given me before: If I want a career, I need to put myself on a schedule where I produce a book a year.
I promised him a book last year and tried my best. I didn't deliver. I tried, but things like earning money to pay rent and bills kept getting in the way. I know this is no excuse, but it does limit the amount of time I get to write, right? Or, you, in internet land, feel free to call me on my crap. Regardless, I've made a resolve: I may not write a book a year, but I'm going to get a book to him THIS year!

Monday, April 09, 2007

Literary Long Beach

I used to visit Long Beach when I was a boy. I remember thinking: I don't ever want to come to Long Beach if I don't have to. Well, times have changed! Long Beach has become one of those hip, happening parts of the county. The nightlife, the shopping, the restaurants have picked up since the 70's. Now, when people ask me if I wanna go to Long Beach, I say, heck yeah!

I said, Heck yeah when asked to read in the area. I'll be doing a reading of "Talking to the Moon" at Cal-State Long Beach on Thursday, April 19 at 3pm. It'll be at the USU Ballroom C. Ur, I'm not sure what USU means, but if you ask someone at the entrance they'll probably know.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Literary Closure

Blithe House Quarterly, a literary online journal, announced its closing. I had the good fortune of editing an issue with co-pilot Cheryl Klein. Writer Aldo Alvararez, who started the journal and held up its standard, is moving on. Good luck, Aldo!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Literary Date: May 12. 2007

The first ever Asian Pacific American Book Festival is happening on May 12. Go. Go. Go. Check out the link:

They also need volunteers. Should be mucho fun!