Monday, February 27, 2006

Literary Death: Octavia Butler

Oh, this hurts. This really does. I read her novels "Parable of the Sower" and "Parable of the Talents" at one of the bleakest moments of my existence. There was a lot of movement in my life and I couldn't seem to ground myself. A phrase from these books kept resonating with me: "God is Change."

She was classified as a science fiction writer, but her work went far and above this genre. She wrote about race and class and religion and war and love and hate and family and enemies. Reading her work was a life affirming experience. I understood that writing can make a difference. Read all about it:

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Literary Moon

This month offers the Lunar New Year, a real big deal in many Asian cultures. I'd attended a couple Lunar celebrations. The last one will be this Tuesday. I'd been pondering the Moon. The Moon has significance in my second novel (That's why it's called "Talking to the Moon.")

In my research, I discovered my ancestors planted and harvested rice using the lunar calendar (until Chirstian missionaries came along insisting that they change over to the solar calendar).

When I was in The Philippines a few years ago, farmers were drying rice on the sides of the road. We sped by with what seemed to be miles of rice. The rice being the color of the moon in this picture.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Literary Criticism

In the last issue of Frontiers Magazine, the fine writer Michelle Tea gracefully criticized the scam artist known as JT Leroy. She said that his fake, queer, literary persona was a betrayal to the lesbian, gay, trans, bi community who so rooted for him and cared for him as one of our own.

I wrote a letter to the editor thanking him for including Michelle's commentary. I also added by two bits, which weren't so graceful. I called Leroy "a good-for-nothing-lying-shitfaced-sewer-rat." It was printed (with my permission) in the current issue.

After reading it, I couldn't believe I voiced my opinion in such a brutal way. Could I have said it in a more appropriate manner? Then I thought: why should I censor myself? That's how I truly felt. Then I thought: But, Noel, you want to be a kinder person this year, remember? Then I thought: Screw kindness. Call a turd a turd. Then I thought: Yeah, but lovingkindness is my goal. Regardless of how I felt, I should have engaged in compassion.

Then quickly: Let it go, Noel. Just let it go.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Literary Inspiration: The Beauty Conference

I was asked to participate in "Beauty and Power In Filipino/American Communities" at UC Berkeley over the President's Day Weekend. Artists and scholars were gathered to seriously explore "Beauty." I didn't know what to expect, but I was truly inspired by the content of the conference. I was moved by old pictures of past Filipina beauty Queens (like the one pictured, circa 1932). I was reminded of just how many stories there are out there that need to be written about.

Lest you think this was a day of fluff, let me share with you the papers presented at the conference:

1. "Where Did You Get that Gorgeous Black Ballerina Dress?": Filipino American Postcolonialism and Modernity through Beauty" by Shirley J. Lim (Assoc. Professor in History, SUNY at Stony Brook.
2. "The Ideal Filipina" Filipina Americans and Queen Contests, 1920's-1950's by Dawn Bohulano Mabalon (Assistant Professor of history at San Francisco State University)
3. "The Lovely Nowhere": What the Exclusion of Filipina/o Americans from US Racial Discourse Implies for Issues of Gender/Sexuality by essayist Elizabeth H. Pisares
4. "Malakas at Maganda: Debutante Splendor As An Instrumental Cultural Resistance and Empowerment for Filipinos in America" by Evelyn Rodriquez (Assistant Professor, University of San Francisco)
5. "Avoiding the 'F' word(s): Filipinas and Fat" by Joanne L. Rondilla (Graduate Student, UC Berkeley)
6. "On Imeldific Beauty" by Roland B. Tolentino (Visiting Fellow, National University of Singapore)

The conference touched on racism, classism, feminism, and alot of other isms that I find interesting. I was flattered to be asked to be part of the discussion.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Literary Encounter: David Kipen

David Kipen has made a career talking, writing about books. He started a new job last year as the Director of Literature for the National Endowment for the Arts. Mr. Kipen is one of the most interesting people you'll ever want to meet. He has a book called the "Schreiber Theory" which discusses the important role of the screenwriter in film. Let's face it: a writer for the screen doesn't get the same kind of recognition that a novelist or playwright would get. "The time is ripe," David said, noting that the Nobel Prize went to the first screenwriter ever. Prize winner Harold Pinter wrote for the screen as avidly as he did for the stage. Some of Pinter's work for the screen included "The Last Tycoon" and the adaptation of "The French Leiutenant's Woman." Here's to the screenwriter.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Literary Apology (in advance)

I saw Capote this week. I was terribly moved by it, particularly the angst of trying to get a book done. There's a point in the movie when Capote just wants the book to end. He had given four years of his life to it and he just wants it to be over with (even at the horrible expense of others). In writing my second novel "Talking to the Moon," I simply wanted the whole thing to be completed so I can go on with my life. I work a full-time job (along with other part-time gigs that may come my way), so my writing time was limited. I cancelled appointments, didn't return phonecalls or e-mails just so I could focus on completing the story. I lost friends over this, I'm sure. In my last post, I wrote about FINALLY reaching 75, the number of pages I needed to fully commit to a book. I think I understand why it took me so long to leap into that magical page: It's a pain to make that committment to write another novel again: the worry of doing justice to the characters; the research I'll have to do to make the plot plausible; the waking up in the middle of the night to jot down a few sentences that might make the story work--or not. All of this taking months, years even. Then after going through all of this, there is the possibility that no one will want to publish it. This is what I'm committing to when I touched down on page 75. To all my friends reading this, I apologize in advance for not returning your phonecalls, your e-mails, for not making your birthday parties and anniversaries, for not listening to your joys and problems, for not being there when you need me most. If you need to cut me out of your life for being a poor friend, an unconsoling shoulder, I'll understand. I am so sorry in advance. I'll be writing.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Literary Seventy-Five

Don't laugh. Somewhere, in the back of my brain, I thought that if I could just reach 75 pages of my next novel, I would HAVE to complete it. I believed that 75 pages would be a substantial amount of work that turning back would just be plain stupid. Keep in mind those pages are made up of character sketches, rough plot points, and notes to myself (like "write about Uncle Bernie here" or "Describe how protagonist steals bus from nun"). I'd been hanging out on page 74 for months. Well, I reached 75. Now, the next course of action is to print it out, go to the beach, read the sucker, and see how I can make the manuscript more of a real novel.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Literary Promise: A Book This Year

My agent called to see how I felt about my book being pushed back. He wanted to make sure that I wasn't frustrated or angry about it. (This call shocked me. An agent calling to check on the emotional well-being of a client? Especially when I know that I'm low author on his literary totem pole.) I told him I was fine with it. My New Year's Resolution: "Roll With It."

We got to talking about other things, particularly about writing full time. He said some authors make it a point to write a book a year, so they don't lose their readership and gain more of an audience base. A book a year?!?!?

I got to thinking. My first novel was published in 2002. My second novel will be published in 2007. That's five years between books. At this rate, my third book won't be out until 2012! For some reason that did not sit well with me. I feel like I have lots of books inside of me and at the rate I'm going, if I write till I'm 100, I still won't have written all the books I'd wanted to write.
(I'm still awed about how Jack London had written some 50 volumes of novels, short stories, and essays by the time he died at 40; see Novemeber Post: "Literary Oakland")

I realized I needed to start crackin' if I want to say all the stories I need to say. I found myself uttering these words to my agent: "I'll have my next book to you this year." Hala!

It' nose-to-the-grindstone time.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Literary Waiting

It can take 12-18 months for a novel to come out once a publisher acquires it. My second novel was bought last spring. I thought it would be coming out this fall. Alas, it's been pushed back to Winter 2007. So, I'm gonna take a nap. Wake me next year.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Literary Low: Nasdijj

Where to start. Another literary fraud. This time it's a Native American writer named Nasdijj who wrote a memoir about caring for his dying son with AIDS. A friend insisted I read this book. I bought it and saved it for a special time when I was prepared to read a person of color's experience whose life was truly affected by AIDS. It turns out, he is NOT Native American and he did NOT care for a child that died of AIDS. This is a new low.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Literary Death: Wendy Wasserstein

Playwright Wendy Wasserstein, known for writing breakthrough womens roles (most notably for "The Heidi Chronicles"), passed away of cancer. She was 55 years old. Young, way too young.