Thursday, April 07, 2016

Literary TBT: AWP and Hamilton Casting

Thanks Alex Espinoza for the screen shot!
A few things things happened in the last week that gave me pause.  There was a big blow-up over how Actor's Equity handled a non-white casting notice for the musical Hamilton.  In an op/ed, Equity apologized and vowed to do more about diversity.  

Last weekend, I attended the annual conference for the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP).  I sat on a panel called "Intersections: Race, Sexuality and other Collisions in Los Angeles." It was a terrific time organized by Alex Espinoza with Fred Smith, Felicia Luna Lemus and Myriam Gurba.

Early in the panel Fred Smith said that Los Angeles wasn't like Beverly HIlls, 90210.  I said that before I was a writer I was an actor and I actually did an episode of Beverly Hills, 90210.  Back in 1990, I was grateful for the role--and still am.  The character was a guy named Chang, an Asian busboy, who helped Brandon Walsh (played by Jason Priestley) realize that his life as an upper middle class white boy in Beverly Hills wasn't so bad.  Hey, he could be me (or my character), which was third world kitchen help who didn't even make minimum wage.

Doing those kinds of roles is one of the reasons I became a writer.  An actor's life is hard. My creativity was dependent on getting hired at best, staying in acting class at the least.  When I wrote, I could be creative everyday. Yes, I took classes, but it was the act of writing, of creating that drew me in.  At first, I wrote for roles I could play on stage.  Then I decided to attempt the novel, which was one of the hardest things I'd ever tried to do in my life. 

In the 1990s, AIDS was destroying my gay and Asian community.  I worked for the Asian Pacific AIDS Intervention Team where I worked to help men stay HIV negative or HIV positive men stay as healthy as possible.  One of the ways we did this was convincing ourselves that we were worthy individuals who deserved health, wealth and well-being.  And I couldn't properly convey that by playing guys like Chang. 

Sometimes, I wonder what happened to that busboy. In that world of Beverly Hills, 90210, how did Chang turn out? 

Hmmmmm. A short story might be in the works.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Literary Again

I'd been updating my CV. A great way of documenting my work was to go through this blog. It was wonderful seeing my posts from the last 10 years. I'd grown a lot. When I started this blog, there was no financial meltdown, I had a new novel coming out--things change.

At some point, I stopped focusing on literary stuff and opened it up to all sorts of stuff.  I was exploring my world, I guess. I wrote on my blog less--as I had other writing projects that took up my time. 

Now, I think I should just focus on the writing. And go back to looking at the world purely through a literary lens. 

Literary is back.



Thursday, December 31, 2015

Thank You for the Thank Yous

Over the years, I've taught students about writing or would read a friend's manuscript. I might give literary direction here and there.  Or I get the chance to work on a book at my job as a technical writer.  The point is I get to be a part of that exciting and, sometimes, laborious process of writing a book. 

Honestly, I can't begin to tell you how many books or short stories I've read and given feedback on.  For whatever reason, 2015 saw the publication of four books in which I was listed in the "acknowledgement page."  It was truly a joy to see the progression of these writers and their books.  Three of them are first time authors and 2015 will figure into their lives as monumental. 

What made these acknowledgements important to me was the idea that I'm on the right path.  I've been in Buddhist divinity school and this year I made an incredible spiritual leap--I got ordained!  Seeing these books become a reality reinforces that I'm slowly moving along on this Bodhisattva path (or path of being helpful).

I was one of many to be acknowledged (as it always takes more than one person to write a book), but I was honored to be there on their journeys. 

Check out their books. 
 
1.  How to be Brave by E. Katherine Kottaras

2.  The Paper Man by Gallagher Lawson
 

3.  Still Life: Las Vegas by James Sie

4.  The Problem of College Readiness Edited by William G. Tierney and Julia C. Duncheon

 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Why I'm Honoring the Moon Tonight

Tonight I'm going to honor the Moon--a truly rare event is happening. I've explored this theme in my second novel, Talking to the Moon.
 
Before Christians arrived and forced The Philippines to switch over to the solar calendar, my ancestors paid attention to the lunar calendar (like many other Asian countries). When we were forced to quit worshiping the Moon, all the dances, songs and celebrations died with it. In other words, cultural genocide took place. Read about the Popes apology to indigenous people HERE. (Though it was meant for the Americas, I believe it should extend to other countries.)

"Brighter, brighter, shine you moon; brighter, brighter shine you moon/
I will follow the trail to the hot lands; I will follow the trail to the hot lands*/Rocks, rocks to step on/ rocks, rocks to step on/Bamboo, bamboo to hold to; bamboo, bamboo to hold to."

Naboloi Songs, as recorded by C.R. Moss and A.L. Kroeber, UC Press Berkeley, May 10, 1919.

 
*I've pondered what "hot lands" means. I can guess that it means guiding one to another celestial deity, The Sun. Or I've guessed it to mean the lowlands of the Philippines, which is considerably warmer than the mountain provinces of the Philippines (where these words originate). Indeed, that journey down the mountain means stepping on rocks and holding onto bamboo trees for support, something the song also refers to. Other interpretations are welcome.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

On Painting Joshua Tree

My agent has my novel now and I'd been in limbo for several weeks now. I am a creative person and feel the tingle to write, but I'm exhausted.  I'm using my creativity in other ways though. I'm painting. Rather than words, I'm using paint, paper and canvas to speak.  I was in Joshua Tree not too long ago and took some pictures.  Yes, I have exact replicas of Joshua Tree via photos, but it's not capturing the wonder and joy that I felt.  I hope these paintings can help exude that.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

On Beijing

Summer Palace
I hadn't written about this because to do so meant it was over.

I was in China from March 15 - 20. It was a wonderful, life affirming, life changing trip.  It was great being connected to a history that way.  I was in ancient environments. I climbed the Great Wall and walked around the Forbidden City.  It was really amazing and it will take me awhile to process this.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Remembering Ayofemi, Remember Why



Ayofemi Folayan passed away recently.  She was my first writing teacher, and I owe her a tremendous amount of gratitude.  In the early 1990's, I was a few years out of acting school, and not acting.  Creativity had always been a strong tool in dealing with the world, and I needed to be creative.  As any actor will you, you're never acting enough and you're usually waiting for someone's permission to act. 

I started her writing workshop, a space she had for LGBT people of color.  She wanted space for young writers to say whatever they wanted to say.  She encouraged writing exploring issues of being a double minority.  I had been in creative spaces before--I had a degree in Theatre.  However, her class was different.  She asked us to travel deeply within ourselves, uncork our thoughts on truly difficult themes: racism, homophobia, immigration.  She helped me become a person who could comfortably speak my mind--with tact and generosity.  She helped developed my Voice. 

One day, she said she was selling her computer for a newer one.  I bought it.  And still have it.  I typed out stories on this old clunker.  I dug it out to look at it and remember my joy of writing in the first place. 

It's been twenty years, and I may have become a little jaded.  I'm being asked to consider "the market" when I write.  Can I sell whatever story I'm writing.  I must confess I had been having some frustration with my current novel.  I feel like my Voice had been muddled.  I'd been choking on what to say.

With Ayofemi's passing, I'm reminded as to why I started writing.  I wanted to do something honest and true.  I wanted to put something out in the world that was valuable.  I wanted to be the kind of writer Ayofemi would have been proud of.  And I still do.
 

 


Thank you, Ayofemi, for your service.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

"LGBT Writers Who Inspire Us" on June 6th!

Skylight Books has been kind enough to allow me to curate this series.  It's been in existence for three years, and falls on the eve of Gay Pride in Los Angeles.  On June 6, the work of James Baldwin, Oscar Wilde, Lidia Yuknavitch, Eloise Klein Healy, and Jerome Steuart will be explored by some of today's finest writers.  Naomi Hirahara, Ali Liebegott, Wendy Ortiz, and Jervey Tervalon will light up the night!
 
June 6
7:30pm
Skylight Books
1818 N. Vermont Ave.
Los Angeles  CA  90027
FREE
 

Naomi Hirahara is an Edgar Award Winning writer.  Her debut mystery Summer of the Big Bachi received a starred review from Publishers Weekly.   It has been included in the trade magazine's list of best books of 2004, as well as the best mystery list of the Chicago Tribune. Gasa-Gasa Girl, the second Mas Arai mystery, received a starred review from Booklist and was on the Southern California Booksellers' Association bestseller list for two weeks in 2005. Most recently Snakeskin Shamisen, the third in the series, was released in May 2006. In April 2007 it won an Edgar Allan Poe award in the category of Best Paperback Original.

Ali Liebegott is the author of the award-winning books The Beautifully Worthless and The IHOP Papers. In 2010 she took a train trip across America interviewing female poets for a project titled, The Heart Has Many Doors; excerpts from these interviews are posted monthly on The Believer Logger.

Wendy C. Ortiz is a Los Angeles native. Her first book, Excavation: A Memoir, will be published by Future Tense Books in summer 2014. Her second book, Hollywood Notebook, is forthcoming from Writ Large Press in 2014. She currently writes the monthly column "On the Trail of Mary Jane" about medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles for McSweeney's Internet Tendency. 

Jervey Tervalon is the author of All the Trouble You Need, Understand This, and the Los Angeles Times bestseller Dead Above Ground. An award-winning poet, screenwriter, and dramatist, Jervey was born in New Orleans, raised in Los Angeles, and now lives in Altadena, California, with his wife and two daughters.
 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Why I'm Happy Rose Won X-Factor Israel!

Rose Fostanes, the Filipino Caregiver (kind work for the "help") won X-Factor Israel.  I stumbled onto her presence via You-Tube, while I was watching other Filipinos singing in competitions all over the world--from American Idol to the British version of the Voice to Australia's Got Talent. 

Why?  Yes, I enjoy seeing other Filipinos express their talent on the world stage; yes, I love a good song by a great voice; yes, I love seeing people go for their dreams.  Especially underdogs like Paul Potts, the opera singer on Britain's Got Talent.

In the 1980s, when I was a college student, I spent a summer in the Philippines.  Like many young people, I spent a lot of time in bars and inhaled an obscene amount of San Miguel beer.  In those bars, there was a lot of live music.  With all of that music, there were a slew of singers who blew the roofs away.  I heard singer after singer who sounded just as good, if not better, than the singers I heard in the United States. 

I still get emotional when I hear the song "Honky Tonk Woman," remembering a large Filipina in a Manila bar rock the joint like I'd never seen a joint get rocked before.  I had a blast.  In the back of my mind though, I thought it a pity that these amazing voices would never be known outside of the Philippines. 

Rose Fostanes is such a voice.  So was Arnel Pineda or Charice--singers who were discovered because of the wonders of You-Tube (helped along with Ellen DeGeneres and Oprah highlighting them on their shows). 

I enjoyed that Summer in college where I visited the Philippines, where I was born.  I thought of all of those grand voices who would never be heard, and I know it colored my world view, my creative endeavors. 

I logged onto You-Tube occasionally to see how Rose was doing on X-Factor Israel.  I thought she was the best voice on the show, but the best doesn't always win (think of Adam Lambert or Jessica Sanchez on American Idol).  She was a foreigner in Israel.  At 47, she was singing against people half her age.  At 4'11'' she was the shortest person on stage (and looked miniscule standing next to host and supermodel Bar Rafaeli).  She was not svelte.  She was the only singer who didn't sing at least one song in Hebrew.  Later, she came out as a lesbian.  In another setting, Rose may have been the maid to any one of the judges or contestants on the show.  (There are roughly 20,000 - 30,000 Filipinos working as domestics in Israel--and a lot more working in the Middle East)

With all of these things going for her (or against her), I thought she would do well, but not win.  After all, Rose was competing against home grown talent: a charming boy band, a cute young guy who sang Hebrew ballads, and a lovely pop singer with a dazzling smile. 

Then my facebook newsfeed went afire with the announcement of her win.  I checked at least two news outlets to make sure this was true.  I was happy for her, truly happy.  I know the Philippines, a country that has been suffering from a spate of bad news (a devastating typhoon, pork barrel scams by local politicians, a brewing altercation with China) made her win a win for many Filipinos struggling to get by. 

Her unknown voice became heard.    The Underdog won.  Who can't appreciate that?

Friday, January 10, 2014

Writing for the Los Angeles Review of Books

I was thrilled to be asked to write a review for Los Angeles Review of Books.  It can be exciting and scary writing a review.  I'm asked to bring my best critical thinking skills--which is good!  However, sometimes a book can be a real stinker--which is bad.  Fortunately, that was not the experience reviewing Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan.

From the review:

Fortunately, Levithan did not write a mere “It Gets Better” novel. Thank Gawd! “It Gets Better,” a ubiquitous phrase to discourage gay youth from committing suicide, was uttered by every LGBT ally, including President Obama. It was a pat message telling young queers to hold-on-and-things-will-look-up. What was missing in the messaging was this: it only gets better if we make it so. This kiss in Levithan’s novel is a defiant act, one that has actual strength.

The Power of a (Gay) Kiss
The full review can be found here.