Writer Marianne Villanueva (Mayor of the Roses) is doing another reading this week (with Nona Caspers) at the Book Passage in the Ferry Building in San Francisco on Wednesday April 9th at 6 p.m., so I thought it would be a great time to kick off a new literary feature - The WRITE Questions - where we ask Asian American writers a few pressing questions. Marianne was gracious enough to respond from a trip to Tel Aviv, and on the way back to California in the Frankfurt airport.
1. What was the last book you read? What are you reading now?
MV: OK, the last book I finished reading (two days ago) was The Big House: A Century in the Life of an American Summer Home by George Howe Colt, which was an absolutely fascinating dissection of a period of time and a culture (Boston Brahmin) that is as exotic to me as, say, the culture of the Andaman Indians or the Aleutians or whatever. And it has given me lots of ideas about how to go about doing a dissection of my own culture (Filipino Negrense, that is: Filipino from the island of Negros, which is in the middle of the Philippine archipelago).
The book I've just started (at 3 a.m. on Apr. 2, I have terrible insomnia) is Penelope Lively's The Photograph, and it's (so far) a very "British" novel about a cuckolded husband. And again I'm finding all sorts of interesting ways in which Lively manipulates mood and memory, that help me in writing what I think I am trying to write.
2) Do you identify as an Asian American writer? Why or why not?
MV: Yes, I identify myself as an Asian American writer, because, well, just look at me, that's who I am — not only physically, but also culturally. But, even more important than identifying myself as an Asian American writer is identifying myself as an Asian American WOMAN writer; there's loads of difference between male and female Asian American writers.
3) Do you have a blog?
MV: Yes, I do. And it's somewhat of a guilty pleasure. Because everything I put on that blog is so instantaneous. And I find the process of maintaining it so wonderfully liberating.
3A) Does having a blog affect or interfere with your writing?
MV: Well, I always think that it interferes with my writing, so I'm constantly trying to cut down, to impose some kind of discipline on how often I post. But I'm not sure if my feeling that it interferes with my writing is accurate. Of course, when I'm blogging, I'm not working on my short stories, but the blog actually uncovers veins of feeling and situational nuances, that I had never been able to write about before. So, in that way, it's liberating. And in addition, when writing my blog, I am careful to maintain a persona ("Self") whose voice is very distinct from the voice/s in which I write. It's a more antic, tongue-in-cheek voice. I love creating this voice, and even though the posts are so spontaneous, there is a kind of discipline and art imposed on them, too. Another thing: I think writing the blog has helped me expand into new modes of writing. For instance, I've found that I can actually write plays! I don't know why I only discovered this AFTER I started creating my blog. Whether one has anything to do with the other, or whether it's mere coincidence, I'm not sure. But I tend to think: everything's connected.
3B) What blogs/websites do you frequent?
MV: * Amazon, not to look up my own book ratings (though I do occasionally, I'm only human!), but to read reviews of books I am currently reading. For instance, right now I am halfway through The Photograph — it's the only book I brought to read on the plane — and I STILL don't like it. So, I try and read what others have said about it on Amazon, and it's really amazing to me that most people call it "brilliant", etc. So obviously there's some disconnect there, and maybe I'm going about the book in the wrong way. And this forces me to read with more patience.
* I like looking at Gerry Ruiz's photoblog. As far as I can make out, he's a photographer based in Tacloban City in the Philippines, and he always posts pictures of such interesting places.
* I like Michael Janairo's blog. He writes about books and culture for the Albany Times-Union.
* I like Speechless, which I just discovered last month.
* I like Lavalady's blog, especially when she gets raw (emotionally) and when she blogs about movies she's seen.
* I think Jean Vengua's Okir blog is mysterious and alluring.
* And Luisa Igloria's Lizard Meanders blog is packed full of information, about writers, process, family, and events, as well as wonderful poetry.
* Kathleen Burkhalter's A Glass Overflowing blog is the best blog about family life that I've ever encountered, and I read it to imagine myself in the warmth of this woman's fullness and generosity.
* I read the Chancelucky blog and am absolutely fascinated by his posts about his mother.
* Of course I read Hyphen's blog to check out what's new in San Francisco events, and for the interesting articles!!!