It's been a long time now since I saw your solo shows. I'm a little fuzzier on those than I am the books, but it seemed the theater pieces seemed gayer and the books seemed more Filipino. Is that a safe assessment?
That's interesting, actually. It's interesting you should say that. That's what's cool about having other people look at your work.
It's been a gap of several years between those experiences, though.
Yeah, but that's probably a fair thing to say. My solo shows were pretty much created with the support of other gay people, particularly my first show because I was doing outreach into the gay Asian community, so I felt like an expert in that field. And the same thing with my second one, I mean, Gosh! It's called Masters of the (Miss) Universe, for God's sake. (laughs) It has beauty pageants, so it's not like it's gay, but it has gay appeal. But I'm sure you know, the thing with a novel is you can make it about a lot of other things. With a play, you can only say so much and you have so much time to say it in. I think one of the reasons I really like the novel form is I can really go off and say different things, or as much things as I need to say. I think that's been my experience with other playwrights who have written novels. They just love the freedom of not being constrained.
With the novel at least, it seems like you're very focused on telling the big stories, but at the same time, when I was reading your books I started thinking about my own ancestry, in the sense that I don't really know it. And my family hasn't been here for hundreds of years. My great-grandmother came here before World War II, but it was such a negative thing, it wasn't passed on or talked about. So, I'm just sort of a white American... but it seems when I have friends who are Asian or Latino, there is more of a strong connection to where they came from and a yearning to connect with it. I mean, I have no desire to go visit Poland. So, it also made me think about things like that.
I think part of it is generational, because I am so close to it. Meaning, I was born in the Philippines. I do know fourth and fifth-generation Asian Americans who don't feel as close to Asia. I work with someone and he's Chinese American, fourth generation, and he has no need to go to China, to know the language, or to do these things. He'd rather go to India, which is fine.
How old were you when you came to America?
I was old enough not to remember.
Because in the podcast you did with Prince Gomolvilas, you said you don't speak Tagalog or anything like that.
Yeah, when I came over, I think I was like two years old, if that. So, I was young. Very young.
Even still... you would think it would have been spoken in the house or something.
It was certainly spoken in the house. My mother said to me, specifically, she said, 'We did not teach you Tagalog on purpose. We wanted you to know English only so you could be competitive in this country.'
So, when your family reads your books. I know from my friends who write books, the people in their lives don't divorce the work from the writer. They try to read into everything and decipher it. Are there a lot of pieces in your life in these books, or do you really exploit the fictional side a lot more?
I do exploit the fictional end and there isn't a lot of my own personal life in there. If anything, it's location. I know where they are and I know what happens there. Most of it is fiction. That's why it takes so long for me to write a book, because I get so steeped in research to try and make it sound accurate, to sound like I know what I'm talking about.
The kernel of "Talking to the Moon" is based on an actual hate crime, and I know you had researched a lot of that and talked to actual people involved in the case, but part of me wondered if it's a fictional book, can't you just go off and do anything?
Yeah. Oh yeah, I think one of the biggest blessings is I had access to the family who was affected by the crime but for whatever reason, I never had the opportunity to truly interview them, which was good. If I did, it would have been more their story as opposed to the story that I wanted to make. The shooting of the Filipino postal worker is the only similarity to the actual crime. So, I did go off and off and off.