From reading your blog, you talked about the writing of your third book. I assume this is the same with the other two, but you really like to explore a big theme in each book. Is that something you knew you wanted to do right from the start? Or, after 'Letters,' did you say, 'Oh my God, everything I wrote kind of ties in to this one theme'?
For Letters to Montgomery Clift, I did not. But in Talking to the Moon, I became more conscious of that. I think it's interesting. Part of it is I'm Filipino and I'm American, that's sort of contributing to my voice and what I choose to write about thematically. Someone I know is the executive director of the Asian American Alliance Workshop in New York, so he has a lot of access to a lot of Asian American writers and their work and that is his forte. He knows all about Asian American writing. And he says that my work, like so many other Filipino American people, there's lots of characters, lots going on. It seems to be the community's way of expressing itself, with all this stuff going on. Yet, at the same time, I think as an American writer. This is where I trained. I was educated in American institutions, trained as a writer by other Americans, and led to believe what makes a good novel by American standards. And I think what makes American writing so popular throughout the world, what makes American movies, plays, music popular around the world is it's so big. I was having lunch with a British novelist, and she said that's what distinguishes the American author. The British writer will write about something small, out on a countryside, you know? A whole novel about going for breakfast. But American writers, we're big guns and it's all about that, I think.
Yeah, there's definitely that element in my book. My protagonist starts a national craze with infomercials and affects the culture. So everything there is pretty huge. But you also play with cultural elements. In "Talking to the Moon," they think they are cursed, a character has phone calls with his dead brother, do you see them as Filipino cultural things, or just devices you used in a novel? I'm not sure where the lines are, where all these things intersect.
It's both. On the cultural things, I did a lot of research trying to get that right. How to cast a spell, what do you need to do to get rid of colds, who are the proper gods and goddesses you're supposed to summon, and all of that stuff required tons of research on my part. A device of the book was to explore culture, but the whole thing of talking to his dead brother was not part of the Filipino culture. It was something that came more organically. The book is dedicated to my father and, after he had died, the phone rang and I was about to say, 'Oh, hi, Dad.' You know? (laughs) And there was no one on the other line. So, I was like, 'Oh, that's interesting. How would that be if a character would get phone calls from a dearly departed?' And I'm glad that came about because I think I wanted to give Emerson some kind of a spiritual life. I wanted him to have that. Everyone else managed to have that.
Plus, as a writer, it's nice to have a direct way to comment on what's going on, get inside of it, similar to Bong Bong writing the letters to Montgomery Clift in the first book where he doesn't talk a lot about what he's going through in the narrative part of the book, but then Monty gets the entire score.
And when I was reading it, I did bring having seen you onstage into the first book. So, I saw the letters as sort of soliloquies, drawing all of these theatrical parallels between the two, which may not even exist.
I think it's all valid. With 'Letters to Montgomery Clift,' unlike 'Talking to the Moon,' I did feel like I was writing monologues. That's what I was most used to, so that's what I took with me. And that's why I wanted to push myself with 'Talking to the Moon,' so I wrote it in third person. I wanted to see if I could write it in a different style, a different way, and see if I'm good enough to get away with it.
And you also got to shift narrative point of view through the second book, whereas it's a bigger risk with first person narratives. I'm doing a weird thing, because I studied with Tom Spanbauer, since I'm a big fan of Chuck Palahniuk and he was Chuck's teacher, so I went up to Portland for a week. And his whole thing is to write in the first person but almost never use the word I as a device to get the reader inside the head of the character.
Like, you never say to yourself, 'I'm going to answer the phone now.' It's just 'The phone's ringing.' So, as soon as you say I with that sort of style, you pull the reader out of it. It's a chaotic way to learn to write, but that's what I'm trying to do. ... And I think I told you in the e-mail where we set this up, but it seems everyone I went out on a date with lately, they don't read. So, am I just meeting people who don't read, or is no one reading anymore? Is there something we have to do as writer to bring in more readers, or is that just a cultural thing that keeps shifting?
It's funny, because I just got this really interesting e-mail from a friend of mine. It was an AP poll of a thousand people. Liberals tend to read more than the conservatives do. The people who read least are moderates, actually. But I think the people who read has always been a small number. And it's harder with movies and television and music to distract them. But I think you're not surrounding yourself with the right people. (laughs)
I've already figured that out.
(laughs) Where I work, there are about 20-25 people there, and maybe only three of us read books. But it's also a young group of people, so as they get older and their attention span improves, they'll become readers eventually. According to this poll, women read more than men because they have better attention spans. So there are a number of factors.