16th August 2014

Photoset reblogged from Francavillarts with 498 notes

We’re digging into the final season. More to come soon. Meanwhile, here’s @f_francavilla depicting some #Justified characters.

8th August 2014


The S Word: Genre-Transcendence Breakdown with Highsmith, Chang and Auster →

6th August 2014


Bellingham Herald Review


The bumpy road to manhood is the focus of two books that I looked at this week. One is a collection of essays about coming of age in Bellingham in the 1970s. The other is an autobiographical novel about life as the adolescent son of immigrant parents in America.

Although Bellingham-born Mitch Evich has long lived on the East Coast, his Whatcom County roots are the focus of the essays in “A Geography of Peril.” Evich’s male ancestors made their living in the extractive industries of logging and fishing, but Evich also shares the voice of his maternal grandmother, whose letters to her husband, off working in a logging camp during the Great Depression, careen wildly between honeyed enticements and vinegary accusations.

As a young man, Evich himself spent several seasons aboard a fishing boat, chasing after the next big catch. In forthright prose, he describes life aboard his dad’s underperforming purse seiner in Puget Sound in the years just after the Boldt decision. A few summers later he worked onboard fishing boats that headed up to Alaska for the summer.

This was a job fraught with the ever-present anxiety of working in an unforgiving environment that, as Evich describes it, was “capable of transforming minor errors in judgment into catastrophes.”

There are also pages devoted to the death-defying hijinks of his high school years, and a blow-by-blow recollection of Evich’s senior year on the football team when the crowning glory was being given a funky kamikaze kid t-shirt.

"A Geography of Peril" is rough in a few spots, but it does capture an era, and marks the ways in which traits, and sometimes even wisdom, are passed from one generation to the next.

"Triplines" is also about legacies, but Leonard Chang, today a novelist and screenwriter living in Los Angeles, chronicles an unhappier adolescence.

This autobiographical novel is about Yul and Umee Chang, who had emigrated separately from South Korea, and their family. When they first met in New York they perhaps thought that marrying one another would allay their loneliness for home.

But after three children and years of money woes and cultural alienation, Yul had become a violent alcoholic and the marriage was disintegrating.

Lenny’s big brother Ed moved out of the house as soon as he graduated from high school, leaving Lenny and his younger sister Mira to figure how to steer clear of their dad’s increasingly erratic behavior while their mother gathered the courage and resources to file for divorce.

In spare scenes charged with tension, Chang recalls the minefields of his youth - domestic violence, ethnic and economic strife and inequitable educational opportunities.

He also sketches the idiosyncratic mix of people and places, including an illegal marijuana patch, where he found a semblance of safe haven.

"Triplines" is the fourth book of Chang’s to be published by Black Heron Press, the Mill Creek publisher that has been steadily turning out audacious and high caliber literary fiction for 30 years.


4th August 2014

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Some foreign edition covers…

27th July 2014

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A Review of Leonard Chang’s Triplines: An Autobiographical Novel (Black Heron Press, 2014).

A Review of Leonard Chang’s Triplines: An Autobiographical Novel

(Black Heron Press, 2014).

by Stephen Hong

Leonard Chang’s newest offering sees him explore the form of the autobiographical novel in Triplines. The tone and ambience produced by this novel is not entirely unlike Chang’s social realist fictions Crossings and Fruit ’N Food, his previous and his first publications respectively. In between those two novels, Chang penned detective fiction (Over the Shoulder, Underkill, Fade to Clear, which are all part of the Allen Choice series, and the stand-alone Dispatches from the Cold). The autobiographical novel is always an interesting aesthetic choice because it immediately puts the reader on a kind of notice, especially as he or she attempts to discern what might be fabricated and what might be most authentic. In the acknowledgments that follow the novel, it is clear that Chang consulted some family members in order to corroborate accounts depicted.

Chang also chooses an interesting discursive mode, as the entire novel is narrated from a kind of retrospective third person storyteller. In this sense, Chang promotes the divide between author and the fictional storyteller, as well as the author and protagonist. Lenny, our ostensible hero, is a young adolescent, with on older brother, Ed (about to graduate from high school) and a younger sister Mira. His mother Umee suffers harassment and domestic violence from their alcoholic father Yul. For the most part, Lenny, Mira, and Ed do not suffer the same kind of physical assaults, but nevertheless Yul stands as an ominous storm cloud constantly raining on their lives. Yul and Umee at first run a novelty-type store (called Sweet ’N Gifts, reminding us of his first novel’s title), but it eventually goes out of business. The failure of the business ultimately increases tension in the family; each child chooses to deal with the situation in their own ways. Ed maintains physical and emotional distance from the family, rarely staying at home. Mira remains introverted and artistic, constantly writing, reading, or playing music, while Lenny languishes in his own attempt to move toward what we might call Asian American manhood, trying to find his sense of self beyond his domineering father. Lenny, for instance, finds great interest in martial arts, which becomes a compelling outlet for the physical trials he suffers under Yul, who attempts to push him to become more hardened. Later, Lenny sees the opportunity of being a kind of gopher for a pot dealer as a quick means to achieve some financial capital. But, the clear talent that Lenny develops and the way that he survives is through his skills of observation, something that he will later put to excellent use as a writer.

The character that perhaps undergoes the greatest change is Umee, who begins the novel as a battered housewife, but over the course of the plotting initiates a search into a new career and, by the conclusion, stands up to her husband and achieves independence from him. There is a poetic quality to this work, one reminiscent of the sparer writing style Chang employed in his first novel. What emerges from this portrait of a dysfunctional Asian American/ Korean immigrant family is a reminder of the fallacy of the model minority myth. Underlying this novel is an interesting kind of secular spirituality, which appears through the constant ways in which Mira and Lenny find refuge in a church across the street, which they break into after hours and find a sense of peace, a break from the constant fighting occurring between their parents. Without a false sense of sentimentality, Chang’s Triplines is a highly compelling read. The novel further resonates quite well within the “dysfunctional” Asian American family plots that appear in works such as Akhil Sharma’s Family Life and Lan Samantha Chang’s Hunger


9th July 2014


A Longer Excerpt from Drucker’s Triplines review

“Fallout from Childhood,” Korean Quarterly, Spring 2014 (Vol. 17, No. 3): pp. 53-54. -Bill Drucker

Triplines is a remarkable journey of a boy’s maturation and winning coming-of-age novel from an author who is best nown for his crime noir stories. The change in genre is a surprising change for Leonard Chang. Triplines is autobiographical, seen through two perspectives: a young Lenny Chang and an older Chang who looks back at how the legacy of his violent father still haunts his life.

“As in his past writings, Chang continues to explore the Korean American experience. He also goes back in time to a different location, the Korean immigrant sections of Long Island. He explores the immigrant experience, the presence of racism in both the white and Korean communities, the experiences in a dysfunctional family, school bullying, and the pursuit of the American dream….

“Usually a loner, Lenny meets Sal, a small-time dealer… Sal offers Lenny money to grow and tend a patch of marijuana. The incentive is a large sum of cash, but Lenny gets intrigued by the care and tending of the illegal plants. As the plants get taller in the summer, they set up homemade triplines to track whether anyone, including the police, come around….

“The book title suggests an actual and psychological ‘trigger effect.’ Remniscent of the triplines Lenny and Sal install in their marijuana field, his father’s unpredictable violence was the emotional tripline the author dealt with every day of his youth. Lenny, as an adult, triggers his own recollection of earlier events, with greater understanding… “As an autobiographical coming-of-age novel, this is author Chang at his most introspective….”

9th July 2014

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School Library Journal reviews Triplines

School Library Journal

A thought-provoking story of a Korean American boy growing up in Long Island with an abusive, alcoholic father. Though slow to start—the novel at first focuses too much on 11-year-old Lenny Chang’s bad-tempered father and overly meek mother—the pace soon accelerates. Lenny observes his parents’ marital troubles and financial stresses, tries to avoid his father’s rages, and sympathizes with his hard-working mother. Though his father has few redeeming qualities, young Lenny does try to understand the source of the violence and drinking—perhaps it was his father’s difficult childhood, or brutal experiences in the South Korean Navy. Readers will root for the precocious protagonist. He’s teased at school by racist bullies, but because he doesn’t speak Korean, he also has trouble fitting in with his mother’s church group and communicating with his grandmother. The story really takes off when Lenny gets involved with an older pot-dealing teen. Sal offers to pay Lenny to guard a patch of marijuana hidden in a swamp, and then help harvest it. The protagonist soon discovers library research as a means to learn about everything, from cultivating marijuana to descrambling cable TV signals. The ending is harsh but satisfying. Though the novel has some flaws, such as the occasionally awkward third-person narration, this is a welcome addition to a multicultural library collection. Teens will relate to Lenny’s desperate wish to understand his father, and his eventual realization that some things will never change.

—Miranda Doyle, Lake Oswego School District, OR

1st July 2014


An interview with Triplines author Leonard Chang →

Honesty and Brevity: An interview with Triplines author Leonard Chang

Nobody combines the delicate and the startling into one literary knockout punch the way Leonard Chang can. Chang’s latest debut, Triplines, an autobiographical novel, is the perfect showcase for his attention to detail, manipulation of subtlety, and ability to sting with story and then sooth with diction. In all of Chang’s work, the presence of the author is felt and this is especially true in Triplines.
Written in third person, Triplines chronicles the childhood of Lenny Chang, focusing particularly on the events leading up to the breakup of his family. As Lenny navigates a claustrophobic, confusing, and at times violent world, he finds refuge in the library, martial arts, and his new friend Sal, a local marijuana grower. During this brief window of time, Lenny straddles the roles of child and adult and becomes more confident, independent and self-aware.
If we think back, we all had that one summer, that one year of school, that one defining sliver of time where we slipped into the twilight bridging innocence and revelation, simplicity and complication, and became aware for the first time our lives were shifting beneath us. With the grace that only a master of fiction can conduct, Chang guides us through this crucial time in his life and reminds us of the poignancy, and power, in the simple act of growing up. 
Leonard Chang is one of my modern literary idols and so you can imagine how excited I was to be able to ask him some questions about his work. He was in the middle of a research trip for Justified when I caught up with him, but still graciously took the time to respond.
Steph Post: Triplines is labeled as an “autobiographical novel” and is written in third person, with your childhood self as the main character Lenny. How does an autobiographical novel differ from a memoir and what made you decide to use this unique form?
Leonard Chang: I wrote an early draft as a memoir, with all the usual trappings of the form — first person, a distance from the events, the rumination and contemplation from the perspective, etc. — and, quite frankly, I wasn’t satisfied with it. Moreover, when I showed it to my family for their approval, since I was writing about them as well, my mother’s reaction was more of concern for me and the legality of it. She was worried about me being sued, about the criminality in it, the ramifications of telling this story as fact. A lawyer friend also had some concerns. So I did a lot of thinking about the form — most memoirs have a fictional element, since how can everyone remember everything in such detail? Of course they can’t. I also thought hard about my strengths as a writer. I’m a fiction writer, and feel most comfortable in the form. So I decided to rewrite the book as a novel, but keep it rooted in fact. I wanted to be honest with the reader — this is clearly and unabashedly autobiographical — but I did conflate events, collapse timelines, and I allowed myself the flexibility of fiction to shape some scenes. Most memoirists will do a version of this, but I gave myself the protection of calling it fiction, since that’s what I am: a fiction writer. The difference between the two forms is that I acknowledge the truthfulness to most of this, but also acknowledge that I took fictional liberties, so this must be considered a novel.
SP: Throughout Triplines meaningful totems appear (I’m thinking in particular of the maple tree and wood chips, the bear rock and the church), but symbols like these are most often used in fiction. Did you know how important these items and places were to your life at the time or is this something you came to realize during the process of reflecting and writing?
LC: Great question, because in a strange way I *did* know even as a kid that some of these things were important. After the maple tree went down, I really did collect the wood chips because I knew those little pieces of wood were important. I didn’t know or really understand why, and I suspect I had a sentimental streak that just pushed me in that direction, but I saved it all. I saved a bag of wood chips for twenty-plus years, until I made those pendants. I saved the bear rock for almost four decades. The back cover of the novel has a faded image of the bear rock which I *still* have in my possession, for the precise reason I mentioned in the book. I will never get rid of it. I’ve lost many things over dozens and dozens of relocations all over the country, but I will never lose that rock. I feel like I’ve had an unstable and bewildering life, but there are some things that can be stable and understandable: meaningful things, people, memories. Perhaps this helped determine my path as a writer.
SP: Because of your signature minimalist writing style, I’m curious about your revision and editing process. For example, the single line “You killed my tree.” broke my heart and encapsulated the entire story for me. The restraint used in your style is incredible and also takes guts to use. Do you start with more complex drafts and then edit away everything that is unnecessary or do you write in this style from the beginning?
LC: Probably more of the latter. I definitely do a lot of rewriting, revision and editing, but my writing is not too far a reflection of my personality and my own personal style of communication. I tend not to talk a lot. I like to listen more than talk. I try to choose my words carefully in both speaking and writing. This is not anything artful — it’s more personal style. So, yes, I was drawn to the minimalists as a writer. Yes, I tend to believe less is more. And yes, most people who know me would agree that restraint and subtlety is almost a way of life. My sister once visited my apartment in Oakland years ago and her comment was: “This looks like a yoga studio.” It was very bare, with wood floors and sunlight streaming in. I looked around, and thought, This looks like a clean, uncluttered living space.
SP: I am always in awe of authors who dare to write about themselves. As a novelist, did you find it difficult to focus on yourself instead of a fictional character? Were you nervous about repercussions from your family or judgments from readers who are being given an insight into your private life?
LC: Absolutely. I wasn’t nervous about strangers or readers, I was nervous about writing about my family and, going even further and *naming* them as characters, rendering them on the page. That felt like a violation, and that’s why I needed their approval before moving forward. I don’t care so much about writing about myself — most good fiction writers do that in some permutation. After all, you know yourself better than anyone. Or, you should, if you’re going to be a writer. If you don’t understand the intricacies of self, then how the hell are you going to write about the intricacies of characters who are Other? Understanding character begins with the self. And the repercussions? Yes, I worried very much so, which is why, as I mentioned earlier, I rewrote this completely from a new fictional perspective. But I feel like it’s a better book — it’s a more artful book.
SP: Near the end of Triplines, we begin to see the seeds of a writer being planted. You mention devouring books, writing to authors and “using reading and writing as a way to keep connected.” Even your mentioning of dreaming of escape is keenly familiar to any writer’s childhood recollection. When did you first realize that writing was your future and how did you handle that realization?
LC: I would pinpoint a moment when my high school best friend Joe told me he wanted to be a writer, and I had to readjust my understanding that the novels on my shelves were not only written by someone — weren’t a pre-existing piece of art that just came into being — but that someone could be me. With that epiphany, I began writing, and I envisioned books on the shelves that I created. I think most avid readers consider the transition for the very simple reason that they want to create the things that make them happy. If reading is nourishment, then it’s natural for an avid reader to want to create his or her own food.
SP: I first discovered your novels because I am a tremendous fan of the television showJustified and was an admirer of your work writing for the show. Is it difficult to transition between working on your own books and being part of a writers’ room for a television show? Are the writing experiences and processes comparable?
LC: It wasn’t difficult to make the transition; quite the opposite, it was actually a welcome relief. Imagine spending twenty years in a room writing by yourself, agonizing over characters and stories and spending year after year pecking away at novels that sometimes worked, sometimes didn’t, and then doing it again and again and again, in solitude. Now imagine doing this with a group of like-minded, intelligent, funny, kind and generous friends. Suddenly the pain is shared by others, and the questions you were banging your head quite literally on the desk about and the massive amounts of alcohol you were drinking to help dull the agony of this was no longer your sole burden, but one that ten other people were banging their heads in unison on the table in front of them as well. Suddenly it’s not a lonely, shuddering experience but a communal one, and it’s not solely dependent on you to come up with all the answers. This doesn’t mean when you’re writing a script the head-banging may commence, but guess what? You can walk out of your office and peer into another, and ask a question that may spark something for you. You’re not alone.
The writing experiences are the same, but you’re working with others. The processes are the same, but you have others to discuss and argue and fight with, ultimately finding a solution that you may have found on your own, maybe not. Yes, you are always alone when you’re on the page, typing, but you’re not completely alone when you want to talk it out, and there’s someone else who knows the path you’ve been crawling on.
I’m writing this in Lexington, Kentucky, where I’ve just spent a week with a handful of other Justified writers, talking to many, many people in Harlan, where Justified is set, and we’re all thinking about this final forthcoming season, and some of the terror is shared and diminished by the fact that we’re facing it together.
SP: Finally, what can readers look forward to in the future from you?
LC: I’ll be diving into the sixth and final season of Justified with my fellow writers, while beginning to think about this very question. Once Justified ends I’ll be working on creating my own TV show, since I’m enamored by this form of storytelling. But I’ll always be writing in some way, so that’s always in the future.
Thanks so much to Leonard Chang for a kick-ass interview. If you haven’t read Triplinesyet, get on it! Check out his other novels as well (you can read my review of Crossingshere) and, for the love of God, I hope you’re already watching Justified. If not, yeah, fix that now. Thanks for reading.

20th June 2014

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TRIPLINES now available

As an e-book:


From Amazon:


From Powells:


From your local indie store:


Thanks very much,

16th June 2014

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Library Journal Review of TRIPLINES

Triplines 9781936364091 Black Heron Press

* Starred Review

Lenny Chang’s life is on the brink of major changes. In the fall, he will enter junior high, and his older brother Ed is graduating from high school and plans to go to California for the summer before college, effectively leaving home. This puts Lenny in the spotlight of his violently alcoholic father’s attention. Aside from his little sister Mira, whom he tries to protect, Lenny doesn’t have many friends, spending his free time watching kung fu movies and teaching himself tae kwon do. But when he takes up with an older boy in the neighborhood, helping him grow marijuana, Lenny’s world begins to expand. At the same time, his mother has finally had enough of his abusive father and files for divorce.

VERDICT For his seventh novel, Chang (“Fade to Clear”) draws on his childhood (the author calls this work an “autobiographical novel”). It is an unflinching and finely rendered portrait of a second-generation Korean American boy’s life. Recommended particularly for readers interested in the Asian immigrant experience and anyone who loves crisp writing and a compelling coming-of-age story.

—Nancy H. Fontaine, Norwich P.L., VT Copyright 2014 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission. Library Journal (06/15/2014)