Old video of Lost Rocks Bouldering dug up. Taken by Seth Joseph.
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Chang’s new autobiographical novel focuses on his fractured family and his boyhood realization that his life is changing. While 11-year-old Chang retreats from the turmoil at home into martial arts, the library and a friendship with Sal, a local marijuana grower, he discovers a world beyond his own. The title comes from the wires Chang strung around Sal’s marijuana crops as a kid. “Triplines as a form of protection but also as traps and obstacles I felt like I needed to be wary of,” he explains.
The author says it wasn’t difficult to reveal himself. “I think that’s what writers should do: explore the self honestly and rigorously—what was difficult was exposing my family,” he says. “Even though this is a novel, it’s one rooted in a lot of truth, and I needed to be sure I wasn’t revealing what they didn’t want revealed. Thankfully, they trusted me to do the best I could.” Chang’s minimalist, unflinching style—he cites classic modernists Hemingway, Faulkner and Fitzgerald as inspiration—and his focus on relationships was honed in his three previous literary novels and a crime noir trilogy about Korean-American private eye Allen Choice. “I love crime fiction because I was always interested in the notions of transgression, what the norms are and why people often move very quickly and naturally into violating those norms,” says Chang, a philosophy major at Dartmouth. “One half of my lineage—on my father’s side—are criminals of various types. But I also am really intrigued and devoted to understanding the intricacies of how people interact.”
The L.A.-based author also writes for the TV crime drama, Justified, a series that explores the blurred lines between the law and lawbreakers. “We all use our own experiences, and some research, to help inform the characters and stories of the show,” he says. “When we write our scripts we can’t help but to bring ourselves to the page. So, for example, Raylan’s relationship to his father, Arlo, was something I felt I understood on many levels, and often I’d chime in on this very complicated dynamic.”
Chang is now working on the final season of Justified. He then hopes to create his own show, perhaps even developing the first of his crime novels for television. “The possibilities of long-form, serialized TV shows are incredible right now,” he says. “I’ll always be writing, and I’m not entirely sure what will land.”
We’re digging into the final season. More to come soon. Meanwhile, here’s @ depicting some #Justified characters.
FOR THE BELLINGHAM HERALD
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.
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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.
“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….”
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—Miranda Doyle, Lake Oswego School District, OR
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