1st July 2014

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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.
 
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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.
 
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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:

http://www.amazon.com/Triplines-Leonard-Chang-ebook/dp/B00K30S554

From Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Triplines-Leonard-Chang/dp/1936364093

From Powells:

http://www.powells.com/biblio/9781936364091

From your local indie store:

http://www.indiebound.org/book/9781936364091

Thanks very much,
Leonard

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)

10th June 2014

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The Hardboiled and the Haunted: Race, Masculinity, and the Asian American Detective [eScholarship] →

A recent PhD dissertation with a chapter re my noir trilogy that definitely gets it right. Thanks Dr McMillin.

5th June 2014

Photoset reblogged from It's Justified with 66 notes

itsjustified:

Okay, this one is for all you guys who like to poke around in the corners of the sets as much as I do. Dave Blass and his production crew have an annual tradition of posting a booklet of their work, and it’s time for The Design of Justified Season 5. If you want a little more commentary with that, though, here’s the one you don’t want to miss: the “For Your Consideration” Season 5 Emmy packet.

“An amazing amount of detail for a set to be used in only one scene,” is the caption for the Everglades diner, but show me one of these sets where that doesn’t apply. Miami, Detroit, Memphis, Lexington, even Mexico— especially Harlan. These guys do their homework, and as far as I’m concerned, there’s no such thing as appreciating that too much.

(If you want to see more— do you not?— here’s The Art of Justified Season 2, Season 3, and Season 4, and some extra tidbits in Dave Blass’s portfolio.)

26th May 2014

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Advance Reviews Coming in

Here’s the latest advance review, from Publishers Weekly:

Triplines

Leonard Chang.
Black Heron Press
$14.95 trade paper (236p)
ISBN 978-1-936364-09-1

Touted as an “autobiographical novel,” this first-rate coming-of-age story is the seventh novel from Chang (Crossings). Eleven-year-old Lenny lives with his dysfunctional Korean family in the rail commuter town of Merrick on Long Island. Lenny’s “alcoholic” and “wife-beater” father, Yul, is a former member of the South Korean Navy and now a computer programmer who teaches Lenny judo moves when they’re not quarreling and fighting. Lenny’s religious mother, Umee, runs an unprofitable candy store when she isn’t trying to shield Lenny along with his older brother, Ed, and younger sister, Mira from Yul’s drunken physical abuses. Lenny excels in the martial arts well enough to defend Mira and himself from the neighborhood bully Frankie. Umee has a thyroid operation, and the financially-strapped Changs shut down the candy store before Yul buys a junker Cadillac as a prestige symbol. Lenny’s growing up takes a large step forward when he befriends an older kid named Sal who secretly raises marijuana plants. He brings Lenny into the lucrative pot dealing business and teaches him how to set a “trip line” to guard his money crop. The Changs’ domestic situation worsens after Umee invites her mother, Uhma, to come from South Korea and help Umee run the household. In Chang’s sensitive narrative, Umee finds the fortitude to take the necessary steps to save her family during what the author views as the pivotal year of his life. (June)

10th April 2014

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Thanks for watching season 5!

Just wanted to send along a big and heartfelt thank you to everyone who watched the recently completely season 5 of Justified. All of us on the Justified team are extremely appreciative of the fans, the tweeters, bloggers, and of course the dedicated viewers.

We’re going to take a little break before reconvening for the final season, but thanks again.

In the meantime, I’ll be slowly prepping for the publication of my new novel, due out this June. Here’s the Amazon link:

http://www.amazon.com/Triplines-Leonard-Chang/dp/1936364093

I’ll be posting reviews and links here. One draft of a review just came through, to be published in a month or so, but here’s a piece of it (subject to editing changes for publication):

"TRIPLINES is a remarkable journey of a boy’s maturation and a winning coming-of-age novel from an author who is best known for his crime noir stories…. A surprising change for this author… this is Chang at his most introspective…"
- Bill Drucker, Korean Quarterly

Thanks very much,
Leonard

31st March 2014

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Leonard Chang (@leonardchang) joins the show to talk about what’s in store for the rest of Justified, his book Triplines, the possibility of the return of Awake and much, much more! SUBSCRIBE to our iTunes, Stitcher or Soundcloud for the latest episodes!

Tagged: SoundCloudUnrenderedPodcastCommand EntertainmentJustifiedAwake

Source: SoundCloud / Unrendered

12th March 2014

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Interview with Jeffrey Wang, Justified blogmaster

It’s really neat that you and Dave created a reflection of Raylan in the character of DEA Agent Alex Miller. Even though Raylan isn’t prone to deep introspection, do you think this partnership will affect his actions going forward?

— That was our hope and intent. Although it’s true that we’ve created a character of action in Raylan, rather than one of contemplation and introspection, just because you don’t want to think about something, or actively choose not to, doesn’t mean you don’t. This is what makes Tim Olyphant such a good, subtle actor. He’s the master of acting understatement, so I would argue that there are places in this episode where if you watch him closely, all it takes is flick of his eyes, a fraction of a second as he frowns, and we begin to suspect those wheels turning. Raylan is being slowly forced to confront aspects of himself he has previously been able to avoid simply by being the cool, gun toting Raylan, using violence and quips to deflect any real self-analysis. Last season’s death of his father cracked that facade — remember that scene at the elevator? — and now with his surrogate father questioning him — in fact, ALL of his immediate and important relationships beginning to question him — Raylan is being cornered into asking himself why he’s the way he is, why he does the things he does. Is violence his only way of handling difficulties? Where does that come from and why can’t he face that? How is that tied into his being a father, and his avoidance of that role? Alex Miller is one of many pieces of that argument.

Rowena is playing a dangerous game by making hard demands on both Boyd and Ava. Can you hint at what her larger agenda may be?

— Ava has stepped into a middle of a minor battle already boiling, and we learned in this episode why Rowena targeted Elmont Swain; it appears Judith is part of that. Whatever the details are, the main issue for Ava is how to negotiate these alliances and landmines, and still survive.

Roscoe’s riff on King Lear is a wonderful and memorable moment. How did it come about?

— On Justified it’s often a close collaboration. In this case Andron wanted from the start to have Roscoe be quiet throughout the entire run of the season until the very end. And then when Roscoe spoke it would reveal his truer self. As to what he would say, Andron had a few conversations with Steve Harris, and guess what? Steve is a huge King Lear fan. That’s when everything began coming together for that scene.

Big showdown scenes with lots of characters have been hard to land on in the past. Was this one any different in terms of difficulty?

— This was one of the largest showdown/climax scenes we’ve had on the show, with almost all the main characters in a room together. This was difficult primarily because of the staging — Audry’s is a relatively small space, and Michael Dinner was working extremely hard to make sure the scenes made geographic sense. When you watch the scene, the shots and direction look effortless — that’s Dinner being a genius. But remember how many characters are talking, and how the camera moves to them and around the space. All in a tiny room. Painstaking planning and execution.

How did you end up playing the bartender in this episode? And how was it to be in front of the camera for a change?

— Andron was working on that bar scene, and told me he wondered about the bartender, just in terms of character, and then pictured me. So he wrote in the script “the bartender [Leonard Chang]”. When I read it I thought it was a joke, but soon realized everyone was fully intending to put me in there. MIchael Dinner and Annie Berger asked me about it. Costume and wardrobe called me. So I just tried my best not to mess up the scene, like spill a drink all over Raylan.

You’re such a literary writer and often find ways to weave in subtext and themes. Without spoiling all the fun, can you hint at what fans should pay particular attention to during additional viewings?

— On first viewings the audience is just trying to follow the story and enjoy themselves, but when you start paying closer attention to the actors, you begin to see a larger arc being played through their heads as they move through this story. Very subtle things, like Boyd growing more and more tired of having to do things he no longer wants to. We see the result at the end, in the Audry’s scene, but there’s a careful build-up. Watch him closely in the Elmont Swain scenes, especially in the truck; Boyd is evaluating his actions and is not pleased.

What was it like for you and Dave to co-write this episode? How was it different than working with Taylor?

— Andron and I worked really well together; we approached the writing of the script similarly: we did some initial talking and planning, then divided up the script and dove in. Afterwards we talked at length and then rewrote, talked, and rewrote again. It was a cumulative process of building on scenes, and making sure the thematics were tracking throughout for the characters. Taylor and I worked on 409 and 412 together, and the approaches were simliar, depending on the script. 412 was difficult because we were making many large-scale changes during the writing of it. But when it comes to TV writing, you have to be good at collaborating, rewriting, and, most importantly, listening and assimilating other peoples’ ideas into your writing. Both Andron and Taylor are great writers and easy collaborators.

This turned out to be a long episode at ten minutes longer than the usual running time. Was it always planned this way?

— Quite the contrary. Andron and I were intending to write a shorter script that kept things lean and fast. But as you begin to write and address the larger stories of the season, you begin to need more time and space, and the script kept growing. At one point it was even longer than what you see on screen, but Andron went in and did a pruning pass to help keep it from turning into a two-hour episode.

Last year you said that Boyd was your favorite character to write. Is that still the case?

— Did I say that? Well it’s true I have an affinity for Boyd’s affection for language and the protean nature of his personality. However, both Raylan and Ava are turning out to be intriguing characters for me to delve into. I talked about Raylan above, but let’s consider Ava, a woman whose identity has been subsumed by the men around her — Bowman her late abusive husband, Raylan, even Boyd, whose fleeting avatars were changed to become the great lover and partner to Ava — but now even that guise is slowly being questioned. Ava is in a woman’s prison, stripped of her usual protections, forced to rely on herself. We wanted to grow her as a character based on the previous 4 seasons. If last season we tested her as an outlaw, and revealed that she couldn’t murder Ellen May in cold blood, we’re now examining who she really is, and how she garners the strength to achieve that…. Anyway, you can see how all the characters are fascinating to write for…

What was the hardest scene to shoot?

— The big confrontation at Audry’s was complicated, as I mentioned above. But also the final Dewey/Danny/Miller scene on the road was hard — it involved stunts, we were filming at 3:00 AM, and it was literally freezing.

Were there any scene(s) that were particularly hard to write or went through numerous revisions?

— Believe it or not, one of the simpler scenes — Art seeing Raylan come into the office — was very hard, not because of the literal words on the page, but because it was part of a very difficult storyline and we talked at great length with everyone about what should happen here. The issue of multiple serialized storylines happening concurrently became a complex juggling issue, and we needed to advance certain storylines but keep others at a slower boil.

Is there any moment in this episode that you’re particularly proud of?

— It was a great honor to work with Steve and Wood Harris. I’ve worked with Steve before on Awake, and I’ve admired Wood for years because of The Wire — a show that made me want to write for TV. So to have them both — brothers in real life and in the show — was something unique and special for me. Andron worked very hard to introduce these two characters in 502, so when I was able to help move them along in a story that was theirs, it was a pleasure. As for a specific moment, maybe “hammer and anvil” — I went off Andron’s introduction of them, when they talked about how they thought about the military. Roscoe’s a great reader (hence the Shakespeare) and undoubtedly read military history in some form. Hammer and Anvil is an actual military strategy that I read about pertaining to Genghis Khan. Steve and Wood made it their own.

What do you love about writing for TV?

— Everything. It’s a truly collaborative process, yet still demands the individual writer bring something unique and compelling to the page. It’s working with not just other writers but talented directors, actors, crewmembers, editors — a fully integrated team trying to put the best stories on the screen. I think it’s kind of amazing.

Do you have any advice for aspiring TV writers reading this interview?

— I would echo and add upon what Provenzano said in his interview: read everything. You need to be writing every day, and writing a lot, which is obvious. But if you don’t have anything to write about, you’ll be a technically proficient husk. I taught writing for many years, and what’s interesting is I began to recognize pretty quickly the writers who didn’t have much to say. He or she could write a lovely scene that was, upon further reflection, fundamentally shallow. So, read everything and live a lot — by that I mean have a lot of meaningful experiences. Life, and whatever you take in, help feed what you write. When Provenzano said don’t just watch TV, I nodded to myself, because your goal as an aspiring TV writer is to bring something unique to the page. If all you do is watch other TV shows, you’re going to bring what I and every other TV writer have already seen. We want to see something that’s distinct, unique, compelling — we want to see you.

http://justifieds5.blogs.fxnetworks.com/2014/03/12/qa-with-wrong-roads-co-writer-leonard-chang/

6th March 2014

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Ten Reason Why I Hope You Watch Tuesday’s Justified

10. Dave Andron and I wrote it. FYI: Andron wrote some of my favorite Justified episodes: Hatless and Reckoning.


9. Michael Dinner directed this, as well as many of Justified’s best episodes. FYI: He also was once a well-known musician. Google him if you’re curious.


8. One of the guest stars is Eric Roberts, who was nominated for an Academy Award for Runaway Train, blew everyone away in The Pope of Greenwich Village, and we also mentioned him in episode 412 during an exchange with Art and Raylan.


7. Two more guests stars: Wood and Steve Harris, who were introduced in 502, and who have acclaimed careers in films and TV, play brothers Jay and Roscoe, but are ACTUAL brothers, too. They acted like brothers on and off set, in and out of character. Steve Harris was in Awake, a show I wrote for before joining Justified. He played Bird, Michael’s partner in both worlds. Wood Harris was in The Wire, the best TV show *ever*, the show that made me want to switch from novels to TV. See if you can find a veiled nod to The Wire in this episode.


6. Andron thought it would be fun to give me a non-speaking cameo. This made me happy and stressed-out: writing and appearing on my favorite show, but not wanting to mess up the scene.


5. Muse Watson is in this episode, playing Elmont Swain. Muse has a scene with Walton that really affected me. Muse is a regular on NCIS. I hope his fans tune in. He has a lot of fans.


4. Hot Rod Dunham has an important role in this episode. We see some real depth to his character. FYI: Mickey Jones was a drummer for Bob Dylan.


3. The regulars this season: Rapaport, Witt, Buckley, Lofland, and Damon Herriman — they all do wonderful work here.These are amazing actors.


2. Raylan, Boyd and Ava are confronted with the paths they’re heading toward. Hence, the title; it foreshadows the final run of the season.


1. Wait for Dewey’s final scene. It’s a doozy.