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)

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


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


Advance Reviews Coming in

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


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:


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,

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