By Emma C.
Noir writer Steph Cha visited Pasadena City College in October as the PCC English Department's Writer in Residence. She visited several classes and also offered a workshop session where she answered questions from the student-audience. This piece is an edited collage of the Q&A from that workshop session. Steph Cha has been working on her 3rd book in a trilogy about a Korean-American investigator.
On taking rejection:
Cha states that she was never notified if a publisher had rejected her work only if they accepted it, so she had no reaction at all to rejection from publishers. She did however get rejected by agents who she asked to represent her. Her overall feeling about rejections is that it helps to keep you humble and to have thicker skin. She realized that by being rejected, she was not writing for everyone because not everyone will connect to her story but appreciates though who do.
On being the first female author to write Korean-American Noir:
Cha feels that mystery is predominantly written by white older males and that ethnic communities in the mystery genre aren’t being explored at all. She is surprised to find that no mystery novels touch on minority groups since there is so much to touch on when it comes to these minority groups cultures and taboos.
On developing characters and setting:
Cha’s main character is based off herself, giving the protagonist her voice. Most of her other characters are also partly based off of real people she knows. Cha finds it is easiest get a character down based on people’s real life reactions to certain situations. Her settings are also based off places she is familiar with, like Los Angeles. Cha suggest to stick with a place you know very well to create a natural setting and if you want to change that setting, you should do research or travel.
On the Armenian Genocide as the topic of her latest book:
Cha puts emphasis on his historical event since she has Armenian friends who feel strongly that the Armenian Genocide isn’t given enough attention and is not recognized as an actual historical event that occurred.Cha also shares similar feeling to her Armenian friends, she too feels that some parts of Korean-American past history is neglected and never talked about. She believes that a culture and its people are meant to be heard, your people’s history is what you leave behind to continue a story.
On developing story, plot and getting her thoughts out on paper:
Cha states she is not married to plot. She wanted her novels to develop in an organic way and plot would restrict that. For Cha’s writing to get down on paper, she states to do exactly that, put your thoughts on paper. For Cha her novel came to her when she had finally decided to sit down and type.
On valuing knowledge and experience:
For Cha this was a tough question to answer, she explained that experience changes you in a way knowledge doesn’t really do. All experiences are valuable, and that experience helps build character.
On knowing when she wanted to be a writer:
Cha stated that being a writer was her “pipe dream," she believed that writers were a special breed of people. She never really got directly into writing since she never knew anyone who wrote so instead took to reading as an indirect way to get into writing.
On teasing her fourth novel:
Cha’s new novel will take a different turn, it will center around the 1992 riots and shooting in Los Angeles. Specifically on a Korean female store owner who shoots a fifteen year African -American girl over stolen orange juice and serves no time in jail. Her book will follow the lives of these characters around that time and talk about the racial tensions that occurred at the time as well.
The last question that Steph Cha was asked for that day was if she ever had any moments of doubts. She answered everyday but it shouldn’t stop you. “No magic goes into a novel just your effort”
By Jodie Shull
Last night, after a long day of seeing not a scrap of news, I tumbled into bed to catch up. I started to nod off to the usual presidential campaign horrors when the script along the bottom of the TV screen caught my eye. Bob Dylan had won the Nobel Prize for Literature. I bolted up, “What the bleep??”
It’s not that I wasn’t thrilled. I was stunned that the blue-eyed boy, vagabond, troubadour, ragamuffin poet from the Rust Belt, beloved voice of my youth had been so recognized. The Nobel Prize for Literature is generally given to someone I have never heard of, often because their works have not been readily available in English, my only lingo. Bob Dylan?
I imagine there will be quite a stir in the world literature realm. Dylan is a songwriter. I don’t believe he writes sonnets. Strange enough, I had just read David Remnick’s wonderful profile in The New Yorker about Leonard Cohen in which Bob Dylan is a featured speaker. Dylan and Cohen are colleagues, dueling bards, who love one another’s work as they ponder the mysterious sources of their creativity.
There will be a flood of pondering going on as this award is discussed and dissected by the cultural media in the coming days and weeks. I love it! Here’s what NPR says, “The prolific musician is the first Nobel winner to have forged a career primarily as a singer-songwriter….Dylan earned the prize ‘for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition,’ according to the citation by the Swedish Academy….” What fun it is going to be to read all of this critique about someone so close to home whose work I am familiar with.
The Swedish Academy has just blown the doors off the Tower of Song. Some may be dismayed that the unwashed phenomenon has been tapped for this award. To all poets who have labored on the traditional path: let not your hearts be troubled. This could be a fabulous boon to the fortunes of poets everywhere, attracting interest, discussion, and hope to the art. Will Dylan sing his acceptance speech?
By Kevin Salvador
SERIES: ON THE BUS
These faces are the many muses I've encountered while riding the public transportation systems from Gardena to Pasadena.
PART 1: OLD MEXICAN MAN WEARING FANCY COWBOY BOOTS AND A SLICKED MUSTACHE
It was around 5 in the morning. I had caught the gold line heading northeast-- a nice warm morning, It might have been summer, now that I remember. To my left sat an old Mexican man, He was dressed to impress. He couldn’t have been more than 60, I wondered if he was someone still trying to keep his youth? Or maybe he thought this is what rich men wear? My mind ran through all sorts of possibilities…. Then again, I wasn’t all to eager to ask him about his life story. His shirt was freshly ironed, tucked in and buttoned up to the top. He was wearing a bolo tie that was in style with Los Tejanos, or norteños (Texan or northerner). He was neatly tucked away into a pair of fitted Levis and on his feet he wore fancy cowboy boots.
Oh yeah. I almost forgot.
He had a slicked mustache.
I nodded my head in respect.
By Emma C.
On one of my fancier outings for the nights, one night I went to see the play The Maids at A Noise Within Theater. The theater was packed with people of all ages groups, I was seated left center to the stage. My view was spectacular, I could see the whole stage and took note of the tiny details, like a tea set resting on a cushioned seat. The atmosphere was welcoming and enchanting, everything and everyone came together to create this grand scenery for the play. The play was new to me but I did a bit of research on it before I came to the theater.
The Maids, is a French play written by Jean Genet. He based The Maids on the infamous Christine and Léa Papin sisters, who murdered their employer and the employer's daughter. The play had story to it and this story was interpreted to be a clash of classes; the proletariat vs. the bourgeoisie. As the play begun, an aroma of 1920s instrumental music began to play, it drew me right into the scene. The characters of the play are; Claire and Solange, who are the maids and sisters, and Madame, who are the maids employer.
As the play begins Madame is preparing for the night, Claire watches from her balcony very intensely, giving a sign of envy in her stare. While Madame is finishing up, Solange is catering to her and above Claire undresses. When Madame has finally left, the sisters Solange and Claire start to role playing. Claire plays Madame and Solange plays Claire. Their role playing revealed some deep dark secrets of theirs and some flaws too. Claire seemed to be very bipolar on how she felt about Madame and Solange tries excessively hard to shelter Claire from harm. These insights to their personality seem to indicate that the sister are co-dependent of each other and may suffer from a mental disorder. As the role play continues, Claire who plays Madame, states some interesting remarks concerning herself despite saying them to Solange who is playing Claire. She states, “You have no friends” and “loathing eyes”, Claire seems to be criticizing herself, indicating that she has an internal struggle about her personality and lifestyle. This is where her mixed feelings about Madame come into play, she uses passive aggressive statements to describe her attitude towards Madame while acting as her. Claire seems to worship and idolize Madame for the life she lives but at the same time hates her for it. Their role play is then interrupted by an alarm that Solange had set prior to the start of their role playing. Claire is immediately irritated, while Solange states “I can never finish you off”, which prompts me to ask if this statement has a double meaning to it. Does Solange mean that she can’t finish Claire off in a sexual matter, which indicates that these sisters engage in incest or that the role playing is ended by Madame’s death.
Then a huge key to the entire play is revealed, Claire and Solange have managed to send Madame's husband to jail. Soon after they receive a call, notifying them he was released on bail, afraid of getting caught they devise a plan to poison Madame. Although they plan to poison Madame, you can feel the tension between the sisters start to build, so much of their life has gone into catering to Madame, that this plan is the sole key to their freedom. The stakes are high.
The encounter with Madame is a true testament to how Claire and Solange are abused as maids,the role playing was no exaggeration. Madame is portrayed as loud and brash,and out right oblivious, she has elegant things but not elegant ways. Due to this kind of attitude she treats Claire and Solange with indifference and second thought. Madame takes her anger and irritation out on the maids due to her husband being in jail. In an effort to calm Madame's nerves Solange offers her the poisoned tea, but doesn’t take it. You can see the tension in their faces as Madame refuses the tea.
Then Madame, who believes her husband went to jail due to her greedy ways offers Claire and Solange her beautiful accessories that she cherishes. This is shortly lived since she notices that the phone by her bed is no longer on the hook, the maids are then forced to tell her that her husband was released on bail. Madame then takes back her accessories and prepares to leave to meet with her husband. Claire then tries persistently to get Madame to drink the tea before she leaves. With every attempt you will notice that Claire grows more and more impatient, Claire puts all of her hopes and wishes into that sole cup of poisoned tea, desperately wishing for Madame to take a sip. Claire however fails, Solange arrives back within an hour with a taxi and Madame leaves for the night.
Once Madame leaves, Claire and Solange get into an argument, to settle their nerves they begin another role play. Claire plays as Madame again, Solange states “I want to be a real maid”, suggesting that what they are is slaves and not maids since they are treated as such. This role play become instantly more intense than the first since Solange takes it upon herself to grab a whip and begin to try and attack Claire with it. In the midst of this hysteria, Solange states “Everyone is listening but no one will hear.” Signifying that there pain as maids is something everyone has turned a blind eye to. Claire then begins to have a mental breakdown stating that someone is watching her and doesn’t want to be seen. This hints towards her shame for being a maid and that she has paranoia, a symptom of some mental disorders.
The play ends in a mysterious way, Solange claims that Madame is finally dead and that she had a beautiful ceremony. This announcement seems strange since we knew Madame had left for the night. It is then revealed that it was Claire who was dead, she had drank the poison tea while role playing as Madame. This play I feel didn't just stand for the awareness of classicism but also the mental agony that comes with it, resorting to your lowest to gain freedom from materialism.
I recommend you go see this play, it entails some interesting theories as to what it could all mean. Not only that but the acting and atmosphere of it all pulls you right in.
By Jodie Shull
Brown Girl in Brooklyn
Jacqueline Woodson came to Vroman’s Books in Pasadena last month to talk about her new novel Another Brooklyn. It always amazes me when a literary idol of mine appears right there in that small space full of folding chairs and I can spend a quiet evening in their company. Jackie Woodson is a 2014 National Book Award winner for her childhood memoir-in-verse Brown Girl Dreaming, a New York Times bestseller, which also won a Newbery Honor Medal, Coretta Scott King Award, and NAACP Image Award that year.
Known for her extensive contribution to African-American literature for children and young adults, Woodson was appointed the Poetry Foundation’s Young People’s Poet Laureate for 2015-2017. There isn’t a children’s book award she hasn’t received or been nominated for, and like most superstars of the children’s book world, she is modest, generous, humorous and devoted to creating books that matter for kids.
Another Brooklyn is a departure for her because it’s a novel for adults. Woodson explained that while she was writing Brown Girl Dreaming about growing up in South Carolina and New York in the 1960s and 1970s, she jogged loose memories about the places she had lived in Bushwick, a neighborhood in Brooklyn. She decided to write a history of Bushwick, a biography of a true place, and created a fiction narrative about four girls coming of age in that setting. The emergence ofAnother Brooklyn is a benefit of Woodson’s habit of writing more than one book at a time. She had insights while writing Brown Girl Dreaming that “unlocked” Another Brooklyn.
So what is the difference between Young Adult and Adult categories? According to Woodson, publishers decide how to market a given story. It’s about “time,” she says. Even though Another Brooklyn is the story of four teenage friends, it’s narrated by an adult looking back in time, a perspective that wouldn’t be of interest to a teen reader. “Young people want a young narrator,” says Woodson, “telling their story in the moment.” In her Young Adult books, her narrator is usually not older than 16.
Writers for young people don’t need to stay away from complex, troubling subjects. Quite the opposite. Readers understand things at the level of their life experience. As a child, Woodson says she read Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and thought the story had a happy ending. Reading the book again as an adult, Woodson saw the layers of meaning that she couldn’t perceive as a child. It’s these layers of meaning that allow Woodson to present the tough but necessary subjects that sometimes get her books removed from school library shelves. Woodson cited a poem about tobacco from Brown Girl Dreaming as an example of “just how subversive authors who write for young people actually are.”
Jackie Woodson struggled with reading as a child. When she found a copy of John Steptoe’s picture book Stevie in the library, she first discovered a child who looked like her on the pages of a book and began to dream of telling her own stories. “My love of stories inspired and stayed with me,” she says, “creating the first sparks of the writer I was to become.” Fast forward some forty years, and Woodson is signing copies of her 19th book for a warm circle of admirers at Vroman’s. She writes “with so much love” in my copy of Another Brooklyn. That and her beautiful wide smile let me feel the true secret of her success.
Late breaking news: Jacqueline Woodson's Another Brooklyn was just listed as a finalist for the 2016 National Book Award.
PCC Inscape Magazine, housed at Pasadena City College, is following Coronavirus protocols. At this time our staff continues to read submissions and publish web content. Our Spring 2020 issue is at the printer! Our Fall 2020 issue is coming soon!
Blog Posts reflect the opinions of the writer and not the opinions of Pasadena City College or Inscape Magazine Editorial Staff Members.