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He started his morning shift with six different Sara(h)s, an auspicious sign for a Wednesday. They booked the shuttle on the app and he watched, incredulously, as they piled in one at a time, a grand cosmic joke about the homogeneity of white women in San Francisco. Their hair ranged in hue from seal brown to chemical blonde, and their clothes were of the same expensive ilk—drapey linen, dark, tapered denim with tailored plaid button-ups, chunky patent leather shoes that might’ve cost more than his monthly rent. Their faces? Identically lacquered: sooty powder around the eyes, lined with a dark streak of black, hair artfully tousled, and skin so glazed and even it looked like an artisan plate.

dscn1184She was nudged from slumber by a hollow thump—followed by another.

Poor Rosie.

The half-blind shepherd had the unfortunate habit of thwacking her tail in her sleep until she woke herself—sniffing the air, whimpering at imaginary predators, seeking out a comforting scratch behind the ears.

She dropped a drowsy arm over the edge of her bed.

Murmured, “Hush, girl.”

Wondered, what did the dog dream about? Meadows? Squirrels?

Burying her head into the crease of her damp pillow, she thought perhaps Rosie dreamt of Ben.

A tiny thought. A seed. She pushed it away, submerging herself in rumpled sheets. But the synapse of connections spread into an invasive tangle of memory—like a cancer.

fredmugford_2016As I was putting my underwear on, the right foot got caught. The big toe of the right foot was stretching the fabric. I continued pushing my foot down harder as I was pulling the underwear up by the dark blue waist band. I was stubborn and I wasn’t going to let the underwear win. I was standing balanced on my left foot, in the bathroom, after taking my shower, and my feet, my skin, was still damp, I think that is why the big toe got caught and wouldn’t let go no matter how much I pulled up or pushed the foot down. All this became infuriating, even for the underwear too, because the cotton fabric began to stretch, I could feel the stress it was going under, but I demanded to be right this time, to be the winner, to push my foot through the hole, the second hole, or third, in the underwear, but it just wouldn’t go through. I don’t know if I was willing to tear the underwear, it was a relatively new pair, it was a comfortable pair, still clean and thick and it hugged my contours nice and tight, holding everything in place just right, snug in a word. If the underwear was old, if it had a tear in it, I probably would have sacrificed it with pleasure. The band of the right leg hole had in fact dug itself deep between the big toe and the toe next to it. And by this time I was starting to lose my balance, and on top of the frustration of not being able to push my foot through, I now had the compounded fear of falling and dying from hitting my head on one of the porcelain fixtures inside the bathroom, the bathtub or the sink or the toilet or even the floor or the tiled walls or maybe even the handlebars I installed in the bathroom for my father. And now I lost my balance and was ready to fall over to my right because my right foot was the one that was up trying to go through the hole in the underwear made for the right leg to go through, and I felt myself leaning over to my right, and I had to make an instant decision, should I continue pushing my foot down to get the right foot through the hole before I hit the floor, or should I just let go of the underwear and let the right foot touch the blue tiled floor and let the underwear dangle half on between my legs, or a third choice, which is what I didn’t want, was to just fall. So I chose to let go, with a click of the tongue and a sigh, in frustration, like I was telling myself, no, I didn’t get to win this time, I had to let go, and now I have to try putting my right foot through the right leg hole all over again. My right foot hit the tiled floor with a slap, a sound of naked flesh hitting a hard cool, smooth surface, it was kind of a satisfying sound, even if it sounded hard, nothing like the sound of skin slapping skin, which always leads to some kind of pain, I was thinking of my mother slapping my face real hard, I don’t think she ever did that, and I was trying to think of times I slapped myself on purpose, and I couldn’t, except if it involved pleasure, possibly, which I can’t think of right now.

bernard-grant3637_for-web-useKem drives us through town. Shopkeepers raise blinds, flip open-closed signs. Street workers drop cones, drill, hammer. Then she hops on I-5 and all that’s replaced by morning traffic until we climb Cooper Point and the Worksource logo appears, stamped onto an office building wall towering over a 7-Eleven. In the parking lot her baby bump squeezes past the steering wheel when she leans over to kiss my forehead and drop a sack lunch in my lap. I half expect her to add “at school” to her “Have a nice day.”

I say good morning to Mindy at the reference desk. She smirks and says, “In for another shift, Gene?” I wink and walk past several banks of computers to take a seat between Jeremy and Sam. Nothing behind us but motivational posters on a small-windowed wall. Above us, huge black letters pasted onto white say, SUPPORT BUSINESS, PROMOTE EMPLOYMENT. Up front are classrooms where people learn to write resumes and ace interviews. We never go.

headshot_vhWhat’s your book about?

I write about immigrant families navigating a new America, straddling cultures and continents. From a Hong Kong movie idol fleeing a sex scandal, to an obedient daughter turned Stanford pretender, from a Chinatown elder summoned to his village, to a Korean-American pastor with a secret agenda, the characters in the collection illustrate the conflict between self and society, tradition and change.

2016-02-02-vanessa-hua-deceit-and-other-possibilities-book-cover-design-04aPerhaps you’ve heard of me?

Maybe you’ve listened to a song by the Jump Boys, a group I fronted, which had three gold records that launched countless jingles for a remarkable array of consumer products. Or on television, as the host of a reality show where contestants dared to eat horse cock sandwiches and cling to helicopters zooming over a tropical bay. On billboards, hawking heavy gold watches, cask-aged cognac, or alligator leather shoes, my shirt unbuttoned to reveal six-pack abs.

I didn’t think so.

In America, most likely the only reference you’ve seen of me would be a blurb, news of the weird, along the lines of “those funny Asians, at it again.” Video-game pets, robot butlers, used schoolgirl panties sold in vending machines, and the sex scandal involving Kingsway Lee, the Hong Kong star whose compromising photos were stolen off his laptop, played out in the tabloids, and posted on the web.

Thousands of shots from my cell phone, scoring with scores of women: the actress wife of my former bandmate; the Canto-pop star and lover of a reputed mobster; and the daughter of a shipping magnate with ties to Beijing and the Red Army.

I’ve been forced to flee to the safest place I could think of, where no one would recognize me: my hometown.

headshot for InterviewsI hate the theater. Why does Sheila insist we go? A man my age has no time to spare. I study a floor map hanging on a wall in the lobby, noting the exits and locations of the men’s rooms.

“Come on, Oliver,” says my wife, pulling at my arm. “We’re on the second floor.” She starts walking toward our seats, waddling to and fro. Her fire engine red hair speaks to the massive crowd: I’m hair. I’m hair. Make way, I’m hair.

I turn to follow her and freeze. My father is at the bar. I recognize his stance, shoulders back, a commanding Army officer, ready to salute. A leggy brunette yaks in his ear. Orange overhead lights tan his skin a leathery brown and it changes him, makes him younger. He needs a shave.

kcatinella_photo1.

The Internet isn’t popular enough yet for thousands of people to make the comparison between Justin Timberlake’s hair and a block of dry, uncooked Ramen Noodles. It is 1999. Because no one is paying attention, no one notices that Justin has a bad case of head lice that he refuses to acknowledge due to his busy schedule and also his desire to maintain a top-ranking position as teenage sex icon. The rest of N*Sync is in the hallway toying with the TRL celebrity photo booth while Justin sits in the greenroom of the Times Square studio. Carson Daly has just walked in to give Justin a hug. Carson asks, Do you need anything my man? to which Justin replies, I think I’m OK for now. Neither of them are particularly good at conversation, and they take turns looking in different corners of the room as JC and Joey call out poses from the hallway: Let’s do a silly one, Let’s stick our tongues out, OK, this one let’s just smile. Finally, Carson says, Not into pictures? Justin wishes he could explain to Carson that he actually loves photo booths, but the rest of the boys would surely get lice if he participated, so instead he just says, Nah, not my thing, and scratches a spot on his scalp that has been intensifying throughout the exchange.

lobster“My father was killed in Lubech!”

“Lubech—Lubech, that’s all you’ve been saying—Lubech,” Mother said.

True, Father did say “Lubech, Lubech” a lot on this trip. It sounded like “love” and “burning” at the same time. Kuzya and Lubasha loved playing “words.”

“In 1943, he was killed! It’s 1986! I just don’t see why I need to spend my May holidays this year bumping along these terrible roads, breaking the engine, being carsick, driving through snow and then dust and heat and running chickens and bugs—”

That was true, too. All kinds of bugs—mosquitoes, flies, some rare bugs Kuzya had never seen in Moscow.

amina_gautier5.creditjennibryantI notice that every time someone asks you when you’re going to write a novel, you get pretty snippy about it. Sometimes even—dare I say?—downright snarky. Do you hate novels so much?

I don’t hate novels at all. There are many novels I absolutely adore! A Lesson Before Dying, The Age of Innocence, Beloved, The Color Purple, Erasure, Fight Club, The Known World, Montana 1948, Not Without Laughter, Passing, Quicksand, The Remains of the Day, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and Their Eyes Were Watching God –just to name a few.

 

Don’t you want your books to sell? Don’t novels sell better? Why don’t you just shut everybody up and write one?

I am a writer who is a literature scholar and professor and that is the lens through which I look to see the world of writing. So I know that there is no correlation between a book’s advance or publisher and the book getting invited into the academy.

AminaGautierLostThingsCoverFalling into step with the boy, Thisman draws close and whispers in a voice only for him. Says, “I wish I had a little boy just like you. I wish you were my own,” and the boy believes it, every single word.

He is lost, but not in the way he has been taught to be. Not in a supermarket; not in a shopping mall. There are no police officers or security guards to whom he can give his name and address. There is no one to page his parents over a loudspeaker to come and get him. None of the clocks where they go give the correct time and there are no calendars to mark the days. He never knows where or when he is.

ReeserHeadshot2016I was returning the sweater because it didn’t fit. I’d bought it yesterday, this tiny scrap of cobalt with flat silver buttons. It was called “The Sarah Cardigan,” and since that’s my name, I’d felt it made sense. In the boutique’s mirror, it had wrapped my arms like a hug. The buttons rested close to my frame, which was slight from a nervous summer of eating mostly toast and avocado and anticipating the move. But this morning, in our half-packed apartment, in the slanting light of the bathroom, it looked clingy, pathetic, too small. What was I, a teenager trying to show off my new little breasts? An insubstantial person, just following her boyfriend to a city with seasons? I was restless, spinning. Daniel had been out gathering abandoned boxes a few blocks away, so I’d just slipped into my car with the sweater and left.

Petur HKThe sun is setting, and I’m hungry and horny, and Girl knows it. She can always tell when I’m salivating.

We met at a bus stop in Chile back when I had first stopped shaving and she had just begun and the ground beneath our feet was just some place at the edge of the world. Later, it turned out we’d taken the same flight there and told the customs agent the same tale of how we were traveling to find out if the stories we’d told about the Chilean wine we’d served to a thousand German and Norwegian guests who came to bathe in the wet Icelandic summers were true.

sullivanChief Noc-A-Homa and Princess Win-A-Lotta share a secluded bungalow on the wooded shores of Lake Allatoona, about an hour north of Atlanta. Neither of the two former human mascots, a royal Indian couple, has worked an Atlanta Braves home game since 1986—nearly thirty years ago. They were run off from their giant teepee that’d been situated in the outfield bleachers in the now-demolished Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium after what began as a disagreement with team officials over the chief’s pay of sixty dollars per game. It wasn’t much to live on for a large city’s icon, even in 1980’s money. And the princess earned even less.

biosaraAfter school, Rachel comes over and we climb through the craggy hole in the fence and into the park. Everything is wet because it always is but we don’t care. We climb across the hillside to a patch of trees where Rachel likes to smoke cigarettes. We lie back on the grass and I listen to the leaves tap against one another.

“We should have a party at your house,” Rachel says for the hundredth time. Rachel loves parties and lugs me along on weekends. Parties are too chaotic for me but I am a teenager and that’s what we are supposed to do. Says who, I don’t know. Says Rachel. Rachel has streaks of blue in her hair because of course she does. She glitters everywhere she goes.