It’s no secret that I love writing with music playing. As I mentioned in the last post, Ari and J.D.’s story started with Daryl Hall’s “Why Was It So Easy?” Specifically, the version with Butch Walker featured on Live From Daryl’s House.
As the story grew, so did the song references. Not just in the titles for each blog post, but within the story itself, supporting the story and adding another voice. At one point, the music felt like an off-camera omniscient narrator throwing in J.D. and Lance’s point of view at times. As the story changed, so did the timelines and the songs. Some of the music has remained from the original but new music was added in the last rewrite as others were removed.
A lot of people connect to music and connect to others through music. That’s one of the purposes it serves in this story, not just Ari, Warren, and J.D. connected to music, but connecting to each other through it. We also tend to mark time and major events to songs we love and even songs we end up loathing. Like my sophomore year in college I was studying in my dorm (similar to Ari’s, but a different tower and closer to the apartments) and a local deejay decided to play “Just A Friend” by Biz Markie on repeat. It got to the comical stage where, because we all had our windows open, everyone listening to that station turned up the music and started singing along across the courtyard. Good times. Or the time my bestie went with me to Chula Vista to say goodbye to a friend who was leaving for boot camp and while listening to Depeche Mode’s Music for the Masses, “Never Let Me Down Again” started and we got excited at the same time.
Even breakups are a time we fall into music, listening to the same sad song over and over again. For me, “The Flame” reminds me of one person and “One Last Cry” another. The last time I lived with my brother, he played “Missing” by Everything But The Girl on repeat when he and his girlfriend at the time were on the outs.
Like real life, music marks time and events, good and bad, for Ari. From “To Look At You” to “The Different Story” to “Higher Love” to “Sign Your Name,” each holds a specific memory, a specific emotion, and a connection for her.
This is the original Author’s Note that was going to be in Tainted Love. Then, the domestic terrorism of 3 Asian-owned spas in Atlanta on 3/16 happened and I knew given the subject matter of Tainted Love that I had to rewrite it. Tainted Love will be out on 5/18. Pre-order link is at the end.
This story started with a question in the form of a song late one night many years ago. I was watching the Butch Walker episode of Live From Daryl’s House that I kept on my DVR because I loved everything about that particular episode. I found myself rewinding the performance of “Why Was It So Easy?” over and over because at that moment the song had taken hold of me. I furiously wrote out what would end up being a piece of flash fiction that I posted on my blog.
Once it was up I thought I was done. Move on to the next thing which was finish Family Ties. But that question persisted in the back of my mind and wouldn’t leave me alone. Neither would my author BFF, Katie Oliver. I had to answer it.
Post by post, I created the history of the two characters and before I knew it I had around twenty posts that spanned twelve years.
I was done, yeah?
Turns out I wasn’t.
I put each post into a Scrivener doc and started editing; expanding the story and adding scenes that I was able to skip for expediency on blog posts but were necessary for a novel.
Three months before Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey’s article in The New York Times detailing accusations against Harvey Weinstein was published, I sent Tainted Love to my first round of beta readers. At the time I was already struggling with some health issues that I thought I recovered from, but by the end of October 2017 I had relapsed and we still had no answers. Watching the #MeToo movement gain traction at the same time my health was falling apart and unable to write gave me time to mull over how I was representing not only the main character and her family’s culture but the larger culture that exists in Hawai’i while incorporating the larger issue of violence against women (verbal and physical)—Asian American women in particular. 48 Hours also aired an episode on stalking and its effects on victims in September 2017. It included Pauly Perrette, stalked for more than a decade. I don’t generally watch the show but because I’m a fan of NCIS and Pauly’s character and it related to my story, I had to watch. When we discuss violence against women, it’s one of the types of violence that is often left out of the conversation and I want to change that. When every election comes around and the judgmental “if you don’t vote, you can’t complain” starts we need to push back on the assumption that everyone is able to vote. Aside from the typical voter suppression directed towards disenfranchising BIPOC, disabled, and elderly voters, think about the victims of violent abusers and stalkers who cannot have their name in any public record in order to remain safe because voter rolls are public record.
It’s been a long road, not only of constant doctor’s appointments, finally getting a diagnosis and then creating the right medication cocktail with my doctor to get me functioning again. During that time there were moments where I’d sit at the computer and write one sentence after hours, staring at the manuscript on my screen; or I’d spend a week writing a new scene only to realize that it neither furthered the plot nor revealed anything new. I finally gave up and just focused on my health. Creeping into fall 2019 is when I finally had the right mix of meds that made me as close to whole as I’ll get. I could think clearly instead of spending all day in brain fog and I was able to do more than the bare minimum.
In the thick of all that, I had a running negative feedback loop going on in my subconscious because society has long told us if we aren’t productive we have no worth. I spent a lot of time beating myself up for being unable to be productive even though having a rare chronic illness that is disabling is a valid reason for not. Social norms are assholes. By the time I got rid of that feedback loop I realized that the years of being unable to work on Tainted Love was a good thing. Had I published this back in 2017, it would not be the same story. It would not be truly representative in the way other traditionally published stories are being told by authors of color, unapologetic in directing the story at those who have not had a mirror held up to them in entertainment growing up. You would think it would’ve been easy for me as long as I’ve been writing and taken classes in a state where I was surrounded by people who looked like me and in some cases, had professors that looked like me.
In college, the majority of my stories were centered on Filipinas or hapas (mixed race) and it was neither encouraged nor discouraged. It simply was. Then came a correspondence course I decided to do after leaving Hawai’i to keep my skills honed. It was all done by mail and feedback was always handwritten like my English papers in college. I was slow and would go through periods where I didn’t work on my “homework.” The instructor I was paired with left and I was assigned a new instructor. The first piece I sent him was returned with a question about why the character’s skin color was important. Because she looks like me and I don’t have stories about characters who look like me? That one piece of feedback was the type of gatekeeping that authors of color are used to, having our representation questioned to uncenter ourselves and give the gatekeepers what they want while silencing our stories.
For years, I’ve sought out books by Asian and AsAm authors and for a long time, I couldn’t even fill one shelf on my bookshelves with them. Now I can fill an entire bookcase. I’ve also actively sought out other stories by other authors of color and one thing is clear, they are writing for themselves and an audience full of people like them without going into lengthy explanations on every little thing. That, my readers, has meant the world to me. In 2019, I read The Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay and I was blown away. I finally had a book that I connected to not just as a human but as a FilAm. You can’t put a price on that when seeing yourself and your cultural experiences reflected back in the entertainment you consume is exceedingly rare and still stereotyped. While Tainted Love isn’t the same as The Patron Saints of Nothing, it shows that we aren’t monoliths and that our experiences are complex and varying with our own stories to tell.
When I first wrote this, we had not yet gone into lockdown nor had anti-Asian racism risen because of COVID-19. Reported hate crimes against AsAms rose 150% since the start of the pandemic—I make the distinction that they’re reported because there are segments of our population who do not trust the police and will not report for fear of being victimized again so the real percentage is likely higher. Men are verbally harassing and physically intimidating AsAm women for existing in public spaces or saying no to their advances which led to the recent killing of 6 AsAm women plus 2 non-Asians, one a customer and one an employee. The latter then led to the expected racist and fetishized comments about the AsAm women by not just randos on the internet, but police officials and politicians as well. This is the intersection of violence against women that Tainted Love focuses on. Our elderly are being attacked while out walking in their neighborhood, resulting in serious injury and death. Our now former president made sure he left office referring to the virus in a racist manner. Cases of extrajudicial murder by police officers have been uncovered. Politicians on the right have been pushing anti-China since the beginning of the pandemic while pushing anti-China bills that is dangerously similar to the anti-Chinese rhetoric right before the Chinese Exclusion Act. For those who aren’t aware, the Chinese Exclusion Act and laws that were aimed at Chinese immigrants rarely targeted just Chinese immigrants but Asian immigrants as a whole. Anyone doing antiracist work needs to be aware of the racism and danger our community is in, as well as our history in this country, because it’s rarely widely reported or taught.
If you aren’t FilAm or from Hawai’i and fluent in Hawaiian Pidgin English you aren’t the audience I wrote for, but you’re still invited in—hemo yo’ shoes first. Expect to not have everything explained, a glossary to flip to, or exotification, eye shape, or skin color descriptions of the Asian and Polynesian characters. I will tell you that there are words and names that look like one syllable but are two, like: Sale, make, and hale. If you want to understand the rhythms and intonations of Pidgin you can go to YouTube and look up videos from local comedians like Pashyn Santos, Bu La’ia, Rap Rapleinger, Frank De Lima, and Andy Bumatai. There’s also the 2021 Netflix movie, Finding ‘Ohana, you can watch and the dialogue in Pidgin is mostly subtitled for those not familiar with it.
If you are FilAm, from Hawai’i and/or fluent in Pidgin: no sneeze while you eat saimin.
One man’s obsession is another woman’s living nightmare
What could go wrong when Ariana Baraquio runs into Lance Byun, an ex-boyfriend, while out with her current boyfriend? After all, running into people you know in Honolulu happens all the time. You say, “Long time, yeah?” catch up fast kine and hele on. The chance meeting alters the course of their lives and her boyfriend’s, James Devlin. Finding out where she lives, Lance calls her incessantly and sneaks into the building, leaving presents at her door.
Managing the stress of being stalked with the responsibilities of college, work, and living on her own overwhelms Ari. Lance’s actions culminate in a night of violence as he holds Ari and J.D. hostage. He disappears after that, but his actions create a rippling effect of trauma for her and J.D. When he returns, repeating the same pattern, they eventually put their faith in the justice system. Ari and J.D. know they’ll survive if they continue to support each other while also recognizing that Lance can and will destroy what they’ve built at any time. Ari’s experience make you question why we put so many expectations on victims to do and act as we think they should. Hopefully, her story will not only make you wish for a better future in which the system, institutions, and individuals take victims at their word and do more to protect them, making them feel safer to report in the first place, but to understand that it’s not hyperbole when Asian-American women say their lives are in danger because they’ve been fetishized.
Available soon in ebook and paperback formats through Amazon