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Tainted Love Sneak Peek

The following is one of the chapters from Tainted Love that isn’t the first chapter. Since the story isn’t told in a linear manner, I’m going to keep mum about which chapter this is. It does contain the three main characters and the direction the story takes. A trigger warning for AsAm women: some of the dialogue may trigger trauma echo for you.

Kindle pre-order U.S.: https://amazon.com/dp/B093ZCBRKL U.K: https://amazon.co.uk/dp/B093ZCBRKL Canada: https://amazon.ca/dp/B093ZCBRKL Paperback available 5/18.

Policy of Truth

March 1990

“Ari?” a male voice asked from J.D.’s empty stool behind me.

Running into people we know when we least expected it on a small urban island with eight hundred thousand people happened frequently. I never thought I’d run into anyone at The Row Bar though—an outdoor bar in Waterfront Plaza—where I was watching the downtown business crowd in their colorful aloha shirts and fitted muˈumuˈu heading for the parking garage or to a restaurant in Restaurant Row.

I maneuvered around, my heart stilling a beat as I faced my ex, Lance Byun, dressed in a gray T&C Surf logo t-shirt, jeans, a pair of black Docs, and a black leather jacket. He never cared how hot or humid it was, just that he thought he looked good in that jacket.

The first thing we discovered we had in common back in high school was that we’re the grandchildren of immigrants. For him it’s his Korean dad’s side while his great-great-great-great-grandparents on his mom’s side came from England. We dated for a few months and I broke up with him because the relationship became one-sided—his—but we remained friends. It was better that way.

Friends who haven’t seen each other since high school graduation. This could get awkward. I plastered on a smile. “Howzit.”

“Can I buy you a drink?” he asked.

“No, thanks,” I answered as the bartender sets a Guinness in front of me and Killian’s Red for J.D. in front of Lance.

He eyes J.D.’s beer. “You here with someone?”

“I am.”

“Warren?”

“No.” I didn’t feel the need to explain who I was with given how long it’s been since we last talked and took a sip of my beer.

“Oh.” He shoved his hands into his jeans pockets. “How are you?”

“Well. You? How’s Ione?” Not long after they started dating he told me he was going to marry her. I sometimes wondered if he said that to see if I would get jealous. I really didn’t care. When I broke up with him, I didn’t look back.

“We broke up a while back.” His gaze fell to the ground.

“Sorry about that.”

“Thanks.”

Heavy silence descended like a final curtain. I didn’t know what to say to him and he, for once, seemed to be at a loss for words.

“How’s—” we started at the same time.

He chuckled, his gaze returning to me as I leaned against the bar. “How’s Warren?”

“Good. Deejaying at KTUH once a week. What have you been up to?”

“Just got accepted to U Dub.”

“Congrats.” For him, any college was fine as long as he wasn’t at Stanford with his brother and sister. Then, he put it off when he got involved with Ione. Much to the dismay of his parents and their exacting standards, I was sure.

“I needed to get away from here after the breakup.” He drew his shoulders in, shrinking in on himself. “New people. New scenery. Somewhere I can’t run into her.”

His eyes shifted to my left as a familiar warmth slipped next to me. “Lance, this is J.D.”

Every inch of Lance hardens as they shake hands; his eyes, his jaw, his stance.

I glanced at J.D. “Give us a minute?”

“Sure,” he said, grabbing our drinks and heading for a table.

“What the fuck was that?” I asked as soon as J.D. was out of earshot.

“You’re going out with a haole?”

“So what? You’re hapa haole. What’s your problem?”

“You should be with an Asian.”

I bristled, straightening on the stool. It was one thing to be bullied by racist classmates and have my teachers punish me for speaking Pidgin day in and day out until I capitulated and spoke the way they wanted me to when I lived in Lexington. It was another thing to get this dogma to date within my own race from an ex. A hapa ex. He never had a problem with our classmates in interracial relationships before or being in one himself. Or maybe he did and he hid it. It was misogyny wrapped in racial purity.

I folded my arms over my chest. “You don’t get to tell me who I can date.”

“Someone should.”

“Ione is haole.”

“That’s different.”

“No, it’s not.”

“Are you sleeping with him?”

“That’s none of your business.”

“You know that’s the only reason he’s with you.”

I gave him stink eye, wishing daggers would shoot from them. The fetishization of Asian women, particularly by haole men, wasn’t new to me or something I was oblivious to when interacting with men.

He sneered, leaning in a fraction and dropping his voice to a whisper. “You’re his submissive little Asian fuck toy.”

He might as well have given me a t-shirt that read: PROPERTY OF ASIAN MEN.

My blood boiled as I slid off the stool. I didn’t have a response for him. Not one that would’ve kept me out of jail, that is. It shouldn’t have surprised me the way it did given how he made sex about him and not about us when we were together.

He grabbed my arm while I scanned the seating area for J.D. Winding my arm backward, I loosened his grip as I stepped back. J.D. came into my peripheral vision like lightning and I held a palm up, stopping him in his tracks.

I locked my eyes on Lance. “It’s my life, not yours.”

His jaw was hard as steel as I left, pulling a reluctant J.D. with me.

“Race traitor,” Lance called out.

J.D. heaved against my grasp and I tugged on his arm, forcing him to look at me instead of my ex. “What do you think you’re doing?” I asked.

“He insulted you.”

“So now you gotta be one moke? How is fighting him going to solve the problem and who is it going to benefit?” I pressed my lips together. “Fighting him will make you feel better about how he treated me. It won’t change why he said what he did or how it affects me.”

He peered over his shoulder. Lance was gone. J.D.’s arm slackened and I let go. “Fair point. Who is he?”

“A classmate from Mid-Pac.” I eyed him as he took a swig of beer after settling into his seat. “And an ex.”

He coughed, grabbing the cocktail napkin to cover his mouth. Then, he gave me a shocked gape.

“He wasn’t like that when we were dating,” I added. “Not overtly.”

He cleared his throat. “What else did he say?”

Settling my chin in the heel of my hand, I glanced at the bar. Most of the patrons were glued to the overhead TV watching the first inning of the UH baseball game.

What do I tell him? All of it? Some of it? He’s going to be angry no matter what and none of what Lance said is true. I’m certain of that.

My gaze slid back to him, sitting forward, almost pressing into the table, I took his hand in mine. “He hates haoles now even though he’s hapa,” I said as a preface. Then, I told him verbatim the comments that Lance made.

Red burst over his face as he clenched his teeth. “That’s not what I think of you.” His tone was insistent and he leaned close. “I love you for your wit, intelligence, and compassion.”

I squeezed his hand. “I know. You don’t have to convince me of anything.”

“Do you wish I was Asian?”

“Do you wish I was haole?”

Sitting back, his hand slipped out of mine and he pursed his lips. “Babes.”

“It’s a ridiculous question. I’m with you because of who you are. My family didn’t immigrate here for racial purity. They came here for a better life.”

My lolo, Carlos Baraquio, came in the final sakadawave in 1945. He had every intention of returning to Nagbukel, using his savings to buy a home, until he met Alma Supnet—her father was brought over in the first sakada wave and stayed—in Maunaloa. They married and bought a house in Kaunakakai Town. Rizal “Riz”, Yvonne, Edwin, and my dad, Florencio “Flor,” were all born a year apart. By the time my brother Ethan was born, Lola was running her own restaurant in town.

“He said what he did to make me doubt you,” I continued. “Why would I believe anything he said when he just met you?”

His gaze fell. “You know him better.”

“Why? Because we went to school together for four years? That’s bullshit. The only thing time is a standard unit of measure for is time.” I grasped the arm of his chair and his attention snapped back to me. “Why are we arguing about this?”

“Maybe he has a point.”

“His point is based in homogeneity and intolerance.”

He weaved his fingers with mine, smiling and then kissing me soft and slow before saying, “You get points for ‘homogeneity.’”

“I pay attention in class.” I smirked as a snicker slipped out of him. “I’m not going to be with someone just because they’re Asian. I think it’s fucking ridiculous.” I squeezed his hand. “You are better at the give and take a relationship requires. That’s worth more than anything to me.”

Despite the little joke we shared moments ago, his expression was downcast. I never had to stroke his ego before. I dislike doing it because it felt disingenuous. I was willing to do it this time so he understood that Lance and his ideas carry no weight. “You’re also a much better lover,” I added with a coy grin.

“That’s not funny.”

“Baby.” I extracted my hand from his, placing it on his knee. “I’m not joking. You make sure I’m into it as much as you are, that you’re giving me as much pleasure as I’m giving you. Best sex I’ve ever had. My first two boyfriends”—I shrugged—“we were all inexperienced. Lance . . . well . . . I never had an orgasm with him and he never put in the effort. You make sure I do.”

“Are you saying he didn’t know how to use his equipment?” It took a few seconds but a lopsided grin appeared after he asked the question.

I scooted closer. “I’m saying he only had one tool in his toolbox and he couldn’t wield it effectively.”

He took my hand and twisted my ring, uttering in a low rumble, “I have a tool you can use.”

“Oh?” I played along, raising my brows. “Which one?”

“Anyone you want.” He dipped in, kissing the soft spot under my ear and his tongue taking a quick stroke as it lit a fire within me.

My breath hitched and I grabbed his shirt with my free hand, drawing him closer. He knew every inch of me and how I responded.

Lance could never say that.

“Your place or mine?” I asked. My roommate was spending the weekend at her boyfriend’s and J.D.’s roommate always went home for the weekend.

“Mine.”

A smile died before it reached my lips as I spotted Lance ducking around the corner in a hurry.

© Debi V. Smith, 2021

 
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Posted by on May 17, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

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Tainted Love Pre-order

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.

Pre-order Tainted Love

 
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Posted by on May 3, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

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