|By Admin1 (admin) (pool-151-196-239-147.balt.east.verizon.net - 126.96.36.199) on Monday, August 16, 2004 - 10:21 pm: Edit Post|
Interview With Jamaica RPCV Leonard Chang
Interview With Jamaica RPCV Leonard Chang
Interview With Leonard Chang
Interviewed by Jenna Glatzer
Leonard's first novel, entitled The Fruit 'N Food, was published in 1996 and won the Black Heron Press Award for Social Fiction that year.. His second novel, Dispatches from the Cold, published in 1998, won a San Francisco Bay Guardian Goldie Award for Literature, and has been optioned for a film. His third novel recently sold to Ecco/HarperCollins, and will be published in the Spring of 2001. The novel is called CHOICE, and is literary mystery about a man looking into the details of his father's death.
In addition to novels, he writes short stories, essays, and book reviews, and his work has appeared in numerous literary journals, including The Crescent Review, Prairie Schooner, Confluence, Crab Orchard Review, Bamboo Ridge, and Lynx Eye. He currently teaches at the graduate writing program at Antioch University in Los Angeles.
How did you know you were a writer?
I had clues of it early on, when, for example, I had essays and stories read aloud by my teachers during elementary school, or when I'd read a wonderful novel and ache to do the same thing. There was a point--about halfway through college when I dropped out for a short time to reassess my goals--when I made a conscious choice to become a "writer" and from that point on I didn't think of myself as anything but that.
You say that your mother encouraged you to read the "classics" as a child. Do you feel that it's important for writers to learn about their "roots?"
Certainly. How can you move forward in any field unless you know what has been done before? What you learn very quickly when reading the Classics (and that's a vague enough term to mean anything of merit that has lasted over the years) is that everything you think is new or unique has already been done and done very well, and it becomes your job to understand how it was accomplished, and what you can use for your own means as a writer and lover of fiction.
What would you say to writers who say they don't have time to read?
I'm afraid I wouldn't have much to say, since a writer who doesn't have time to read is in trouble. Reading is nourishment for the writer; it feeds your craft, it energizes your creativity. Reading and reading voraciously is probably one of the biggest requirement for any writer, since the two are so closely linked. A writer who doesn't read will soon starve.
You said, "I probably learned more from going through John Updike's novels chronologically than any writing workshop I attended." Can you tell us about some of the insights you gained?
I actually teach a graduate seminar on John Updike, and there isn't enough time or space for me to comment here. However, I can say his craft is less mystifying in the context of his oeuvre. You see where he repeats himself (sometimes even using similar imagery in different books); you see his becoming more confident in longer narratives as he moves from novel to novel. You see the experiments and risks he takes, and then those that work often appear in subsequent books. You see how he takes characters that are often fundamentally similar, but then in different books he modifies them in ways that become recognizable. I think this kind of full-scale analysis is possible with any writer who has written a large body of work.
How do you approach a new piece of writing? Do you extensively outline, write as inspiration hits, etc.?
Outlining is useful at the very early stages of a project, but once you progress, you need to let the characters and story take over, otherwise you risk working in too rigid and mechanical ways, almost trapped by the outlines and structures. Generally I don't outline or wait for inspiration.
I tend to work with characters--sketches, putting them in scenes--then the stories slowly emerge as they move about in their lives. This often takes many drafts, but it seems to be the method that works for me.
You teach in the graduate writing program at Antioch University. What's something that's surprised you about the crop of writers in your program?
That there are many, many talented writers out there. I was surprised by how good some of them are, but then what hasn't surprised me since learning this is that talent is only a small part of the puzzle. Determination; perseverance; a willingness to work extremely hard for long, unrewarding periods of time; a mental toughness to criticism and disappointment--this is what separates the successes from the rest. You can often tell early on how a writer will do based on her or his reactions to tough criticism.
How did you sell your first novel, "The Fruit 'N Food"?
I initially approached a few literary agents, but they asked for changes I wasn't comfortable with, so I began submitting the manuscript to publishers on my own. Eventually I learned about a small press award, for which I believed my novel might be appropriate, so I submitted it.
This novel won the Black Heron Press Award for Social Fiction, and is now taught at colleges around the country. Did you work to promote the novel, or does that responsibility fall primarily on the publisher?
My publisher did the usual promotion, though as a smaller press their resources were limited, so I helped out where I could, including setting up a few local readings, making myself available for interviews, and visiting local booksellers.
Any tips for creating memorable and "full" characters?
A fictional character needs to be rendered real on the page, and thus many aspects of real people should in some ways be injected into our fictional characters. For example, people we know often surprise us in their actions and words, but upon reflection we see that whatever they did or said does indeed fit within their characters. Fictional people ought to do the same: surprise us in convincing ways.
You've also had several works published in literary journals. What are the benefits of being published in respectable journals, and how are the standards different from publishing in other short story and essay markets?
I'm not sure what you mean by "other" markets, but getting published anywhere--so long as it's not vanity publishing--is encouraging and a strong motivator. Although I don't write many short stories anymore, when I did I sent them out everywhere--"respectable" journals as well as tiny start-ups, literary quarterlies and slick magazines, anything and anyone who published fiction. The standards didn't seem to vary that much: they all wanted well-written stories that engaged them as readers. They wanted to enjoy what they were reading.
Is it important for a first-time author to have a literary agent?
An agent can be extremely helpful, and a good agent can be indispensable.
However, the most important thing for a first-time author is to work on his or her craft. Once you hone your writing and advance your skills, the business end of writing will eventually fall into place.
Visit Leonard's website by clicking here: http://LeonardChang.com
| This Month's Issue: August 2004|
Teresa Heinz Kerry celebrates the Peace Corps Volunteer as one of the best faces America has ever projected in a speech to the Democratic Convention. The National Review disagreed and said that Heinz's celebration of the PCV was "truly offensive." What's your opinion and who can come up with the funniest caption for our Current Events Funny?
Exclusive: Director Vasquez speaks out in an op-ed published exclusively on the web by Peace Corps Online saying the Dayton Daily News' portrayal of Peace Corps "doesn't jibe with facts."
In other news, the NPCA makes the case for improving governance and explains the challenges facing the organization, RPCV Bob Shaconis says Peace Corps has been a "sacred cow", RPCV Shaun McNally picks up support for his Aug 10 primary and has a plan to win in Connecticut, and the movie "Open Water" based on the negligent deaths of two RPCVs in Australia opens August 6. Op-ed's by RPCVs: Cops of the World is not a good goal and Peace Corps must emphasize community development.
|By Babu G. Ranganathan (188.8.131.52) on Monday, July 18, 2005 - 11:42 am: Edit Post|
Evolution, Entropy, and Open Systems (Op-Ed/Commentary Submission)
The law of entropy in science teaches that the natural (or spontaneous) tendency of all matter is towards greater disorder and randomness - not greater order and complexity, as evolution would teach. Contrary to what evolutionists claim, entropy does occur in open systems as well as in closed systems. After all, we discovered entropy here on Earth which is an open system in relation to the Sun.
The difference between an open system and a closed system is not entropy but the availability of useful energy. Evolutionists believe that in an open system, such as the Earth, the unlimited energy available from the Sun will provide matter with the ability to overcome entropy so that matter can evolve towards ever greater levels of complexity, order, and organization.
However, it is not sufficient to have just enough energy to produce substantial levels of order. There also has to exist an energy converting and directing mechanism. Living things possess complex energy converting and directing mechanisms to temporarily overcome entropy so that a seed, for example, can develop into a tree. The question is how did biological order and such mechanisms come into being in the first place at a time when there was no energy converting and directing mechanism in Nature to overcome entropy.
Only a very minimal level of order will ever be possible as a result of chance or spontaneous processes. Amino acids, for example, have been shown to come into existence by chance (spontaneously) but not proteins. Functioning protein molecules require that the various amino acids be in a precise sequence, just like the letters in a sentence. There is no evidence that chance processes can accomplish this - especially the many millions of protein molecules found in even the simplest cell.
There is no innate chemical tendency for amino acids to bond with one another in a sequence. Any one amino acid can just as easily bond with any other. The only reason at all for why the various amino acids bond with one another in a precise sequence in the cells of our bodies is because they're directed to do so by the sequence of molecules found in the genetic code. If they're not in the proper sequence protein molecules will not function.
If the cell evolved it would have had to be all at once. A partially evolved cell cannot wait millions of years to become completed since it would be highly unstable and quickly disintegrate in the open environment.
The great British scientist Sir Frederick Hoyle has said that the probability of the sequence of molecules in the simplest cell coming into existence by chance is equivalent to a tornado going through a junk yard of airplane parts and assembling a 747 Jumbo Jet!
We are so accustomed to seeing evolution of technology all about us (new cars, planes, boats, ships, inventions, etc.) that we assume that Nature must work the same way also. Of course, we forget that all those new gadgets and technology had a human designer behind them. Nature, however, doesn't work the same way!
Entropy is still the biggest scientific obstacle to evolution. Entropy is the opposite direction of evolution. The natural and spontaneous tendency of matter is always towards greater disorder and randomness - not greater order and complexity.
Science cannot prove we are here by either design (creation) or by chance (evolution), but people should be free to study the evidence from both sides and decide for themselves which has better scientific support.
Researchers and highly qualified scientists at the Institute for Creation Research (www.icr.org) of San Diego, California can provide much helpful material to the interested public on this and other issues in science concerning creation and evolution.
Babu G. Ranganathan*
*As a religion and science writer, I have had the privilege of being recognized in the 24th edition of Marquis Who's Who In The East.