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Sunday
Jul272014

It's a good life, Sadie Dog

This has been a wonderful month but also a sad month as we had to say goodbye to Sadie, our beloved Golden Retriever.

To get a sense of the complexity of emotions involved, picture The Fault In Our Stars with me in the role of Hazel and Sadie in the role of Gus. Or as Sadie would say, "My thoughts are bones and I cannot fathom where I've buried them."

To us, Sadie was the quintessential shelter dog with a heart of gold. We had her fourteen years, from her youth, when she'd steal entire pizzas off the kitchen counter (and once licked out a whole pumpkin pie, still warm) to her latter years when I had to build a handicap ramp so she could more easily get to the backyard and she didn't mind the fireworks on the Fourth of July, because she couldn't hear them.

She was somewhere between sixteen and eighteen years of age, we're not sure. But either way, that's a gloriously long life for a dog, surrounded by a houseful of kids who showered her with affection. Even my oldest daughter, Haley, who once took Sadie to show-and-tell in the 2nd grade, had to come home from college to say goodbye.

What else can I say? I've always, shamelessly been a dog person, from when I was a toddler and got a puppy for Christmas (a boy dog named Sue--you're welcome, Johnny Cash fans) to adulthood. I remember that for years, whenever I was asked in job interviews, "What are your career goals?" my answer would always be, "To someday be able to bring my dog to work every day."

Eventually I landed that job. And I'm so grateful Sadie was that dog.

Thursday
Jul242014

My adventures at the Bay View (guilty by) Association

This is a kind of a "How I Spent My Summer Vacation" type of report, because there's good, there's bad, and there's even a coming-of-age moment for yours truly. This is about my recent visit to Bay View, Michigan, where I was honored and absolutely dee-lited that the literary powers-that-be chose Songs of Willow Frost for their Third Annual Bay View Reads selection.

I'd been to this part of Lake Michigan, namely last year, to Booktopia, and the thought of a few relaxing days away from the kids seemed like a slice of Heaven. Or heaven (lower-case), if you don't believe in Heaven (upper-case). More on that in a moment.

Peace pole in front of the church. Anyone speak Hebrew?When we arrived in Bay View we were blown away by its charm, its coziness, its Americana, and best of all, of the 440 cottages that comprise this community (Victorian vacation homes, really) we were billeted in the cottage formerly owned by Irma Rombauer who wrote The Joy of Cooking. The only bad part is that we'd feel guilty ordering pizza or mircowaving a Hot Pocket on such hallowed ground.

Then came the surprising, non-ironic, actual bad part.

We quickly learned that Jews are not allowed in Bay View. WHAT! ARE YOU FREAKIN' KIDDING ME?! IN THIS DAY AND AGE? Okay, calm down. It's not that bad, or that simple to understand. Don't fall for the sound bite. It's actually quite nuanced. Jewish people can rent (or as one Bay Viewer joked, "Hey, we don't mind their money,") but they can't become a member of the official resort community known as the Bay View Association.

Why? Because the Bay View Association was founded by Methodists and while the association is a non-profit organization, the vacation homes are on land leased from the association, and to purchase a home you must be approved by the association. And while fewer than half of the association members actually go to any church these days, that Christian requirement is used to keep people of other faiths, namely Jewish people, from joining. (Even though I was told that the Methodist Church itself is in favor of letting anyone join). And you thought the Hobby Lobby thing was complicated.

But...but...this is a religious institution founded 100+ years ago, they can't change! Actually, from what I can tell, this is a homeowner's association. I've given talks at churches and on the campuses of faith-based colleges and universities. They look and feel like churches. This looks and feels like a resort community. And it's lovely. And they did change their by-laws in 1959 when they removed the language forbidding non-white races from joining. So, change is possible. The members just need to vote that way. Last year's vote was split right down the middle.

So, knowing that I was about to give my big talk the next evening, I did what anyone with WiFi would have done, I Googled the heck out of this controversy. And most telling was a fifty-two page document by current and former Bay View members urging change. In it were statements like this:

No matter how tightly you wrap yourselves in the idea of freedom of religion, there is the foul odor of prejudice and racism in this position. During my interview, I was asked, “But what if more Jews wanted to join Bay View?” Implicit in this statement was the country club mentality of “we don’t want their kind among us.”

That's when I realized that by showing up, I'd accidentally stepped on flaming bag of dog-poop while wearing new shoes. I couldn't do my song and dance here because by doing so might imply tacit approval. So I talked to my publicist, my agent, and most importantly my wife who recommended that I do my thing, but use the spotlight as a teaching moment. (Um...yeah, that sounded like going into the lion's den and preaching veganism. But, hey, like with most things, she was right).

So my choices were:

1) Take my ball and go home. I could have cancelled. Packed my bags and left, which makes a certain kind of statement and would have been easy to do.

2) Dance, monkey, dance. I could have gone through with my normal event. Get check. Cash check. This actually would have been the hardest thing to do. I'm just not built that way. Some days, I wish I was. Life would be easier without a conscience.

3) Speak from the heart. And that's what I did. I turned down my speaking fee and gave a different kind of talk, one where I shared how my great-grandfather changed his last name from Chung to Ford so he could own property in Nevada. How my grandparents lived on Beacon Hill in Seattle because that was the only neighborhood in the city where a Chinese person could buy a house at the time. I talked about how my mom, who was from Arkansas, married a Chinese man in the 60s. And I talked about how the magic of this place vanished as soon as I realized the magic was only reserved for certain people. I expressed how Bay View was a wonderful community with a rich heritage and that I hoped they'd invite me back, and that if they did, I hoped I'd want to come back. It was a knee-trembling, voice-wavering, emotional speech and when I was done there was a round of thunderous applause, much to my relief.

Half of the community was thrilled that I spoke up. One woman from Louisville even gave me a "battlefield commission to Kentucky Colonel." The other half, not so much. But even a few of the angry ones still wanted me to sign their books.

I wrote "True love abides all."

Thursday
Jul172014

In search of Henry & Keiko

Book-It Theatre's production in 2012. Director, Annie Lareau, front row, second from the right.I'm breaking my blog vow of silence (while I'm writing, and YES, the new book will melt your heart into a puddle) to announce some wonderful news: a theatre outside of Sacramento is casting Hotel on the Corner of You Know What as we speak! They're looking for Henry, Keiko, Sheldon, Mrs. Beatty, even Henry's father, plus extras galore.

Annie Lareau, who adapted and directed HOTEL for Book-It Theatre's 39 sold-out shows is doing it again, this time at CATS, the Community Asian Theatre of the Sierra, a wonderful venue with a rich history.

This makes my heart happy in so many ways. Especially with the current yellowface production of The Mikado that's running in Seattle right now. Proof that we're not quite living in a post-racial world. Ah, but I digress...

Henry & Keiko are coming back to the stage. THIS IS BIG NEWS! So spread the word!

And get your tickets early. I'll see you on opening night.

Thursday
Jun192014

My blog silence is the sound of me writing, plus interview goodness

In the last three years of book travels I have amassed 828,000 frequent flyer miles with Delta. That's a LOT of airline peanuts and time spent being frisked at the airport. And loyalty programs are such weird concept with airlines anyway because you fly until you're weary of flying and your reward is...more flying.

So, I'm just sitting on the miles, hoping to someday reach 1,000,000 and perhaps I'll qualify for a ride in a Tardis, the Space Shuttle, or maybe they'll just do an intervention where they pry the suitcase from my hand. Let's hope it doesn't come to that.

BUT...for now I'm home. Yes, HOME! And I'm in the middle of a lovely, three-month oasis of time, with nothing but my laptop, a cup of coffee, my dogs at my feet, the sound of the rain, and a new novel in the works.

Writing.

I might blog a bit less, but know that it means something better is coming your way.

***

Speaking of blogs. Here are a few recent interviews to keep you busy:

Arc of a Writer - Where I tease the new book that I'm working on.

The Hive - A brief rant on my love/hate relationship with technology.

Authors on the Air - Call in, ask questions, tell us your secrets.