From Self’s Story “Picture” (in Her 2005 Collection, MAYOR OF THE ROSES)

This is a story about self’s parents.  It was in Mayor of the Roses, her second collection, published by Miami University Press:

The woman leaning forward is self’s mother.

She’s leaning forward, as if to kiss him.  There’s a mark on his cheek; perhaps she’s done it already.  They are both smiling.

These were my parents in Manila, circa 1956.  They were happy:  they had always been happy.  The happiness of their marriage was like a reproach.

I didn’t think he looked that ugly, but I hear a voice saying, over and over, La unica problema es que no es guapo. It’s a woman speaking, her voice is thick with fury.  It was probably my grandmother.  This, at least, was what my mother led me to believe.

*     *     *     *     *

I am collecting old pictures now.  I don’t know what this tells me about this stage of my life.

Here’s a picture self drew when she was about five.  Who is that woman and why did self draw her wearing a green kimono?  Who knows.  Dearest Mum had the picture framed.

The 5-Year-Old Artist

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Good Idea: Pacific Rim Review of Books

Frances Cabahug, writing wunderkind, is a contributor. (Check out her blog, dear blog readers!  As well as her reviews in Pacific Rim Review of Books.  Self still thinks Frances’ review of Mayor of the Roses is the best, the one that she feels did the most in the last couple of years to validate her writing career)

Issue 15, available now, features an essay by Gregory Dunne on Wendell Berry and reviews of recent books by:  Susan Musgrave, Katherine Govier, Keith Richards and Pat Martin Bates.  In addition:

  • Jordan Zinovich examines the Radical Poet’s Republic of Richard Brautigan’s San Francisco.
  • Linda Rogers talks to Glen Sorestad.

Single issues are available at $6 each.

One-year subscription rates are:  $15 in Canada, $25 in the U.S., and $30 everywhere else in the world!  The PRRB is published three times a year.

Here’s a link to the PRRB’s Paypal account.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

The Utter Fabulousness of Liza E

Zack and self visited Liza E’s class at Skyline College today.

It was a beautiful day!

During the class (Students had drawn up a list of questions for self and Zack beforehand), self had occasion to recall that if it were not for Brian Roley, she would not have a book called Mayor of the Roses.

Self talked about the genesis of the title story. It was a nugget that remained in her consciousness for almost a decade before she sat down to write it. She originally hoped to turn it into a novel. But in the end, she hadn’t the nerve to live within the horror of its material for more than a couple of pages.

Brian just made an appearance at Pomona College. When self found out, she said: Why didn’t you tell me beforehand? Did you know son is at Claremont? He and his friends would have packed the reading!

Self delivered unto Liza (for The Bump) the incredible oinking pig. Self has to thank John Malkovich’s character in “Red” for giving her the idea.

Self feels so privileged: standing in Liza E’s office, Zack showed her the galleys for Leche. He told her a little about how the novel ends. Heads up, y’all: The book comes out in April.

Earlier, self had just stuffed her face with Lychee Shake, Lechon Kawali, Sinigang Bangus Belly and bibingka with ube ice cream at Tribu. Even though self kept protesting that she could not eat, she of course ended up eating. (She is definitely taking niece G here on Sunday, when she picks her up from the BART station! Before going to watch “Waiting for Superman” at Palo Alto Square!)

Liza E wore Giants wristbands on both wrists! Self found out that she and Jeremy are such fans they actually watch every single game! Compared to them, self is such a Johnny-come-lately! But self was happy to get into it with Liza on the time Brian Wilson had to color his orange fluorescent fabulous shoes with a black Sharpie because you are only allowed to have footwear that is half orange. Or some such ridiculous reason.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Self Will No Longer Quote Fiction From The New Yorker

Even though self loves the story she is currently reading (Never mind what issue), she has decided:  Anyone who gets a story into The New Yorker doesn’t need someone else to trumpet to the world how good they are.  (You haven’t heard this particular writer’s name before —  it is foreign-sounding —  but it’s not as if she needed validation, my God)

Then, self thinks:  How lucky to be the fiction editor of The New Yorker.  You have all these stories to choose from:  hundreds, even thousands, of stories coming in the slush pile every week, and a staff of interns to cull through those stories and offer you the handful that are absolute pearls.  And from this handful of pearls you get to choose The One.  No wonder the stories are so often brilliant.

The New Yorker was where you first made the acquaintance of Roberto Bolaño.  And Tea Obrecht.  And Haruki Murakami.  And that man who wrote Empire of the Sun (Drat, what is his name now?  Self, the car accident must have made you halfway demented).  They hardly ever seem to publish science fiction.  Maybe Murakami can count as a science fiction writer?

The fiction selections seem to fall into distinct waves.  Decades ago, there was the Latin American Wave (Roberto Bolaño is a one-man wave:  no other writers of similar background, before or since).  There were a few years when you saw a lot of Haruki Murakami stories.  Maybe there were one or two Banana Yoshimoto stories?  Or maybe you are imagining this, and it was really Yoko Ogawa?

For a period of some years, it seemed like there was a Writers-From-Eastern-Europe Wave.

Self thinks the most current identifiable wave is African Writers.  Like that girl with the really long name:  Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Self wonders if W. G. Sebald was ever published by The New Yorker (He probably was).

She wonders if Haruki Murakami counts as an Asian Wave (No)

There were one or two times when self got a personal letter.  The Editor even signed her own name on the letter.  After that, self was so stunned that she kept sending to that same editor, who always politely answered with a personal letter, but it simply never worked.  After four or five years (which is a really long time to be pestering a single editor on the fiction staff of The New Yorker), self saw the writing on the wall.  The thread of the correspondence dropped away.  Now, self doesn’t even know if that editor is still with the magazine.  Her last letter to self was about 10 years ago.

But she might as well say this now:  the story that elicited the personal response was “Picture.” Later, she got another personal response, for “Infected.”  (Both are included in self’s Mayor of the Roses).

(Self thinks it is still OK for her to quote from David Denby or Anthony Lane, because they write about movies.  And who doesn’t want to read everything in the world about movies currently showing?  Self knows she does)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Self in Happy Mode!

Self was mentioned in the featured post for Aug. 18 on Bookwritingworld.  (BTW, the photo of self was taken by Stella Kalaw.) As explained on the blog, it was felt necessary to respond to Anis Shivani’s essay in The Huffington Post: “The 15 Most Overrated Writers Contemporary American Writers” (which to date has garnered 1,691 comments!) The whole “overrated/underrated” conversation is pretty fascinating. Check it out and see for yourselves, dear blog readers!

Recognition from fellow writers always puts self in happy mode:

Self in HAPPY Mode! (Sorry, but self had to go three years back to find a picture where she is actually grinning)

Other reasons why self is in Happy Mode today:

  • She saw “The Kids are All Right.”  And experienced all over again the gorgeous-ness that is Mark Ruffalo (though his character really gets short shrift, in self’s humble opinion).  The movie was fitfully absorbing.  Oh, and Anette Bening and Julianne Moore are excellent (as always).  Self loves Anette’s pixie-ish haircut and envies her absolutely toned arms.
  • She dropped by Roger Reynolds Nursery in Menlo Park and bought the first plants she’s bought all summer:  two euphorbia amygdaloides (according to Sunset Perennials book, this particular type “grows nearly three feet high and blooms in late winter and early spring.”  Happy happy joy joy!) and a penstemon heterophyllus “Blue Springs” (also known as “Foothill Penstemon”)
  • Yesterday evening, she actually made it to the San Carlos Farmers Market, for perhaps only the third time this summer.   And she decided to try a strawberry-olallieberry pie.  Which hubby and self had for dessert last night.  And it was —  oooh la la!  Sooo delicious!  The box said “Beckmann’s” and the bakery is located in Santa Cruz.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

A Story From MAYOR OF THE ROSES: “Rufino”/ And a Quote From Sarah Waters’ THE NIGHT WATCH

From time to time, self will post her short stories on this blog. Of course, self would much prefer that people buy the collection (Mayor of the Roses, Miami University Press), but she would more than anything like to be read. Hence, the new plan. Hope it works!

BTW, you can order Mayor of the Roses directly from the Publisher, Miami University Press, here. Or from Amazon. Or from Small Press Distribution. There is a hardcover version, which self thinks is really really beautiful, but it costs $24.95. If you’re the type of reader who thinks all books should be printed on acid-free archival stock, then order this one! Self promises, you won’t be disappointed! Heck, she’ll even sign your book for you, if you mail it to her!

Self thinks of this story as elegy, pure elegy (And no literary journal ever picked it up! it was rejected countless times. So, take heart, oh unpublished writer of short fiction. Self’s advice to you: Start a blog):


Towards the end, he couldn’t wear any clothes. They had to cover him with banana leaves.

It was in July he died — I couldn’t believe it. A voice on the phone told me.

“Rufino died na.” It was my mother speaking. Naturally, she had to be the one to break the news.

I was staying in a friend’s house in the Santa Cruz Mountains. In the mornings, fog blanketed the hills. We heard them mournful mooing of invisible cows. One or another of us would look east, toward where we heard Neil Young had his ranch, wondering whether we’d catch a glimpse of his pink Cadillac that day.

At night we made a fire and played Scrabble. We drank hot chocolate and felt like teenagers having a slumber party. Our husbands were both out of town on business. Though with my husband, I could never really be sure. Sometimes one friend or another would say, “I saw your husband at such-and-such a place,” and it would always be somewhere else from where he told me he would be.

We used to joke about it. Once, my friend was in a grocery, and she heard the cashier say, “Call R____. This lady needs help with her groceries.” And since R____ is my husband’s name, we both fell over laughing at the memory, at the thought that my husband might actually show up, in a Safeway uniform, to bag my friend’s groceries. But there was a thread of sadness in my life, too, at the moment.

Our children were away together at a summer camp in Clear Lake, up north. We were at an easy time in our lives.

Once I saw a coyote crossing the path in front of me. It was my first coyote. Such a skinny little thing, almost nothing but a bag of bones. With long, pointed ears. It looked at me and then lost interest. It loped along into the tall grass. I wanted to call it back, to give it a name.

* * *

When my mother told me about Rufino, I put my head down on the table where the telephone rested. The wood felt cool against my forehead.

Ay, it was his time na,” my mother kept saying.

The last time I saw him, he was a face at a window. I was standing by our swimming pool, gazing down at the water which was then filled with brown leaves from a heavy rainfall, ended just moments earlier. I don’t know why I was standing there by myself that afternoon. Something glinted in the water, made me look up. The window looked out over our backyard. There, in a tiny room off our kitchen, I saw him. The window had grills. He looked like a prisoner, with his sad face.

He wasn’t wearing any clothes and when he saw me looking at him he hunched over instinctively. I saw his skinny back, the ribs protruding through the skin, which was paler than I remembered.

The face I saw was the same one from the time I’d left home, twenty years ago. I stood, transfixed. His gaze was piercing.

I was no longer a young girl. There was gray in my hair. Rufino and I looked at each other. We didn’t speak. Finally he put one hand up to his face, as if ashamed. I looked away, wanting to grant him his privacy, remembering how proud he used to be.

He was the family driver for almost 20 years. He came to us when I was five. I don’t remember how it happened: he’d heard my parents were looking for a driver. Perhaps he walked up the driveway of the house in Carolina Street, the house I think we lived in, though now my mother tells me we never lived there. She told me this only a few months ago, while chattering away about something. Oh? I said. So we never lived in Malate, in that small street behind the Baclaran Church? No, never, she said.

And that is why I have to call this fiction. Because I am not sure anymore what to call the images that spring up in my mind. Whether it is of my husband, or of my memories of my childhood home — nothing is fixed, everything changes.

The image I have of the house is of a tall iron gate, rusting, and a large sampaguita tree, fragrant with white flowers. I may have been playing outside with my sister and the yaya when he walked up the driveway. Whoever saw him first would have had to stop and stare. He was unbelievably handsome: as handsome as those early Don Johnson photos, the kind of handsome that I could see would drive the 14-year-old Melanie Griffiths wild.

My mother always responded to people with looks.  I didn’t realize this until much, much later, when she told me she thought I should have my nose fixed.  She hired Rufino on the spot, even before he’d offered his references.

Self will continue in a bit. But she’s suddenly reminded, by the passage above, that there is also a scene in Sarah Waters’ The Night Watch (which she still hasn’t returned to the library, though she’s stopped reading it) that has a man covering his mouth. And it is this:

Fraser was laughing again. But his laughter had changed. It was rueful now, almost embarrassed. He lifted a hand, to cover his mouth.

And after a moment, Duncan began to laugh, too. He couldn’t help it. He didn’t know what he was laughing at, even — whether it was Fraser, or himself, or Viv, or Mr. Mundy, or all of them. But for almost a minute he and Fraser stood there, on either side of the window-sill, their hands across their mouths, their eyes filling with tears, their faces flushing, as they tried, hopelessly, to stifle their laughter and snorts.

About the above Sarah Waters passage, self thinks, for the first time: This should be a movie! Starring James McAvoy and someone else. Maybe Ewan MacGregor?

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Et Tu, Dave Sedaris?

In which Dave Sedaris chronicles his fascination with Costco:

If anything should be bracketed by matching bookends, I suppose it’s an author tour. The ones I’d undertaken in the past began in one independent or chain store, and ended, a month or so later, in another. The landscape, though, has changed since then, and it’s telling that on this latest tour I started and finished at a Costco.

The first one I went to was in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. I was spending the weekend with my sister Lisa, gearing up for six weeks of travel, when her husband, Bob, expressed a need for light bulbs. “Anyone game for a quick ride to Costco?” he asked, and before he could even find his keys I was panting, doglike, beside the front door.

Living in cities, it’s easy to avoid the big-box superstores. Their merciless lighting, their stench of rubber and cheap molded plastic — it’s not the way I normally like to shop. At Costco, though, I’d found displays of pain relievers: Anacin, Bayer, Tylenol. Eight major brands were represented. Pills were paired into single-serving envelopes, then stapled in rows to a bright sheet of poster board. It looked like something you’d see behind the counter at a gas station. There the packets might cost two dollars each, but here the entire display — maybe a hundred and fifty doses — went for just twelve bucks.

— from “Author, Author?”, in the 30 March 2009 issue of The New Yorker

Self can’t help wondering if the aforementioned Lisa is the sister with the feet, as described in an essay in Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim. Self is sooo glad she is the only writer in the family!

And, apropos of nothing, did dear blog readers know that Benadryl is not sold anywhere in Hong Kong? This self found out the hard way, during one of her extreme bouts of insomnia in that hectic city.

Self, too, has written about shopping in Costco, at Christmastime, no less (in a story, “Door to Door,” in Mayor of the Roses). Alas, she cannot continue posting. She has to make dinner.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

A Set of Prompts for MAYOR OF THE ROSES & NYTBR 20 April 2008

The sun is shining.

Even better, you do not have to teach today.

A few months ago (Time is a regular galloping chariot these days, especially when one leaves the realm of youth and graduates to the realm of whatever), you asked fab teacher Liza Erpelo if you could post the list of essay prompts she had devised for your collection, Mayor of the Roses. And, of course, you never did get around to posting the essay prompts, as so many things happened to you. To wit: Ying (leukemia), class from hell (still ongoing), not winning this or that writing contest (for which you paid a $30 entry fee), trip to Tel Aviv etc etc

But, today, today is the day when you finally get around to doing it. And here are the prompts:

* * * *

ESSAY Prompts for Marianne Villanueva’s Mayor of the Roses

1) In several of the short stories in Mayor of the Roses by Marianne Villanueva, the narrators were told stories that were meant to be warnings. Identify the “warnings” in each of these stories, and investigate the significance of these messages. What is the importance of storytelling for these narrators? In developing your response, consider such important factors as who tells these stories and delivers these “warnings,” what each of the narrators were warned against, and what each character does with the advice.

2) Even though the main protagonists in Villanueva’s short stories tend to be women, men also play important roles throughout this book. Identify these roles, and in your essay, consider how the men are portrayed as well as the reasons why they are portrayed these ways.

3) In a San Francisco Chronicle book review from 2005, the reviewer wrote, “An appropriate marketing scheme for Bay Area resident Marianne Villanueva’s collection of short stories, Mayor of the Roses, would be to offer a coupon for a cocktail with each copy; you will need something to lift your spirits.” Do you agree with the review? Why or why not? Use specific examples from the short stories to support your claims.

4) The themes of desperation, fragmentation and abandonment echo in many of Villanueva’s short stories — particularly when it comes to “family.” Choose a character whose actions reflect these themes, and describe the significance of this character’s actions. Why does this character behave the way he or she does? How is “family” portrayed or defined for this character? You may use more than one story to develop your response to this question.

5) Throughout the book, the author makes use of a variety of images that may be symbols, things that represent something else. Identify the patterns of images you see and use specific evidence from the text to investigate the significance of those images as symbols. Think about how the symbols influence your interpretation of the novel and determine what the author was trying to convey by means of the symbols.

It occurs to you, looking over these prompts today, that they are genius, just genius, dear blog readers. To Liza and her students, self’s most heartfelt thanks.

And now, to Part Deux of this post, the list of books self is interested in reading after perusing The New York Times Book Review of 20 April 2008:

(1) After reading Valerie Steiker’s review of Susan Nagel’s latest, Marie-Thérese, Child of Terror: The Fate of Marie Antoinette’s Daughter:

Susan Nagel’s Marie-Thérese, Child of Terror: The Fate of Marie Antoinette’s Daughter

(2) After reading Louisa Thomas’ review of Elizabeth Strout’s “novel in stories,” Olive Kittredge:

Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kittredge

(3) After reading Marilyn Stasio’s review of the new mystery by Booker Prize Winner John Banville (writing under the pen name Benjamin Black), The Silver Swan:

Benjamin Black’s first mystery, the Edgar Award Nominee for Best Novel, Christine Falls

(4) After reading Karl Taro Greenfeld’s review of Martha Sherrill’s Dog Man: An Uncommon Life on a Faraway Mountain, about “a legendary breeder of prize-winning Akita dogs” :

Martha Sherrill’s Dog Man: An Uncommon Life on a Faraway Mountain

Twofer: NYTBR 6 April 2008 & Women’s Studies at Stanford

Self feeling quite content today, dear blog readers — even though weather is chilly again (Will spring never come???)

First of all, she has time to post about The New York Times Book Review (of 6 April). Then, she’s reading a fascinating syllabus — Valerie Miner’s, for her Stanford University course, “Imagining Women: Writers in Print and in Person.”

A few months ago (How time flies!) self received an e-mail from Prof. Miner: she was teaching a Women’s Studies course during spring quarter and wanted to include self’s book, Mayor of the Roses, in the syllabus. Would self be available for a classroom visit?

Would she ??? Would she ??? Of course she would!

And tomorrow is the day. And here, for the edification of dear blog readers, is the Course Description:

This seminar introduces the lively world of contemporary literature through the reading of books by and intimate discussions with authors such as Patricia Powell, Camille Dungy, Marianne Villanueva, Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, Brenda Hillman, Jewelle Gomez and Carol Seajay. Each Monday, the class will discuss a new book. On Wednesdays, the writer will speak about her work. Then we will open the session to questions and discussion.

And self wishes to stop right now and thank all those other professors who teach her book:

1. Nona Caspers in the Creative Writing Program at San Francisco State

2. Liza Erpelo at Skyline (whose classes are so fab to visit!)

3. the professor at Bates College in Maine who’s been including self’s work in her syllabus for ages and ages (Self wishes to apologize because she is completely blanking out on the professor’s name at the moment!)

4. M. Evelina Galang (so fab — as a writer, a person, a friend) at University of Miami

5. Prof. Bob Gluck, who invited self to speak to his “Writers on Writing” class at San Francisco State this past February

6. Luisa Igloria (fab writer, fab person, and — just ask her students — fab teacher) at Old Dominion U in Norfolk, VA

7. Paolo Javier, whose students read her book last year and found this blog

8. Prof. Claudia McIsaac at Santa Clara, who had self come in to speak to her class (with D. A. Powell — what a fun day that was!)

And, LAST BUT NOT LEAST, Brian Roley at Miami University in Ohio, who was so instrumental in getting the book published in the first place.

How self wishes you were all here right now, in person, so that she could lavish you with big hugs.

And now, the list of books self is interested in reading after perusing the 6 April 2008 issue of The New York Times Book Review:

(1) After reading Mary Jo Salter’s (fascinating and spot-on) review of Grace Paley’s final book, Fidelity:

    Grace Paley’s Fidelity

(2) After reading Fareed Zakaria’s review of Benazir Bhutto’s posthumously published Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West:

    Benazir Bhutto’s Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West

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