Taking on… Everything
Star-Advertiser columnist Lee Cataluna just released her first novel Three Years on Doreen’s Sofa. She took some time out from studying for her MFA in Creative Writing at UC-Riverside Palm Desert Campus to talk with the Weekly about the book, her writing process and her impending cult status in prisons.
How do you divide yourself? You’re working on your MFA, you’re doing one column a week and you’re doing your own creative writing projects… How do you do it?
I think most people do it. They divide their lives between this thing, the other thing and whatever. I know a lot of parents. That’s sort of the essence of parenthood. So I take my reading with me to my son’s gymnastics class. When I was traveling to Hawaii on the book tour, I did my homework with my iPhone. That’s who we are in this era. We multi-task.
Three Years on Doreen’s Sofa. How did it come about?
I remember having this idea about the ultimate mooch who would lie on his sister’s sofa, and he liked listening to the shower run. What a horrible thing that would be. To let the shower run cause you like to hear the water. I don’t know why I got this image in my head and that’s kinda where it got started.
The other answer is, as a journalist, we get assigned stories where this guy is proclaiming that this changed my life, this program or class or whatever, and you realize they’re totally lying. Their lives have not changed. But they tell such a great story and you want to believe it. I think I wanted to hear that guy justify his life.
Can you name any names?
One time I went to an alternative to violence kind of program. They got their success stories out for me to interview and this one guy was so fricking violent. They had to move him out of the room. He was punching the wall at the side of my head.
There was another guy and he asked me out. I was like, I don’t think I’m going to go out with a guy I met at the alternative to violence program. I don’t care if you graduated, I have a different expectation for myself.
You started out with a guy on a couch: Did you know it was going to be a novel.
I wanted to write a novel. I started out with shorter things: I took classes at Kumu Kahua and started writing plays, and a lot of my plays are like sketches thrown together… Folks You Meet at Longs–those are like monologues stringed together. I wanted to increase my focus. Can I sustain a story that’s a novel length?
What is your creative process?
Something is due and I have to do it now! If I don’t have a deadline, I’m a little lost, so I like to create deadlines for myself. I guess that means I write on fear. Other than that, I’m pretty practical. I don’t need my special pen or my special window. I can write with lipstick on a cocktail napkin if I have to.
What’s your next project?
I have a children’s book, which is so different from Three Years on Doreen’s Sofa. It’s called Soogataris and it’s a story my grandmother wrote for me when I was a baby. It’s about a bird on Maui that wants to fly up to Haleakala. It’s totally different from [Doreen’s Sofa]. There’s no “fuck” words. It’s for kids.
The weirdest thing has happened though and I have to tell you. I hooked in to some kind of prison tour thing.
When I was in Hawaii in October, I went to the women’s prison in Olomana to read. Somehow it’s turned into this… Department of Public Safety is putting my book in prisons. All the prisons, they have Hawaii prisoners, on the mainland and stuff. Here’s the best part: Some of the guys can’t take books to their cells cause they can make ‘em into a shank. So they’re just Xerox-ing pages. So I’m going to do this prison book tour. It’s so Johnny Cash. I was kinda hoping for a university crowd but you know what? It’s okay.
If somebody says to me to describe a shank, I wouldn’t know. I’m thinking letter opener but that cannot be. It’s too upper…
Speaking of “upper,” everyone on Oahu is losing their minds about The Descendants right now. Taking your characters into consideration, they are very non-Descendants yeah?
Yeah, but that’s the truth of Hawaii. Lots of layers. I really liked it. I found that, especially being a journalist for many years, Hawaii is such a small place and just when you think you know it all, you fall into one corner and you go “Holy crap,” and you find someplace you never knew existed. I think that The Descendants is a part of Hawaii that completely exists. I don’t live there. [Kaui Hart Hemmings is] a good writer. I’m sort of glad she’s not writing my world.
If you and Kaui Hart Hemmings got into a fight, who would win?
Umm, I definitely have the weight. I saw her picture. She’s so tiny.