R. Zamora Linmark / Rolling the R’s author R. Zamora Linmark returns to Honolulu to promote his second novel Leche, a compelling and often funny tale of a young, gay Filipino. Within the narrative is a one-act play and even postcards. Linmark spoke to the Weekly about swear words, actually surviving as a writer and enjoying the mystery of it all.
Leche. [Pronounced leh-chei.] That’s a swear word in Filipino, right? Lemme know if I’m using this correctly. If I drop something on my foot, I’ll go, “Leche!”
Yeah. You can say that or you can also say that when you’re just fed up. It’s like the equivalent of “shit” or it can go to the extreme of “fuck!”
Can it be a verb as well?
So if I did something wrong, I didn’t “leche up?”
Exactly. More or less how you say it will determine the gravity of the word.
When was the last time you said “leche” and meant it?
Last night. I left my jacket which had my iPhone, money and iPod in my friend’s car, and I was so jetlagged, I completely forgot about it. It didn’t dawn on me till 15 minutes later and I was like “Oh my god…”
Did you have fun writing Leche? There’s a sense of fun in it.
Do you disagree?
There has to be pleasure and passion, but did I have fun? Not if it has to take me 12 years to write. It was grueling because the more I went into the history of Vince [the main character], the more research I had to do. And even when we were done editing the manuscript last fall, I was still rewriting and adding sections.
Why did it take so long to write Leche after Rolling the R’s?
Leche. [He laughs after using it as a curse word.] I didn’t want to write another Rolling the R’s. It’s easy to fall in that formulaic pit. I was writing against [it] even though I consider Leche a sequel. The challenge of producing another novel that has the same kind of originality… That took a while.
Were those real postcards?
Yes. The older ones were actual postcards. The more recent ones like the black Jesus, those were photographs. The more disturbing ones, those are actual postcards. The touristy ones; those are just photographs.
You also teach?
I take visiting teaching gigs now and then. The last one was at University of Miami. Before that I was at UH [Manoa]. Next spring, I’m the writer-in-residence at UC-Santa Cruz.
Wow. So writing is your day job, basically?
Yeah, I’m living off my savings. It’s all about budgeting. I should write a book about budgeting.
I’m gonna read you a couple lines from Leche. If you can just comment. “Filipinos came to America to clean it up.”
It goes as far back as when I was an undergrad student in Hawaii and there was this stereotype of Filipinos being janitors. There’s some degree of truth in that but the challenge with stereotypes is that you have to add another layer to it. How can I make the stereotype work for me, not against me.
One more: “We live on an island. We’re all leftovers here.”
The intimacy of the place. We all know each other. I think he was speaking from an ironic standpoint. That’s the thing with this book, it’s satire. Satire is hard: You’re dealing with irony, you’re dealing with humor. At times it’s very caustic, right?
That’s my favorite line in the book. He was talking about hooking up, but it seems to apply to other things, as far as living in Hawaii goes.
Yes, we’re leftovers. Hawaii’s been colonized.
Is desire an important theme for you as a writer?
With Leche, yes. I write what comes to me and I don’t go looking for–this is gonna sound stupid… I wrote a poem about a kiwi bird cause I was inspired from watching a National Geographic special on kiwi birds. So you have to have this broad range as a writer.
You’re finishing up your third poetry collection [Drive-By Vigils]. Are you working on anything else?
Working on a novel.
Can you talk about it?
No. Only because… The jinx factor… I need to get back into it to understand what the hell I’m doing so I can’t articulate myself cause I’m still trying to figure out the mystery. I’m still trying to enjoy the mystery.
Will we see more characters from Rolling the R’s?
Rolling is done. Then again, I might be choking on my words next year.
What’s your writing process like?
I don’t leave the house. I usually write in the morning. Usually I begin with reading.
What are you reading?
I just finished the collected poetry of Mark Strand, and I’m now reading Bolaño’s Between Parentheses and once my mind gets pre-occupied with my manuscript, I go to the computer and start working.
Anything you looking forward to doing in Hawaii?