Between 1995 and 1997 I wrote my first novel, Mood. Because digital printing and imaging were nascent technologies, and because I was growing increasingly interested in doing art myself, in making visual art myself, Mood was conceived and designed specifically, with a graphic element that drove the creative engine of the work: the passage of an image of the changing moon moving through the margins, and the presence of the night sky on the pages by making the pages dark and the letters light, with the slightest alteration of color and contrast of the pages and letters as the book progresses to correspond to the light provided by the moon as it passed through a fortnight of phases during the course of the narrative of the novel. The pages were to be the night sky and the letters the stars – paragraphs were constellations.
The timing of the narrative takes place during the fortnight represented by the physical pages and artwork, and as a conceit, the main character’s name changes with each phase of the moon. Set in San Francisco, I employed many contemporary businesses – bars, restaurants – that were popular among scenesters then. I punnishly changed names, or not, on a whimsical basis. Anyone who went out to hear live music or DJs or art in The Mission, North Beach, SOMA or elsewhere in the mid 1990’s would recognize many locations by their descriptions in the novel, Mood.
I physically took Mood to New York City in August of 1997, and attempted to have it published. I hand delivered copies to Sonny Mehta at Random House and at all the major houses. This was the exact moment when many of NYCs oldest and most famous publishers were being bought out by large German corporations.
Response to Mood was almost negligible. Only one agent wrote back at all, a handwritten note to say he liked the style but that the work was too experimental. The book was never produced as imagined and for a dozen years has existed as only a single, 187-page hardcopy, bound in 1997 (which may be lost in India), and as files stored on floppy disk. In January 2000, one chapter of Mood was published as a short story by the Conde Nast women’s monthly, Jane magazine. That story, Shanti, was roughly 1500 words long and represents my first published work of fiction that had a national audience. More than 50 readers wrote to an e-mail established to receive feedback. All the feedback was good.
I stayed in New York to attempt to write more and address the publishing industry, but grew increasingly disappointed in the changing face of the industry and writing in general. The New Yorker rejected seven of my submissions between 1997 and 2009, though once they wrote by hand that I was on the right track, “this one is more like what we might run,” the unsigned note read.
In 2001, my short story, Close the Piano, was published in an anthology of South Asian writers out of Toronto, Canada, under the pseudonym Raj Balas. I did a public performance as Raj Balas reading a part of that story aloud to a group gathered at the Asian American Writers Workshop in Manhattan, in April of that year – four months before the September 11th attacks which changed my career trajectory, somewhat, as I began and have been doing much more art, performance, news and journalism rather than fiction writing, ever since.
After 9/11, I nearly stopped writing fiction altogether. This has been an intense period in my life that includes the birth of my son and years of writing hard news and politics for Pacifica Radio, as well as anti-war essays and e-mails for a half decade. I was very politically active during the Bush/Cheney era. I also completed a lot of art, performance and installation work that was politically motivated in response to our changing world.
My explorations into visual art – which began in 1996 with Rigo 23 in San Francisco – began to fruit in New York in part as a result of collaboration with Christopher Wilde, Marshall Weber, Mark Wagner, Sara Parkel, Amy Ferrara and others at Booklyn Artists Alliance, and also because, on an irregular but intense level, I began assisting Rigo 23 with large scale art and installation projects all around the world. I became a working artist somewhere between the year 2000 and 2003 – when most of my placed work found its home in educational and arts institutions in the U.S.A. This is also when I founded Fifty Foot Pine Tree Press (Los Angeles, April 25, 2002) to begin producing limited editions, artist’s books, prints and digital art, now on the web at
In the 21st century, I began to make artists books and to do collage, drawing and painting more than to write fiction, however, I did write one more novel and five more short stories while in New York City. None of this work was published, though the novel was posted page by page, online, in its entirety, by a now defunct website. That novel remained online for a full year, December 1999 to January 2001.
I have only finished one story since 9/11, as raising my son has made it nearly impossible to find the mental space and time to write what I want to write. The only fiction I have finished in the last 3 years is Before You Came, the opening chapter of a novel with the working title, The Outsider Inside.
Senator Al Gore was on a book tour promoting Earth in the Balance. He hadn’t yet been picked as Bill Clinton’s running mate when I saw him at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, in April of 1992. He spoke for about forty minutes about the grave responsibility people around the world had to be more conscious of environmental degradation and then allowed for questions. I raised my hand and asked the Senator what he thought about the fact that the United States was the world’s greatest polluter and the greatest abuser of the earth’s resources.
I asked what the Senator thought of an editorial suggestion in the Houston Post that countries with large rainforests like Brazil and Malaysia should be allowed to tax the rest of the world for their usage of the primary resource they produce: clean air. (The idea was that the U.S. should be made to pay these countries not to deforest – the Post editorial had called it an Oxygen Tax).
I suggested to Senator Gore that the Global capitalist system – authored out of the U.S. and Europe – may have been the root cause for much of the irresponsibility he wrote about, quoting then Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad, who had that year remarked that “Democracy and free markets are not magic. They do not make backwardness and ignorance disappear.”
In response, Senator Gore asked me if I was from Malaysia.
When I said I was not he replied, “Good – because they’re the worst!” and went on to complain about deforestation of the islands of South East Asia, ignoring the responsibility of facing the economic facts of environmental degradation.
When he’d finished, some grad students in the audience tried to pick up my call for greater responsibility to be placed on the demands of Northern and Western markets, but Senator Gore just didn’t want to get it. While Republican President GHW Bush was the one who’d said he would never apologize for the actions of the U.S.A., whether or not they were wrong, by the early 1990’s the Democrats weren’t much better at owning up.