Local authors share insight on the writing process and new works on family and loss

 

Local poet Christy Passion reads from her debut collection Still Out of Place –Itzel Contreras Mendez

Local poet Christy Passion reads from her debut collection Still Out of Place –Itzel Contreras Mendez

On Oct. 27, WCC had an Out Loud in the Library event featuring two authors from Bamboo Ridge Press, a Honolulu non-profit organization that publishes works by local emerging and established writers.

“The idea is to bring in local writers,” said Susan St. John, WCC English instructor who helped coordinate the event. “They enrich our learning here. They expose students to literature and having some kind of venue for writers to come and present their work.”

The two writers were Donald Carreira Ching, a former WCC student and a graduate of Castle High School, and Christy Passion, a poet and critical care nurse.

Passion, who said there’s an emotional truth to all her poems, read from her debut poetry collection Still Out of Place. The book is divided into three sections with her father, who died a couple of years ago from cancer, serving as the arc.

Of the many poems she shared was “Odyssey Midpoint,” which came about after she was lying with her father one night and watching television ads, an experience that made her think of the siren’s call in Homer’s epic poem “The Odyssey.”

She read: “Untethered yet unable to drown, we spend your days adrift. I thought I could predict the waves, control the tide but was quickly brought to my knees learning only the edges of your ship’s deck weathered by time and angry gods … I didn’t want the rolling froth of hospital tubes, radiation, legions of white coats coming at you, fingers pointing at you, yet there, yet there, yet there. And the siren’s call of hope, Mexico has a cure, Ohio has a cure, set firmly in your brain, madness and fear assuring you you could stay here in this world … Even the winds, dear god, a small mercy against this stifling August heat, has left us. Pushed on by waves of chemo, I spend my time untying the knots of our past still casting no shade.”

Ching, who was voted Best Writer in Pidgin by Honolulu Weekly in 2012 and whose work is rooted in Kahalu‘u, read passages from his debut novel Between Sky and Sea: A Family’s Struggle. The book explores the lives of three brothers struggling with their identity as well as conflicts of cultural loss, drug addiction and greed. Through his work, he feels he has a lot to say about Hawai‘i, especially about addiction and the environment he grew up in.

“It’s wonderful to hear local voices and how important it is for us to hear stories that sound like people we know,” St. John said after the reading.

During the question and answer session, Ching and Passion both shared their journeys toward writing.

Passion said she first went to school to become a nurse “to pay the rent” and then had a dream to become a writer and returned to school. She wasn’t interested in poetry initially. But Maori poet Robert Sullivan changed her mind of what poetry could be.

“In my mind when I would think of poetry, I think of Shakespeare, I think of dead languages, I think of things I was tortured with in high school,” she said. “And then there were all these contemporary writers he began to show me, and I was like ‘Oh, I can write about subjects that matter to me.’”

Ching had a similar experience in that he didn’t initially plan to be a writer. He wanted to be a nurse or psychologist, something that would make money. But after taking the required math and ENG 100 courses at WCC side by side, he said he realized that he hated math and that “I would rather be poor and pursuing something that I loved than working for a paycheck. So that’s kind of what fueled me.”

He later had Morgan Blair and Rodney Morales, both English professors at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, as teachers.

From Blair, he learned that “writing is really this process and this discipline. And if you want to write, anybody can be a writer but you have to be dedicated. You have to dedicate every single piece of you to that.”

Morales taught him “the idea that a lot of the stuff you put on paper is crap and then it’s really about going back and shaping it into what you want it to be.”

Revision makes up a lot of Ching’s writing process. He said his original idea was to develop a collection of short stories but then realized the story was more fitting of an episodic novel. So he completely revised it.

He said it took about two years to write but four years of revision before he had his final manuscript.

Besides persistence, Ching said his biggest advice for new or young writers is to just try.

“You never know that little scrap of whatever it is could turn into something bigger,” he said. “That scrap could be published. And it’s often that self-doubt that gets into our head that makes us think it’s not worth something or not valuable. And it really is just try.”

 

by Itzel Contreras Mendez, Ka ‘Ohana Staff Reporter