Welcome to The Tribe.
Your Humble Ruler, Rajah Cheech Beldone, King of the Gypsies.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Remittance Girl Interview Pt 1

So hey, I been back and forthing for a little while with Tribal Treasure Remittance Girl, whose most excellent work I've referenced in the past. It's no secret that I think she does some pretty fucking wicked good writing, in addition to being a charming and most interesting young lady, and she was kind enough to answer a few (mind-numbingly long-winded) questions for me.
This is Part I of two.

How are you doing? Are you guys getting a cooler autumn now? Does that happen there?

I’m doing okay. We don’t really get dramatic temperature changes here. Just two seasons: it either rains or it doesn’t.

What are you currently working on?

I’m working on two short stories. One by myself, and one with a co-writer.

You’ve been “in remittance” for 12 years now, is that right?

Yes, I arrived in Vietnam in 1999.

I’d like to talk a little about your situation as a, for lack of a better term, “self-exile” (I prefer to not use the term “expat” for personal reasons). Were you writing actively before coming to Vietnam?

No. In fact, it was moving here that got me writing. I established a site - a precursor to a blog - to write about my experiences settling in here for my mother and some friends I’d left behind. I used to write and upload my pieces on a Sunday. One Sunday I wasn’t feeling very newsy, but I had the beginnings of a story in my mind, so I started writing it. 3 days later, with nothing but pee breaks,

I had written about 20,000 words, and a lot of it was pretty filthy.

Sorry about the pee breaks, but we can leave that to future prose. So, what was your reaction, with this first outing already being pretty rife with the oogy bits, were you surprised at your naughty wee self?

I was! I had set out with a story in mind, and a setting, but it got nastier and dirtier as I kept writing. Every so often I'd stop and think, 'Oh lord, where is all this coming from?' Then my non-critical brain said: 'Oh, fuck it. Just go with it.'

Given, one assumes that you hadn't intentionally set out, at that point, to foray into the genre, at what point did you subsequently assume a determined mandate to write within the parameters of a sexy sexing sex sex type of story focus, if at all?

I never assumed a determined mandate to write erotica. Never. I just wrote what I wanted to write, and kept coming out explicit. I guess at some point I realized that I had found an odd way into examining the human psyche. I have never set out to write within a genre. I write stories and find that my characters reveal themselves most fully through their desire and through the fulfillment or foiling of that desire. So I fit under the erotica genre.

Some of my stories don't have any explicit sex in them, but with the exception of a single story I wrote for part of my master's program, they've all been about sexual desire, even when the characters don't actually act upon it.

Listen, one of my favourite things in your writing is the exquisitely defined sense of place. Granted, in many of your works, the place is a critical element of the story, but even when it isn’t, the reader always knows exactly where we are, and yet, the expression of the environment never occludes the narrative, it never bogs down the story. Was this something that you consciously worked to develop in your writing, or did it come fairly naturally to you?

To begin with, thank you so much for the tremendous compliment. It’s very kind of you to say so. I can’t say that my emphasis on setting was initially a conscious choice. But two things probably contribute to it: there have been certain books that have stayed with me all my life and they all depend very heavily on intensely descriptive writing - especially setting. I remember the first time I ever read Cormac McCarthy’s ‘Suttree’.

I started it and realized five pages in that I felt like I’d been holding my breath. His description of the setting was so overwhelming, I felt completely immersed in it. Captured by it. I also read a lot of travelogues.  The other element is that I’ve always been very emotionally affected by place. By its history, its people, its climate and how those things converge into some truth of a place on an emotional level. Finally, I’m fascinated not so much by the text, but by the concept of Italo Calvino’s ‘Invisible Cities’.

A goodly number of your writings take place in locales considerably removed from where you grew up, and, indeed from where most English-speakers live. It had occurred to me originally that one of the reasons for these vivid presentations of place might be because, even after 12 years, you see these places with fresher eyes, them still being relatively “foreign” to you. But then, if we read something like Pleasure’s Apprentice, which takes place in (Northern?) England, it’s just as thoroughly evocative, so maybe I’m talking out of my ass here, am I?

I can see why you think Pleasure’s Apprentice is set in the north, because the male character feels like a bit of a Northerner. He sounded that way to me in my brain when I wrote him. But actually, it’s set in a small shop in the Burlington Arcade, off the Strand where I once worked at a silversmith’s shop.
I seem to dream a lot of places: cities, buildings, plazas. I have a recurring dream about a very large house which I seem to share with others - but no one else is around. I keep finding rooms I didn’t know were there, or which I might have known but have forgotten about. I keep questioning whether I know which part of the house is mine and which part belongs to someone else. I come upon hidden cupboards full of old clothes and broken crockery.

You know, going back to the old days, when I actually went places, I used to really find that in most post-colonial Asian cities, if you’re sort of attuned, you can really feel the presence of ghosts from the old days…I used to really feel it when out late at night, especially in the gut of summer, after a monsoon rain, when the brutal humidity is pouring off everything…I can really feel this when you write about Saigon, and Bangkok and stuff, do you know what I’m talking about??

Oh, I do. Absolutely. There is a very old BBC drama called The Stone Tapes about these paranormal investigators who are documenting the goings on in a haunted house and come to find that it is the very walls of the structure itself that have absorbed the energy of an event and keep replaying it.  I feel that way about a lot of places - that the walls replay phantom versions of the events that have taken place near them. Saigon is particularly full of ghosts because of the wars.

When I walk along the street beside old walls, I can really feel them. All those lives played out.  Sadly, they’re tearing down a lot of the old buildings here. I wonder if those ghosts will still speak to me then. Cambodia is very similar, but with less money, they still have a lot of the older architecture.

Bangkok is a little different. For the most part, it’s mad and modern architecturally, but every corner you turn you find another spirit house, another altar overburdened with offerings. And, of course, so many temples.

So I have a sense that Thais live two lives. One in the concrete jungle and one in the tangles of smoke rising from the incense on the altars.

Speaking of ghosts, we can see a wildly variant treatment in your writing in the presence of the mystical, from River Mother (a personal favourite) and Bequeathed, which are actually about real spirits, to things like The Virtue of Patience, which is strictly rooted in the “real” world.  This seems rather at odds with most authors, who pretty much maintain a constant through their work in the way these things are represented.  Is there any appreciable difference in the way you approach each kind of story?

I guess, if I had to identify a consistency to it at all, it would be that there’s a frog for every princess. I think people are subjective in the way they can receive the ‘other’ into their understanding.

I honestly have no idea what this means, sorry for being American-esquely thick.

I tend to write very odd characters, match them up with equally odd but often opposite lovers, and then rely on a reasonably realistic representation of the drama that would normally ensue in a situation like that to write the plot for me.

I'll be posting Part II soon.
Our most sincere thanks to the lovely and talented Ms. Remittance Girl for her patience and generosity.

In the meantime, if you haven't treated yourself to Ms. RG's excellence, you've been lame long enough, get the fuck on it already.



  1. Thanks so much for the flattering interview. And I REALLY love the pee in mason jars! Yup, I've kept them as a keepsake!

  2. Excellent interview so far. Looking forward to part two.


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