When the TIBE (Taipei International Book Exhibition) comes to town Feb. 5-10, 2014 two local expat writers will be represented, L. Farrah Furtado and Trista di Genova. In a joint interview published in the February 2014 issue of Centered on Taipei magazine, they ask each other candidly about their work, dreams and future plans. The following is the unabridged version.
Farrah Furtado: Who are you?
Trista di Genova: That’s an incredibly existential question! How about: “A Berkeley and Oxford-educated American writer, poet, comedienne and publisher, who’s been pleasantly exiled in Taiwan for the past decade.”
Furtado: Who were your heroes as a child?
Trista di Genova: Certainly my mother; also my teachers Mrs. Smith, Mrs. Sandra Holmes, Miss Johnson the librarian and AP English teacher Mr. Bryant Merrick. At the age of ten, I read “Encyclopedia Brown.” That’s when I started to write, and have kept a diary more or less since then. Intellectually, my Auntie Em has mentored me. We’d get into a New York cab and she could recite an hour’s worth of the great Romantic poets! I always felt an affinity for Mae West (comedienne/writer), and was drawn to the Bronte Sisters, even fictitious characters like Shakespeare’s sister.
Furtado: I love your writing style and especially enjoyed reading your book, “The Swede in Me”. You capture the essence of youth from a feminist perspective, which I really loved. It’s a story of a smart young woman coming of age and finding out who she is and where she fits in the world. Is the main character based on your life experience as a young adult? If so, is there anything you regret doing during those early adult years?
Trista di Genova: Thank you. It certainly is based on experience. In fact, it’s transcribed verbatim from my diary at the time. Last year my mom mailed some of my journals, and this one read like a ready-made epic romance. About the same time, I serendipitously met Sarah Uys in the middle of the night in downtown Taipei, after a taxi ostensibly left me at the “wrong” intersection. This turned out to be yuánfèn (緣分).
It was Sarah’s first week in Taiwan, and just like me, exactly 10 years earlier, she was an American teacher-in-training with Hess, even staying at the same hotel! She’d worked in a bookstore, and mentioned that a self-published erotic romance, or ‘ero rom’ in bookstore parlance, called ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ was outselling Harry Potter. It was reportedly poorly written! I determined to write an erotic romance, a better one. And that is how ‘The Swede in Me’ came to be. The title, by the way, is purposely titillating!
Furtado: What life advice would you give the main character if you had a chance?
Trista di Genova: There are painful lessons that have to be learned. For instance test people, figure their mettle, and assess their motivations, before jumping into a relationship. Otherwise, my mum’s advice is golden: To be sad just shows you are capable of loving. In other words, to love, to get one’s heart broken, is just another part of the human experience. A poem in my book ‘War on Sleep’ that captures this feeling: You tried, yet again / you failed; but you tried / and will try again / and maybe that time / you’ll get it right.
Furtado: What was your biggest lesson as a young adult which you’ve taken into your later years?
Trista di Genova: A big one is “Don’t wear your heart on your sleeve.” It turns out most people can’t handle honesty in real life, except maybe when they’re looking for a lively read! Then they want all the juicy details!
Furtado: What do you love most about writing?
Trista di Genova: When I write for pleasure, first and foremost I write to entertain myself. The time I most enjoy reading what I’ve written is when it’s a funny story. Otherwise, writing is therapy at its finest. I think of it as “the writing cure.” If something important happens, it’s impossible to sleep until it’s written down. Writing clears the air. Sometimes it’s the best way to think things through, to kind of discuss it with myself. Often insights will occur during the writing process, courses of action, understanding of others and so on.
It’s a kick to perform every chance I get; at open mic nights, or at venues like the Taichung Refuge, Taipei Comedy Club or Red Room in Taipei. Writing is a noble profession. I feel that way about comedy, too.
Furtado: Tell us about Lone Wolf publishing and your award-winning blog, The Wild East.
Trista di Genova: The Wild East magazine (thewildeast.net) and Lone Wolf Publishing (www.lonewolfpress.com) is meant to be a vehicle for a collective of writers, to publish our work. I would love to see it continue to expand. Maybe when I find the formula for success I can be of more help to other writers.
Furtado: What inspired you to launch them? What have you learned from these experiences?
Trista di Genova: Historically speaking, creative people usually find success as a group, such as the Beat Writers, Americans in Paris, Bloomsbury Group, French Impressionists. So the idea is to publish my work while helping writer friends publish their work, too. We promote each other and the group. Launching, implementing this will probably take some years, but I keep at it, because like Yoko Ono said, ‘If you do anything for 10 years, you start winning awards”!
Furtado: What future writing projects are you working on?
Trista di Genova: An anthology of short stories. I have more books in the pipeline about my travels through Europe in the 90s, and also the prelude to ‘The Swede in Me’.
Furtado: What would be your dream job?
Trista di Genova: I dream of being a successful writer, traveling the world, doing book tours, meeting everyone I want to meet …and living in a pristine hotel room!
Furtado: In your book “The Swede in Me”, you set off on a colorful adventure throughout Europe on a Vespa scooter to try and make amends with an ex-lover. Would you recommend this style of spontaneity to others?
Trista di Genova: Yes, why not! Life is short, and “It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” In other words, it’s better to have followed your (better) instincts and impulses so that one day you won’t regret not doing them.
Furtado: Are you spontaneous in your own life? If so, please share an example to our lovely readers.
Trista di Genova: If I can make people laugh, I am willing to be that clown.