Sunday, July 13, 2014

Leonard Chang started writing his most recent novel TRIPLINES when he was 40 years old . . . .

Christal Cooper  1,807 Words                                                                                             Facebook at

“The Seed of Definement”
This is the seed that plants itself in Lenny’s mind, and California will be his destination years later, where he will live near the beach, and where he will find the memories of this time resurfacing during his fortieth year, and feel compelled to write this book.     TRIPLINES Page 221.
         In 2008, when literary novelist Leonard Chang turned 40, he already had five novels under his belt, been teaching at Antioch University’s Fiction Creative Writing Program, and yet he felt burnt out on writing.     

“I'd been keeping a very regular routine of waking up at dawn and working on my novels every day, seven days a week, since I was a college student. So, we're talking about over twenty years of constant writing. I was finishing up a new novel, CROSSINGS (, and about to start a new one (I wasn't even going to take a day off from one novel to the next). And I got very, very tired. Then around this time a couple friends died -- one was in a freak skiing accident; the other committed suicide. Something like this of course forces a reassessment of a life thus lived, and I asked myself if I could write only one more book, what book would it be? That's how TRIPLINES ( was born.”

TRIPLINES, published by Black Heron Press ( is Chang’s most autobiographical novel to date; but Chang insists it is still a fiction novel.

“It's a novel, so it's fiction. However, it's based on fact and actual incidences, so at the heart there's a truthfulness that I stuck to -- however I wanted to fictionalize some aspects. As to which, I'll leave that to the readers' imaginations.”

The main character of TRIPLINES is Korean-American eleven-year-old Lenny who lives with his father Yul, mother Umee Chnag Pepe, older half-brother Ed, 17,  and younger sister, Mira, 7.  The family is terrorized by their father, a South Korean Navy veteran, whose either making incompetent mistakes on the job, drinking to excess, or beating the family, the mother his favorite punching bag.  Lenny’s mother and father, both migrated to the United States from Korea, move the family from New York City to a Long Island suburb called Merrick, not far from where his mother owns a failing candy store.

The family’s mood changes into a sad but temporary calm when they learn Umee has to have surgery to remove a benign tumor.  Umee’s mother travels from South Korea to help care for the children while Umee recovers.  The family is thrown into violent chaos when Yul kicks Umee’s mother out of the house, Umee closes the store due to bad business, Yul loses his job, and Yul beats Umee severely.  Soon, Umee reaches the point of no return . .

During all of this violence, chaos, and sadness Lenny shows his cleverness, his talent, and his imagination by creating hiding places to escape his violent reality:  the Merrick railroad station that rests on a high concrete platform; the big maple tree in his yard; the Merrick Library; books; television shows like The Brady Bunch; martial arts magazines; and the school’s crows. He also seeks escape from his isolation by calling collect on phone numbers of individuals he doesn’t even know, and in the process, meets a friend he will never meet, but only hear.

Then Lenny meets Sal, the marijuana grower and dealer, and the two develop a business relationship and a friendship.   The isolated Lenny is no longer isolated and finds acceptance, and in the process learns a trade, illegal though it may be, that leads him down the path of finding independence and courage.    

         It is obvious that there are two Lenny’s in TRIPLINES:  the eleven year old and the 40 year old man looking back at his life, and the effect his father’s abuse had on him as a child and has on him now as an adult. 

         Chang wrote the first draft when he was 40, but then put it to the side when he moved from San Francisco to Los Angels to write for television.   Soon, he was immersed in his television writing that he didn’t get back to TRIPLINES until two years later and he’s been working on it off and on ever since.  Even though Chang was 40 before he wrote the novel, the seed of the novel was first written when he was 18 years old.
“There's a scene in the novel that I first wrote as a short story when I was eighteen years old, living in Kingston, Jamaica, working for the Peace Corps. It was that story that unlocked something for me, and what got me writing regularly.”
         In TRIPLINES the 40-year-old Lenny has a memory of himself, not as an eleven year old, but as a young man, and this memory makes the 40-year-old Lenny smile.
Year later, when he will look back on this pivotal period in his life he sees that it helped define him;  he became independent, and he discovered a sense of his self that could only emerge from solitude.  TRIPLINES page 229

         To be a true human being and a authentic writer, a person must evolve and Chang, now 46, has evolved and now has different elements that define him.
“I believe in the redemptive and cathartic power of Art; in the search for connections with those around me and around the world; in the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom; and I believe we have to make the most of our brief time on this Earth. Specifically some of the things I learned when I was a kid during that time is that we are agents of our own change. Nothing is set in stone -- not who or what we are; not where we are; not how we want to live -- and it's upon us to make those changes when we need them.”
         The eleven-year-old Lenny sneaks into the Presbyterian Church, climbs and sits up on the bell tower, and experiences a moment of peace, happiness, and centeredness.  The 40-year-old adult  Lenny informs the reader that Lenny will be 36 before he experiences that moment of renewal again.

It will be almost twenty-five years until he can find again that one moment of peace, when he will be rock climbing in the Sierras, and one morning he will scale a huge boulder at sunrise, sharing the top with a lizard, watching the sun warm the mountains.   TRIPLINES page 230

It is not known what parts of TRIPLINES are fictional and what parts are autobiographical – Chang would like to leave that a mystery.  We do not know if the elven year old Lenny actually climbed the bell tower of the Presbyterian Church and had that moment of peace; but we do know that years later, Lenny rock climbs in the Sierras and experiences peace with a lizard. . . .
“We camped out near the Buttermilks, and I woke up before dawn (as is my usual sleep pattern), and didn't want to bother anyone, so I went for a hike and found a huge boulder that looked easy to climb. I went to the top, and had a beautiful view of the Sierras, of the desert landscape beneath it. The sun began to rise, so I sat there calmly. Then, a lizard climbed up next to me, looked at me, then turned to the sun, warming itself. It was in many ways a "peak experience" as described by the psychologist Maslow -- one in which I felt intense peace and connection with everything around me. It was absolutely quiet, and the lizard and I were watching the eternal rhythms of the Earth. I felt a oneness with the world around me.”

         Today Leonard writes for the television hit series Justified, is creating his own television program, and is committed to his partner Toni Ann Johnson ( and credits her with giving him the peace he’d been searching for since he was a child. 

         “She was instrumental in helping me find forgiveness for my father -not for him but for myself, for letting go of the anger because it was ultimately a destructive emotion.”

         The major players of TRIPLINES no longer live a life of fear and abuse, but are involved in passionate careers and dedicated to family.     Ed lives in Sonoma County, California with his family, and is a plastic surgeon. Umee is now retired from her real estate business and lives about twenty minutes from Lenny’s Los Angeles home that he shares with Toni Ann.  Mira lives in New York City where she works as a documentary filmmaker.  Her most recent project is Nicholas Kristof’s HALF THE SKY, the PBS miniseries examining oppressed women around the world.       
TRIPLINES is poetic prose, especially when it describes the moment shared by Lenny and his sister Mira in that Presbyterian Church across the street from their house, when all the parishioners are gone . . .
He knows, for example, even as a kid, that the last time he and Mira break into the church, at the end of that summer, is important, somehow.  He suspects this because, first, it’s morning.  Mira wants to play her viola on stage, but when they enter the main sanctuary area and stand on the pulpit, they’re surprised by the bright sun shining through the stained glass windows.  They had always come here in the late afternoon or evening, so the stern-facing windows have never been illuminated.  But now, this morning, the pews are brilliant with greens and blues, and the shafts of dusty sunlight beam down onto the worn red carpeting.
Mira and Lenny stand there for a moment, awed, registering the beauty.  Mira then pulls out her viola, tunes it, and begins playing scales.  She sits on the dais leading up to the pulpit, and warms up her fingers.  Lenny sits in the front pew and listens while staring up at the stained glass images of circles and suns and glowing crosses highlighted with rays of light.  Mira then plays what Lenny later learns is a simplified version of a Bach sonata, and although she’s tentative at first, the notes squeaky, she soon repeats it with more confidence, and Lenny sits back, feeling that this moment is special.  He knows that the end of this summer marks the end of a tumultuous time in their family.  He knows that a new school, new friends, the beginning of a new life, await all of them.  And when he watches his sister playing a sonata in the brilliant sunlight, her face beaming with delight, and he stares up at the stained glass windows colorful and radiant, he knows he has to remember this moment, remember this image, because it makes him truly and deeply happy.  TRIPLINES pages 232-233

Photo Description and Copyright Information
*All images have been granted copyright privilege by Leonard Chang unless otherwise noted.  
Photo 1
Leonard Chang.

Photo 2
Jacket cover of Crossings

Photo 3
Jacket cover of Triplines

Photo 4
A pull-apart on the Long island Railroad Babylon Branch being repaired bvy using flaming rope to expand the rail back to a point whre it can be joined together with in 2003 elevated portion.
CCA-SA 3.0

Photo 5
Painting titled “Child In The Tree”
Attributed to Renee Sheridan
Copyright granted by Christal Rice Cooper

Photo 6
Title Card of The Brady Bunch Show
Fair Use Under The United States Copyright Law

Photo 7
Jacket cover of First Black Belt Magazine
April of 1961
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law

Photo 8
Painting of “Crow on a branch Galerie Janette Ostier, Paris”
Attributed to Maruyama Kyo (1733-1795)
Public Domain

Photo 9
Image of a payphone.
Public Domain

Photo 10
Leonard Chang at his high school graduation.

Photo 11
Full jacket cover of Triplines.

Photo 12
Leonard Chang rock climbing

Photo 14
Leonard Chang rock climbing.

Photo 15
“Justified” film clip

Photo 16
Toni Ann Johnson and Leonard Chang at the “Justified” party.

Photo 17
Leonard Chang at his previous home in northern California

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