Friday, March 7, 2014

LEONARD CHANG the storyteller, the memoirist, and the philosopher

Christal Cooper – 1,425 Words

the storyteller, the memoirist,
and the philosopher



For six months Tom lay in a hospital bed, blind, in a coma, though he didn’t know that – all he knew was that he sometimes heard voices around him, wavering, echoing away, and he couldn’t see, couldn’t speak.  
Copyright by Leonard Chang

Everything I learned about Farrel Gorden I learned from reading his letters, and although I knew reading someone else’s mail was illegal . . .The letters helped distract me from my problems. . . Copyright by Leonard Chang


         I glance at the tape recorder.  She sighs and shuts it off.  “Okay, you want to start off the record?  I’m just trying to do my job, Mr. Choice.”

         “My job requires that I stay quiet.  I’m not supposed to be noticed.”
Copyright by Leonard Chang


This is a story about Linda as much as it is about me, about the disturbing events we would witness together and separately, about what happened after she visited her mother and stepfather in Los Angeles. 
Copyright by Leonard Chang


         Allen lives off Clement Street, around the corner from the New May Wah Supermarket and near Green Apple Books, where he has been buying used, well-worn, and student highlighted copies of Kierkegaard and introduction to philosophy texts.   
Copyright by Leonard Chang

Los Angeles, California based writer and Korean-American Leonard Won Chul “the pinnacle of wisdom or philosophy” Chang, along with his older brother and younger sister, was raised in Long Island, New York by his parents, Korean immigrants. 

Chang was a quiet, shy, imaginative child living in an environment that could be described as tumultuous.  By the age of seven, he found escape by reading voraciously outside his apartment building or at the Merrick Library. 

“I used to read everywhere but I liked reading outside, even if it was cold.  Huddling with my parka on, my hood over my head, my gloved hands cradling the book, I felt as if I was burrowed with the characters I was reading.  Maybe on some level the book was warming me up.”

Upon entrance to Dartmouth College, he chose to study Philosophy instead of writing.  “I wanted to study philosophy because I’ve always had questions about God, religion, the purpose of our lives, and all those other big questions, but no real avenues or opportunities to explore them.  I found that studying Philosophy was just a different way to approach the same questions I had in fiction writing.” 

         After two years Chang found himself stressed and unhappy.  “I needed to get away from school, from taking classes I wasn’t very interested in, from my peers who seemed not to have similar goals and ambitions.  I wanted to focus on my writing, which I wasn’t at the time.”

         Chang chose to enter the Peace Corps and moved to Kingston, Jamaica where he worked on the computers, automated the database systems, and managed the head office library. 

He also focused on his writing – by reading at least one novel per day and writing short stories, which was both cathartic and moving.  “I realized I had actually composed something that seemed to work.”   Two of those short stories, “Clay Hats” and “Collect Call” were published.

He also traveled to his parent’s homeland, Seoul, Korea, to learn the language and culture.  “This affected me as a writer insofar as I felt completely alienated and isolated in Korea, that despite my ancestry Koreans viewed me as some oddity.  I did find kinship, friendship and fellowship with other Korean Americans.  I knew that I wanted to write about the Korean American experience as we knew it.”

         After one year at Kingston he returned to the states with a new zest for writing, but he chose to pursue his philosophy degree.  “Most writers advise aspiring writers not to major in English because you approach texts as a critic, not as an author. I found this to be true.” 

After graduating with honors from Harvard University, Chang moved to California to attend the University of California Irving’s MFA Creative Writing Program, where he made a habit of reading two to five novels per week. 

The two novels that influenced Chang the most were The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, which he reads at least once a year. 

The Great Gatsby is wonderfully unified and tightly-written novel, and is a constant reminder of how a novel can be a piece of art.  Hemingway is rougher and cruder, and the power of his writing comes from concision, repetition and ambiguity.”

Since then Chang has written five novels, each exploring authentic Korean-American characters:  Thomas Pak and the Rhee Family in The Fruit ‘N Food are hard working Korean Americans who focus all of their dreams on the family grocery story, only to have the end come to devastating results;

Caucasian Farell Gorden’s journey from dissatisfaction to anger and violence against his Korean-American boss and his anonymous Korean American letter reader is explored in Dispatches From The Cold;

and then, perhaps, Chang’s greatest character come to reality, Allen Choice, is born in Over The Shoulder, and continues to fascinate readers in Underkill, and Fade To Clear

Allen Choice, an isolationist Korean American who loves to read philosophy on one hand and carry a gun in the other, is a private detective in each of the novels – which explores not only the authentic life of the detective, but that of Allen Choice, his relationships, and search for meaning. 

Two of Chang’s books have been adapted for movies - Dispatches From The Cold has been adapted by Canary Films, and actor Daniel Dae Kim, a Korean American who is scheduled to play Allen Choice, has optioned Over The Shoulder.  

     In response to questions about the movies being faithful to his books and his readers’ expectations, Chang said, “I hope my readers will view any movies based on my novels not as a representation of my work, but as an interpretation or re-invention.  If they are disappointed then I hope they return to the novel.”

         The people in Chang’s novels and short stories are not characters but real living human beings whom Chang describe as being “sometimes more real than the person standing next to me.”  The process of creating these real-life-characters takes responsibility, discipline, and skill, which Chang takes seriously. 

“I want to be truthful as I can in rendering characters and stories.  I like to try to have the reader come away with something useful, whether it’s knowledge or understanding or simply a greater appreciation of my characters.”  

         Chang’s goal is to write one piece of work in which all three aspects of writers are displayed  – the storyteller, the memoirist, and the philosopher.  To Chang, having these three aspects as well as characters that are “well-written, well rendered, vivid, and dictate the plot” is the ultimate literary novel.   

         Chang does most of his creating in his home office.  “It is a small room with huge windows where I get morning light.  I have a view of buildings, pine trees, and a lake.  It’s messy but comfortable, with papers and books strewn on the floor.” 

Here Chang writes at first dawn on the computer, usually with a cup of green tea.  He is known as a perfectionist and can write dozens of drafts before he is satisfied.  He rewrites some of the drafts at the local café and then edits them with pen and paper, and, after the best draft is chosen, the others are thrown away.  Others might think this is tiresome and self defeating work, to Chang it is the joy of being a writer.

“I’ve never had writer’s block.  I’ve had slow days and frustrating days, but I just keep chipping away.  Writing is just a blessing; never a curse.  I can’t think of anything better except maybe being in love.”       

Or except his love for rock climbing, which Chang’s brother introduced him to about four years ago.  “I spend most of my free time rock climbing.  Rock climbing is both intellectual and physical.  Writers ought to have lives outside of writing, because quite simply, they need something to feed the art.”      

Chang is presently working on the screenplay for Over The Shoulder, short stories, a novel about a young married couple, and future plans for more Allen Choice novels.  He also writes screenplays for television including NBC’s Awake and FX’s Justified.

Photo 1
Leonard Chang and his mother Umee Chang Pepe.  Copyright by Leonard Change.

Photo 2
Welcome sign on Merrick Avenue.  Public Domain.

Photo 3
Leonard Chang’s high school graduation picture.  Copyright by Leonard Chang.

Photo 4
Seal of Dartmouth College (  Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law.

Photo 5, 20, 21, 23
Leonard Chang.  Copyright by Leonard Chang.

Photo 6
Leonard Chang volunteering for the Los Angeles Community Beautification Grant Program.  Copyright by Leonard Chang.

Photo 7. 19, 22
Leonard Chang in his office.  Copyright by Leonard Chang.

Photo 8
Seoul Panorama from Namhonsanseors.  CCA3.0 Unported License.

Photo 9
Leonard Chang attending a workshop at the University of California in Irving.  Copyright by Leonard Chang.

Phot 10
Jacket cover of The Great Gatsby

Photo 11
Jacket cover of The Sun Also Rises

Photo 12
Ernest Hemmingway in 1939 in his Sun Valley, Idaho home.  Attributed to Lloyd Arnold.  Public Domain.

Photo 13
Jacket cover of The Fruit N Food

Photo 14
Jacket cover of Dispatches From The Cold

Photo 15
Jacket cover of Over The Shoulder

Photo 16
Jacket cover of Underkill

Photo 17
Jacket cover of Fade To Clear

Photo 18
Daniel Dae Dkim singing autographs at the Hawaii International Film Festival on February 28, 2007.  Attributed to Crissy Terawaki Kawamoto.  GNUFD License Version 1.2 and CCA-SA 3.0 Unported.

Photo 24, 25
Leonard Chang rock climbing.  Copyright by Leonard Chang.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Artist KATE KRETZ - Blessed Are The Paintings, Drawings, Psychological Clothing, Hair Embroirderies

Christal Cooper – 1,942 Words

‘They brought her back on a Friday night
Same day I was born
We sent her up the smoke stack
And back into the storm
She blew up over the San Juan Mountains
And spent herself at last
The threat of heavy weather
That was what she knew the best.”
James Taylor

She was a seeker of the night, her red hair almost to her waist, glowing in the moonlight, and framing her blue-eyed face. 

The artist, born on March of 1963, considered the night her closest confidante, relishing in its slow motion and dark shadows, always finding inspiration. 

She’d make her studio there, with a light strapped to her forehead.  To Kathleen “Kate” Kretz, night was where she felt safest, where people seemed less guarded, more authentic, and where she always found a bounty of reference material.         

     “Now I think I work best in the morning, with the whole day stretched before me. I find I am more productive that way.”      

         Now Kretz has a day-to-day routine.  Every other day she rises early, drinks a cup of coffee and works in her studio.  The following days she goes to the gym, comes home to shower, and works in her studio.  Some days and nights she’ll work nonstop.    

         “I can’t sleep.  I am thinking about the next thing I want to do to the painting, so I might as well just get up and do it. My hands need to be busy all the time.”

         And Kretz has always had something in her hands at all times, ever since she was a little girl living in a small town outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Kretz, the oldest of five children, was born into a dysfunctional and chaotic family. 

She persevered via her magical and active imagination, in the form of books, film, and music. This imagination, along with a nurturing relationship with her siblings, enabled her to discover art.   

     “Art saved my life.  I believe I would have some other kind of addiction if I did not have my work. There have been many moments of despair in my life, and if I did not automatically turn to my work at those moments, I don’t know if I would be here.”

When Kretz was nine, living in France, she drew a self-portrait, which she now describes as “specific and pretty convincing.” 

While sitting in AP English class discussing the book “A Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man,” Kretz knew she’d be an artist. 

     “Before that time, I was a bit lost and did not know how to channel my feelings. Everything fell into place and my position in the world finally made sense; I knew what I was here for.”

After high school graduation, Kretz moved to Paris where she worked as a nanny and attended the Sorbonne. 

A year later she attended SUNY Binghamton University in New York, where faculty member and sculptor Charles Eldred took her under his wing, and she studied the paintings of faculty member Don Demauro.  While working full time, she received her BFA in Drawing and Painting. 

She attended graduate school at University of Georgia where she was offered an assistantship.  

She also volunteered for Timeless Seeds of Atlanta, an organization that benefits inner city children, mostly African American.  The organization brings in professional artists for several weeks to teach the youth a variety of the arts.  The youth created their own work and displayed it at an art exhibition along with a silent auction.  Half of the proceeds went back to the youth and the other half was donated to Timeless Seeds.  Kretz taught 20 students drawing.

     “There was always a lot of noise in the classroom.  They were not comfortable with silence. There was a breakthrough the day that I introduced my work to them via slides.  I told them how art saved my life.  I told them how each one of my paintings was a way of transforming my own experiences into something powerful.  For the first time, they were completely silent.  They made drawings from their hearts.  It  was magical: I remember having goose bumps.”

In 1995, after graduating from graduate school she moved to Florida to take a teaching position at Florida International University, and was promoted to BFA Director, a position she held for over ten years.     

     “I had students of all ages, from all over the world. In one class, I had a student who was recently released from jail for stealing cars, next to one who could tell me what corner of the Louvre a particular painting was housed in.” 

         Kretz, after years of being single, met and married her husband.  Not long after the marriage, her husband was offered a position that required the couple to move to North Carolina.  The couple made an arrangement that pleased them both.  Kretz would give up tenure, move with her husband to North Carolina and become a full-time artist. 

     “Giving up tenure was the scariest thing I have ever done in my life.  It was a tremendous leap of faith, but I have always said that one should always have two or three lives within the one life that we are given.  It was time to put my money where my mouth was. It was the right decision.”

     The couple now reside in Marlyand, outside Washington D.C. wit their four year old daughter Ilaria, affectionately known as The Peanut.

Kretz is not a devout Catholic, but she describes herself as spiritual.  She attended Catholic schools through high school, and looks upon Catholicism as the visual language she best understands and can best communicate in.  

     ‘It, coupled with the Technicolor films I watched as a child, make up my vocabulary for saying what I need to say about the world around me. To those who criticize my use of Catholic imagery, I would tell them that getting me to use a different visual vocabulary is like asking me to speak in Russian because they do not like what I am saying using “their” English language.” 

Through this language and dialogue she is able to artistically express emotions in the forms of art:  paintings, drawings, psychological clothing, and hair embroideries.

     The painting, Blessed Art Thou, began as a desire for Kretz to paint a Mother Mary figure, but have the painting symbolize today’s age and priorities.   One day, while standing in line at Wal-Mart, she found herself surrounded with images of Angelina Jolie holding her children.  And then she saw within her mind the painting that needed to be made:  Angelina Jolie in the image of Mother Mary holding her three children, Maddox, Zahara, and Shiloh, floating in clouds, above a Wal-Mart. 

     Kretz also noticed the store’s green fluorescents and knew these lights would represent the psychological oppressive environment in which the consumer almost has no choice but to reach for a tabloid like one would reach for a diet drink, or a diet pill, and like the diet drink is ingested and the died pill is swallowed, the tabloid becomes a “food” the consumer consumes, hoping to get closer to their “ideal” image.

     Kretz is not a fan of the tabloids, has not watched TV regularly in over 25 years, and is not interested in popular culture.  As a result, a part of her brain was telling her the idea of this painting was absurd.  But the more she resisted the more she realized this was a painting that needed to be made.  When Kretz purchased her first tabloid and started research on Angelina Jolie, she found herself captivated and impressed by the actress. 

“I found that Ms. Jolie was truly doing more than your average celebrity.  I liked the fact that here were Christians out there condemning her for media-reported choices in her personal life, but her actions have been more “Christian” than the lot of her critics.”

         The drawing, Promise, a crying self-portrait, was made in one night while Kretz was house sitting for a friend.  

         She sat on the floor looking into the mirror, and, when she thought the drawing, which was taped to a board on an easel, was complete, she placed it in the corner of the room, beneath the rook of the house.  It rained that night, and, unbeknownst to her, there was a leak in the rook of the house.  The next morning she found rainwater running down the center of her drawing.

         “I impulsively tried to dab the water off before I realized that I should leave it.  They are faint, but you can still see the tear tracks running down the center of the drawing.” 

         Kretz decided to go deeper into her art and find a way of showing the vulnerability of human beings.  She took the concept of clothes and how we as humans use clothes to conceal, disguise, or reveal an image.  

         “I wanted to turn the insides out.  I feel as though I can see people wearing the weight of their entire life.  The Psychological Clothing series is an attempt to articulate that feeling.”

         The Defense Mechanism Coat is exactly that, the insides of a human being on the outside in the form of a coat.  The Defense Mechanism Coat is anatomically accurate and contains all the major veins and arteries of the body.  To insure this accuracy, Kretz set up her embroidery hoop with an anatomy book by her side for reference.

         The result is a 150-pound coat made of velvet, wood, nails, embroidery that is hand quilted and hand embroidered with velvet lining representing the actual veins and arteries of the interior body.     

It took Kretz over three months to create Threat Of Heavy Weather embroidery. Kretz has always been obsessed with tornadoes, has dreams about tornadoes, and considers tornadoes the perfect representation of her family. 

The title of her embroidery comes from the James Taylor song, about a troubled person in his family who dies.

     Kretz likes to paint self-portraits, using herself as a model, to express “certain kinds of emotional or psychological states, rather than to say something specific about myself.”

     Kretz wants people to respond with questions about their priorities, about self-delusion, or about not having a truthful life.  She wants them to wonder what it means to be human, what makes a life meaningful and significant.

     A lot of her work reveals the trials of women: low self-esteem; sainthood; and victimhood. Though Kretz is a feminist, she does not want her work to be categorized exclusively as feminist.

     “I have been in feminist shows before.  I don’t reject the label.  I just don’t want it to be the only label.  I take a multi-faceted approach to my work, and hope that the viewer will see that there are multiple layers or aspects to the work. I can say that I try to do good in my work, that I try to help people, but not in a conscious or didactic way.  I just try to tell the truth and paint what needs to be painted.”

Kretz’s Threat Of Heavy Weather is priced at $5000.  Her Blessed Art Thou had a price tag of $50,000. 
One might swallow hard over the price tag, but Kretz spends up to a year on her paintings, which are highly personal, require research, emotional sensitivity, intense energy, a colorful imagination, an open spirit, and a great skill.

Kretz is also venturing in to the writing field and is presently working on a few book projects.  For more information go to or visit her website at or e-mail her at

Photo Description and Copyright Information
(all photos printed with permission by Kate Kretz)

Photo 1
Kate Kretz standing in front of her painting “I let Him But I Didn’t Really Like it”.  Copyright by Kate Kretz.

Photo 2
“Nocturnal Theater II” – acrylic/oil on canvas 51 < 62 1992.   Copyeright by Kate Kretz.

Photo 3, 5, 30
Kate Kretz in her New York City Studio in 2008.

Photo 4
Smaller portion of the painting “Requiem for Wassily and the Ineffable” 2009.  Copyright by Kate Kretz.

Phoo 6
Kate Kretz baby photo 1963/1964.  Copyright by Kate Kretz.

Photo 7
Kate Kretz and her mother in 1964/1965.  Copyright by Kate Kretz.

Photo 8
Kate Kretz (standing, far right) with her four younger siblings. Copyright by Kate KRetz.

Photo 9
“Requiem..For Wassily & the Ineffable”  Acrylic/oil on canvas.  176 X 116.  2007.  Copyright by Kate Kretz.

Photo 10
Kate Kretz, far left, age 10, in 1973.  Copyright by kate KRetz.

Photo 11
First edition cover (Simon & Schuster) “A Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man.”.  by Joseph Heller, published in 2000.

Photo 12, 14, 16
Kate Kretz.  Copyright by Kate Kretz.

Photo 13
Sorbonne, paris France in 2007.  GNU Free Documentation License 1.2 or later and CCA-SA 3.0 Unported.

Photo 15
Kate Kretz helping to restore the University of Georgia Chapel while in graduate school.  Copyright by Kate Kretz.

Photo 17
Kate Kretz in  grapefruit tree in Miani.  Copyrightby Kate Kretz.

Photo 18
Kate Kretz at her 2008 show in the MIA gallery at the Miami International Airtport.  Copyright by Kate Kretz.

Photo 19
Kate Kretz admiring a painting.  Copyright by Kate Kretz.

Photo 20
Kate Krez in her homemade blue wedding dress on her wedding day.  Copyright by Kate Kretz.

Photo 21.
Kate Kretz at her solow show at The Frost Musuem in 2005.  Behind her, from left to right
Crying Man.  Encaustic (was) on masonite 24 X 18 2004
Crying Man III Embroidery on red belvet  24 X 18 2005
Crying Man II Acrylic & oil on masonite 24 X 18 2005
Copyirght by Kate Kretz.

Photo 22.
Kate Kretz and husband Kevin at the wedding reception in Deering Estae, Miami, Florida.

Photo 23, 37
“Threat Of Heavy Wether” – hum,an hair embroidery on pillocase, pillow.  20 X 30 X 10 in 2003.  Copyright by Kate Kretz.

Photo 24
“Jesus Nightlight” oil on canvas 60 X 38 in 1997.  Copyright by Kate Kretz.

Photo 25
“Sacred Ovaries” acrylic/oil on canvas 70 X 42 in 2001.  Copyright by Kate Kretz.

Photo 26, 27, 28, and 29
“Blessed Art Thou” oil & acrylic on linin  80 X 60 in 2006.  Copyright by Kate Kretz

Photo 31 and 32
“Promise” Prisma color charcoal rainwate ron appaer.  26 X 19 in 1997.  Copyright by Kate Kretz.

Photo 33, 34, 35, 36
“The Defense Mechanism Coat” Velvet, wood, nails, embroidered veins.  45 X 28 X 12 in 2007.  Copyright by Kate Kretz.

Photo 38
“Burrow” Prisma color/charcoal on paper  36 X 28 in 2000.  Copyright by Kate Kretz.

Photo 39
“Hermaphroditic Romanticism” graphite,hair, charm, acrylic gel medium on tracing paper.  23 X 16 in 2001.  Copyright by Kate Kretz.

Photo 40
“How To Tell If He Is Lying To You”  acrylic (oil) masonite  24 X 18 in 1996. Copyright by Kate Kretz.

Photo 41
“Kim Hiding” acrylic/oil on linen  38 X 54 in 1994.  Copyright by Kate Kretz.

Photo 42.
Kate Kretz standing next to “Cleave”  acrylic/oil on canvas  62 X 72 in 2001.  Copyright by Kate Kretz.

Photo 43
Kate Kretz website logo (