Seattle, the mild green queen: wet and willing, cedar-scented, and crowned with slough grass, her toadstool scepter tilted toward Asia, her face turned ever upward in the rain…
– Tom Robbins, American author, from Tibetan Peach Pie: A True Account of an Imaginative Life
Back in early spring, Alan Lau, Arts Editor for the International Examiner, “Seattle’s Asian Pacific Islander newspaper for over 42 years,” contacted Eastwind Books of Berkeley to let my publisher know that my novel had just been reviewed. He asked if I had any book readings in Seattle, as he would publish the review in tandem. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any readings scheduled, although I had reached out to local bookstores when my book was published in September 2015.
Alan proved to be a big-hearted champion and a model of persistence – in response, he put me in touch with local Filipino American groups to coordinate and sponsor a few events. Maria Batayola, who is a well-known leader in numerous organizations in the Seattle and greater Seattle area – including Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) and Pinoy Words Expressed Kultura Arts (PWEKA) – emerged as our main contact person and champion of the arts.
Working with a number of organizations, Maria helped to coordinate what evolved into the themed “tour” of the Delano manongs and the Delano grape strike of 1965, which comprised screening Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Marissa Aroy’s 2014 documentary Delano Manongs: The Forgotten Heroes of the United Farm Workers Movement, which was nominated for a Northern California Emmy, and a reading of my novel. Obviously, Marissa’s documentary and my historical novel complement one another. Thus, began our tour.
New favorite Seattle bookstore
Third Place Books, Seward Park (5041 Wilson Avenue South, Seattle) opened up the first event of our tour on Thursday evening, October 20th. Before the reading, Maria hosted dinner for us at Raconteur. The building formerly housed a local co-op grocery store. Third Place Books, which has three locations (6504 20th Avenue NE, 101 S. Main Street, and 17171 Bothell Way NE) opened a fourth location in Seward Park and partnered with Raconteur, which comprises a restaurant and espresso bar on the main floor and a full bar downstairs. The property also boasts outdoor seating. It was a lively scene at both the bookstore and restaurant for a Thursday evening, with families with young children and friends meeting after work for dinner and book lovers.
A little bit more about Third Place Books. It is the “deliberate and intentional creation of a community around books and the ideas inside of them.” The bookstore got its name from sociologist Ray Oldenberg, who suggested that “each of us needs three places: first is the home, second is the workplace or school; and beyond lies the place where people from all walks of life interact, experiencing and celebrating their commonality as well as their diversity. It is a third place. In his celebrated book, The Great Good Place, Oldenberg discusses how the cafes, pubs, town squares, and other gathering places make a community stronger and bring people together.” I want to give a shout out to the folks at Third Place Books: Wendy Ceballos, Director of Events and Marketing, Kalani Kapahua, Events Coordinator, and our evening host Michelle provided us with a lovely experience, from their interest in my book with the initial inquiry to the enthusiasm and warmth given to us that Thursday evening.
Marissa and I were honored to be joined by local poet and playwright Robert (Bob) Francis Flor, who recently published chapbook of poems, Alaskero Memories, chronicling his coming of age during the 1960s summers he worked in the Alaska canneries. Devin Israel Cabanilla, who had conducted a session on geneology at the FANHS National Conference in New York City this past June and is an active member of the FANHS Greater Seattle chapter, served as our master of ceremonies.
I read a scene in which my main character, Fausto Empleo, meets other pinoy immigrants on the ship that was bound for Seattle. I let the small but appreciative crowd know that my father had landed in Seattle in 1926 and spent some time working in a lumber mill in Cosmopolis, Wash., located about 110 miles southwest of Seattle. Marissa shared the beginning of her documentary after my reading, and Bob followed her screening with reading a handful of his poems. Afterwards, Devin kicked off the Q&A session with his own questions and then opened it up to the audience. When someone asked what our current projects are, I was excited to hear that Marissa is working on a documentary on the Philippine-American War, which is also the subject of my novel-in-progress. I’m looking forward to sharing sources with Marissa.
One of my best friends from high school and one of my careful readers of A Village in the Fields (from draft to near-finished product – covering some 16 years off and on), Kathy Brackett, and her husband, Peter Verschoor, made it to my reading, so we had a mini – albeit short – reunion. And my hosts and dear friends, John Buettner – groomsman at David’s and my wedding 18 years ago and godfather to our son, Jacob, and Kris Kingsley, supported me, as well, by their attendance. I enjoyed meeting people at the book signing. I met writer Donna Miscolta, who heritage is Filipino and Latino. She is the author of a new collection of short stories, Hola and Goodbye, which will be released November 1st. Her name and her face were familiar to me, but I couldn’t place her until I discovered that she is an alum of the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. A father wearing a UC Davis shirt let me know that his daughter had attended Davis on a rowing scholarship. In UW Husky territory, I was excited to see an Aggie shirt.
Most touching was meeting Devin’s eight-year-old daughter, Vita, who asked me to autograph her book – her first signed book and her first encounter with an author! She asked me what my book was about, and I stumbled a bit because I was trying to shape it in a way that she would appreciate and understand. I believe I said that it was about a farm worker who came from the Philippines to America with high hopes; while he had a difficult life that he was at first unprepared for, he lived a good life in the end. I wish I had added that he found family and community, which gave him hope when there was no hope, and how we should all be there for our family and community. Next time! Vita informed me that she and her dad were going to read my book and learn new words. I thought about the scenes that weren’t appropriate! Luckily, the following day, I bumped into Devin and he assured me he would censor inappropriate-for-children scenes! I hadn’t given a bookstore reading in about a year, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Happily, I was pleasantly surprised, seeing old friends and meeting new ones in what turned out to be a great, invigorating evening.
(To be continued….)