Sunday, September 29, 2013


Continuing with our salute to the authors of the KIDS NEED TO READ ANTHOLOGY, LOVE AND OTHER DISTRACTIONS….ISAAC HO!
Isaac Ho Photo credit: David Doko
Isaac Ho is the author of four novels including the fast paced thriller The Repatriation of Henry Chin, the gritty crime drama Death in Chinatown, and the noir comedy Hell is Full of Strippers. His latest novel The Chinese Delivery Man is inspired by the true life murders of New York Chinese delivery men. The screenplay version won the Asian American International Film Festival Screenplay Competition.

Isaac wrote and produced the indie feature 1,001 Ways to Enjoy the Missionary Position, an Orwellian drama starring Amanda Plummer. As a playwright, Isaac won the SF Weekly Black Box Award for his play Along For the Ride. Isaac holds an MFA in Screenwriting from UCLA.

R:  Welcome Isaac! Tell us about yourself and how you became interested in writing.

My life has been something of an artist journeyman. I broke in as an actor, wrote and performed sketch comedy, wrote stage plays, screenplays and now novels. My transition from performer to writing began shortly after college when I saw the dearth of good roles available to Asian Americans. There were many pioneers in this field including David Henry Hwang and Philip Kan Gotanda. I wanted to add my voice to that chorus.

R:  How did you hear about Kids Need to Read? Tell us a bit about your short in this anthology.

I've been a life long advocate of reading and am an avid reader myself. Reading expands a child's imagination and sharpens their cognitive abilities. Every child I know who is described as "bright" or "smart" is a reader. The "Love and Other Distractions" anthology is built around a theme of romance. I asked if it included romance gone bad and when I was told "Yes" I knew I had a lot of material to draw upon. "For the Record" is the prequel to my novel "Hell is Full of Strippers," a story about a self absorbed man who can't seem to get the knack of dating and cluelessly goes through some romantic misadventures.

R: You’ve written plays, screenplays and novels. Which do you find the most challenging and why?

Each discipline has its own challenges. In theater, your medium is dialogue. In screenwriting, your medium is visual. Just because both use actors doesn't mean one form is interchangeable for the other. With novels, you can really get inside the headspace of your characters. For plays and novels, the writer is ultimately responsible for the artistic experience of the audience. With a screenplay, the writer has to hand it over to an artistic team including the director who may or may not see eye to eye with your vision. As a writer, it's very difficult to let go of your vision of your story.

R:  Tell us a bit about “The Chinese Delivery Man” which recently won the Asian American International Film Festival Screenplay competition. What was the inspiration?

A friend of mine suggested that I research those true life murders in New York. The deaths were senseless and tragic but after the murderers were arrested, the press stopped covering the story. What happened to the victim's family? I searched for information but couldn't find any and ultimately had to answer that question for myself using my own imagination while honoring the suffering endured by the survivors. More importantly, I wanted to tell the story from the victim's family's point of view.

R:  Where would you rather live, New York City or Los Angeles?

I also lived in San Francisco. Each city has its own character and culture. New York is almost a mythical city with a driving energy and rhythm all its own. San Francisco holds a lot of romance for me while Los Angeles is the land of make believe.

R:  You photograph your food?  A hobby of yours? What’s the most interesting dish you ever photographed?

You can't be Asian and not photograph your food. I grew up eating dim sum in Chinatown. All the food is delicious but for those unfamiliar with it, it's often best if you don't know what you're eating. Try it, you'll like it.

R:  Are you a plotter or a pantser?

I can't plot too much ahead of time otherwise I'll never write. I like to get a general shape of what I want to write and have a list of interesting and obscure facts relevant to the story handy and then just leap into it. I like to discover my characters that way, listening to what they tell me. They won't often tell me what's right but they will tell me what's wrong.

R: What writers, if any, would you say have made the greatest influence on your writing?

My earliest and most enduring influence is Anton Chekhov. His characters feel real to me in a way no other playwright has been able to capture. They aren't superheroes or secret agents. Chekhov's characters are ordinary people with dreams who can't seem to think beyond what they need that day. They're not foolish or short sighted but living out their lives, unaware of the happiness they are squandering.

R: What’s a must have for you when you are writing? What aids the creative process?

Actually, it's more accurate to ask me what is a "must not have" for writing. No internet, no TV, no music, no telephone, no texting, no Kindle.

R: What is the craziest thing you've ever done?

I have a fear of public speaking. In one of my classes at UCLA we had to pitch a project to our instructor in front of the class. I pitched a story about a male stripper in costume.

R: If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?

I'd probably be writing database queries in a cubicle in a windowless bullpen in the basement of a defense subcontractor.

R: What’s your next project?

As an Asian American writer, my work is to create stories about Asian and Asian American characters free of the stereotypes perpetuated by mainstream culture. In the past, diversity meant simply hiring a person of color instead of a white person (all other qualifications being reasonably equal). Today, that's not good enough. Diversity today must mean diverse points of view. Hollywood mostly views the world through the lens of a white male. What does the world look like to a middle aged woman? Or to a young African American man? Or to an aging Chinese American? What's the point of hiring people with diverse backgrounds if you're only going to ask them for a mainstream point of view?

It's important to be able to tell Asian American stories from an Asian American point of view. Asian American protagonists and stories can be just as "universal" and "relatable" as any mainstream work. Empathy means being able to walk in someone else's shoes even if that person looks nothing like you.

Just for Fun:
Night or Day? Night
Dog or Cat? (answer carefully) I'm allergic to cats. (A tear forms in ROCCO's eye.....)
Beach or Pool? Beach
Steak or salad? steak
Favorite Drink? root beer
Favorite Book? Coming of Age in the Milky Way by Timothy Ferris
Favorite TV Series? Star Trek (any incarnation)
Favorite Movie? Wild Strawberries
Favorite Actor: Max von Sydow
Favorite Actress: Emmanuelle BĂ©art
Dirty Martini or Pina Colada? Dirty Martini
Hawaii or Alaska? Alaska
Finish this sentence:  If I could meet anyone in the world, past or present, it would be: my grandfather. He died before I was born.
If I had just one wish, it would be: that I had taken better care of my teeth.
If I could trade places with anyone in the world, it would be: I'm doing that already through my characters.


Love and Other Distractions Anthology:
Isaac Ho's Amazon Author Page:
Isaac Ho's blog:
Isaac Ho's twitter: @isaachowriter
Next week:  An interview with mystery author Waverly Curtis! Meow!
And after that....more Love and Other Distractions interviews!


1 comment:

  1. What an interesting interview, Rocco.(it is sad about the cat problem he has, poor man.)
    Fascinating and broad-range of ideas and accomplishments.I wish Isaac continued success in all his endeavors.
    (Rocco, too bad you are a boy.I don't know if you can appreciate how handsome this fellow is, even though he is not as formally dressed as you may be!)