(Willowgate Press) $12.95
Tacoma, the Oakland of the Pacific Northwest, boasts world-class Southern home cooking and plentiful, affordable housing--two things Seattle sorely lacks--and is home to one-time boxer/lawyer/journalist/professor Peter Bacho. While writing editorials at Tacoma's News Tribune and lecturing at the University of Washington Tacoma, this native of Seattle's Central District has published four books. His latest, a wild, churning, political satire of America's long, complex, colonial relationship with the Philippines, Nelson's Run, has a lot of sex. Sexy sex and scary sex, and some of the sex scenes reminded me of, um, porn.
Was porn an inspiration?
PETER BACHO: Yeah. In porn, the sex isn't really about sex, and for Nelson [the main character of the book], the sex is something else, too. He thinks he has power, power over the Philippines to colonize it, quite literally, with his sexual prowess. On the other hand, he doesn't realize that he is being dominated. So in that sense the sex isn't sexy: It's about control, a demonstration of control. And being as outrageous as possible. Did [the book] make you laugh?
Well, the scene of him examining his butt the morning after blacking out did.
Good. That was the point--to make people laugh.
I was into the significance of soldiers dressed up in drag. Is that grounded in any sort of reality?
Oh, yeah. The culture itself is matriarchal. You have this veneer of Hispanicized machismo, but the introduction of patriarchal religion, such as Spanish Catholicism--which is the most patriarchal damn thing you could possibly think of--to an indigenous culture where women have real social standing and political power, what happens is that the matriarchy goes underground.
You'll see this in any village you go to--in any religious celebration there is "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus" (everybody chanting "Jesus") and at the end [of the celebration] there is a transvestite beauty contest. A former student of mine, Russell Tam, once said, that in the U.S. everyone wants to grow up and be like their dad. Here [the Philippines], everyone wants to grow up and be like their mother.
I don't like Nelson [the protagonist]. There's no other way to say it. You spend enough time listening to these American guys in the Philippines, talking about themselves like they are the greatest sex symbols that ever fucking lived, after a while, you just kinda get sick of it.
But everybody is horrible in their own way.
How would you describe your writing?
I'll tell you the truth--the one thing journalism has taught me is the economy of words. I don't think I could ever do a 600-page opus.
But the funny thing is this: I don't go around and tell folks, "Hey, I'm a (fiction) writer," because everyone thinks you're a pretentious asshole--and they wouldn't be far wrong from that. For me, being a fiction writer is almost a personal identification. I call myself a writer--to myself--and I back it up when I carve out some time, sit down, and push a novel or a short story a little bit further. Whether editors, critics, [or] the public like the work after I finish it matters less and less to me nowadays.
Why do you write fiction?
I'd always wanted to write fiction. I postponed it because I was reporting. After dealing only with "facts," I started to wonder what would happen if I were to establish the facts. That's an inevitable progress with writers. I wanted to introduce characters who were my creations, instead of munching facts. Art is something else. You spend more time with beauty and lyricism than just facts.
My situation is this: I take two months off of the work year and basically goof off and write fiction. Writing at its most enjoyable is playing. I don't do the starving, disturbed artist thing real well. I was happy before I became a writer, and I don't intend to change that. As long as there's a handful of people laughing at my twisted sense of humor, I think I'm okay.