GOOD COP, BAD COP - Ed Lin for President
MaverickwriterEd Lin invadesChinatown,
WRITERED LIN has a knack for writing
about charactersthat inhabitthe underside of the AsianAmericanDream.In his
first novel,Waylaid,the main characteris a
Chinesekid who helpshis parents rent sleazymotel rooms to hookers
and johns on the JerseyShore,whileplaying Atari and obsessingover gettinglaid.
The slim novelcapturedthe angstof being
an outsiderkid and the gritty life of working classAsianAmericans.The heroof his
new novel,Ihls ls a Busf-set in New York
City's Chinatowncirca 1976-is a rookie
cop with a bad caseof problems.He'sthe
only Chineseguy on the force in Chinatown,and a seriousalcoholicto boot.
Because of his brash, unapologetic
subject matter,I sort of expected Lin to be
moroseand serious.But he was actually
a bit goofy, with a loud infectiouslaugh
that boomedaroundthe littlecoffeeshop
in San Francisco'sNob Hill,wherewe met
while he was in town from New York City.
He was more interestedin crackingbad
jokesand talkingabout his obsessionwith
musicthan focusingon his careeras one
of the most originalAsian Americanwriters today.
L in, no w in h is m id- 3O s was
bor n in
Queens,but his family moved to Jersey
when he was 3 yearsold. A few yearslater,
his parents purchasedthe sleazy motel,
whichhe so memorablyusedas his model
in Waylaid.But Lin says the real one was
considerablyworse. "l had lo make Waylaid abil more tame. That place was really
crazy. Peoplewould get into huge fights
there.They would get in their cars and try
to run each otherover,"he says,laughing.
Lin's parentssold the motel when he
was a sophomorein high school and the
that Lin refers to as a "garbagedump"
for its racist ways. Yet, the move helped
"Moving to Pennsylvania.that was
s uc h a sc h i s mi n m y m i n d .I a l m o s th a d t o
createanotheridentityto talk to myself,"
After highschool,Lin escapedto New
York City. He double-majoredin applied
engineeringand Iiteraturewriiing at Columbia University.Since he was already
writingforthe universitypaper,he decided
to go to journalismschool and has been
workingas a financialreporterand editor
ever since.But eventhough he didn't get
an MFA, he took many writingclassesin
and out of school.
"Some people really liked me, some
really hated me," Lin says. "l remember
this one professorat Columbiajust hated
my guts, man. lt kind of helped. I am a
kind of kid. lf they
hat eit , l 'l l b e l i k e'l 'l l s h o w y o u ! " '
After college.Lin focused on writing
novels.He had a few falsestarts.but then.
Lin'scousin-whose familyalsoran a motel in Jersey-committedsuicide.
"l was like: 'God, this kid grew up in
as me,'" Lin says
seriously."l remembergoingto hisfuneral.
Right after that, I put the basics of Waylaid
togetherin three months."
But the mainstreampublishingworld
wasn't quite readyfor such a bold novel.
Most publisherstold Lin he should tone
down the sex and that he was crazy if he
thought anyonewas going to publishthe
book. But Lin felt as thouqh he couldn't
"All the sex, racism and homophobia
had to be there,"Lin says. "l was just trying to keep it as realas possible."
After a year or so of rejections,Lin
met SunyoungLee,the editorof the small,
decided to publish it. Waylaidwent on to
s o m e a c c l a i m ,i n c l u d i n gw i n n i n ga R e a d er's ChoiceAward from the Asian American Writers'Workshop.
Lin had already begun work on his
new book at the time, and the genesis
came from his own experienceof getting
his haircutin Chinatown-eventhoughon
the surfaceit seemsa worldawavfrom the
horny little kid ot Waylaid.
"l don't speak Mandarinthat well, so
I don't even try to speak it in Chinatown.
This freed it up for people to talk about
me," he says. "When I would get my hair
cut, I could hearthe ladytalkingabout me.
all curly.What'swrong with this guy?"
Lin was amazed at the way he was
so alienatedfrom the denizensof Chinatown,even though he looked just like
them. "l became reallyinterestedin that
''T HER E
W A ST I - I I ST I M EI N T HE EARL Y
'90S,W H E NT H EA S I A NA M ERICAN
CO M I N GO U TW E R EJ U S TS O F UCKING
BAD.TH E YW O U L DL I K EP H YSICAL L Y
HURTM E W I . I E NI S A WT H EM .' '
idea. I thought: How could I possiblybe
more foreignto them?" Lin says.Then he
figuredit out: A Chinesecop would be the
Ihls ls a Busf, also publishedby Kaya,
is part murder-mystery,part downward
spiral.OfficerChow is an angry,recently
returnedVietnamvet with a major drinking problem,assignedonly to represent
the force at variousChinatownbanquets,
when in realitythe relationshipbeiween
the immigrantcommunitiesin Chinatown
and the policeforce-like today-is nonexistent.Chow is a realanti-hero,with his
anger and drinkingso out of controlthat
it's painfulto read.Thereare momentsin
the book wherethe despairis so tangible
that this readerfound herselfyellingat the
pages.But he is balancedout with a grand
cast of characters,includingthe unforgettableChinesemidgetwho has neverlost a
gameof chessin hislife.Somehow,through
the harshnessand the intrigue,Lin'sbook
reclaimsChinatownfrom the clutchesof
writerswho have been exotifyingthis enclave for the past 20 years.There is nothing exoticabout what Chow goes through
and how he handleshimselfthroughmuch
of the book, but it is moving.
Lin says that his relationship
Americanliteraturewas not an especially
friendlyone. "There was this time in the
early'90s whenthe AsianAmericanbooks
comingout werejust so fuckingbad," Lin
says,cringing."Theywould like physically
hurt me when I saw them. Actually,going
back in time, the stuff from the '50s and
'60s was a lot more acceptableto me. Joy
Luck Club was a huge breakthroughand
then it sealedthe door. lt was kind of like
Bruce Lee coming out and then having
everythingafter it have to be about Kung
At the end of the day, Lin just wants
to keepwriting,puttingout storiesthat he
thinks are importantto the largerworld,
not just one specificcommunity.
"l've neverthoughtof myselfas striving to be this greatAsianAmericanwriter,"
Lin said."l want to push it to wherepeople
aren't really saying 'Ed Lin writes about
Chinesepeople,Ed Lin writesaboutAsian
people.'I want them to say 'Ed Lin writes
Neelanjano Banerjee has wtilten an unpublshec)
collection of short storles entitled "Misbehaving."