Today I am pleased to welcome Marshall Moore, author of Bitter Orange, to the blog. Marshall has stopped by to tell us a little more about himself and where he got his inspiration for his new novel.
Crime and Invisibility
Let me start out by saying that I’m not going to encourage you to slip a bottle of Merlot into your backpack after you finish reading this. That being said, if you’re unable to control your illicit impulses, I take no responsibility. My new novel Bitter Orange is about a guy stealing things, spying on people, and committing various acts of mayhem while invisible. There’s a twist: the cause-and-effect sequence is reversed. Seth, our anti-hero, isn’t doing these things because he’s invisible, exactly; he’s doing them in order to become invisible, because that’s the only time his ability works. You can see how this would make things a bit complicated.
I used to live in Korea, a country without a large expat population. I’m white. And I never got used to being stared at. Little kids would gawk, grab their parents, and point, slack-jawed. When a school bus would pass by as I walked down the street, the kids would hang out the windows and shriek at the top of their lungs, Hello? What is your name? Where are you from? And perhaps the ne plus ultra of my expat experience in the Land of the Morning Calm was the unabashed way in which guys would crane their necks to stare at me in the men’s room. They wouldn’t even pretend they weren’t looking. While there’s also much that I liked about living in Korea (and I love going back for visits now that I live in Hong Kong), being treated like an interesting zoo animal did uncomfortable things to my head.
At some point, the light bulb went on: curiosity is human nature, but these fascinated Koreans weren’t seeing me at all and perhaps weren’t even trying to. They were seeing a privileged skin color, a set of assumptions, a mythology. Putting these thoughts in my home context, I went through the obvious revelations first (so this is what it’s like to be a person of color in America) to the insidious (what happens if someone who looks kind of like me gets in trouble with the law?). Even when no harm may be intended, the net effect of so many minor abrasions is a scar.
And that’s when I heard the cannabis rumor. Apparently the Korean drug enforcement authorities take a zero-tolerance stance on recreational drugs. Whenever a foreigner was arrested for possession of marijuana, the cops would confiscate his mobile phone, check all the contacts, round up all the other foreigners whose names and numbers were in there, and subject them to drug tests... or deport them if they would not comply. To frame this properly, I should point out that there are a lot of lonely Western kidults in Korea teaching English in rural towns, drinking too much, quarreling online, and passing on tall tales from the local expat watering holes. Stories like this one circulate like dollar bills. But was this the truth or completely apocryphal? No one I knew had been personally affected, but everyone I knew seemed to have heard some version of the story. Even though I never so much as smelled the smoke from a burning blunt during my time in Korea, I always wondered whether someone I knew would be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Would I get a phone call telling me to report to the local cop shop for a urine test, the logic being Well, you’re white, so you must be guilty till proven innocent?
Like the best lies, fiction is at its most effective when it tastes like the truth. Even though my work isn’t autobiographical, I can always tell when I reread it what was on my mind at the time. No, I’ve never had the power to turn quasi-invisible, but when I wrote Bitter Orange, I had spent several years standing out like a big white sore thumb. Being exactly the opposite of invisible made me think about what people were seeing (or not) when they looked at me, and these musings found their way into my work.
Let me wrap this up by saying I’m not encouraging you to steal license plates off cars, steal the cars themselves, or drive to Vegas in the aforementioned stolen cars to rob casinos in broad daylight (and no, I’m not saying these things happen in Bitter Orange... but they might). In the book, we have a person whose life has been turned inside out. Then it gets turned upside down and taken for a spin in the tumble dryer. Then he finds out he can do unusual things. What choices will he make when his moral center is no longer even on the page? I promise, it’s not autobiographical. Honest.
About Bitter Orange:
Seth Harrington can be invisible or undetectable, but he is not a superhero. The ability only works in morally grey situations; the rest of the time, he can't turn it on and off at will. He can use a movie ticket stub to buy a coffee or a one-dollar bill to pay for a cell phone. He can stop muggings in plain sight, unseen, but only with worse violence. But this only adds to his confusion about his place in the world. Still reeling from the horrors of the September 11 terrorist attacks and ambivalent about his future, Seth is at a crossroads: Can he be one of the good guys by doing bad things, or are his newfound powers part of someone else's malevolent agenda? There are no easy answers or expected outcomes in Marshall Moore's exploration of urban life and the ways that people can disappear.
About Marshall Moore:
Marshall Moore is an American writer and publisher living in Hong Kong. In addition to being the publisher at Typhoon Media Ltd, he is the author of three novels (Bitter Orange, The Concrete Sky, and An Ideal for Living) and has just finished the first draft of a fourth (Murder in the Cabaret Sauvignon) and two collections of short fiction (The Infernal Republic and Black Shapes in a Darkened Room). He is also the co-editor (with Xu Xi) of an anthology of Hong Kong fiction with a World Englishes focus; the working title is The Queen of Statue Square and other stories from Hong Kong. And as if all this weren't enough, he is about to start on a PhD in Creative Writing from Aberystwyth University in Wales. His website: www.marshallmoore.com.
Purchase Bitter Orange:
Thank you again, Marshall, for visiting the blog!