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Lonesome Lies Before Us by Don Lee + Author Interview [in The Booklist Reader]

“Nope! I’ve never had any aspirations to be a musician”: Don Lee talks LONESOME LIES BEFORE US

When Don Lee’s first book came out 16 years ago, he probably didn’t know then that more than half his writing career would be spent in Rosarita Bay, a fictional California seaside town that bears more than a passing resemblance to the real-world Half Moon Bay on Highway 1 in Northern California. Of the five books Lee has published to date, three have been Rosarita-bound. Yellow – his wonderfully quirky debut – is set there, and in Wrack & Ruin (2008), we meet a Rosarita-based artist-turned-brussels-sprouts farmer and his estranged, money-and-image-obsessed movie-producer brother in the midst of an unplanned reunion.

Lee’s latest novel, Lonesome Lies Before Us – out last week – puts us back on familiar ground. Today’s Rosarita Bay may be on the brink of bankruptcy, but it’s still the right place for former musician Yadin Park, who inherited a ramshackle house from a grandmother he barely knew. Currently in the carpet business and dating the boss’s daughter, his hearing is getting worse, though he still manages to write songs in his pieced-together home studio. Then Yadin’s old lover and music partner (who made it big) reappears in his life, showing what happens when loneliness and hope collide.

Recently, I caught up with Lee for an online interview, but I forgot to ask him about his obsession – windsurfing! We still had plenty of topics to cover, however, including recessions, panic, golf course owners, (un)intentional plans, and K-pop.

What made you go back to Rosarita Bay?
A false start, actually. Originally, I was going to make it a road book, in which a singer-songwriter was going on his last tour for his last self-released album, and he was going to visit four cities where his former bandmates lived. But I realized this wasn’t a book I wanted to write, and I panicked! I decided it’d be better to set it in one place, and at first I considered a facsimile of Marfa, Texas, where I’d spent a few summers, and then I thought of Rosarita Bay. I wondered what had been happening in the town that’s its inspiration, Half Moon Bay, California, and I learned all sorts of stuff had been going on there that aligned with what I wanted – namely, how it’d been affected by the great recession. The city almost had to declare bankruptcy.

Panic worked in this case for sure! So that golf course resort/luxury hotel in Lonesome: Am I wrong in thinking Woody from Wrack & Ruin had anything to do with it? And did I miss any other overlaps?
Yes, that’s the golf course and hotel that Woody was helping to develop in Wrack & Ruin! I have other place references from that book and from Yellow. In early drafts, I had recurring characters as well from the earlier books, but I ended up taking them out because they seemed distracting.

I LOVE those details. I need to read all three in order now to see where the overlaps are!!
The books do follow a trajectory in terms of the town’s economic ups and downs.

Are any parts of Yadin’s career autobiographical? Were you/are you a musician, too?
Nope! I’ve never had any aspirations to be a musician, like some people have already assumed. I do, however, play bad guitar. I mean, like, I will never become a good guitar player no matter how much I practice. I played in high school, then got back into it about three years ago. What’s changed in the intervening time is the Internet. There are thousands of guitar tabs and YouTube instructional videos available, so it’s much easier to learn to play songs.

Given your love of not-Half Moon Bay, any plans to ever live there someday?
Oh, I would love to have a place there or in that area someday! But it’s very expensive, you know. Plus, I think I am now an East Coast guy. Though I will likely return to Rosarita Bay sometime in the future in another book.

I’m reading a pattern of sorts with your fiction – more comical (Yellow) set in Rosarita Bay, more serious (Country of Origin) set elsewhere, more comical (Wrack & Ruin) back in Rosarita Bay, more serious (The Collective) set elsewhere, not as comical but more comical than not (Lonesome) back once more in Rosarita Bay. Is that coincidental? Do you have a master plan?
I think that has more to do with my moods than any intentional plan. For instance, I’ll write about race in one book, get sick of it, and not write about it in the next book. The Rosarita Bay books happen to fall into the non-race rotations, so maybe that’s why they’re less serious. Not sure what the next visit will entail!

Given this not-intentional pattern, the next title to hit shelves is gonna tend toward more serious. Care to give us a sneak peek?
I think it will be about an architect. I’m really interested in mid-century modernism and minimalism. But for some reason, I want to throw in a K-pop star who is hiding from a scandal in there. And maybe something about a chef!

Published: “‘Nope! I’ve never had any aspirations to be a musician’: Don Lee talks LONESOME LIES BEFORE US,” The Booklist Reader, June 13, 2017

Readers: Adult

Published: 2017

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