AJAX BELL

Author of the Queen City Boys books


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Resources for Just like Honey

In the author’s note of Just Like Honey I say that writing outside my own experience puts the burden on me to be mindful and respectful of the real life experiences of who I choose to write about. This is an incomplete list of research materials I read trying to understand enough of the Japanese-American experience to be able to believably write a 30-something, queer, yonsei man in the 1990s. I’ve included links where possible, mostly Amazon links, but I encourage you to make use of your libraries too.  (Library Extension is a great Chrome add-on to find books in your library.) I’ve listed these by type and then alphabetically.  Not ideal, but it’s a lot of info and sometimes the basic ways are best.

I also mention in my author’s note a group curated list, for self-teaching Asian American studies. Here is that link again. It was an excellent jumping off point for me, and includes other mediums (like film) that I don’t include here (though I did watch many of those movies as ‘research’).

Websites, Blogs, and Articles:

100 Must-Read Books by Asian Authors

27 Asian Leading Men Who Deserve More Airtime

A Chronicle of Lesbian and Gay Magazines A Timeline: 1897 – 2008

A Clockwork Trauma

After Internment Japanese American’s Right to Return

America’s Concentration Camps Resources

Ansel Adams’ internment camp photos

Art – Words To Use

Art History Resources: Japanese Art

Asian American Voices in Poetry

Asian in America with Jon Tsuei

Asian-American Men Are Sexy in Magic Mike Parody

Asian-Americans Respond

“Asian men in media are so desexualized”: Rising star Jake Choi fights the Hollywood odds against Asian American actors

At Home with Themselves: Sage Sohier’s Moving Portraits of Same-Sex Couples in the 1980s

BuzzFeed’s Eugene Lee Yang On Authenticity and Embracing Your Asian-ness

Children of the 90s: Fashion Fads

CHS Re:Take | The 10 on Pine and other forgotten buses of Capitol Hill

Claiming Space, Seattle’s Lesbian & Gay Historical Geography, 2004 :: Seattle Maps and Atlases

Densho Encyclopedia

Documentaries about Japanese American Incarceration you can Watch Online for Free Right Now

Hidden gay photo archive surfaces in new exhibit

Hiroshi Nagai Paintings

History of Japanese Americans – Wikipedia

History of the Japanese in Seattle – Wikipedia

HistoryLink.org- the Free Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History

How Asian-Americans Became Democrats

How Diversity Shapes Multiracial Experiences

How the Model Minority Myth Hurts Asian-American Elders

I always find the topic of Asian American culture fascinating when speaking to other AsAms.

I Used to Reject My Chinese Heritage, What Do I Do Now?

Immigration Act of 1924

Isn’t it time we thought beyond monogamy as the ideal, and normalised open relationships?

Larry Matsuda

LGBTQ Seattle Activism Project

NJAHS – National Japanese American Historical Society

November 24, 1985: The Colman School Occupation

Oregon Nikkei Endowment

QZAP – Queer Zine Archive

Roger Shimomura

Should I Open Up My Relationship?

The Best of Liquid Television Part 1

The Challenges and Joys of a Three-Way Relationship

The Gay Rights Movement and the City of Seattle during the 1970s

The Girls’ Bathroom in Honor of Codie Leone and the Art School Girls of Doom

The Immigrant’s Fate Is Everyone’s

The Lost Generation: From ‘The Joy Luck Club’ To ‘Crazy Rich Asians’

The Not-Quite-American Feeling of Being a 1.5 Generation Immigrant

The Visibility Project – A national portrait and oral story collection of Queer Asian American & Pacific Islander Women and Trans* community.

Top Ten Asian Pacific American Comics Characters

Vloggers Discuss What It’s Like To Be An Asian Man On Grindr

What’s Going On In There?

When Asian America was a Movement

Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience

Books and Journals:

A History of Japanese Art: From Prehistory to the Taisho Period, Tsuda, Noritake; Ph.D, Patricia Graham, North Clarendon, VT, Tuttle Publishing, 2009.

A view from the bottom: Asian American masculinity and sexual representation, Nguyen, Tan Hoang, Durham, Duke University Press, 2014.

American Born Chinese, Yang, Gene Luen, New York, Square Fish, 2008.

Asian American Artists in the Northwest, International Examiner, No. 18 (Sept 17, 1997).

Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People, Zia, Helen, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001.

Beacon Hill Boys, Mochizuki, Ken, New York, Scholastic Paperbacks, 2004.

Being Japanese American: A JA Sourcebook for Nikkei, Hapa & Their Friends, Asakawa, Gil, New York, United States, Stone Bridge Press, 2015.

But I Don’t See You as Asian: Curating Conversations about Race, Reyes-Chow, Bruce; Kemp-Pappan, Ryan , BRC Publications, 2013.

Charlie Chan Is Dead 2: at Home in the World, Kim, Elaine, New York, Penguin Books, 2004.

Claiming the Oriental Gateway: Prewar Seattle and Japanese America, Lee, Shelley Sang-Hee, Philadelphia, Temple University Press, 2012.

Creators on Creating: Awakening and Cultivating the Imaginative Mind, Barron, Frank; Montuori, Alfonso; Barron, Anthea, New York, TarcherPerigee, 1997.

Cruising the Movies: A Sexual Guide to Oldies on TV, McDonald, Boyd; Jones, William E., South Pasadena, CA, Semiotext, 2015.

Culture Clash: The Making of Gay Sensibility, Bronski, Michael, Boston, MA, South End Press, 1999.

Divided Destiny: A History of Japanese Americans in Seattle, Takami, David A., Seattle, Univ of Washington Pr, 1999.

Fearless Creating: A Step-by-Step Guide To Starting and Completing Your Work of Art, Maisel, Eric, New York, TarcherPerigee, 1995.

From Our Side of the Fence: Growing Up in America’s Concentration Camps, California, Japanese Cultural & Community Center of Northern, San Francisco, CA, Kearney St Workshop Pr, 2001.

Gay Seattle, Atkins, Gary, Seattle, University of Washington Press, 2003.

Geisha of a Different Kind: Race and Sexuality In Gaysian America, Han, C. Winter, New York, New York University Press, 2015.

Hal Fischer: Gay Semiotics: A Photographic Study of Visual Coding Among Homosexual Men, Fischer, Hal, Los Angeles, Cherry and Martin, 2015.

How to Look At Japanese Art, Addiss, Stephen, New York, Harry N. Abrams, 1996.

‘I’m American, not Japanese!’: the struggle for racial citizenship among later-generation Japanese Americans, Tsuda, Takeyuki , Ethnic and Racial Studies, February 2014, Vol.37(3), pp.405-424 .

Invisible Asian Americans: the intersection of sexuality, race, and education among gay Asian Americans, Ocampo, Anthony C.; Soodjinda, Daniel , Race Ethnicity and Education Volume 19, 2016 – Issue 3, 2016.

Looking Like the Enemy: My Story of Imprisonment in Japanese American Internment Camps, Gruenewald, Mary Matsuda, Troutdale, Or, NewSage Press, 2005.

Midnight in Broad Daylight: A Japanese American Family Caught Between Two Worlds, Sakamoto, Pamela Rotner , Harper, 2016.

Mongrel: Essays, Diatribes, + Pranks, Chin, Justin , St. Martin’s Griffin, 2011.

Monstress Vol. 1, Liu, Marjorie; Takeda, Sana , Image, 2016.

Nikkei in the Pacific Northwest: Japanese Americans and Japanese Canadians in the Twentieth Century, Seattle, University of Washington Press, 2005.

Nisei Sansei, Takahashi, Jere , Temple University Press, 1998.

No-No Boy, Okada, John; Inada, Lawson Fusao; Ozeki, Ruth, Seattle, University of Washington Press, 2014.

Q & A: queer in Asian America, Eng , David L.; Hom, Alice Y., Philadelphia, Temple University Press, 1998.

Queering contemporary Asian American art, Kina, Laura; Bernabe, Jan Christian; Min, Susette; Lee, Kyoo, Seattle, University of Washington Press, 2017.

Same Difference, Kim, Derek Kirk, New York, First Second, 2011.

Serve the People: Making Asian America in the Long Sixties, Ishizuka, Karen; Chang, Jeff, London, Verso, 2016.

Shattered: The Asian American Comics Anthology, Yang, Jeff; Shen, Parry; Chow, Keith; Ma, Jerry, New York, The New Press, 2012.

Skim, Tamaki, Mariko; Tamaki, Jillian, Toronto ; Berkeley, Groundwood Books, 2010.

Social Solidarity Among the Japanese in Seattle, Miyamoto, Shotaro Frank, Seattle, Univ of Washington Pr, 1984.

Stubborn Twig: Three Generations in the Life of a Japanese American Family, Kessler, Lauren, Portland : Seattle, Oregon Historical Society Press, 2006.

Stuck Rubber Baby, Cruse, Howard, New York, DC Comics, 2000.

Take out: queer writing from Asian Pacific America, Bao, Quang, New York, NY, Asian American Writers’ Workshop : Distributed by Temple University Press, 2000.

The Accidental Asian: Notes of a Native Speaker, Liu, Eric, New York, Vintage, 1999.

The great unknown: Japanese American sketches, Robinson, Greg, Boulder, University Press of Colorado, 2016.

The Making of Asian America: A History, Lee, Erika, New York, Simon & Schuster, 2015.

The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting: A Facsimile of the 1887-1888 Shanghai Edition, Hiscox, Michael J. , Princeton University Press, 2015.

The Right Side of History: 100 Years of LGBTQ Activism, Brooks, Adrian; Katz, Jonathan , Cleis Press, 2015.

The Rise and Fall of Gay Culture, Harris, Daniel, New York, Ballantine Books, 1999.

Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White, Wu, Frank, Princeton, N.J., Basic Books, 2003.

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Where does the time go?

10062I had such high hopes for this year. I had a plan, a schedule, things to do. How is it nearly half way over already? The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men and all that. Nothing to do but gather my (few) accomplishments and push on, gentle, but not into that good night.

Obviously I’ve been reading too much poetry (is there such a thing?) but what else have I been doing? Not finishing books, that’s for sure! All right, that’s not true. I have finished a novella and it’s coming soon to an Amazon screen near you (other venues to follow eventually).

Star Quality, is a smutty little story of falling for your hot friend and his husband. In Canada! With bonus TV show production back drop. Yeah I definitely realize this isn’t everyone’s cuppa, but hey, some of you, somewhere, have been looking for really explicit m/m/m married menage, gfy/ofy fic with made up TV stars, right? If so, watch this space for details forthcoming, just as soon as there’s a cover!).

That’s an accomplishment I’m pretty proud of, but life has mostly just gotten in my way this year. Some family stuff. Some personal stuff. Then I started a new job, which is a great job, but has upheaved my life just enough to cut down writing time. I travelled to Seattle, to New York city, to San Francisco. But I’m home and I’m ready, I’m steady, I’m gonna get back to it. I have the next Queen City Boys novel, Bad Reputation about halfway done (what does that even mean?) and a good start on an as yet untitled sci-fi book. And two short stories in the making. Things are coming!

And hey, new website is happening soon too. And there’s a mailing list to go sign up for fiction updates and extras.

So, my friends, what have you been up too?


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(Seattle) punk is dead, long live punk

I don’t know if this is true for everyone else, but research when writing a book is kind of an endless hole of procrastination for me. It’s excusable, sure I’m not writing, but hey! I’m researching, that’s just as important. Who can argue with that? Still I need some structure around it because I can lose hours chasing down things that might not be useful to me. And I tell myself that research isn’t as valid as writing perhaps because I enjoy it so much. But the research is what underpins everything, it’s what saves me from going down the wrong road while writing.

My current manuscript is set in Seattle in 1982. Sure we all remember the 80s from movies, from pop culture, from our own history, but what was it really like? What was it really like in Seattle? I’ve been remembering, researching and interviewing people older than me to make sure I get it right. I keep a list of details I need filled in as I write for further interviews and research. And these days there’s all kinds of archives, things I couldn’t even have imagined when I was studying library science 20 years ago. And each is it’s own deep hole to fall down.

Seattle, 1982, view from Beacon Hill.

Yesterday I sat down to write, I went to close my browser (and shut off my internet, who has self control?) and right at the top of Facebook (who knew FB would actually be a useful research source) was a post from Vintage Seattle, about something in the 80s. So instead of closing my browser I scrolled back a ways, wondering what else I’d missed recently in that group that might be useful. That led me to discover the Seattle Punk Photo Archive which WOW I really needed (turned out to be super useful for a bunch of stuff I was trying to find years and participants for). And that lead me to where productivity usually goes to die: YouTube. And it turned out to be the most useful part of my day (besides the actual writing).

I have been having a hard time describing 1982 punks in my book. I feel like I’m describing them accurately, albeit somewhat from memory, and they just aren’t enough. They aren’t loud enough, they aren’t bright enough, they aren’t rowdy enough. And then I found these videos and discovered I was spot on in my descriptions. The problem is what was so punk and so out there in 1982 is just the usual stuff today. Those punks back then? We’re all in our 40s and 50s now, and some of us don’t dress any different than we did 25 or 35 years ago. My fictional punks seemed too mainstream because who they are is mainstream now. But it meant something then, and now I know my task as a writer: it isn’t to comically describe those punks as bright, loud, and brash as they were, it’s to describe that world 33 years ago and how different it was from ours now, because only against that background will how outrageous those punks were really stand out.

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Here’s some of the YouTube rabbit hole I fell down that showed me it did look like my memory. This first one really is kind of painful to watch. Squares, man, they just don’t get it (also, oh Portland, never change):

The “motto of destruction that sometimes confuses parents” (and aw, Wayne Cody):

“The 80s might see the strangest counter culture yet”:

(Hey buddy, I’m one of those kids, I’m well over 30 now and I’m still angry.)

If you want to feel like you were at the shows, way back when Seattle Punk and Indy Heart has a great collection of videos of old Seattle shows like this one from The Fags (hello glitter punk go-go boys):


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This book is a wonder

While travelling, when I should have been giving all my attention to my loved ones, I sat down for a bit and started reading That Door Is a Mischief by Alex Jeffers. I meant only to distract for an hour, to start something I could pick up before bed later, but instead I read the whole book, cover to cover, in a day, to the detriment of everything I should have been doing.

Jeffers_ThatDoor_hi-rezI don’t know if I can be objective about this book. Like all of Jeffers’ stories I was pulled in to a bubble universe that I never want to leave. The biggest tragedy is that I’m not reading this book anymore. It is not, like the fairyland in the story, a universe I can literally climb inside, through some magic door, and stay there forever. More’s the pity, I would happily live with Liam and his dads, Harry and their made family, in this beautiful bubble universe that Jeffers created.

The fairyness of this story is presented so matter-of-factly you think: yes of course there are fairies, no need to make a big deal about it. Not a delicate, sweet fantasy tale, the book is at times dark, dirty, and horrible, the way life is. The reality of fairy-Liam, particularly as a teenager is rough, uncomfortable, and awkward, yet I wouldn’t miss a minute of it.

TDIAM is a love story above all else. More than a romantic love story, it is a love-of-life story, love-of-family, made and chosen. The story’s presentation of family is spectacular, inclusive, the future we all hope for where sexuality is irrelevant to love, to family building, and everyone can make the choices they want.

How long will it take me to be ready to talk about the central love story in this book? I don’t know if I’ll ever be over it. I’m still tearing up with the enormity of it days later. It’s a gut-punch, but breathtakingly beautiful as well. It’ll just leave you entirely breathless, but it will feel like a that first glow of oxygen after you’ve had the wind knocked out of you–like the sun in your chest, huge, glowing, unfathomably sweet.

I have recently written my own book and the conclusion of that writing was emotionally devastating. Living in your own head, with your beloved characters, dreaming them, breathing them, but at some point you have to let them go, to be done. That end left me so lonely without them. Finishing reading TDIAM came close to that loneliness. Where will I be without these characters? There is a hole in my heart shaped like them. If I have any complaint about this book it is simply that it does not go on forever and that eventually I had to close it. I wondered if I would be able to handle the ending, the last chapter was intense and emotionally rough, but Jeffers came through, perfectly, so that now I can dream always that these boys are as happy as they made me.

I don’t know how to recommend this book. It is certainly supernatural fantasy, fairies, fairyland and all, but it felt so real. The characters come off the page, like people you know, fallible, damaged and exceptionally beautiful people, exposed and broken and still lovable just like your own friends. The sense of wonder Jeffers creates when people really see Liam, see the world around them differently, stuck with me. If you were going to read a fairy story anyway, read this one. If you only wanted a window into the lives of people so real you think you might pass them on the street, read this one. If you want to utterly lose yourself inside someone else’s massive world changing love, then read this book.


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The End of Writing (before I start again)

I wrote a book and I like it. It’s a book I want to read. Which I guess is why I wrote it? And yet here, on the cusp of publishing, I’m paralyzed with insecurity. I guess the old chestnut is true, being an artist is the intersection of flagrant, narcissistic ego and devastating, debilitating insecurity. The closer my writing comes to the reality of being an actual book, the more I’m waffling between the two. Some days I’m unabashedly proud of what I’ve accomplished and of my simple, sweet little story. Other days I’m certain I’m setting myself up for humiliation and my beta readers just won’t tell me how stinky my book really is.

How it feel sint he middle of writing. You've taken a vow and you might never get laid again.

How it feels in the middle of writing: you’ve taken a vow and you might never get laid again.

Writing a book was equally exhilirating and exhausting. I’m dragging my feet right now on committing to really starting the next one (plenty of research to distract me until I have no excuses left to keep me from writing) because this time I know what I’m in for and it’s harder to jump right in. And yet there has been so much I didn’t anticipate. Like all the waiting. So much waiting before publishing. I’m waiting on some translation, on cover design, on beta readers and editors. And even when that’s all through, I think I’ll still be waiting on myself to know it’s really ready to go. Leta tells me you’re never really done with a book: there’s publishing, there’s promo, there’s always something left to do. But really I think there’s levels of done. I’m looking forward to the “this is packaged and ready to distribute” level of doneness with this book, so I can stop fretting over the details of creation and start worrying about if other people will like it or not.

One day I'll hold one of these of my very own

One day I’ll hold one of these of my very own


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Beautiful to a reader, better to a writer

Miniature of Istanbul (Historical Peninsula)I few weeks ago I stumbled across Alex Jeffers’ Tattooed Love Boys in the Wilde Stories 2013 collection. I love short stories and speculative fiction but I find often that I enjoy a story while reading it, but forget it not long after shutting the book. Tattooed Love Boys stuck with me. Sure, it was about tattoos, beautiful boys, angels (maybe), and gender switching, which are basically the things I love most. But the writing in this story set a mood and tone that was what made the story stick with me. It had a dreamy quality that made the reader, like the characters, not question the weirdness.

Immediately I went out and got Jeffers’ The Padishah’s Son and the Fox which is both delightful and disgusting. Telling an ‘erotic’ fairytale with all the gruesome darkness of true fairytales, with many unexpected turns the story left me completely satisfied as a reader. The storytelling is lovely, giving you a genuinely visceral response, both positive and negative.

Though wonderful neither of these stories had the length and depth for me to completely immerse myself in, to forget myself in. Luckily the next I picked up was The Abode of Bliss. I read it in two sittings, interrupted only by the need to interact with my family and to sleep. Given the chance I would have read it straight through. Though I was emotionally overwrought when I finished it, so maybe it’s best that I had time to reflect on it when I finished (easily done as I was on a plane).

3597187161_1dcfb09bc4_oThe Abode of Bliss by turns made me laugh and made me weep. Reading it I felt both lonely and loved, and was filled with longing, both sexual and romantic. The prose is poetic though not overblown or contrived. It is evocative and heartfelt but with an emotional distance, as if the story teller is remembering, that allows careful observation. But still I felt close enough to be pulled into the remembered emotions, to cheer and cry for Ziya. I felt entirely inside his world, inside him, a character made up only of a words on a page.

This is how I hope to write. Some day I want to be practiced enough to feel confident that I can tell stories this intense, this clearly crafted, stories that sound this true no matter how made up they are. Here’s the thing about storytelling: it’s all made up, even when it’s true. As far as I can tell, Jeffers isn’t Turkish, (he says in his end note that he’s never been there) but somehow he manages to utterly transport me to Turkey. And carry me there inside the mind of character who feels completely authentic, so fleshed out as to be entirely real, utterly believable.

Jeffers’ books have reminded me that writing what you know is shit advice, it always has been. If people only wrote what they know we’d never have Madame Bovary, or War and Peace, we certainly wouldn’t have Star Trek or Harry Potter.  My own stories, at this point, are merely dirty little tales, with characters hopefully polished enough that readers will love them so much that they feel what the characters feel. They, at their core, stories of young men finding a sense of community in eras before my time. They are stories about things I have no experience of, having never been a young man in the 1980s. But these are the stories I have to tell, the characters who live in my head. So I will do my best to do them justice.

Reading The Abode of Bliss was pure joy as a reader, exactly what I needed for my vacation, to be entirely transported out of my own world. As a reader I couldn’t ask for more out a book.  As a writer I’m thrilled to find books like this that inspire me to try and make my stories much better than they are now.  Books that encourage me to keep writing the stories that come to me. Stories of cities I have never lived in, of people I am not and do not know. I will sleep tonight dreaming if Ziya in Turkey. I will wake tomorrow ready to better practice my craft, to more skillfully use words to bring readers into the world I created.


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Not Far From the Tree (part one)

Guess what I just got?!

IMG_20140530_175850836It’s newest book in my mom’s Rain City Comedy of Manners series, Artemis in the Desert. Just in time for beach reading, bed reading, park reading, weekend reading, airport reading, or really any kind of reading there is. Like the other books in the series (Nine Volt Heart–likeable rock stars, and The Grrrl of Limberlost–punk rock nerd girl coder) it features strong female characters, crazy bad guys and such lush backdrop descriptions that you’ll wish you were there inside the book (well except maybe camping in the cold rain in the desert, you won’t wish for that but you’ll really feel it). And like all her other books, even though I’ve already read it a couple times (in various stages of completion) I’m going to read it again now that i can just enjoy it.

My mom has been a huge inspiration to me. All the usual blah blah blahs: she’s smart, strong, independent, gave me a love of books and words, etc. Lately though she’s knocking it out of the park in the getting shit done department. Writing, editing, and publishing a huge variety of works (her own and other people’s) at a rocket fast pace without sacrificing quality on anything (look at how gorgeous her book layouts are, read how neatly crafted her books are). I aspire every day to her level of productivity and her quality of output.

Plus she’s just super awesome to hang with. If you can’t get to her garden to have fancy gin drink and good hang out, you can still find her other places she hangs. She has a website where she talks about writing, editing, her stories and other various things. You can also follow her Twitter where she is very funny and her Facebook for updates about what she’s got coming up.