The Death of Vae
They said at the time that Sina’s grandmother, Fa’amolemole, was young for a grandmother but as young as she was she was still old and as beautiful as she was she was still withered and as smart as she was she was still going to die one day soon—or so she felt. Fa’amolemole lived in Laumei village in American Samoa, with Vae, her young lover and gardener—and her last husband, sad and bitter Paul Thibaud, the South Pacific regional manager for the Golden Arches. They all lived in a white villa on a bluff at the edge of the village on a winding road, overlooking the sea.
Dan Taulapapa McMullin
Dan Taulapapa McMullin lives in Samoa and San Francisco where he teaches writing workshops to Samoan youth. His recent video short “Sinalela” will screen this summer at Outfest and San Francisco Lesbian and Gay Film Festival. His sound installation “The Resurrection of Tigilau” will exhibit in August at Galeria de la Raza in San Francisco. The story “The Death of Vae” is from a novel-in-progress.
Q&A by Hannah Tinti
- HT: Where did the idea for this story come from?
- DM: Sometimes one lives in two different times at once, somewhere near the present (but not quite the present) and somewhere in the distant past. This story is loosely based on childhood in Samoa in the 60’s, and about something more recent. As an idea it was a phrase someone said, Do you have a secret place? (What?) I said, do you have a cigarette?
- HT: How do you think the Samoan culture has affected your style as a writer?
- DM: I didn’t write until I began to write about Samoa and being Samoan. I’m quite consciously cultivating Samoan storytelling in my work. My American culture I’m less sure of, maybe that’s a good thing, one thing to be conscious of, one thing not to be conscious of.
- HT: What was the most challenging aspect of writing this story?
- DM: The cultural differences, which are within me in my life living in California and in Samoa. The U.S. is such a conceptual landscape without being emotional. I enjoy this in myself in my work, that I am Samoan and American and those are contradictory things to be. Usually it feels like Samoans are only Americans when speaking English. Our communal lifestyle and “faasamoa” (way of life/language) are so very different from American individualism/capitalism. I remember so vividly the difficulties this presented for me growing up (and now!).
- HT: Was it difficult to integrate the Samoan language and references?
- DM: No, they fit in quite naturally, it’s the U.S. that doesn’t fit into a Samoan landscape! “The Death of Vae” takes place in American Samoa, which is a U.S. Territory. Sometimes I feel the U.S. is like a warm current that is only passing over the colder deeper waters of Samoa.
- HT: How long did it take you to complete this story?
- DM: The first draft, a few days, the final touches, a few months.
- HT: What is the best bit of advice about writing you have ever received?
- DM: A great Samoan writer in Aotearoa (New Zealand) once told me to go back to the U.S.! I think he meant by this that my stories are in the U.S, they’re Samoan American stories.
- HT: What are you working on now?
- DM: “The Death of Vae” is a chapter from a novel-in-progress about Fa’amolemole and Sina’s lives, tentatively titled Sina. I am currently seeking a publisher (and agent).