We had the good fortune of connecting with James Sie and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi James, is your business focused on helping the community? If so, how?
Writing fiction has the potential to create empathy in the reader, to affect not only the mind but the heart. Think of the last good novel you read, one whose characters stayed with you long after you’ve set the book down. You’ve been given the opportunity to see the world through another’s eyes, and that can be quite a powerful experience. Writing about marginalized communities, if done right, bestows a second blessing: it not only fosters understanding and acceptance from those outside that community, but also allows those within the community to see themselves reflected and affirmed. The best fiction acts as both window and mirror.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Acting and writing have always been two passions of mine since an early age; I remember playing Benjamin Franklin (complete with bald cap) in kindergarten, and creating my first book (binding and all) in fourth grade. I thought that I’d have to choose one career path or the other, but it turns out that you can do both! I started creating voices for animation when I was hired as a Jackie Chan soundalike for his Saturday morning cartoon “Jackie Chan Adventures” and it took off from there. Today, I’ve been lucky enough to be part of the Avatar world as the Cabbage Merchant, and I’m also so proud to be the title character in the Apple TV+ show “Stillwater,” based on the book “Zen Shorts” that I used to read to my son when he was little. It’s a wonderful show, filled with lessons on mindfulness for kids.
At the same time, writing has endured as a major form of creativity for me. I wrote a lot of plays and theatrical adaptations of literature when I was living in Chicago, but after I moved to Los Angeles I thought I’d try my hand at novel writing. My first novel, “Still Life Las Vegas,” had elements of both literary fiction and graphic novel, and garnered a Lambda Literary Award for Best Gay Fiction. My newest book, the YA novel “All Kinds of Other,” is a love story between two queer high school boys, one cisgender and one transgender. The book has created quite a lot of discussion—I’m quite proud of these two boys!
Sometimes I think having two creative careers stops me from really focusing on one fully, but mostly I believe it’s been a blessing, being able to shuttle back and forth from one to the other. And sometimes, the two come together in wondrous ways—like when I was able to narrate the audiobook for “All Kinds of Other”!
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Hmm… let’s see… Outside seems the way to go, we’d hit El Matador Beach in Malibu one day, The Huntington Gardens in Pasadena another day. A walk along the L.A. River near Atwater Village after grabbing a sweet at Village Bakery and popping in at Potted (oh wait, we also have to check out India Sweets and Spices while we’re there).
Eating-wise… Mess Hall in Las Feliz has good outdoor dining, and if I can snag a seat under the stars at Phenakite (I’m a member of Second Home, the writing space that hosts the restaurant, so it might be an easier get) we’ll splurge.
There’ll be a shopping day, where we’ll hit Buck Mason at Larchmont Boulevard, OK and Douglas Fir on 3rd Street, and yes, we can swing by the Grove, but only if we can get noshes at the Fairfax Farmer’s Market. If we’re not too tired we’ll hit a few bookstores— Skylight Books in Silverlake, Vroman’s in Pasadena, and The Last Bookstore downtown.
Hopefully, Cinespia will be playing a classic movie at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, because all of my go-to movie theatres are closed (Arclight, I’m still mourning). And on Sunday morning, we must go to the Hollywood Farmer’s Market, where I do my food shopping for the week. Hot food vendors and musicians are back!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
The biggest challenge in writing a novel is actually, you know, finishing it. There have been several organizations in around Los Angeles that afforded me space and opportunity to concentrate on my writing: Writing Workshops Los Angeles, The Hatchery Press (both of these spaces are, alas, victims of the pandemic) and Yefe Nof, an artist residency program based in Lake Arrowhead. My writing group, which includes writers Diana Wagman, Heather Dundas, and Kelley Coleman, also kept me on task and on deadline, and I couldn’t have finished “All Kinds of Other” without them.