Plum Rains on Happy House follows an American who is trying to turn an Inn into a school but is thwarted by the house’s strange creatures. What was the inspiration behind this unique story?
I live in Japan, and it’s a place I know well. The book’s dedication probably says it all:
This book is for Japan. It’s the place I call home—though it may not want me to. For over 25 years I have grappled with the dos and don’t’s of my host country, destroying the language in conversation, giving up, resuming more study, eventually resigning myself to the boundless plateaus of almost-speech.
And Japan abides. Like a patient steward, it absorbs the frolics and the ribbing, while providing a solacing habitat in which to write and teach and parent and grow.
I came over to Japan in the 80’s and I’ve lived in some pretty seedy guesthouses—what we call gaijin houses. In creating the residents of Happy House, I just mingled the characteristics of a few of the unique people I’ve met over the decades in Tokyo and in Los Angeles. In some cases, I didn’t need to exaggerate at all.
On one level Plum Rains on Happy House is a detective story. A fellow named Harry Ballse invites the protagonist, nicknamed the Ichiban, to Japan. But the residents of Happy House all deny any knowledge of this mysterious Harry Ballse.
Some readers may pick up on the references to the 1973 film The Wicker Man, about a policeman who is lured to a Scottish island to investigate the report of a missing child. It’s a game of deception. The islanders are playing with him. The paganism and the sexual activity the sanctimonious policeman finds so objectionable are simply part of the selection process—to see if he possesses the characteristics to burn in their wicker effigy so that the village will have subsequent successful harvests.
In Plum Rains on Happy House, the Ichiban must undergo his own horrific sacrifice to appease the house. My novel is in many ways a tribute to that remarkable film, and it has the same foundational plot lines, but I’ve laid down a hearty layer of satire and lots of cross-cultural lunacy.
There are some weird and fascinating things happening in this story. Was this an easy outlet for your creativity or was there some effort put into creating these things?
Nothing is easy. If women will forgive me the metaphor, creating Plum Rains on Happy House was like giving birth—it hurt a lot. There were points when I considered giving up because it was just too hard. I’m not a funny person, but I have little trouble dreaming up wacky stories and characters. The residents of Happy House had to be distinctively quirky. I didn’t know how bawdy things were going to become, or how much depravity would creep its way into the story. But once I had the characters they took charge, and I relegated myself to being, more or less, their stenographer.
Dialog was also something I paid close attention to. Of course, sharp dialog is vital in any story, but for this kind of back-and-forth humor to succeed, I felt it really had to have zip. Just like a comedian practices his delivery line, the dialog exchanges had to have real punch. As with most writing, dialog should say a lot , with very little. The communication isn’t in the words being said but in the subtext. Good dialog says it without saying it. One quick example from Chapter One has the resident of Room 3 (nicknamed The Goat) explaining to the new resident about his missing foot:
“I saw you looking at the bottom of my leg.”
The Goat scowled. “Obviously, you can see that no longer exists.”
“It’s in Cambodia.”
The Goat went into a cross-eyed fluster. “What is?”
Sometimes readers need to work a bit to understand the exchange, and I think they appreciate that. Dialog is an organic process. It’s the way characters talk in my head, and I think I know how to write them because they are all a part of me. It all works toward satisfying the element of what a good scene often comes down to: one person trying to get something from another.
Mix that in with the baffling idiosyncrasies of Japan and its language, and the vexing stages of culture shock, which frame the Ichiban’s adventure in Happy House, and readers have a lot to juggle, especially those uninitiated to living in other countries. I’m hoping this confusion is a part of the magnetism of the story. On top of that, one should remember the old guesthouse is haunted:
“Happy House is an amoeba everlasting, a floating world—capturing and sealing the self-indulgence of the red-light districts, the bordellos and the fleeting, delightful vulgarity of ancient Japan, an eternal time capsule of the flamboyant and the boorish.”
What do you find is a surprising reaction people have when they read your book?
The book has received mixed reviews. Of the five books I have up on Amazon, Plum Rains on Happy House was the first to receive a customer review of one star—perhaps rightfully so: the reader was “disgusted” by some of the more explicit scenes, and I think that was my fault; the earlier cover gave no indication of the sexual content within, and this poor woman was clearly ambushed. With the one star, I know I’m finally an author, and wear it as a badge of honor.
There are, however, cultural elements in the story that some will not understand: the usage of the various slipper customs inside a house, the daily beating of the futon, the laundry poles, the shockingly steep stairwells, the neighborhood garbage trucks that play cute tunes to let you know they’re coming, the confusion between the colors of blue and green.
The dichotomy of substance versus form also plays an important part in underscoring the tension—in the way one swings a tennis racket, or walks in a swimming pool, or plays baseball, or eats particular dishes: What should predominate—what you are doing or how you are doing it?
On another level, the story examines language acquisition and the role of structure within the learning process. The residents all have their various opinions: As teachers, should English be taught through some kind of lock-step formula, or would one be better off approaching it in a more hands off manner, rather like painting? Everyone seems to have an opinion.
The idea of structure comes to the forefront again when discussing what one character, Sensei, calls the hidden structure of the house, which, like the neighborhood (or any cityscape in Japan) appears as an amorphous sprawl. But look underneath this sprawl and one sees the organism. Sensei says that the randomness, or chaos, embraces a flexible, orderly structure, and he likens the house to an amoeba that has the ability to alter its shape. Similarly, this amoeba can be seen as a microcosm of Japan as a whole.
What are you currently working on and when will it be available?
I’ve finished the first few drafts of a story about Special Needs teens who discover time travel. But the adult teachers at the school find out what’s going on and abuse this ability to travel back into time for their own selfish needs. It turns out the ones with the Special Needs are not the teenagers—who are all somewhere on the Autism spectrum—but the supposed grownups, and it’s up to the teens to save the day. It should be out in autumn.
Thanks for having me!
The American in Room 1, however, is dead-set on turning the derelict Happy House into a burgeoning English school.
The house has other plans, and Room 1’s attempts are thwarted by a freakish creature that lives under the floorboards called “the Crat”.
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In the year 1630, in Hangzhou, China, two families were getting set to join with the marriage of Li Bing and Xiaoyun Wang. Marriage is taken very seriously and there are many traditions that must be observed in order to ensure a prosperous marriage to the couple. Li Bing is the city’s celebrity of sorts as he prepares to take the exams to become an important civil servant for the city. This causes his father to receive many gifts and accolades, as well as resentment. Vice-perfect Wang Zhengqian, father of Xiaoyun, plots to ruin Li Bing’s father, the other vice-perfect Li Gao. Wang is power hungry and wants nothing more than to gain all he can, and cares little who he hurts in the process, his own family included.
Mandarin Ducks is the second book in a trilogy by Robert Campbell. The first novel gives you more background of this community and some the characters so I recommend reading that first, but it’s not required as this book can stand on it’s own. Taking place in the 1600’s of China, it talks about how some of the inhabitants have roots in Jewish culture, and how they have to keep that hidden away. Li Bing has a deep interest in discovering his heritage and Jewish roots but must go in secret to learn more about his past. His grandfather helps him some but is growing old quickly and Li Bing is worried all the past knowledge will be lost. There is a lot of focus on class and the nuances that each rung of society has to observe. I enjoyed reading about how the different classes interacted, and as the story line developed I grew more invested as things become more intricate and layered. The novel has a slow start and builds at a steady pace that never feels rushed and allows you to grow attached to the main characters involved in the plot. The side story of Li Bing learning about his Jewish roots mixed into the scandal between the vice-perfects was well placed and fit seamlessly into things, nothing felt like added filler, everything seemed important to the progression of the story.
I really enjoyed Robert Campbell’s style of writing. The prose is clean and the story is focused. The story expertly builds suspense and develops the characters in a way that you either love or hate them. There is real history encased in the story, making things more believable, and adding extra depth to the plot. I look forward to reading the next installment of this series.
Pages: 133 | ASIN: B07G7GV256
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Kathryn is faced with giving up her dream of being an independent professional woman and putting to use her education in her father’s company, and Ty is a man trapped in a job for the Chinese warlord, Cheng Jiong, wanting nothing more than to be with Kathryn. The ties that bind him, however, may be stronger than he thinks. When Kathryn is kidnapped and Ty finds himself part of the plot to use Kathryn’s position as leverage, Ty and Kathryn strike up an unusual alliance which leaves both of them in danger and both with more to lose than they could ever realize.
I do not know exactly what I expected as I began to read of Kathryn’s education and her father’s plan to marry her off to a man she did not know, but I know this much: Juliann Troi’s writing in The Dragon of Hidden Treasures Book 1 is simply beautiful. When an author writes so fluently in the language of imagery that it makes you forget where you are and who is around you, you know you have met the best of the best.
Kathryn is a force with which to be reckoned. She is beyond her time and is as cunning a character as I have seen in a while. Right out of the gate, Troi had me rooting for Kathryn to overpower her father with her obvious common sense and business savvy. She is a true testament to the fact that women have, for decades, been a force in business whether they were allowed to have their names attached to their work or not. She exemplifies every strong woman striving to be heard and seen in a man’s world.
The budding relationship between Kathryn and Ty is enviable. His love for her is clear from the first words he speaks of her. Though the “stalker-esque” behavior at the outset is a little unsettling, it plays well into the plot and is less of an issue when the reader sees their destiny play out. Again, Troi is an artful writer–plain and simple–making the most basic of actions flow beautifully across the page.
Revelations are an important part of Troi’s writing. As Kathryn and Ty’s story progresses, Kathryn is stunned by Ty’s admissions about his family. Without giving anything away, I can say that I was just as surprised as the key character. Ty has been down quite a harrowing road, and that experience lends itself well to Troi’s plot and is a vital part of the character development. Troi does not lay all her cards on the table and is a master at throwing the reader for the proverbial loop.
Juliann Troi’s historical fiction is an all too accurate portrayal of the struggle women have faced to be heard and to take part in the biggest decisions in business dealings throughout history. Interspersed throughout the romantic tones of the book are tidbits of China’s history peppered with glances into the horrors of war. I look forward to Book 2!
Pages: 584 | ASIN: B079XX8BZM
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For most of his life, Bing has prepared ceaselessly to take the civil servant examinations, with little time for anything beyond the collections of texts that dictate political matters. Passing the exams would be the first step in following his father’s path, and also determine nearly everything else about his future. Finally, the day to begin them has arrived, and Bing faces the grueling challenges before him with understandable anxiety, but also a necessary determination. Outside of the exam compound, however, his focus is frequently drawn to a mysterious dream that recurs almost nightly, as well as a glimpse into history from his beloved grandfather.
In 18 Cranes by Robert Campbell, we’re introduced to Bing, his loved ones, and some of the traditions of village life in 17th century China. With an engaging narrative and colorful descriptions of Bing’s world, 18 Cranes does an excellent job of holding the reader’s attention, even while discussing a subject as mundane as civil servant exams. Despite a lack of any real action, the story never seems stagnant. Of course, there’s more going on than just rigorous testing. Bing is also suddenly plagued by a recurring dream, the meaning of which eludes him. The reader learns a lot about Bing and his relationships with his loved ones over the course of several expertly crafted conversations that examine each part of the dream, which always ends with 18 red-crested cranes ascending into the sky. The number 18 in particular holds special intrigue and multiple explanations are suggested for its meaning. To further the feeling of mystery, toward the end of the story, Grandfather Ai begins to tell Bing about the origins of their family. The short oral history is enough to stoke Bing’s stifled imagination. Restricted by his strict studies, Bing has never had the opportunity to read many legends or works of fiction and his curiosity, although kept under control, nonetheless exists. Grandfather Ai’s revelations also provide an interesting twist for the reader.
The uncertainty of the future is an overarching theme throughout the book and is explored through both tangible avenues, like Bing’s performance in the exams, as well as in deciphering the symbolism of his dream. There is also a considerable emphasis placed on Bing’s age, with repeated mentions that he could be one of the youngest people to ever pass the exams on the first try. Because of this, it reads a good bit like a coming of age story.
18 Cranes is subtitled “Kaifeng Chronicles Book One”, in reference to the village that Bing’s maternal ancestors came from. I’d be excited to read the rest of the series and follow Bing further through the avenues of his life. The abundance of detailed descriptions make it easy to picture the aspects of Bing’s village life, from the shores of West Lake to the flowers in the gardens. This book is an interesting and well written story that moves at a good pace.
Pages: 123 | ASIN: B07C8LC32H
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The Mystical Qigong Handbook for Good Health details one of the pillars of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Why was this an important book for you to write?
I believe that in our global society we are no longer restricted to one mode of medical care; that we can share and learn from each other. Further, Qigong is an ancient practice that offers incredulous insight into the human body and how it functions. I have utmost respect for tradition and the ancients.
It was nice to find a book that covered a variety of questions average people have about Qigong. What is one question you always get asked about this topic?
Can Qigong cure every disease?
What do you hope readers take away from your book?
That they should know the dynamics of the human body and how much we are connected to the universe; that we are inseparable.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
I am working on 100 paths to God, a compilation of published articles that I have written for the Gleaner company, one of the oldest media houses in the western hemisphere.
Qigong is one of the pillars of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). It involves gentle hand movements, postures, controlled breathing and some visualization. Qigong is widely known to successfully treat a number serious illnesses, promote muscular-skeletal strength, increase circulation and promote overall wellness. The Mystical Qigong Handbook For Good Health offers simple but very effective exercises for all age groups.
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The Mystical Qigong Handbook for Good Health by Glenville Ashby goes into detail about how more people are turning to the East instead of focusing on pharmaceutical solutions that are pushed forward by the West. It focuses on the benefits of Qigong which is a holistic solution that focuses on coordinated body posture, movement and focused breathing. There are 12 benefits to Qigong if it is done properly and can meet many of today’s health challenges. It also has step by step pictures demonstrating how to properly do the movements of Qigong, which is helpful for people who aren’t sure how to do the movements.
I really liked this book as it gave an in depth and thorough look at a method I haven’t heard of before. Although the recommendation is to read the whole book thoroughly before attempting the exercise routine at the end, I felt like I had to give it a go. I’m not entirely sure that I did it right, but visualizing some of the aspects that are mentioned within the book gave me a sense of calm that I didn’t have before.
It was also nice to read a book that covered a variety of questions about Qigong. While reading about it, I initially thought that it sounded a bit like Tai Chi. However, the author has clearly realized that this is a similar train of thought for most people and covers this in the chapter ‘Qigong and Tai Chi Chaun: What’s the difference?’.
The style of this book is informative but casual. While reading this book, it feels more like you’re talking to a friend that’s very passionate about Qigong and has a lot of knowledge on it instead of reading a rigid textbook. I found it very easy to read due to a personal preference for this style of writing.
I also enjoyed the pictures of how to perform the fluid movements that are associated with Qigong. These diagrams made it easy for me to attempt to copy the movements and it helps that there are also written instructions.
One thing that I didn’t like about the book was that it implied a certain amount of knowledge about Qigong. As a beginner looking to expand my knowledge about Eastern health concepts, the book keeps mentioning Qigong but doesn’t explain what it is until the tenth chapter. As this book is about Eastern health concepts, people who aren’t open to expanding their minds about a different concept will not enjoy this book as it goes into astral travel and the third eye.
I enjoyed reading this book. I felt that I’ve expanded my view of the world and learned some helpful skills to deal with life’s stresses.
Pages: 100 | ASIN: B0722JVGNN
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Set against the backdrop of one of the most devastating natural disasters in recent history, A Tangled Web by ML Sparrow tells a tale of teenage angst and romance. A girl abandoned by her parents and twin brothers wrapped up in their emotions weave this tale of romance, betrayal and heartache. Hayashi Taiyo has lived with her grandmother since the death of her mother. She has grown up with twins Kita Ryuu and Kairi in the quiet little town they live in. Things start off soft and slow as we learn about their everyday lives. As with most teenagers, growing emotions and endless confusion seek to disrupt the delicate balance between the three. Two brothers who are as opposite as fire and ice and the girl caught between them. However a tsunami is coming and it will upend their lives in ways they couldn’t imagine.
This novella is just the right length. The relationships between the three who are caught up in the love triangle are delicately portrayed. There is just enough backstory to understand the past of the characters and their mindsets without feeling as though something is missing. The risk a lot of novella’s run is that there is not enough explanation. Sparrow crafts the tale in such a way that the small page count doesn’t detract from the story itself.
By using the romaji forms of several Japanese words in the story the reader can feel much more like they are experiencing every day life in Japan. There is a handy glossary at the back of the book but the sentences they are used in and the way Sparrow writes makes it easy to understand what the words are meant to mean. This saves the reader from having to flip to the end of the novella while reading.
The tsunami in Japan in March of 2011 was devastating. A force of nature that could not be stopped devoured lives and homes without regard. Sparrow indicates at the beginning of the novella which books they read to better understand what happened. By listing them out it allows the reader to continue investigating the event on their own time. This novella is a work of fiction and whether or not Taiyo and her twin friends Ryuu and Kairi actually exist is unknown. What is true is that there are people who lived through the tsunami just like our three protagonists did.
A Tangled Web because is a story about three young people who are trying to navigate the transition from childhood to adulthood. It’s a delicate journey and the severity of the tsunami serves to illuminate the fact that life will go on. The tsunami is like the tumultuous relationship between the three. It attempts to tear them apart, to drown them, and it will change them forever. It’s a lovely read for those who are interested in a coming of age story with a touch of reality.
Pages: 89 | ASIN: B01MRU67AN
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