Battle Carried examines the history and meaning of tiger imagery of good luck flags in Japanese culture. Why was this an important book for you to write?
Battle Carried was important for me to write because it took into consideration two primary subjects that I had been passionate about since childhood: Japanese good luck flags and the tiger. Growing up, I had a fascination for flags; I drew and colored them and hung them on my bedroom walls. The more colorful the banner, the more I wanted to learn about it. At the time, the young student in me enjoyed learning about the histories of the nations that each flag represented. Flags and military history go hand-in-hand. I often thought how those colorful pieces of cloth could inspire ordinary men to accomplish extraordinary acts of courage in battle.
My interest in tigers was a little more straightforward. As a youngster I thought about pursuing a career in veterinary medicine. My home was an animal menagerie. I was always bringing some kind of pet home, or nursing an injured animal back to health. Based on that interest, I spent quite a lot of time reading about different animals, visiting zoos, etc. The reality for me was that while many people think of the lion as the king of beasts, I was more captivated by the beauty of the orange and black striped tiger. I did not know it at the time, but Asian culture actually celebrates the tiger as the king of the beasts. Years later, when I first heard that there were good luck flags with tigers painted on them, I knew that I wanted to eventually study them. It ended up being a match made in heaven. Battle Carried was a long-awaited outgrowth following the 2008 release of my introductory volume on Japanese good luck flags.
What kind of research did you undertake to complete this book?
I was familiar with doing research in history and anthropology at both an undergraduate and graduate school level. I began my research for Battle Carried by reading whatever I could find on the evolution, migration patterns and demographics of the tiger in Asia. As a student of anthropology, I had also studied Asian religious and philosophical worldviews. I wanted to better understand how and why those relationships came to be encapsulated into the Japanese tiger art good luck flags. Later, I thought that perhaps there was a connection between the animal that I saw in rare wood block prints (ukiyo-e) and those that illustrated the flags. It was fascinating to observe that the styles and poses of tiger art painted on flags during the World War Two era, often appeared to be near exact copies of those created, sometimes a few hundred years earlier. That realization led me to research the early Chinese influences that so heavily affected later Japanese art.
What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned about Imperial Japanese Tiger Art in your research?
In Asian cosmology, the tiger was seen as a divine creature that played a significant role in how those cultures understood the origin, and evolution of the universe. In Taoist art, the tiger was frequently observed representing the “Yin” to the dragon’s “Yang”. When the tiger (tora) was complimented visually with the dragon (ryu), one of the most prolific pairings to illustrate the Japanese Zen Buddhist struggle for enlightenment emerged. With some exceptions, the Japanese embraced the zodiac system of the Chinese. The Tao constructs the world around two forces; They operate within a Yin-Yang relationship. Yin characteristics are composed of water, wind, earth, and are murky in nature. Furthermore, their essence is female, and static. The aspects of Yang incorporate fire, rain, the heavens, and brightness. Their essence is male, and energetic. The elements described may be manifested in the combined Yin-tiger, and the Yang-dragon; the pairing is known to the Japanese as uchu no tora, or “tiger in rain”. Zen Buddhism acknowledges an interplay between these two natures, one that exists throughout the entire universe. The tiger, with its courageous character, is accepted throughout Asia as the most esteemed of all the large wild animals. In pictures it is frequently positioned focused, ready to pounce upon its prey. Similarly, it is often portrayed descending along rocky outcropping, its belly stretched out low, hugging the ground. As a common theme, wind-strained bamboo thickets typically occupy the same image as the growling orange, and black striped beast. The late orientalist, Robert van Gulik wrote that, “In Japan, the tiger portrayed among bamboo stalks in the wind is known as take ni tora, ‘tiger in bamboo’. This representation is generally taken to symbolize that even the most powerful of terrestrial forces, namely the king of all animals, had to yield to the forces of nature. As such, the tiger in the take ni tora representation is also said to be identified with the wind itself, symbolizing as it were, the rustling wind in the bamboo grove.” The English born barrister, and art collector, Marcus Bourne Huish expounded upon this relationship further when he wrote in his 1889 book, Japan and Its Art that the tiger, “…is very often depicted in a storm cowering beneath bamboos, signifying the insignificant power of the mightiest of beasts as compared to that of the elements.” The powerful cat has a tempered force that is evident in its rigid muscles; allowing it comfort in its Yin/earth realm.
The dragon typically shows its force in a more spirited manner. He is often portrayed, surrounded within the heavens by angry rain clouds, and storm energized waters. Projecting himself out of the heavens, the dragon is frequently shown descending toward the earth where his Yang menaces, but does not dominate, the tiger’s Yin. Those two forces, uniformly matched are in balance, as they typify the universe’s harmonious nature.
In writing Battle Carried, I realized that the Yin-Yang relationship is one that all mankind would do better to more fully understand. When we strive to live in balance with the natural environment, the world tends to operate in a more harmonious fashion. Whenever mankind seeks to dominate or control that natural world, harmony is lost and systems break down. In Asian philosophy, the tiger as the king of beasts realizes that fact of life. Hopefully we will use that example to better steer our own destinies as humans.
I loved all the art you used in the book. What is your favorite art piece from this book?
My favorite piece of art is the 1885 woodcut triptych by the artist Koyama Chikusai titled Kato Kiyomasa on the Korean Campaign (p.33). The exploits of the samurai warrior Kato Kiyomasa were legendary among his friends and foe. He was famous, not only for his prowess on the field of battle, but also for his one-on-one fights against the fierce tiger. His fame grew to such an extent that other samurai attempted to elevate their own status by performing similar acts. Apparently enough samurai were being killed by their tiger opponents, that the Japanese leader, Toyotomi Hideyoshi banned his officers from taking part in the “sport”!
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Demon Heart follows a a cop in Osaka who must hide the fact that she’s a demon hybrid while stopping a fanatic from acquiring an ancient artifact. What was the inspiration behind the idea for this suspenseful novel?
There were three important factors that contributed to the creation of this novel. The first was the exposure to the Japanese animation and cinema after my immigration to the United States in 1987. I am a great fan of the movies of Akira Kurosawa and also a great fan of Japanese anime, which is very beautifully made and with great attention to detail and emotional realism. My second inspiration came from the exposure to the Japanese customs and traditions as well as a unique way of thinking. Japan is the most technologically advanced country in the world and yet it is deeply rooted in old traditions. I admire their hard work, their designs and their great emphasis on personal honor and respect of people and nature. The third reason for the creation of this book was my strong and enduring friendship with my beautiful Japanese female friend, a young lady whom I met in college. My main character Naoko Kitamura is partly based on her character and her looks, and she is very beautiful!
Naoko Kitamura’s lineage and background were immensely interesting. How did you develop her background and what were some aspects that were important for you to focus on?
In my character design of Naoko Kitamura I made a reference to the formula followed by the writers and artists of Japanese manga and American graphic novels. This formula is simple. If you are an extraordinary person, it’s very hard for you to live an ordinary life. This is true of all superheroes, and Naoko Kitamura can be definitely classified as one. In developing her background and human-demonic lineage, I wanted to present her as a unique creature of both worlds, material and spiritual, a being of darkness and light blessed and cursed with immense powers and capability for great destruction. At the same time, I wanted her to take responsibility for everything she does. Since Naoko is Japanese, she does receive guidance and wisdom from her demonic ancestral memory and her mother, who is herself a demon hybrid. I wanted to present my protagonist as a strong, intelligent and independent woman and yet vulnerable both emotionally and physically, even if she can recover from almost any injury.
Osaka Japan is beautifully detailed in this story. What kind of research did you undertake to ensure things were accurate?
It is very important for every writer to get things right, especially if he or she is writing about another culture and people that represent that culture. A full year of intense and fascinating research went into creation of this novel. I wanted to understand not only how the modern japan works but to understand the intricacies of the Japanese mindset, their philosophy, history and their attitude toward life and death. I explored everything from food to movies to Japanese novels as well as interviews of my Japanese friends and study of books about Japan written by both academics and travelers, as well as fiction writers who studied Japanese culture and shared their findings with the world. Working on research for this novel was a great fun and a labor of love. I often try to place myself in my protagonist’s shoes and visualize their thoughts and actions to achieve the best literary as well as cinematic effect.
Do you have more stories planned that include Naoko?
Yes, I do have more stories planned for my demon hybrid protagonist Naoko Kitamura. Demon Heart is the first novel of the trilogy, which I plan to gradually introduce to our readers in the near future. Sometimes it is hard to determine whether or not the story would have a continuation. To make the series featuring a single main protagonist required a large amount of material to work with. I ended the Demon Heart novel with a scene that would hint on Naoko’s continuing adventures and a new life and a new identity that she would have to assume after making a heroic sacrifice to save her city from destruction. In the following novels, Naoko Kitamura will once again rise to defend her country and people she loves not just on the national but international scale. To my readers I would like to stay tuned for the more upcoming adventures of Naoko. One thing I would like to add is that she will return!
In the Realm of Ash and Sorrow was a unique historical fiction novel colored with themes of guilt, sorrow and suffering over all that had been lost. Although this was a very emotional novel, it wasn’t all negative emotions, it also had happiness, romance, and a (possible) love like no other, mixed in with some supernatural elements and fantastical hints of history. The story caught my attention in the first couple of pages, remaining consistently entertaining throughout with only rare moments that seemed to slow a bit due to necessary exposition. The detail throughout the book is absorbing and really pulls you into 1940’s Japan. When it came time for the atomic bomb to drop I could see the horror surrounding Micha as he searched for Kyomi, the burning bodies that he came across and the fear that he would never find her or Ai. I could visualize most every scene, which is something I truly appreciated in a novel that covered such a cataclysmic event that reshaped human history.
While Kyomi’s character was interesting I wanted to see more of her personality. Her character seemed monotone at first, but after awhile her character began to grow on me just as she developed in the novel. I liked Micah from the first page, I’m not sure if that’s because he was the first character introduced to me or because I could empathize with him, perhaps it’s because I felt bad for him after the plane crashed. I liked Ai’s character from the beginning as well, children are always fun characters and Ai was no exception. The three of them together made for a great read with interesting interactions and I liked some of the other spirits that they came across along their travels.
Something that made me enjoy the book even more was how the author used the actual terms used by the Japanese such as calling the military Kempeitai instead of using one of our military terms like Army, Navy, Coast Guard, etc. This happens frequently throughout the book which showed me that the author did thorough research for this book and it also helped me learn a few terms. This is an example of the authors dedication to historical detail in this book. Something that I praise the author for is the way that this novel helps you see different points of view from the American and Japanese sides in World War 2. It is also an exploration of Japanese culture at an interesting time in their history. It covers how the Japanese lived, their culture, their work, routines, the hardships they face and much more. I really loved having bits of history weaved into the pages and the way it gave me a new insight. History and fiction meld seamlessly in this novel to deliver a captivating story.
Pages: 344 | ASIN: B083Q4WRPD
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Lawrence Thornberry thinks he is ready for his year in Japan. However, nothing could have ever prepared him for the experience he is about to have. An experience he can never truly understand but astonishingly accepts. He discovers new elements everyday. Some of these strange things would deter anyone but not the Ichiban. A nickname he got because of the room he was assigned, room number one. This American English teacher teaches at the Slop Bucket. When he is not there he encounters strange things at the Happy House. Strange things that are brought on by the rain. Just a good old Japanese experience.
One of the strange but weirdly comfortable things is that this story is told by crow. A tale that slides seamlessly from first to third person and back. The crow has strange characteristics of its own. Note the overuse of the word strange. It is a recurring theme in Plum Rains on Happy House. The crow though not exactly living in Happy House is one of the many eclectic characters in the book. Michael Greco has done a good job of building otherworldly characters but still maintain a light touch. Another grumpy but delightfully humorous character is the Goat.
Oh the words. The author has a special gift. He weaves words into a beautifully crocheted poncho. A poncho that envelopes the reader in pure literary induced ecstasy. An example is that bit where Titty is introduced. It is so funny and accurate, I imagine. The reader cannot help but picture it. Speaking of which, the character development in this book is quite good. Not in a way that one can relate to them but in a way that makes the reader comfortable. The reader feels at home in a house that requires a symbiotic relationship between it and the resident. It is uncanny how that can be possible.
It is truly wonderful that despite the Ichiban noticing some peculiarity as he was trekking up to the house. He kept going. He continued to see the crooked house but it was like he saw something completely different. Like all the strange things were supposed to be part of the experience. It is good to take things in stride like that.
There are two issues with this book. While the language is well utilized, it still requires a bit of polishing. The plot is unique, but the story is confusing at times. Bits that arise abruptly and disrupt the flow of everything. Some people may like this as it brings a little unpredictability to the story.
This is an entertaining book with interesting characters and an imaginative creative plot. All of that and a whole lot of quirk.
Pages: 248 | ASIN: B07DWQ3R68
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Epiphany’s Gift follows one young girl through her life as she struggles to cope with an extraordinary gift. What was the inspiration for her gift and the struggles she faced?
As a child, I had several powerful “visions” and/or paranormal experiences. Because the experiences were so exciting and so unusual, I was surprised to find that when I talked about these experiences, adults didn’t want to hear about it. They told me it was my imagination. Or worse. So, I stopped talking to anyone and kept my experiences to myself. Later, I began to read about other people who had unusual “visions.” I began to study the writings of religious mystics and found many similarities to my own encounters with “another level of existence.” In 1979, I met a psychic medium and we became friends. Although my “mystical” experiences were not the same as her “impressions,” we found we had a lot in common and have remained friends ever since.
I really enjoyed the well developed character in the book. Was there anything taken from your own life and put into the story?
Along with my childhood experiences, I included a number of “autobiographical” elements in the story. One is my work as an art historian and my fascination with artists such as William Blake and his visionary illustrations, especially the works he did of Dante’s Inferno. I also incorporated my interest in Asian art and culture in the character of Maro Guido, an art crimes investigator who is half Japanese. I wanted to explore his views about art from a non-Western perspective. And, I set Epiphany’s Gift in southern Ohio where I lived for four years while attending Ohio University. I was fascinated with Appalachian culture and wanted to immerse myself in the area and its special landscape.
This book blends several genres exceptionally well. Was this your intention or did this happen organically while writing?
When I first started writing Epiphany’s Gift, I intended to create a series of stories that combined paranormal events with art crimes. I wanted my readers to understand the problem of art theft and the significance of taking cultural treasures out of the public arena and into private collections where they are only seen by a few individuals. I believe that art has a lot to teach us about how our civilization developed and why we are who we are. So, I think that art belongs in a larger world that is open to the public.
But I also wanted to explore the issue of climate change and environmental degradation. I was encouraged by Dan Bloom, a climate activist and editor of the Cli-Fi Report, to explore various aspects of global warming and its consequences in my writing. In Epiphany’s Gift I take on the issue of fracking and its consequences. In subsequent books, I plan to focus on a number of climate-related issues including the spread of tropical diseases, effects on water resources, and catastrophic weather events.
So, my stories will be about paranormal events, art crimes and global climate change. Something for everyone!
When will this book be available and where can readers pick up a copy?
I’ve just sent the manuscript off to the publisher, so I expect the book will be available in May or June 2019. It will be available on Amazon, through Archway Publishing, and on my website: www.mallorymoconnor.com. Hopefully, it will later be available at libraries and bookstores. Connect with me through my website and I’d be happy to answer questions.
For thirty years, Epiphany Mayall has worked as a psychic medium in the small Spiritualist community of Cassadaga, Florida. But when she returns to her childhood home in Mt. Eden, Ohio, to visit her aging mother, she finds that the rural community is reeling from a series of alarming events. The pristine world of her childhood is being destroyed. Wells and creeks are polluted, and earthquakes have become a frequent danger.
Epiphany’s former professor and mentor, art historian Dr. John Bernhardt, believes that the problems are the result of fracking operations that are being carried out by an energy corporation in the region, and that someone from the company is also connected with the disappearance of an illustration of Dante’s Inferno from the university museum. Bernhardt writes an article for the local newspaper about his theory, but the next day he is found dead. When John’s ghost appears to Epiphany and tells her that he was poisoned, she becomes determined to find the answers to several questions: who is responsible for the environmental disaster, who stole the illustration of Dante’s Inferno from the university museum, and who murdered Professor Bernhardt?
Aided by art crimes investigator, Maro Gaido, and by Blake King, an eccentric local artist, Epiphany tries to put together the pieces of a disturbing puzzle, but finds her efforts thwarted at every turn. Even a State Senator cannot help. As the earthquakes escalate, Epiphany begins to wonder if even her psychic gifts are enough to find the answers before it’s too late to save her loved ones from disaster.
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The Moving Blade follows detective Hiroshi as he navigates street level politics to solve the murder of an American diplomat. What was the direction that you wanted to take book two in the series that was different from book one?
The direction I wanted to take it is not the direction it ended up going. So, I headed more into the characters, who became more and more interesting. I focused on the roiling tumble of conflicts inside them, and what that might reflect of social, political and historical conflicts outside. I think that’s similar to book one, but because the characters are embedded into a larger framework of political pressures and international relations, their actions resonate differently. The canvas is broader in this second book, and I go deeper into Tokyo, to see the background of the characters and their choices, good and bad.
I enjoyed the mix of interesting characters throughout the novel. Who was your favorite character to write for?
I like all of them. Well, I don’t like the bad guys, but I like hating them. My favorites were maybe the bookstore owner twins and the radical leftist. They were fun to write and to put in scenes together, the twins steady and demure and the leftist stridently angry. Sakaguchi, the ex-sumo wrestler, is always fun to write for. He has this core set of values that is rock solid Japanese. When he explodes, he really explodes. And of course, Hiroshi developed and grew as a person and as a detective, in perhaps meandering ways, but human ways. The women characters are great to write for, too, as they pull the story in their direction.
It quickly unfolds that the missing manuscript was the driving factor behind the diplomat’s death. How do you balance storytelling with mystery and action to ensure readers are engaged to the very last page?
Among all the different types of mysteries, whodunnits, whydunnits, I-dunnits, I didn’t-do-its, I tend towards the why. Maybe because I was a philosophy major? Not-knowing who creates a different kind of curiosity than not-knowing why. Withholding certain pieces of information is essential. As Alfred Hitchcock pointed out, if you know there’s a bomb under the table, but the characters don’t…well, that’s suspense. And if you don’t know why the bomb is under the table in the first place, it’s really intriguing. As jazz musicians often say, and I think Mozart said it originally, the music is not in the notes, but in the silence between. I think writing should be aware of what’s not spoken, what’s not known. The unknowns make you lean in and pay attention.
Where will book three in the Detective Hiroshi series take readers?
Book three is called Tokyo Traffic. The story revolves around a young Thai girl who gets lost in Tokyo, after running away from some horrible people. She is rescued by a young Japanese woman who lives in an internet café and plays in a rock band. Most of the story takes place in the nighttime youth hangouts in Shibuya and Shimokitazawa, another side of Tokyo. The detectives are the same, though Hiroshi has moved in with his college girlfriend and Takamatsu is off suspension. It goes deeper into the characters and deeper into Tokyo.
When the top American diplomat in Tokyo, Bernard Mattson, is killed, he leaves more than a lifetime of successful Japan-American negotiations. He leaves a missing manuscript, boxes of research, a lost keynote speech and a tangled web of relations.
When his alluring daughter, Jamie, returns from America wanting answers, finding only threats, Detective Hiroshi Shimizu is dragged from the safe confines of his office into the street-level realities of Pacific Rim politics.
With help from ex-sumo wrestler Sakaguchi, Hiroshi searches for the killer from back alley bars to government offices, through anti-nuke protests to military conspiracies. When two more bodies turn up, Hiroshi must choose between desire and duty, violence or procedure, before the killer silences his next victim.
THE MOVING BLADE is the second in the Tokyo-based Detective Hiroshi series by award-winning author Michael Pronko.
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American River: Tributaries follows three immigrant families struggling to pursue their dreams during the turbulent 1960’s. What served as your inspiration while writing this book?
My love of Northern California, the place where I grew up, and the wonderful history of the area. I was also inspired by my love of art and music and my passion for social justice issues. Immigration and ethnic diversity are the cornerstones of the story.
This book has so many fascinating characters that are well developed. What were some themes you wanted to capture in your characters?
Basically, the story focuses on the creative search for meaning, knowledge, compassion and understanding in a tumultuous world filled with prejudice, obstacles, jealousy, and betrayal. As my characters encounter these obstacles, they discover their own strengths and weaknesses and grow beyond their self-centered ambitions.
I thoroughly enjoyed the historical backdrop to the story and how well researched it was. What historical milestones were important for you to highlight in this book?
The Gold Rush had a tremendous impact on the population and culture of California. Before the Gold Rush, the population consisted mainly of Native Californians and Californios (settlers and landowners of mixed Spanish, Native Californian, and African descent). But gold fever brought people to California from all over the country and the world. The Anglo Americans (of English, Irish, or Scots descent), other Europeans (including Italians, Russians, Greeks and East Europeans), Chinese, Japanese, African Americans, and many more who came and stayed. This changed the makeup of the state’s population making it one of the most ethnically diverse in the country. So, this cultural diversity sets the scene for later entanglements.
Most of the story takes place in the 1960s, that decade that Time Magazine recently termed “The decade that changed a generation.” So, I take the reader down memory lane as my characters encounter the major issues of the time: immigration, racial prejudice, migrant workers, gay rights, women’s rights and the Vietnam War.
This is book one in the American River Trilogy. What can readers expect in book two, American River: Currents?
In Book Two, American River: Currents, a cavalcade of disasters—both personal and public—threatens to overwhelm the scattered members of the McPhalan, Ashida, and Morales clans. Alliances fray, relationships dissolve, divisive secrets are revealed, and promises are broken as the members of three California families struggle to salvage their shattered dreams. The story follows the character’s journeys to places as distant as Cleveland, Ohio, Venice, Italy, and Kyoto, Japan. From the concert halls of Europe to the artist’s lofts of Manhattan, American River: Currents is filled with passionate and resolute characters who refuse to let go of their unique visions of success—even as life’s tumultuous currents threaten to sweep them all away.
Owen McPhalans Mockingbird Valley Ranch is still a thriving family business in 1959. But when his wife, Marian, leaves Mockingbird to follow her dream of becoming a successful artist, she ignites a firestorm that impacts the descendants of all three families. As artists, musicians, writers, and politicians inherit their immigrant parents hopes, they are torn apart by ambition, prejudice, and deception while struggling through the turbulent 1960s. From the concert halls of Europe to Kyotos ancient avenues, and Manhattans artists lofts to San Franciscos North Beach, they each learn the price they must pay in order to realize their dreams. But just as the river is drawn to the sea, they eventually find themselves pulled back to the place that forged the original link between their destiniesa place called Mockingbird.
American River: Tributaries follows three California families as the descendants of Irish, Japanese, and Mexican immigrants embark on unique journeys to pursue their dreams amid an unsettled 1960s world.
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DR: How did you come up with Gina S. Miyoko?
MKB: I honestly don’t remember except that she arose from a dream I had, the plot of which (yes, my dreams often have plots) I don’t remember. I knew I wanted to write her as the protagonist of a mystery novel, and I knew I wanted her to be different from the female P.I.s I’d read. I love mystery and crime fiction but I noticed that all the female protagonists were alienated and broken and party to dysfunctional relationships. I wanted Gina to be flawed and have enough pain in her life to be relatable, but I also wanted her to be part of a very functional, if quirky family and support network. Among the Japanese names I was considering, Gina Suzu Miyoko meant ”Silver Bell Temple”; Tinkerbell became an inevitable nickname. And her personality just grew out of that.
DR: And Russian Orthodox witches?
MKB: Around the time I was developing Gina and the characters that would surround her, I was reading a book entitled THE BATHHOUSE AT MIDNIGHT: An Historical Survey of Magic and Divination in Russia (WF Ryan). I was reading it because the novel I was working on at the time (MAGIC TIME: ANGELFIRE, from Harper-Voyager) had a Russian ex-pat as one of the central characters. Okay, and also I’m Russian-Polish on my father’s side and have been fascinated with the folklore and history of slavic culture since I was a child. Probably more so because my grandmother was so adamant that I not be taught anything about the Old Country but be brought up thoroughly American. In any event, the book sparked the idea that I wanted Gina’s mother to be Russian and fascinated by arcana. She was originally going to be a psychologist, but by the time I started writing the book that became THE ANTIQUITIES HUNTER, she had morphed into a cultural anthropologist and folklorist.
As tends to happen with these things, as I began to write the characters, they essentially told me who they were. I’m sure you know the feeling—as if the character is inside your head whispering sweet somethings to your Muse.
DR: Can you talk about Tinkerbell on Walkabout—the novelette that describes how Gina became a detective?
MKB: I wanted to document Gina’s genesis as a PI, but the plot actually came about as a weird synthesis of several real-life moments. I lived in Grass Valley for about 35 years and set it there in part because of an experience I had being a founding member of Nevada County Citizens for Racial Unity, a group that formed after a black man who’d just moved to the area was beaten up by a bunch of white teenagers in a local park. That caused us to consult with the California Highway Patrol about the forces of racism in the area. What our CHP liaison told us about gangs from Colusa and Yuba counties trying to gain a foothold in Nevada County gave me most of the plot elements I wanted for the story. A visit to Charlotte, North Carolina one Christmas occasioned me seeing the mostly scrupulously tidy wrecking yard I have ever laid eyes on and that gave me a key element in Gina solving the crime that lies at the heart of the story.
DR: Did you research PI procedures like the post-it notes and Who/What/When etc?
MKB: I have to laugh. The post-it note method is something I’ve used to plot novels for years. It seemed to me that my post-it process would be as ideal for working out the nuances of a real world mystery as it is for plotting a novel. My editor suggested editing the scene in which you first see Gina use the post-its so that she just wrote on the white board. I declined and explained the beauty of post-its to her by having Gina demonstrate it for the reader.
DR: How did you become interested in the problem of looting of antiquities? Why the Southwest?
MKB: I have loved archaeology for as long as I can remember. I subscribed for years to Archeology magazine, and KMT (Kemet – which is the old Egyptian name for Egypt). I happened to read an article about a female undercover agent for the National Park Service and the sort of work she and her teammates did, chiefly in the Southwest where there are a lot of vulnerable caches of artifacts, mostly on First Nations land. But I’d also been following several international cases at the time—the Elgin Marbles that the British Museum had to return to Greece and the blackmarket cases that big US auction houses and museums alike had been implicated in. I was also following the rediscovery of the Rosalila (an utterly fantastic nested temple at Copán in the Honduras) and some amazing finds at Bonampak, which is in Chiapas, Mexico.
It was that last item that gave me the location for some of the action in the book. I sort of let all of that percolate and it seemed natural to have my protagonist have the experience I’d dreamed of having—seeing those antiquities first hand. More than that, I wanted her to have a hand in saving some of them. The lack of funding for preserving these sites is a real and persistent problem in the world of archaeology.
DR: These days cultural appropriation is a sensitive topic. How did you go about portraying Hispanic, Asian, and Native characters in a respectful manner?
MKB: I suppose every writer has their own approach; mine is to love the people I write about and to recognize that they’re people first, not representatives or symbols or archetypes of a particular culture. But, in writing them, I have to recognize that their cultural framework will condition their responses to things. So, to Rose Delgado, though she’s married to a non-Hopi, living in Sausalito and working all over the country, she’s still Hopi. That means that Hopi lands are still sacred to her and that she takes the theft of native artifacts personally. Her job is more than just a job because of her cultural background and her investment in it is different than the other members of her team.
To me, Gina’s tattoo is exemplary of the cultural intersectionality I’m portraying. It’s a Russian Orthodox True Believer cross with a Buddha seated at the nexus in a lotus blossom. The cross is for her mom, the Buddha for her dad. Gina calls herself a Russian Orthodox Buddhist, which is an echo of what I told people who asked about my religion before I became a Baha’i. I’d say I was a Hindu-Buddhist-Christian. So, what I was trying to capture in Gina was a character who was an intersection of three cultures—Japanese, Russian and American.
I’ve been privileged to have been surrounded by people from diverse cultures all my life and I think that if you approach characters of any culture with curiosity, love and an attitude of learning, you’ll strive to portray them as complete, three-dimensional human beings.
DR: Is there such a thing as SASH (Society for the Appreciation of Sherlock Holmes), and would you join?
MKB: There’s a Sherlock Holmes Society of London, but as far as I know, there’s none in the Bay Area—at least not like the one Gina’s dad, Edmund, is part of. I made it up. Or maybe Edmund did. I would totally join SASH if there was one around. I love Sherlock Holmes—in fact, I have a Sherlock Holmes pastiche idea I’d love to write.
DR: What have you written recently?
MKB: I’ve been doing a lot ghostwrites lately. And they have been diverse and interesting. I just finished up a YA set in Seattle, and am still working on one that also makes use of my deep love of archaeology. Beyond that, my dear agent is shopping a crazy range of novels I tossed at him, including an SF novel with a peculiar genesis that I’d love to see be the first of a trilogy, a YA paranormal/contemporary fantasy featuring a 14 year-old-protagonist who discovers she’s a witch from a long line of witches, a magical realism yarn that is my take on the old Russian fairytale, Frog Princess, and a paranormal romance that I collaborated on with a couple of show runners from LA.
DR: What lies ahead? What lies ahead for Gina Miyoko – are new novels in the works?
MKB: I’ve been working on what I hope will be the next book in the Gina Miyoko series—working title, THE FORGETFUL FOLKLORIST. I’ve got about eight or nine novels sketched out and more ideas popping into my head all the time. I’ve also been outlining a steampunk novel I’d like to write, involving yet more artifacts. (I got the idea from a book cover someone asked me to design, then didn’t want.)
DR: How does The Antiquities Hunter fit into your repertoire of published works?
MKB: It’s a real outlier among outliers. I started out writing science fiction. In fact, I’d published a bunch of stories in Analog before I shifted gears and wrote four epic fantasy novels all based on dreams. Then I discovered magical realism and fell madly in love with it. That caused my writing to take a weird turn that peaked with ”The White Dog” (Interzone). In moving over to crime fiction, I’m really pursuing something that’s fascinated me as a reader for years. I’ve been in love with mysteries and detective fiction forever. So, even though THE ANTIQUITIES HUNTER looks like a departure from the outside, from where I sit, I’m just writing what I’ve always read. I also realized, when I looked at the fiction I’ve written, that most of my stories have a mystery embedded at the core—sometimes blatantly, as in ”The Secret Life of Gods” and ”Distance” (Analog), or in a veiled way as in my novels THE SPIRIT GATE (originally from Baen, in reprint from Book View Cafe) and STAR WARS LEGENDS: SHADOW GAMES (Del Rey/Lucas Books).
DR: What authors have most influenced your writing? What about them do you find inspiring?
MKB: My greatest prose heroes are Ray Bradbury, W.P. Kinsella (whom I cast in DISTANCE with his permission), and Tim Powers. These are the writers whose use of language, storytelling chops, and sheer imagination made me hungry to write. Bradbury and Kinsella have written some of the most beautiful and evocative prose in the English language and Powers has given me epiphanies about the many ways reality can collide with the fantastic.
I admire Dean Koontz, JK Rowling and Sue Grafton as well, especially for their character development chops and the uncanny way they connect the reader to their characters from page one. I also have to credit Harry Turtledove (who’s written some of my favorite Analog stories) with making me stray into alternate history, with my novelette ”O, Pioneer” (Paradox) which takes an upside down and backwards look at Christopher Columbus’ ”discovery” of the Americas.
DR: Why do you write what you do, and how does your work differ from others in your genre?
MKB: I write what I do because either a character demands to be written about (Gina Miyoko being a case in point) or an idea demands to be explored. I thrive on exploration. It’s why I love road trips (What’s around that next curve?), research, archaeology (What is that thing I just dug up?), first contact stories, and mysteries of every kind. Writing is exploration I undertake to satisfy my insatiable curiosity about what if.
I’ve been told that I write fantasy with rivets, meaning that my fantasy work tends to take a very pragmatic approach to the fantastic. It works the other way, as well. My Gina Miyoko stories have an undercurrent of the supernatural to them if the reader chooses to read the pragmatic references to obereg (the good luck charms her mom is forever sneaking into her pockets), Holy Water, and spells as being more than just a concession to Nadia Miyoko’s avocation. This means that my fiction often falls through the cracks. When I sent ”The White Dog” to Interzone, the editor wrote back and said essentially, ”I loved it, but where’s the fantasy element?” I responded, ”In the eye of the reader.” He bought the story and it was a finalist for the British Science Fiction Award.
DR: How does your writing process work?
MKB: Mileage varies … a lot. With short fiction, I’ll sometimes scribble a handful of questions that become notes and when I see a beginning and end, I start writing. With novels, I sometimes get out the sticky notes. I had a great little flow chart app I used for a while, but they stopped making it. I use Evernote to toss bits and pieces into, as well. The sticky note brainstorming is still the best method I’ve found of plotting a novel because it allows me to visualize relationships between characters, their motivations and other plot elements.
Once I’ve charted something that way, I write a synopsis that becomes a living document that I can add to as I work. At some point the characters start yakking and doing things and I have to start writing. I used to have to write everything in #2 pencil on lined paper first, then edit as I committed it to the computer. Then I’d do that until roughly the last third of the book when the boulder started rolling downhill. But for some time now, while I still love writing notes long hand, I do all my writing at the keyboard. I’ve only ever had a laptop, because I feel the need to be portable. Sometimes a silent house is the best place to write, and sometimes a noisy coffee shop is best. I’ve also learned to give myself permission to do what I heard one writer refer to as ”moodling”. It looks (and feels) like I’m not doing anything, but my mind is hard at work looking for connections. And when enough connections are made between elements and characters, the writing happens.
Whenever I sit down to write, I always read back what I did previously. I tried Hemingway’s stopping in mid sentence and it only led to frustration.
DR: What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
MKB: First, write without editing. Ray Bradbury famously said of writing, ”Don’t think.” He advised hiding your editor hat and just getting the bones of a story or a scene down without worrying about whether you found the right word. THEN, put on your editor hat and edit. This can make the difference between a story ending up attached to an email on its way to an editor’s inbox or ending up in an obscure file folder.
Second, learn your tools—words. Know what they mean, what they imply, how they taste, how they sound. Read your prose out loud before you submit it. Here, I find Mark Twain’s advice sage: ”Use the right word, not its second cousin.”
Third, be flexible. The method you used to write one story may not work for the next one. That’s okay. It doesn’t mean you’re broken or that your process is broken. It just means it’s different this time. This was a hard-learned lesson for me. It took reading Lawrence Block’s learning experience with regard to flexibility (in one of this Writer’s Digest columns), to understand that I wasn’t losing ”it”; ”it” had just morphed a bit.
I’ve learned a lot from the experiences of other writers and from their prose. One of the most valuable learning experiences for me is to read other writers’ prose with an awareness of my own responses to it and analyze why it makes me feel how I feel. Then I try to apply that in my own work.
Oh, and when you’ve written that story and read it out loud, making sure that (as Twain said) you’ve used the right word, not its second cousin, send it to the magazine or agent or publisher you really want to see it with, not something less. When I sent my first story to Stan Schmidt at Analog, the wisdom in all the writing magazines I’d read was that I should send it to a small non-pro market first and work my way up. And I should send something short that stood a better chance of being accepted. I went against that advice and sent a 19,500 word novella to my favorite magazine and got accepted.
Short form: Always shoot for the moon.
This interview was provided by PrentisLiterary.com.
Gina “Tinkerbell” Miyoko is not your typical private eye. Armed with a baby blue Magnum, a Harley blessed with Holy Water by her dramatically disposed mother, and a Japanese mingei tucked in her pocket (a good luck charm from her Sherlock Holmes-obsessed father) Tink spends her time sniffing out delinquent dads in the San Francisco Bay area and honing her detective skills.
But when her best friend Rose, an undercover agent, discovers there’s a stalker on her tail, she hires Tink as a bodyguard. Someone must be trying to intimidate Rose and scare her out of testifying in an upcoming case on looted Anasazi artifacts. But when Tink tries to flush-out the stalker, things take a far more dangerous turn.
Now, with a dead black-market dealer and an injured Rose on her hands, Tink must take her best friend’s place and follow the looters’ trail towards a powerful and lucrative antiquities collector in Cancun, Mexico. Equipped with an ingenious disguise and a teasingly coy persona to match, Tink is determined to find out who is behind the attack on Rose and the illegal trafficking of these priceless artifacts. Along the way, she will find help in the most unlikely of partners…
Deep in the jungle and far from civilization, Tink must decide who she can trust as she tries to unearth the ones responsible behind the pilfering and bloodshed―and still make it out alive.
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