Monday, June 23, 2008

Cody's Has Closed

It’s sad news to hear that Cody’s, a longtime independent bookstore that had locations in Berkeley and San Francisco, has closed. My tour for “Midori by Moonlight” (my first book tour!) had a nice mix of events at both independent and chain bookstores and the appearance at Cody’s on Fourth Street last October was one of the highlights. Many friends came as well as people I didn’t know! I’d always loved the large San Francisco branch of Cody’s as well and had been excited when Hiroshi Kagawa of IBC Publishing in Japan had stepped in to buy the store when it was in trouble of closing in 2006. Kagawa gave it a reprieve but found he couldn’t go on once the rent on the Fourth Street store tripled, the SF branch had to be closed, and the new, smaller branch on Shattuck couldn’t make it.

I will remember Cody’s with great fondness and thank the staff for the wonderful welcome they gave me at my event.

Monday, June 16, 2008


I once was deluded enough to think I could be a translator of Japanese into English. I’d studied Japanese in college, lived in Japan for a year, visited many times, and had acquired various sleeping dictionaries in the form of Japanese native speaker boyfriends and husbands. But it was not to be. My feeble attempts at translating technical documents and even a magician’s handbook gave me nothing but headaches. And the tedious hours I spent trying to complete this work had me making the equivalent of about twenty-five cents an hour.

Translating dry, technical material was difficult enough, but I could never imagine translating a work of fiction; not only getting down the accuracy of the story, but the unique voice of the writer. Of course I have read all of my favorite Japanese authors—Haruki Murakami, Junichiro Tanizaki, Banana Yoshimoto—in English translation and have been grateful to the wonderful and talented translators who have presented their work so I can access it.

Even more daunting is the translation of poetry, which brings me to a beautiful book of poems translated from Japanese by Shogo Oketani and Leza Lowitz, called America & Other Poems. With their exquisite translations, Oketani and Lowitz have brought the Japanese poet Ayukawa Nobuo, who up until now has not been well known in the U.S., to a whole new audience. Ayukawa was born in Tokyo in 1920. As the son of a man who published a nationalist newspaper, he always had a longing for democracy and a fascination with America. Through his poetry he took the social responsibility of expressing an anti-war sentiment, and believed Japan should accept responsibility for its actions in World War II. Many of his poems reflect the conflict he felt in being sent to Sumatra in 1943 as an unwilling soldier of the Japanese Army.

Along with these moving poems (which are not all about war), in the preface and afterward written by Oketani we learn about Ayukawa’s life (he died in 1986 in Tokyo while playing his favorite Super Mario Brothers video game), and the possibility that one reason why Western scholars of Japanese poetry of the past were not attracted to his poems was because Ayukawa’s images are concrete, more in a European style, as opposed to subtle and vague, which is more the style of traditional Japanese poetry.

Oketani also describes the painstaking process of translation he employs with partner Lowitz. He first translates the original poem from Japanese to English, then Lowitz reworks this into a more natural English. He writes: “I then explain the nuance of each word I want to change and discuss the words she has decided to change, and we try to find the best word that captures the spirit and sense of the original in the target language, English. I also read each poem aloud in Japanese so that she can hear the rhythm and music of the words. Finally, we edit each sentence of the poem again and again.”

America & Other Poems
was the winner of the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission Prize for the Translation of Japanese Literature. The book can be ordered from your favorite bookstore or purchased on Amazon.

Monday, June 9, 2008


“Sideways” is one of my all-time favorite movies, so I found it intriguing that my guest on the Girlfriend’s Cyber Circuit blog tour today, Melissa Senate, prolific author of seven novels, including the classic, “See Jane Date,” cites this film as one of her inspirations for her latest book, QUESTIONS TO ASK BEFORE MARRYING. Here’s the scoop:

A very popular New York Times article lists fifteen questions couples should ask (or wish they had) before marrying. Ruby Miller and her fiancé, Tom Truby, have questions 1 to 14 almost covered. It's question 15 that has the Maine schoolteacher stumped: Is their relationship strong enough to withstand challenges?

Challenges like…Ruby's twin sister, Stella. The professional muse, flirt and face reader thinks Ruby is playing it safe. And that the future Mrs. Ruby Truby will die of boredom before her first anniversary or her thirtieth birthday, whichever comes first.

Challenges like…sexy maverick teacher Nick McDermott, Ruby's secret longtime crush, who confesses his feelings for her at her own engagement party.

But before Ruby can plan the wedding that may never be, Stella announces she's pregnant by a one-night stand whose name might be Jake (or James? Maybe Jason?) and who lives somewhere under the glittering lights of Las Vegas. Ruby and Stella hit the road to find him—with a lot more than fifteen questions.

And after three thousand miles, a stowaway relative and hitchhiking teen lovebirds bound for an Elvis wedding chapel, the Miller sisters might get some answers.

The Boston Globe says, “Senate’s prose is fresh and lively.”

Melissa was nice enough to take the time to answer a few questions. I was especially interested to hear her comments about plot-driven novels versus character-driven.

What was the inspiration behind the writing of Questions To Ask Before Marrying?

I was inspired by three things: The first was my love of the movie Sideways. Oh, how I wanted to write a road trip book after seeing that wonderful film. The idea of two very different people trapped together in a car, being on the road, really gripped me. Enter my estranged twin sisters, one a conservative school teacher from Maine, newly engaged but with serious feelings for another man, and the other a professional muse and face reader from NYC who is searching for the father of her unborn baby (would help if she knew his first name). These two hit the road with many questions and get to know each other—and themselves—very well three-thousand miles later. The second backstory is my divorce, which I went through while writing this book. I wanted to go “back to the start” and explore what you know when he slips that ring on your finger. The third was a New York Times article, the most popular of 2006, a simple and practical list of questions couples should ask before marrying or (wish they had). The article gave me my title and honed the theme for me, which is that asking questions, even questions without answers or answers you don’t like, is the most important thing you can do.

How do you approach writing your novel? Do you outline the plot? Start with a character or...?

This time I started with the idea of the road trip. I wasn’t sure who would be in that car, though! When a book idea comes to me, the characters always come in pairs: a main character and her foil. In Questions To Ask Before Marrying, Ruby’s foil is her twin sister, Stella. They could not be more different, but what they learn from each other completes the both of them in ways they never expected.

I tried to be more driven by plot when I turned in the proposal for this book, but my editor MADE ME be more driven by character! She basically took away what she called my “plot gimmicks,” situations that gave the characters reasons for what they were doing. She wanted me to pare down the book to the essentials: these twin sisters and their issues. Best advice I’ve ever gotten and it has definitely shaped how I approach my work.

Who are the top three writers who have influenced your writing style?

In Bridget Jones’ Diary, Helen Fielding taught me that it’s okay to write in your voice, to say it the way you mean it, the way you feel it, just like that. I also love Elinor Lipman and Fay Weldon. So brilliant and witty.

What are you reading now?

On the bedside table are: Certain Girls by Jennifer Weiner, Making A Literary Life by Carolyn See (I’ve read this 10 times), two manuscripts to blurb, and Your Six-Year-Old by Louise Ames (my little guy is turning six and apparently six is even harder than four). I just started reading Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos. LOVE this booK! And I just finished Rhymes With Witches by Lauren Myracle. WOW is all I have to say. If you’re a YA writer (I am writing my second YA now) you must read Lauren Myracle! This book is a reminder to me of where you can go in your work if you let yourself think outside the box.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

If I’m not writing, I’m with my adorable and amusing almost-six-year old son, Max. I write around his schedule. I am LIVING for first grade in the fall: SIX hours of free child care to write, write, write. I almost can’t believe it! If on the off-chance I’m not writing or with him, just give me a good book and a tall glass of Coke Zero. I’m also on a furious hunt for very comfy cute shoes, yet they elude me.

Diet cola, cute, comfortable shoes, a good book -- I’ll drink (anything but Merlot) to that!

Thanks, Melissa! Get more info at her Web site: