Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Women workers have long been considered Japan’s neglected resource as the country continues to grapple with both hard economic times and the dwindling pool of potential employees to take over for retiring baby boomers in many fields. Japan has always been very slow to change and despite some progress in opportunities for women workers, the country still is entrenched in a male-dominated corporate culture where men fill many of the career positions and women are used more for short-term work and as OLs (office ladies). And those who have made it into career jobs still may find themselves fired for getting married or becoming pregnant.

So I was heartened to read a recent article in The Japan Times reporting that Japanese women are finding success in a career path where women are still rare all over the world—as commercial airline pilots. Apparently demand is so high for pilots that Japanese airlines cannot afford to shut out women. And with Tokyo’s Haneda Airport adding a fourth runway in 2010, flights are expected to increase.

So sometimes a dismal economy can offer a silver lining. Machiko Osawa, a professor and expert in labor economics and gender at Japan Women’s University contends that if the Japanese labor force continues to decrease, “it will promote gender equality in the labor market in general.”

I’ve never yearned to be a pilot (I find flying a necessary evil) but I was intrigued by this bit of information in The Japan Times article. It seems that many pilots do not have scientific or engineering backgrounds, with leadership and management skills being of prime importance. In fact, one of the women interviewed, Japan Airlines’ co-pilot Madoka Tachikawa, who flies Boeing 767’s, has a degree in English literature. It’s good to know that my MFA might put me in the driver’s seat at United Airlines.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

San Francisco's Stacey's Book Store Closing

It was September 2007 and my debut novel, MIDORI BY MOONLIGHT, had just been released. Of course I was excited; to have a novel published by a real publisher, one that would actually be on a shelf in a bookstore, was a dream that had finally come true after many years of perseverance. Friends sighted MIDORI in various stores and excitedly told me the news.

“I saw it at Stacey’s!” a friend emailed and when I was in San Francisco one afternoon I decided to visit. Every article I’d read about book promotion said it was a good idea to go to bookstores and “sign stock on hand.” The bookstore would place a sticker that said, “Signed by the Author,” which could help sales. However, I entered Stacey’s feeling rather nervous. If they had only one copy would it be tacky to ask to sign it? Would they look at me and say, “Who are you?” And how disappointing it would be if there were actually no copies.

I approached the fiction section, looking for “T” when something familiar caught my eye. It was the bright blue and red cover of my book. I turned and saw that on a table, all its own, was a display of my book—with about a dozen copies. My heart leapt at the sight. “I’m the author of that book on display over there,” I said when I got to the counter. “Can I sign the copies?”

The woman smiled warmly. “Why of course. Thank you for coming in.”

Seeing my book on display and signing it at Stacey’s, a bookstore I’d wander in many times during my lunch breaks when I worked downtown at boring administrative temp jobs to finance my creative pursuits, is a memory I will always treasure. And now I read in my hometown paper, The San Francisco Chronicle, that Stacey’s, the same as the also wonderful Cody’s, is closing its doors for good. It’s the same old story—Borders, Barnes and Noble, buying books online, and bad economic times.

Stacey’s, I will miss you. Thanks for the memories.

Monday, January 5, 2009

JACK WITH A TWIST - by Brenda Janowitz

It's a new year and a new GCC tour! My guest today is Brenda Janowitz, author of JACK WITH A TWIST, published by Red Dress Ink.

Planning a wedding can be a trying experience…

A little prewedding anxiety is normal for every bride, and Manhattan attorney Brooke Miller isn’t worried. She’s got the loving support of the world’s greatest guy, so planning her nuptials should be a piece of cake.

But that was yesterday.

Today, Brooke’s landed her first big case and has just discovered that the opposing attorney is none other than her fiancé, Jack. But that’s okay. These two professionals aren’t going to let a little courtroom sparring get their legal briefs in a bunch.… Right? Wrong! Now Jack’s pulling every dirty trick in the law books, and Brooke’s starting to suspect that maybe he isn’t the man she thought he was. Warring with her fiancé at work and at home, Brooke realizes that she’ll have to choose between the case of her life, or actually having a life.

A native New Yorker, Brenda Janowitz has had a flair for all things dramatic since she played the title role in her third grade production of Really Rosie. When asked by her grandmother if the experience made her want to be an actress when she grew up, Brenda responded, “An actress? No. A writer, maybe.”

Brenda attended Cornell University, earning a Bachelor of Science in Human Service Studies, with a Concentration in Race and Discrimination. After graduating from Cornell, she attended Hofstra Law School, where she was a member of the Law Review and won the Law Review Writing Competition. Upon graduation from Hofstra, she went to work for the law firm Kaye Scholer, LLP, where she was an associate in the Intellectual Property group, handling cases in the areas of trademark, anti-trust, internet, and false advertising. Brenda later left Kaye Scholer to pursue a federal clerkship with the Honorable Marilyn Dolan Go, United States Magistrate Judge for the Eastern District of New York.

Since her clerkship, Brenda has worked as a career counselor at two New York City law schools, where she published a number of articles on career related issues in publications such as the National Law Journal and the New York Law Journal. She currently lives in New York with her husband.

Brenda took some time and answered a few questions about JACK and the writing life.

What is the elevator pitch for JACK WITH A TWIST?

JACK WITH A TWIST is the story of Manhattan attorney Brooke Miller, who plans the wedding of her dreams, all while litigating the biggest case of her career…. which just so happens to be against her perfect fiancé. Hilarity ensues. Really. Marian Keyes called it “a funny, sweet romance” and Carole Matthews said it was “[a]nother fun-filled page-turner from Brenda.” Ironically, I wrote JACK before even getting engaged myself!

Name three songs that would be perfect for the soundtrack of JACK WITH A TWIST.

Well, that would have to be the playlist for Brooke’s bachlorette party (there are four, but they are awesome 80’s hits, so I hope you’ll forgive me!): “You’re The One That I Want,” “Come on Eileen,” “I Want Your Sex,” and Brooke’s all time favorite 80’s song, “We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off.”

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

Both! When I wrote SCOT ON THE ROCKS, I had a general idea of where it was going, but by no means a real outline. I just let the story take me where it wanted and I did a lot of editing and re-writing to keep it tight and make it work the way I thought it should.

For JACK WITH A TWIST, I created an outline first to show to my editor so that she’d have a sense of the type of story I wanted to tell. It was really great to work off of an outline since it gives you the opportunity to layer on the things like themes and symbols that I added to second and third drafts of SCOT ON THE ROCKS. I feel that it made for a much richer first draft.

What is your writing schedule like?

I pretty much just write wherever and whenever I can. Writing is an art, but it’s also a job, so it’s important for me to just buckle down and do it whenever I get a spare moment.

Describe how you got your first book deal.

I was sitting in my office when my agent called me to tell me about it. The whole thing was incredibly surreal and exciting. You spend so much of your time writing and not knowing how the outside world will react to your work. When it finally happened for me, it was just this overwhelming feeling of elation and that Sally Field sentiment of: “They like it! They really like it!”

What is your advice for those who looking to get their novel published?

Keep writing! It’s so easy to get discouraged or feel like you don’t have the time to write. But like anything else that is important in life, you have to work at it and make the time for it.

Edit! Editing your work is almost as important as the writing itself. Sure, you’re telling your story, but it’s also important to consider the way that you tell it. You want your writing to be tight, elegant and polished. It can only get to be that way through careful and thorough editing.

Develop a very thick skin. You’re putting yourself out there when you write and not everyone is going to love what you do. But that’s okay! You’re not writing to please everyone out there. You’re writing because you have a story that you want to tell. So start getting used to criticism and then see tip #1—keep writing!

You can find out more about Brenda and JACK WITH A TWIST at her Web site and blog.

Best of luck, Brenda!

Friday, January 2, 2009

An African-American Wins "Best New Artist" in Japan

The first time I saw a video clip of Jero, the African-American who took the Best New Artist prize at the Japan Record Awards on New Year’s Eve, I experienced a feeling of deja-vu. He was making one of his first appearances on Japanese television and a panel of Japanese celebrities sat in awe as they watched him sing traditional enka music in perfect Japanese. I’d garner this very same reaction among Japanese people whenever I sang in Japanese in the various contests and appearances I made, and two of the chestnuts Jero warbled were standards of the genre I learned years ago.

There can be a real disconnect for Japanese to see a person who seemingly has no Japanese blood, speaking or singing in perfect Japanese and, despite changing times and the supposed sophistication of Japan, this still attracts attention, both welcome and unwelcome. I have tackled this subject in my next novel, Love in Translation, which will come out this Fall.

Turns out Jero (born Jerrold White in Pennyslvania) is 1/4 Japanese and learned these songs from his maternal grandmother who was from Japan. He now has a contract with JVC Records and a hit song under his belt, as well as his aforementioned award, and an appearance on the Kohaku Uta Gassen, the prestigious New Year’s Eve live television program that brings together many of Japan’s most popular recording artists on one stage. On that show, which I watched via the local San Francisco Asian TV channel, Jero pulled all the typical sentimental stunts, paying tribute to his grandmother (she died three years ago, missing his success) with her picture emblazoned on his shirt while his mother sobbed in the audience. His eyes were brimming with tears by the time his performance was over.

But the real brilliance of the marketing of Jero is that he dresses in a way that Japanese expect black people to dress—in hip-hop regalia of jaunty caps, baggy pants, and bold necklaces, and not the kimono or traditional suits many enka artists wear. It is claimed that he has brought a breath of fresh air to stodgy enka, which has been compared to American country or blues (but that really doesn’t do it justice), as well as youth, to a genre where most of the singers are in at least their thirties, and more often in their fifties and older. Jero is just twenty-three.

Can Jero have a long-lasting career in enka or will he only be a novelty like so many mixed-race or non-Japanese singers often become in Japan? And will he ever win the coveted final performance slot on the Kohaku as another young enka singer (albeit Japanese born and bred), Hikawa Kiyoshi, did this year (and who wept profusely at the honor)? It will be interesting to see what the future holds for Jero.