Saturday, November 21, 2009

Love in Translation: Foreign Wife, Japanese Husband - Part 2

Laura Aoyama has lived in Gunma prefecture with her husband Yusuke and their two children for going on five years. I found the answers to her questions quite interesting (and relatable!) especially about her fascination and frustrations with Japanese culture, which as she so astutely states, “go hand in hand.”

Where and how did you meet your husband?

We met in Gunma where I was doing some temporary substitute English teaching. This was quite unusual, as I worked as a trainer in Tokyo, but it was a busy period, so all of my substitute teachers were busy. He came into the school as a prospective student.

Did you know anything about Japan or Japanese culture prior to meeting your husband?

I had lived in Japan for three years prior to meeting my husband, so yes. Although I knew little of Japan before moving here. I was born in the U.K., but lived a little in France, and 3 years in Germany before moving to Japan.

Had you ever envisioned that you might marry a person from another culture?

I thought it may happen, as I love traveling, and have spent most of my adult life living in countries other than my home country.

What are the challenges of living in Japan?

Wow, where do I start?!?! Firstly, living in a major city, and living in the countryside here are two very different prospects. Having lived in Tokyo for three years, I have to say that the comfort level is much higher than out here in Gunma. However, this is something that is the same in any country. I would say my biggest challenge is language, and cultural communication. As they say, language is only a very small part of communication, so once you get through the words, learning the hidden messages within the Japanese culture becomes a second challenge. Other than that, I have found since I became a wife and mother especially, social expectations are elevated.

What kind of social expectations do you face now?

I am expected to participate in P.T.A. meetings and events just as any other Japanese mother. I imagine, as a single person, I didn't belong to a Japanese group, as such, but as a wife and as a mother, I am seen to belong a little more, I suppose. I am seen as a "mother", which I think makes people feel comfortable to group me. I don't feel pressured, because I don't do group mentality and , and love to retain individuality! Sometimes, this frustrates my husband a little bit though, so that's where the challenge lies!

Do you and your husband speak Japanese to each other?

We used to speak a mixture—pidgin English. But since having my daughter, I always only speak to her in English, and my husband speaks to her in Japanese as a way of distinguishing the two languages. So we often find that continuing in our private conversations, as she is old enough now to mimic us and I don't want her to get confused between the two. Although I'm sure my husband speaks more English to me as my Japanese vocabulary is fairly limited.

Do you and your husband have any communication problems that have nothing to do with language?

Yes, yes and yes! Our expectations of things are often very different, so we have to be very clear about things. I'm not sure if this is a cross-cultural thing or not, but Japanese roles of husband and wife are a lot clearer. This is considered good because it eliminates confusion, but I have always been quite individual and not really role-orientated, so we often both get the wrong end of the stick with assumptions and this also often leads to arguments!

What are some of the most challenging aspects of your cross-cultural marriage? Rewarding aspects?

As I said above, finding a balance with expectations. The rewarding aspects have to be that nothing is ever boring! We learn a lot from each other and I feel that I have helped my husband to think a little more outside the box, and he has helped me to understand the thinking INSIDE the box. As for our children, in my opinion, being bilingual, traveling overseas and learning about two different cultures is a great start to life!

What attributes do you feel are most important for a successful cross-cultural marriage?

I would say understanding and respect of each culture. Whichever country you choose to live in, remembering that your partner’s culture is just as important as the one that he/she is living in. Also, trying not to blame everything on cultural differences. Sometimes it's just not!

Do you see your in-laws often? Do you live with them?

My mother-in-law and sister-in-law live a 10-minute drive from our place. We considered living with them for financial reasons, but I didn't want to lose my independence, and my husband felt a bit the same. My father-in-law passed away when my husband was a teenager, and he is the only son, so that means he has certain responsibilities as far as taking care of his mother, their land, etc. It's mainly for that reason that we live in his hometown.

What do you find fascinating about Japanese culture? Frustrating?

I go through phases of liking it and hating it. Fascinating and frustrating often go hand in hand. I find the false politeness nice when I just want to be spoken to nicely, but sometimes I crave directness. It takes a long time to do things here, but even then they are often not done correctly, so that can be frustrating. I am intrigued by roles and daily routines and habits, often wondering what my neighbour does on a daily basis, etc. I think Japanese culture is rubbing off and making me wonder what it is that I should be doing in my "role." Or maybe I am just nosey!

Thank you, Laura, for sharing your thoughts and experiences with us!

—Wendy Nelson Tokunaga is the author of the novels, Love in Translation and Midori by Moonlight. Get more information at:

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Secret of Joy - by Melissa Senate

My guest today on the Girlfriend’s Cyber Circuit Lit Blog Tour is Melissa Senate, the bestselling author of See Jane Date and Love You To Death. Melissa has a brand new novel from Simon and Schuster, The Secret of Joy.

What would you do if you discovered you had a half-sister you never knew existed?

28-year-old New Yorker Rebecca Strand is shocked when her dying father confesses a devastating secret: he had affair when Rebecca was a toddler—and a baby he turned his back on at birth. Now, his wish is that the daughter he abandoned, Joy Joyhawk, read the unsent letters he wrote to her every year on her birthday. Determined to fulfill her father’s wish, Rebecca drives to a small town in Maine—against the advice of her lawyer boyfriend who’s sure Joy will be a “disappointing, trashy opportunist” and demand half her father’s fortune. But when hopeful Rebecca knocks on her half-sister’s door, Joy—a separated mother who conducts weekend singles tours out of her orange mini-bus—wants nothing to do with Rebecca or the letters her father wrote to her. Determined to forge some kind of relationship with Joy, Rebecca sticks around, finding unexpected support from Joy’s best clients—the Divorced Ladies Club of Wiscasset—and a sexy carpenter named Theo . . . .


"The Secret of Joy by Melissa Senate opened my heart, made me laugh, cry, and smile all at the same time. A don't-miss read!" –New York Times bestselling author Carly Phillips

"The Secret of Joy is a warm hug of a book. Insightful, wise, and romantic, it's as inviting as the small-town life it depicts." –Claire LaZebnik

"A wonderfully heartfelt story about hope, possibilities and the yearning for real connections. Senate's latest will take you on a much needed vacation, while sneaking vital life lessons in when you're not looking." –Caprice Crane

Melissa Senate lives on the coast of Maine with her son and their menagerie of pets. She’s the author of eight novels (seven women’s fiction and one young adult) with two on the way. She stopped by to answer some questions.

What is the elevator pitch for The Secret of Joy?

A 28-year-old New Yorker with a life that doesn’t feel quite right discovers she has a half-sister she never knew existed. Off she goes to a small Maine town to find her….

What was the inspiration behind the writing of The Secret of Joy?
Several years ago, I received an email out of the blue that said: I think you might be my half-sister. I was. Am. It took me a long time to decide to take that little (huge) nugget and write a novel to help me figure out the answer to some burning questions, such as: if you haven’t seen or heard from your biological father, or any member of his family, since you were little (or, in Joy’s case, never at all), is his child from another relationship really your sibling? Or just a stranger? Does the word father or sister or brother mean anything without back up? I had a ton of questions and set out to uncover how I felt through a fictional character, but it’s interesting to me that I flipped everything on its head in the writing of the story. Nothing but the basic questions that are proposed in the novel are autobiographical. Just the questions! And I surprised myself quite a few times during the writing of this story with how I felt about certain things. Amazing how writing fiction can teach you so much about yourself.

What is one thing you’ve learned about the publishing industry since getting your first book deal?
That it’s a business, first and foremost. I try to remember that every day. Business. Business. Business.

How do you approach writing your novel? Do you outline the plot? Start with a character or...?
An idea flits into my heart, mind and soul (if I may be so dramatic!) and I just know. The idea, just a wispy thing, grips me and think about it until the two major characters—my protagonist and the person or thing who “forces” her change—become clear. Then I write out a one page treatment, a bare bones synopsis, then think about that, then revise the storyline into a “pitch” I can share with my agent. If she green-lights it, I’ll then let myself dream it into a full blown synopsis, which is what I usually sell a novel on. The synopsis, in its major plot points, rarely changes, but how the characters get from page one to page 325 is another story.

What are you reading now?

I’m reading so much contemporary women’s fiction. My bedside table is piled so high with these gorgeous books. I’m just starting Elizabeth Berg’s latest, Home Safe. Then will read Kristina Riggle’s Real Life & Liars.

Thanks, Melissa! Visit her website for more information and I know that she’d love it if you became her friend on Facebook and followed her on Twitter.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

LOVE UNDER COVER - by Jessica Brody

My guest today on the Girlfriend's Cyber Circuit Lit Blog Tour is Jessica Brody, author of the very successful The Fidelity Files, which is currently in development as a television series by the executive producer of Crash. Now Jessica is back with the next installment, with LOVE UNDER COVER, which is available now!

In her job, she’s an expert on men…

In her own relationship, she doesn’t have a clue.

Boyfriend behaving badly? Suspect your husband of straying? Jennifer Hunter can supply the ultimate test. She runs a company which specializes in conducting fidelity inspections for those who suspect their loved ones are capable of infidelity.

An expert on men, Jennifer can usually tell if they're single, married or lying... Unfortunately, her new boyfriend, Jamie, is one of the few men that she's never been able to "read." Has she finally found the perfect man or is he too good to be true?

"With a complicated, sympathetic protagonist, worthy stakes and a clever twist on the standard chick lit narrative, Brody will pull readers in from the first page."
Publisher’s Weekly

"Those who enjoyed Brody's debut will be eager to catch up with Jennifer, but newcomers will be intrigued, honest, witty portrayal of modern love."
- Booklist

“With her usual smart, deft, and witty prose, Brody delves deep into the psychology of a woman who tests the fidelity of strangers for a living but struggles with commitment in her own life."
- Joanne Rendell, author of Crossing Washington Square and The Professors’ Wives’ Club


Jessica graduated from Smith College in Massachusetts with degrees in economics and French. In 2005, she left her job at MGM Studios in Los Angeles to become a full-time freelance writer and producer. Jessica currently lives in Los Angeles, where she is working on her next novel. Visit her website here.

Jessica took some time to answer a few questions about LOVE UNDER COVER and the writing life.

What was the inspiration behind the writing of LOVE UNDER COVER?

As soon as I finished writing my first novel, The Fidelity Files¸ I knew that Jennifer’s journey wasn’t over yet. Although she had seemed to find her happy ending there was so much more fun stuff I had in mind for another book. Setting Jennifer up with an entire agency of fidelity inspectors was definitely the first and foremost on my mind for the next instalment. 

Plus, I really wanted to explore what a fidelity inspector would be like in a committed relationship. After everything she’s seen—all the cheating, dishonesty, and betrayal—would she really be capable of settling down herself? So that’s what I set out to focus on in this book. 

What is the elevator pitch for LOVE UNDER COVER?

LOVE UNDER COVER is the compelling story of a woman who runs a “fidelity inspection” agency, hired by suspicious spouses to test the faithfulness of their loved ones. Although at work she may be an expert on men, in her own relationship, she doesn’t have a clue…

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

Helen Fielding is the reason I’m writing today. When I read Bridget Jones’ Diary back in college, my life changed. It was the first book I’d read for “pleasure” (rather than for a school assignment) in a long time and I’d forgotten how entertaining and fun books could be. I knew right then and there that I wanted to write to entertain people. Just as Helen Fielding had entertained me. 

I’ve also been heavily influenced by Sophie Kinsella for her charm, wit and humorous story telling style and Jodi Picoult for her depth of soul and realism. 

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

Take criticism. Believe in your work and stand behind it, but don’t be afraid to make changes. Use rejections to evolve yourself as a writer, not just to line your waste basket. When someone rejects your work and offers a reason, don’t just blow it off and claim that they “didn’t get it” or that they clearly didn’t read it closely enough, dissect it and try to figure out if what they’re saying makes sense and if it will inevitably help your work. There’s a fine balance between staying true to your art and being open for suggestions, try to stay somewhere in the middle. If they “didn’t get it,” chances are, readers won’t get it either. And you won’t be there to explain it to them in the middle of Barnes and Noble.

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

What? You mean there’s life outside of my office? Who knew! I don’t have a lot of free time as I tend to over commit myself to projects. But one thing I love is my bowling league. Our team is in first place going into the championships. I take it very seriously. I even scheduled my book tour around the play-offs. That’s how hard core I am!

Continued success to you, Jessica!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Love in Translation: Foreign Wife, Japanese Husband - Part 1

In my latest novel, LOVE IN TRANSLATION, (out on November 24!) the American protagonist, Celeste Duncan, finds herself unexpectedly in Japan and unexpectedly falling for her homestay “brother” Takuya, a Japanese born and raised in Tokyo. I’m a second-generation San Franciscan and, while Celeste is a fictional character and not based much on me, I also fell for a Japanese man who I’ve been married to now for twenty years.

Cross-cultural marriages are nothing new and there are many such marriages between Western men and Japanese women. But I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that, despite many changes going on in Japanese society, couples made up of Japanese men and Western women are still unusual.

With this in mind, I’ve decided to conduct a series of interviews about cross-cultural marriage with Western women married to Japanese men. We’ll explore the joys and the special challenges of these relationships both inside and outside Japan, and how the typical stressors of marriage such as in-laws, kids, money, jobs, housework, etc. can become even more stressful when the intricacies of the Japanese social world are thrown into the mix.

To start the series off, I’ve picked my first interview subject—me!—briefly talking about my marriage to Manabu Tokunaga, a software architect, musician and surfer, born and raised in Osaka. In the coming weeks I’ll be posting interviews with a variety of foreign wives sharing their captivating stories about how love can transcend culture.

Where and how did you meet your husband?

When my husband gets asked this question, he likes to say that we met through an ad in a newspaper. And this is true. But it was not one of those “Women Seeking Men” personal relationship ads where someone who likes long walks on the beach is seeking a fun-loving, marriage-minded guy. I had put in an ad in the San Francisco Bay Guardian to find someone who could help me translate original song lyrics into Japanese for a music project. Manabu answered the ad and ended up helping me record my songs. Our mutual love of creating music was a big factor in us getting together.

Did you live together in Japan?

No. When I met Manabu he had been living in the United States for about twelve years. He came here for college and stayed for graduate school and then on to his career. He never really felt that he fit in living in Japan and, although he didn’t initially intend to live permanently in the U.S., this is what ended up happening. I was inspired by his desire for trading his culture for a new one and eventually created a character who felt the same way (albeit a female one) in my first novel, Midori by Moonlight.

Did you know anything about Japan or Japanese culture prior to meeting your husband?

Yes, I was a certified Japanophile, having studied Japanese language and culture in college. I had traveled to Japan and also lived there for a year.

Had you ever envisioned that you might marry a person from another culture?

Yes. I was always attracted to Asian men. The tall, blond, big-muscled football player was never my type. And I was always the kind of person open and interested in other cultures, perhaps because I grew up in San Francisco, which is so culturally diverse.

Do you and your husband speak Japanese to each other?

Rarely. When I first met Manabu, I wanted him to speak to me in Japanese, but his English was so much better than my Japanese so it never seemed to work. He also has this problem I’ve encountered with other Japanese, of having difficulty talking to a person who does not have a Japanese face! But we sometimes speak pidgin—I might say, “Oh! That makes me feel very natsukashii (nostalgic).”

Do you and your husband have any communication problems that have nothing to do with language?

Sometimes. Japanese have something called ki ga tsuku, which I have understood to mean roughly, anticipating another’s feelings before he or she has to express them. This is a very nice sentiment and foreigners visiting Japan are often overwhelmed by an abundance of hospitality and ki ga tsuku. But in everyday married life one may not be so attuned, especially if you’re not used to doing this. Expectations get missed and offense can be taken and sometimes you don’t realize this has happened until way after the incident has occurred. This is sometimes why Japanese think that Americans can be inconsiderate and misunderstandings can happen. Hopefully I’ve gotten better at this after twenty years.