Sunday, April 26, 2009

How to Write your Novel (3)--and Why to Write It

A friend from my writing group sent a quotation from Nick Hornby. I love it. It's about my novel Katsuren, too. Maybe it's also about your book. Here it is:

"... it's also the job of artists to
offer warmth and hope and maybe even an escape from lives that occasionally seem
unendurably drab."

The "..." part is where he bemoans the tendency of writers who call themselves "literary" to be unbearably depressing in their world view. I'm sure he's right.

Optimism makes the world go round.

Optimism keeps Okinawa afloat, too. It's an island that lost one third of its population in war and took a beating that changed the actual, physical landscape. The people of Okinawa have a right to be depressed, but they chose optimism instead. Maybe that's why they have the longest natural lifespan in the world.

The theme of Katsuren is an optimistic one: We make our own histories by our thoughts and deeds, and through who and what we choose to love.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

How to Write your Novel (2)

Ya gotta have heart! The human heart (some might call it soul) is a one size fits all kind of gadget--it can stretch or shrink, according to the demands we make on it.

Two years ago, when I was facing painful and complicated surgery, my heart (soul) was in danger of shrinking to the size of a dried up pea, or maybe even smaller. It had room for only one thought: survival.

Then I asked myself, if survival were a given, then what? What would I most like to do?

Take a moment. Ask yourself the same question. Are you answering, I really want to wash more dishes and vacuum more floors, ride the commuter train more hours and spend more downtime playing internet solitaire?

I didn't think so. Neither did I.

That's when I really made up my mind to finish my novel and publish it. When you ask a lot of yourself, it's amazing how you can find the heart to accomplish it.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

How to Write your Novel (1)

You know what makes it really easy to get started? Being part of a writing group! Inspiration is infectious, and when you're around people who live to write, you'll find yourself wanting to write more and more.

What's more, when you've got something down on paper, you'll have enthusiastic readers to show it to. Here is some of the feedback I got from my writing group on my first draft of Katsuren:

"You have put into play some of the most powerful dramatic themes: love, belonging, a sense of place, and the contrast between cultures."

"You have an amazing story. Do not ever think otherwise."

"Send it out. See you in print!"

"I am totally in awe of your ending!"

See? With feedback like this, you can't help but want to write.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Story

Katsuren is a story about a doctor of archeology working in exotic Okinawa who needs to learn the one thing she didn't study in college--how to trust her own heart.

Karen Holt is the holder of a brand-new PhD in archeology and a woman who needs a vacation from herself. When she takes on a project in a dusty village in Okinawa, events--and a taste of romance--grab her and turn her image of herself upside down. The ultimate challenge comes from Mother Nature in a fierce, Okinawan incarnation that forces Karen to believe in herself and add a new page to the romantic legends of Katsuren Castle.

Monday, April 13, 2009

That Okinawa Feeling

Naha is a big city, but being there feels very different from being here in Hino. Naha feels like a village, and it feels close to nature. This is in spite of Hino being a much smaller city with much more open space. (Naha: almost 300,000 people; Hino: almost 150,000 people)

Why? I don't know. It is part of the Okinawan mystique that pervades my novel, Katsuren.

* You know you are in Naha when you are never more than a few steps away from a beautiful tree or shrub in bloom.

* You know you are in Naha when you see and greet people who know you by name, even though you do not live in Naha.

* You know you are in Naha when sky and clouds form a major part of the landscape.

* You know you are in Naha when you are overcome by the urge to walk, and walk, and walk. Even when it's hot.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Deigo in bloom

If you were a tree...

Why not be a deigo?

This is Okinawa's official tree.
May is a good time to see deigo in bloom.
In spring, first the leaves fall off. Then the flowers bloom, and when they are almost done, new leaves start to appear.

These are blossoms that know how to present themselves in the best possible light--red against a bright blue sky, red against its complementary green.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

There has to be a butterfly

What is Okinawa without butterflies? I had to write one into the story of Katsuren. You will see her picture on the cover when the book comes out.

Her name is Princess, and she is a tree nymph, a lady of the south seas, or, in Japanese, an o-go-ma-da-ra.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Starting with a Place

Saaa... as they say in Japan when they mean "hmmm..." How do you start writing a novel?

I knew mine would have Okinawa for a setting, but Okinawa is a pretty big island with a lot to offer. Every island--even Antarctica--has sea and scenery, so what does Okinawa have that other islands don't? Short answer: it's own kind of people.

* You know you're in Okinawa when you hear someone play a sanshin.
* You know you're in Okinawa when you see the exotic seafood in the central market. In Okinawa, fishermen and "men of the sea" are heroes.
* You know you're in Okinawa when a taxi driver offers you a full day tour, a half day tour, a ride around the block.

For starters, I decided to match up my main character with an Okinawa taxi driver and put them on the road to Katsuren.

A View of Katsuren Castle

The remains of Katsuren Castle

Saturday, April 4, 2009

At the Central Market in Naha, Okinawa

Music is part of what makes Okinawa Okinawa. The signature musical instrument is the sanshin. What sounds and rhythms can be produced from only three strings!

PS: Yes, one of these sanshin is made from an empty cookie tin and another is made from a piece of tupperware.

Welcome to Katsuren

Katsuren is a real place.

Beautiful. Spooky. Dusty. Scenic. Scary. Mysterious.

Katsuren is the kind of place where stories happen. Stories have been happening there ever since the castle at Katsuren was built, way back in the 12th century. From the moment I first laid eyes on the place, I knew I wanted to write a new story and have it take place at Katsuren.

I thought I would name the book containing my Katsuren story Okinawa: Land of Stories, and that it would be a collection of very short tales set in various places in beautiful, lush Okinawa. Many years after the idea first occurred to me, the very first story turned out to be a novel of more than 55,000 words set at the castle site in recent times.

Of course I named it Katsuren.