Tell your own story

So today I’m perusing what’s in my Twitter feeds,  cruising along, looking at some of my favorite sites from Japan, like The Tokyo Reporter and The Japan Times (fond memories of working there. Great people) when I see a book review for Barry Lancet’s new novel, “Tokyo Kill.” Lancet wrote “Japantown” and earned much praise and an award or two, and has the type of mojo going any author would kill for.
Lancet writes about a reluctant private investigator and Japan and mines his extensive knowledge of Japanese art and martial arts to add depth and flavor to his enviable writing ability. A long-time editor and Tokyo resident, Lancet has everything going for him.
And I wanted to kill him.

Jealous much?

But then I started remembering what every writing coach, friend, counselor and guru has said countless times:

“Write the story you want to read.”

My reluctant P.I. stories, the Shig Sato Mysteries, began life as a spinoff from my American in Tokyo ex-pat novel. I lived in Japan off and on for five years (GI and civilian), met my ex-wife there, married there, my son was born there, and I worked there as a journalist and book editor. My small observations, coupled with my fascination for Japanese art and literature, which my no means made me an expert, propelled me into taking more than a casual interest in the arts and events and culture, modern and ancient.
The one thing I noticed living in that culture so unlike my own was the similarities – how people laughed at jokes, how grandparents doted on grandchildren, how teenagers clustered and giggled and strived to be different by being the same. Harajuku_girlsTired salarymen, weary housewives, industrious students striving to gain entry into elite universities — this could be anywhere.
My fear of writing about Japan and the Japanese fell by the wayside because I saw the similarities, not the differences, between my culture and theirs.
Sure, there are many people with more intimate knowledge of that language, life and culture. God bless them. I wish them all the success in the world. Me? I’m happy that a few people like my stories, and if I work hard and remain true to my vision and my story, maybe a small band of dedicated readers will like what I write and want more.
It’s all a writer can ask for, isn’t it?

 

You’re invited to visit my web site, my Kindle page or my Nook page.

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Stumbling onto the Perfect Plan


Shig Sato Mystery “The Thief’s Mistake”roppongi3

 

Chaper 1

 

The plan was too good to pass up, and Nara knew it.

It pleased him that the job was set for the morning after next. Nara hated waiting. Four years at Fuchu Prison frazzled what little patience he possessed. And he knew when he got out he would not be able to wait for fortune or luck to bring work to him. He needed something.

And he got something.

Nara first heard about the plan while in Fuchu. He had confided in a cellmate he respected, saying he needed money to return to Hokkaido, his home prefecture, and never set foot in Tokyo again. He needed a lot of money fast, so he needed an easy job that paid well, a job that would not land him back in prison.

The cellmate said nothing as he listened to Nara’s worries all those months. Then one day the cellmate said, “I know a man. Oshiro is his name. He always has little jobs that pay well. If you’re interested, I’ll see what’s out there.”

Nara said, “Good.”

The cellmate asked what Nara did on the outside. Nara said he was a mechanic. Which was true -‑ he even had mechanic’s overalls among his few possessions.

The cellmate said nothing more. But four days before Nara’s release, the cellmate said he had heard from Oshiro. There was a job. Did he want it?

Nara said “Yes.”

 

Nara’s first telephone call on his first day of freedom was to Oshiro.

The cellmate had told Nara: Identify yourself as “the mechanic,” and say “the car is ready to be picked up.” The cellmate had said Oshiro would give a time and location for a meeting.

When Nara phoned Oshiro and repeated what he was told, Oshiro said, “Yamanote line. Gotanda station. Main entrance. Noon tomorrow.” Nara was about to ask how would he recognize him, but decided this Oshiro fellow would find him. Nara decided not to worry.

At noon the next day, standing on the bus island across from the East Gate of Gotanda station, wearing his overalls, dirty sneakers and an old Yomiuri Giants ball cap, Nara watched the ebb and flow of people around him, and at exactly noon a man dressed in a fine suit, shined shoes and sporting a pencil-thin mustache approached Nara and asked, “Is the car ready?”

Nara said “Yes.”

“Follow me.”

Nara followed the man through the pedestrian walkway under the station, turned right, and saw a green taxi with red lettering. The door was open.

Oshiro said, “Get in.”

Nara did what he was told.

Then Nara saw there was no driver.

“What’s going on?” Nara asked unpleasantly.

“Don’t worry,” Oshiro said. “I own this taxi. The driver is having his lunch. I own a dozen taxis. See that van over there? The blue van? I own three of them.”

Nara nodded. He saw the van, saw the cartoon of a teddy bear in a diaper on the side.

“Okay.” But Nara was still wary.

“I need a man who can follow instructions exactly,” Oshiro said, not smiling, not frowning, not giving Nara any indication that he was happy, anxious, or miserable. The man seemed business-like. Nara relaxed a little.

“Go on,” he said.

And Oshiro said, in terms simple enough for a child to understand, exactly what needed to be done. Nara was shocked at its simplicity.

When Oshiro finished, he said, “You understand, when this is all finished and you get your money, you disappear. You don’t know me. I don’t ever see you again. That’s what the money is for. You disappear.”

“How much money?”

“Two million yen.”

Nara didn’t blink. “You won’t see me ever again when this is finished.”

“Good.”

~

Nara returned to his rented room, and for the first time in four years, was able to relax. He felt his mind relax, his muscles relax, his tendons, his neck, his shoulders, his arms, his fingers, his legs, his toes. He sat in his bed, drank from his small bottle of whiskey, and thought about the plan.

It was the perfect plan.

Continue reading

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The Worst Kind of Month

Despite all good intentions, getting through the second draft and rewrites of the second book in my Shig Sato mystery series has  been much more time-consuming than I expected

Such intentions led to a writing schedule, churning out 1,000 words a day, monitoring my (still very) anemic marketing for book 1, keeping track of meager sales, but the main thing I realized: getting it all done was a lesson in itself. I’m still learning, still striving, still adjusting to the fact I have to put in A LOT more hours than I am right now. Full-time job? Who cares. Home? Kids? These aren’t problems, they’re excuses. Everyone has things in their life that must be dealt with, If creating a writing life was so easy, everyone would do it.

Then came a death in the family.

The moment I knew I had to stop my life and go be with my family, travel from home for a week and tear my attention away from my job and my writing, was when I realized it should not take a death to sharpen my focus and get the job done. Every moment I spend with my family is precious, and I am glad for the time I spend with them. I wish I could spend more time with them. These thoughts made me think about time, and how I wasted it – days, months, years wasted when I didn’t put in the hours to make my dream a reality.

Being away from home to deal with a family tragedy forced me to realize that despite not knowing how much of it I have, time is the one thing I can choose how to spend. So how will I choose to spend my time? Watching a ball game on TV or staying up late and watching a movie on my tablet? I know I don’t read enough, write enough, spend nearly enough time on my indie author business. It’s the irony of our lives – time is the one commodity we have control over and yet we don’t know how much of it we have. That’s why it’s such a crime to waste it. When I arrived home, I realized I didn’t know how much time I have — but I know how many hours there are in a day, and what I do with them. So I must use them wisely, and make every hour count.

This writing life that I embrace has been a mixed bag of writing, stopping for years, writing some more, sending work off to magazines and agents, getting rejected, stopping altogether, then writing some more. It’s only been in the last seven years that I’ve put in the time to warrant saying ‘this is what I do’ and go flat out.

I’m not worried about the marketing, the sales — I know I will get into that more in the months to come, and that will come along eventually. For me, right now, the writing is the thing. Putting in the time is the thing. Focusing on getting the job done is the thing.

My goal for this year was to write and publish two more Shig Sato stories. One is nearly complete and may be out by December. The other is half-written, and needs a lot of work. I did not put in the time to meet my goal. I know that now.

So now I need to manage my time better, and get some more writing done.

How about you?

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Be Your Own Best Peer Group

“Environment is EVERYTHING.”

Chris Jones, Creative Director of the London Screenwriters’ Festival, wrote a great lead for his article promoting the upcoming festival. And what makes the article even better is following up with this: “No one really wants to confront this, but it’s really simple. We become the five people we hang out with. And these five people may well be the biggest five reasons your career is not going where you thought it would be going when you started your journey.”

Mr. Jones goes on to talk about the people we hang out with and that they may not have the same dreams, goals, or desires as you do. And they may love you, and they may mean well, but most of the time, they are not 100 percent behind your quest to create.

thinking_manAre the people you hang out with holding you back? Do you listen, and say OK, I’ll put this off for a while and then get back to it. I know I do. But what happens if a while never arrives?

Everyone we know, everyone we deal with, even the ones who love us and support us, doesn’t have our dreams. We have our own dreams. It’s what drives us.

Mr. Jones talks about the thrill of working with a large group of professionals on a feature film, the kind of people who make you raise your own stakes and do great work. I don’t work in the film industry, but I know what he means. Working with great colleagues and producing a great product feeds an energy that makes you want to do it again and again. It’s why I’ve stayed in the newspaper profession for as long as I have.

But writing fiction is a solitary pursuit — so who are your peers? Where is that outstanding team that propels you to greatness? Speaking for myself, I sink into the blue devils of self-doubt two or three times a week, only to be pulled out by kind words, interesting ideas, or the simple desire of wanting to tell my story. Sometimes it comes from friends or acquaintances or family, or sometimes, from within.

Truth is, whatever greatness or effort or work ethic I have has to come from within.

This month has been a strange, sad, frustrating month (that I will write about another time), and not to court disaster, but sometimes I feel I’ll be glad to see it end. But that’s not really productive, is it? Taking each day as a blessing, striving toward a goal, being your own best peer group — that is something I will look forward to tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.

For all you screenwriters, check this out.

How do you pick yourself up? Who is your support group?

 

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Twilight talk and lightning bugs

My son calls every weekend, usually after supper, when the long afternoon sunlight begins to dim. I sit in my apartment with the lights off, and as we talk, I watch the day turn from light to twilight.summereve

Tonight I asked him about lightning bugs: where there any where he lived? I couldn’t remember  — he is, for another few weeks, living in the town where he grew up. I did not live in that town nearly as long as he. There are many things I don’t remember about the town, or those days.

He said no, there aren’t any lightning bugs. I began talking about the Midwest summer evenings of my youth, being dismissed to the back yard after supper, to run and burn off energy, to get out from underfoot. Those evenings we waited for that moment when, in the thick summer evening air, the sky would light up with the dozens of neon green lights flickering from the insects we gleefully chased. We captured them, put them in jars, or pinched one between our fingers to write out names in the twilight sky. It was a childhood summer evening ritual.

I asked him if there were lightning bugs where he lived, and he said no. I asked if he had ever seen a lightning bug, and he said yes, the summer he was an intern in Washington, DC. Of course, I thought to myself. He would have, there. We talked a little longer, the day became night, and I said goodbye. I watched the twilight dim to darkness. I thought of lightning bugs and childhood, and him.

I know he’ll call next week. Sometime soon he’ll be returning to where I live, and he won’t be calling me on Sunday evenings to check in and see how I am. We’ll see each other nearly every day, and what we talk about will be different. We’ll talk to each other, and it will be good, but it will be a different type of conversation. It won’t be the talk of a son calling a father.

I’m going to miss the phone calls.

(Image from Flickr.com)

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Five feet high and rising

My absence can be explained this way. I’m deep into editing book two of the Shig Sato Mystery series — finished the first draft, started making corrections, decided some chapters needed to go, others needed to be in different places — and while making the corrections, finding other stuff that needs attention, and even while watching TV or walking to work, thinking about new and different plot lines and details.

Sound familiar?

Writing is rewriting. This is a hard lesson to learn. I came up through the journalism ranks, the “Get it right and get it out” school of daily journalism where rewriting was a luxury only feature writers and editorial writers possessed. One of the hardest things for me to do is turn off the journalism/non-fiction switch and turn on the creative writing/fiction switch. I liken it to driving 55 mph and then slamming on the brakes and putting the car in reverse at 55 mph. (Please don’t try this.)

I am usually pretty good at shutting down the editor part of my brain while writing, so when the time comes to edit and rewrite, it’s as if the editor part is catapulted to freedom, to run amok among the words that are just-about-there-but-not-quite ready. And it likes to play. What I find incomprehensible is the flood of ideas that pass through my mind like a raging flood. It’s scary and thrilling at the same time. And addictive. It’s my favorite part of the writing process.

The rewrite — aka second draft — is about 70 percent compete. After that, another edit and then copies sent to beta readers. Then it’s on to book three.

I am getting closer, and going further.

I promise to be back. Soon.

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Moms always know

My writing journey began before the dawn of my consciousness. I’m convinced of this, because I’ve been told I was always reading, always had a book in my hand. I remember creating stories as early as the first grade. My brother told me he has memories of me sitting in our bedroom and writing.

Always with something to read.

Always with something to read.

It’s easy for dreamy, overly imaginative kids – like I was – to float through life with no sense of reality. That’s where my mother enters the story. She always, always accepted the idea that I liked words, writing, music, creativity, the arts. But she made sure that wasn’t the only thing in my life. Growing up in a household of a mom and dad and seven  brothers and sisters, sometimes it’s easy to stand beside the chaos and go off on your own. My mom was always there to reel me back. It’s the everyday stuff of raising a child, sure, but the one thing she never did was squash my dreams. She just made sure my feet were on the ground and I was going in the right direction.

I was always itching to go out into the world. My youth was spent away from the house – playing, biking, then when I was a little older, hiking, then a little older, camping. Then I left  home to work at a summer camp. Mothers see what their child is like and sense what their child will become. I’m sure my mother saw the restlessness inside me and saw that my life outdoors kept me grounded.

I think she saw my love of reading and writing in the same way. I didn’t fully realize this until I was much older, in the Navy, home on leave, and I was with my mother somewhere, and she introduced my as ‘an aspiring writer.’ It surprised me. I don’t ever recall really talking to her about it. Maybe it was too obvious for words.

But the truth is, she got it before I ever did. And for that I salute her.

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