What to say about an MFA

Wow. The MFA shit really hit the fan the past week or so. First, ex-instructor Ryan Boudinot  cuts loose on his I hate  rant. Commence comments, like the one by  Chuck Wendig – one of many around the blogosphere.banned

Why am I weighing in? I have not taken one creative writing class. And one of the reasons I’m on the fence about pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing is getting an instructor from the “you-suck-so-you’re-wasting-my-time” house of pedagogues. If I’m not the Real Deal, I’m wasting his time?

From reading the essay, I believe Boudinot did not have the vocation to be a teacher. Writing is a vocation. Teaching is a vocation. Writers who have no business teaching master’s level classes could be the topic of another post. This is what I want to know – what does some of his former students have to say about his article?

As for Boudinot, I would think that waiting to find The Real Deal and dissing the rest must have been a terrible way to make a living, much less spend one’s time. But the complaints: If someone didn’t start thinking about writing until a 20-something or later, forget it? Don’t have time to write? Not a serious reader? Dissing memoir writings for working out a ‘shitty life’ in a composition? C’mon. Anyone who decides to sit in front of a classroom of students, masters level or not, who do or do not have a writing background, surely must expect that half the class isn’t going to be up to the mark when it comes to writing anything worthwhile, much less publishable. Living for the Real Deal?

I’ve always been interested in storytelling, but my reading and writing as a teen consisted of newspapers, magazines, mysteries, and high school required reading. Serious? Not serious? Who knows? Not have time to write? No one has enough time to write, certainly not anyone holding down a job and raising a family. I can’t imagine doing that, throwing an MFA course on top of that, and having enough time to think. So a student tells that to an instructor. I would expect every student in an MFA course, low-residency or not, to utter those words at least once. And about this ‘wish you had suffered more” memoir rant. Maybe it’s a good think Boudinot left the business.

Full discloure: I’m trained as a journalist. I studied music for years. I use both disciplines whenever I try to write something. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I have been writing and editing news stories, features, and manuscripts for over 30 years. I have never been published in any publication other than a byline story in a newspaper or magazine. That means: none of my creative output has been selected, agented, edited, or published by anyone, from the local arts quarterly to a Big 5 publisher. And I’m O.K. with that.

I know not everyone is not cut out to be a teacher, the same as not everyone is cut out to be a reporter or a novelist or any other type of writer. But it takes patient, tactful people who know how to deliver the bad news when the time comes to tell the pupil they don’t have it what it takes.

My real concern lies in MFA programs and the instructors: I wonder how many feel the same way as Boudinot but do nothing about it. Show of hands? I’d like to know.


Writing: Love or Money

Not so long ago, Kahlen Aymes had an article appear in Indie Author News entitled Writing … for Money or Love?

Ah. That is the question.Woman-Pulling-Hair-out

Which writer hasn’t dreamed of writing that ONE book and thinking of it as a winning lottery ticket? I have.

Writing: the urge to write, the need to write, to tell a story, to express myself, flows through our veins. It’s part of our DNA. It’s what we live for.

And I’m not ashamed to say I want it to not just be profitable, but make me rich.

But is that a realistic expectation?

Kahlen says writing is hard and publishing is harder. How true. Who hasn’t spent years on their book, their baby, only to have it rejected by the gatekeepers of traditional publishing? I remember the day I said “I can do this myself.”

Boy, was I in for a surprise. The editing. The marketing. The social media. The business side of being an indie author. I wake up mornings knowing my book is ranked  about 1,200,000th on Amazon because I haven’t sold a single copy for over a week. Or a month.

Where is the love? Where is the money?

I believe it has to be inside you. I write because I love it. It’s as simple as that. Whatever anxiety I feel about the writing, or business of writing, the overwhelming need to be an indie entrepreneur when all I want to do is sit in my pajamas and drink tea and write — well, that’s life.

There are two sides to everything. For every moment writing, there is a moment of reckoning that comes down: if I want anyone to read this, if I want to have an audience, I have to do something about this. And that’s where art meets commerce.

Or as I like to call it, living on the corner of Creativity and Opportunity.

And that’s why to answer Kahlen, it’s both. Love and Money.

What about you? Which is it?


To get a copy of my latest ebook mystery “The Ganster’s Son” click here . To get the latest news on my Shig Sato Mystery series, visit my website  www.josephmarkbrewer.com and sign up for my monthly newsletter.  See you soon!






Time to Return – an excerpt from The Thief’s Mistake

JBBookCoverRShig Sato was lost, and nearly ready to admit it. He had followed Ken Abe’s directions to his new office – three blocks south from the Akasaka-mitsuke subway station, right, and walk another block, where he would approach an intersection with a coffee shop at the bottom of a white office building five stories high. At another corner, a bank; another, an electronics equipment sales outlet with garish signs shouting bargains too good to be believed, and at the fourth, a real estate agent’s office with dozens of photos of properties of every type, size and price. He was in the right place. But what now?

The crossing light music brought Sato into the present. He became part of the hustling mob crossing the street, and before he knew it, he was standing in front of the coffee shop.


Sato turned toward the voice, feminine but low and tinged – too many cigarettes, too much sake. It was a middle-aged bar hostess’ voice, but the person attached to that rumble was plump, fair, pretty, and dressed in a subdued plum business jacket and skirt and matching pumps.

“I saw you from the coffee shop,” Mariko Suzuki said as she studied Sato with a look of apprehensive curiosity, then mild amusement, not trusting the beard or such casual clothing on so handsome a man. She saw the faded yellow sport shirt, rumpled khaki pants, and a round blue canvas hat – so unlike what she had remembered, a tall man with a commanding presence. Now what she noticed was a man with the saddest eyes.

“Good thing I was here this morning,” she chirped. “I seldom stop in. But I saw Abe just now and he’s in his office. I think you’ll like it.”

Sato could only nod.

“ He’s been there every day that I know of since starting the business, but you know he insisted your name should be on the door. I haven’t gotten a proper sign for outside yet but –”

Sato’s disadvantage produced a weak “Do I …?”

Then she realized Sato did not remember her. “I’m Mariko Suzuki. Abe’s friend.”

“Ah, Mrs. Suzuki,” and Sato then recalled meeting her several years before, the first time at a coffee shop in the Ginza. He was there with his wife, Miki, stealing precious moments all to themselves before a police function he had no way of avoiding. Back then, he was an Inspector in the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, and was summoned to the event by the department’s superintendent general. Saying “No, thank you,” was not an option.

But Ken Abe – at that time, he was a mere detective, and his lowly status enabled him to skip such boring soirees. When Abe spotted Sato that evening, he introduced Suzuki, and reminded him he had tickets to a prizefight, knowing it would make Sato envious.

Standing on that street corner in the nascent morning heat, Sato gave Suzuki a faint smile and said, “I remember the first time we met.”

“Oh, that awful boxing contest Abe wanted to go to,” Suzuki blurted out. “I don’t know about Abe sometimes. But I’m glad I saw you. I’m so sorry about your wife.”

Sato managed a nod while Suzuki forged ahead: “I bet you were looking for your office. Abe told me about the detective agency. I think it’s wonderful. You can count on me to send business your way. Well, you need to go to that door over there,” and Sato watched as she pointed to a glass door just behind him to his right. “Just inside is a small lobby. It has two other offices, and a stairwell. You’re one floor up. I’m sorry I don’t have a sign on the outside of the building yet.”

Just as Sato’s hearing caught up to the woman’s verbal torrent, the intersection’s crossing light music caught her attention. “I have to go but please make yourself at home and good luck! Abe’s already up there.”

Sato watched Suzuki dash across the street as the last strains of the music blared from speakers above the intersection.

For much longer than he was aware, Sato stared at the door Suzuki had pointed at, as if memorizing its appearance. But he knew he was allowing his memory to capture the moment when one life ended, and another began.

All he felt was dread.

“What a reluctant P.I. I am,” he muttered as he opened the heavy glass door. The white tile floor was buffed to a dull matte finish, and he noticed grime along the baseboard in the corners. But the stairwell seemed clean, and Sato caught himself inspecting the tile for cracks as he slowly walked up the stairs, step by step. He opened the stairwell door and off to his right, across the hall, he saw a door, its top half in-set with opaque glass, with words declaring “Sato Private Investigation Service.”

Sato sighed. What had started as a somewhat truthful answer to a seemingly benign question asked by the TMPD superintendent general was now a fact – he was Shig Sato, private investigator.

Sato shook his head.

“Reluctant indeed.”


Ken Abe had not been so sure his friend would show up that morning. The day before, he skipped his search for an air-conditioned drinking establishment once he finished for the day. Instead, he took his ten-year-old Toyota Carina out of the towering parking garage near his home in Mita and drove the forty minutes it took to get to Shig Sato’s family home in Takatsu to bring his best friend and business partner back to Tokyo.

Abe was not fond of driving, and did not know what he was going to say to Sato. He was not sure if he would want anyone bothering him if his wife had died so recently. But Abe had a problem: after Miki Sato’s funeral, Shig left for his family home in Takatsu, leaving Abe to established the agency and put in the hours needed to get it off the ground. Not that he minded. He was glad to leave the department after Sato’s retirement. They had been partners off and on for nearly 20 years. Abe did not relish the idea of having another partner, and was eager to face the challenge of a new venture.

He knew Sato was going to the Takatsu house to mourn, and believed that was only right. He knew Miki Sato had been like a sister to him, and could not imagine what Shig had gone through, watching Miki slowly waste away for two years.

But no tender feelings for Miki’s memory, and no long-established friendship with Shig, changed the fact Abe’s advertisement for Sato’s fledgling detective agency was bringing in more business than he could handle. With a month gone since Miki’s passing, Abe knew it was time for Shig to get busy with this crazy P.I. business he started.


As dusk began its short life in earnest, Sato, tanned and dirty and unshaven and wearing dingy shorts, wooden sandals and a frayed cotton shirt, was drinking his sake cold while sitting on the back steps of his family’s small house. What remained of his rice and edamame dinner sat next to him. He squinted at the sun dipping towards the mountains and breathed in the scent of jasmine and pine. Footsteps along the side of the house and the clink of bottles invaded his silent meditation. When he heard the deep rumble of a fake cough, he knew his visitor was Ken Abe. When the shuffling and clinking stopped, he glanced down and saw the familiar scuffed brown loafers.

He did not turn around.

He heard Abe’s unmistakable sniff, once and then once again, and Sato thought about his friends’ unusual sense of smell. A childhood injury left him with the olfactory senses of a bloodhound. He had stopped being amazed at this peculiar prowess long ago. He knew Abe was instantly taking inventory of whatever odor he could detect: the sweat on his back, the Tama River dirt on his sandals. The stale rice in the pot, the soybeans wilting.

“I guess you’re going to tell me do something about the rice, eventually,” Sato said.


“You brought your own refreshments. Thoughtful.”

Abe was watching the late evening sun’s progress from a sliver to nearly nothing. “I wanted to make sure I could pour you into the Toyota if I had to.”

“Am I going somewhere?”

“Yes,” Abe said, flat and low.



“Because it was your idea to start this business. And I’m stupid to let you do whatever you’re doing here while I do all the dirty work.”

“What dirty work?”

“Taking calls from angry wives, suspicious husbands, marriage-minded grandmothers. It’s time for you to get going.”

“You’re kidding. You came out here because of that?”

“Would I be here if I was kidding?”

Sato glanced up at Abe, the beer, and he recognized a package. He knew it was pickled eel. There were never any gifts between him and Abe, never any small tokens of appreciation, kindnesses given and received. He knew Abe could have shown up empty-handed. But the eel was what he brought with him whenever he came by to visit him and Miki at their home in Tokyo, all those hundreds of times over the years.

“Want to come on in?” Sato asked, eyes still on the eel.

“Sure.” And without missing a beat: “I hate the beard.”

“I know.”

Sato rose and walked into the house. Dusk and an ancient electric fan, its burring distinct among the sounds of the summer evening, helped cool the room somewhat. Abe took his spot next to the table as Sato tasted the eel. It was pleasant on his tongue. He found beans and peas and the two friends sipped beer, munched food, and said all they needed in saying nothing.

But Abe knew his friend. Sato was mourning. And he may deep into his sorrowful contemplation, and may even be fishing every morning to sooth his sleepless nights, but he also knew Sato could count. Abe was not the least bit religious, but knew Sato was. And seven days after Miki’s death, after the Buddhist priest’s chants ended the shonanoka prayers, Sato slipped out of Tokyo, to Takatsu, to escape and to mourn the only way he knew how. Abe did not have to be present at the fourteenth day remembrance or any other occasion to offer prayers to the spirit of Miki Sato. But he knew the 49th day was approaching, the day a Buddhist believed the spirit of the deceased passed from its state of chuin to wherever it was going to go, and Abe knew his friend, who loved his wife more than he loved himself, would be thinking of nothing but that.

Abe did not envy his friend.

Having finished his eel and his beer, Abe had enough of Sato’s contemplative loitering. He freed a Mild Seven cigarette from its pack, raised it to his lips, found his lighter, lit his cigarette, inhaled, and exhaled.

“Ready to go?”

Sato stabbed at some beans, and looked at his glass of beer still half-full. “Now?”

Abe lifted his cigarette. “When I finish this.”

Sato nodded. He quietly rose and began wandering around the house, and Abe heard the random sounds of shutters sliding into place and boxes shuffled about. Sato reappeared and wordlessly gathered the dishes and placed them in the sink. Abe turned his attention to his cigarette, and after a few puffs, snuffed it out and got to his feet.

By this time Sato had disappeared again, but a minute later reappeared, wearing clean, comfortable, presentable clothes for his return to the city. “Let’s go.”

Abe pulled a piece of paper from his pocket. “Here are the directions to the office, in case you plan on coming in the morning.”

Sato ignored the sarcasm. “I’ll be there,” he said, pocketing the instructions.



“You riding with me?” Abe thought Sato looked tired beyond measure.

“No, I’m driving in. I don’t want to leave the Pajero here.” Abe watched his friend close the back of the house, disappear, reappear with two bundles wrapped in a furoshiki cloth. Abe saw his friend seemed up to making the drive back to the city. “Follow me?”

Sato looked up at Abe. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“You have the directions to the office?”

“In my pocket.”

“Don’t get lost.”

As Abe started his Toyota, he glanced into his mirrors and in the dark of the August evening. He saw Sato sitting behind the wheel, the look of concentration Abe knew well. He watched Sato start the engine, check the gauges, adjust the mirrors, buckle himself to his seat, turn on the low beams. Then he saw Sato nod his goodbye and pull away toward the road, to his future.


Sato stood at the door to his office long enough for him to realize he had no idea how long he had been standing there. Then he heard “It’s open.”

He did so, and Sato took a sight he had seen a thousand times – Ken Abe smoking a cigarette and reading the morning’s sports pages, all tussled hair, rumpled jacket and scuffed loafers in pose of careless nonchalance.

“Perhaps things aren’t as new as I think they are,” he muttered, immensely please, and he walked to the center of the office and saw an empty chair behind a small gray desk. It held a telephone, calendar, pen, and notebook. On a side table along one wall he saw a bucket of ice, highball glasses, and a pitcher of iced coffee.

Abe peered above the top of the newspaper. “You’re here, I see.”

“Yes, I’m here.”

What Abe saw was Sato in a yellow sport shirt, worn khakis, and green socks above scuffed white sneakers, but it was the round blue cotton twill hat with the canvas rim, soft and faded by years in the sun, that made him stare. He recovered quickly enough to notice Sato fixing a look at everything in the office, one item at a time. He watched Sato wander around the small office, peer into corners where there was nothing to see, and open the blinds of the three large windows. The bottom pane opened outward from the bottom. The one by Abe’s desk offered an escape for Abe’s cigarette smoke. It also allowed the cacophony known as a busy Tokyo intersection to fill the room.

Abe lit another cigarette to keep his iced coffee company and kept his eyes on his friend. As Sato settled into his chair, Abe asked, “Have you seen the papers? Watched the news?”

“No, I wasn’t really paying attention to anything when I walked to the station,” he said, settling his body into the chair, testing it for strength and comfort. “I was people watching, quite frankly. Wondering if I would see anyone I knew. I didn’t.”

“You took the train?”

Sato tested his chair, turning right, then left. “Yes. Why?”

“No reason.”

Abe knew Sato’s power of concentration could block out the world around him. Ignoring the morning news was not surprising. But the thought of Shig Sato a morning commuter seemed amusing. He watched Sato for another moment before casually saying, “Well, I got a call this morning.”


“Osaki Police Station. From Saburo Matsuda himself.”

“Matsuda? What does the station chief at Osaki Police Station want?”

“He wants you.”

This got Sato’s attention.

“At Osaki? Why –”

“Matsuda wanted to know if you were in town. I was happy to tell him that yes, you were.”

“Thanks a lot.”

Abe put down his paper and snuffed out his cigarette. “Remember how we picked up the Kobayashi twins at the end of the Down Low case?”

Sato nodded. It was only two months before, and it was his last case with the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department. He was at Azabu Police Station for his last month on the force. He had looked forward to returning to regular investigative work. He had spent two years working security details for the Imperial Household Agency and for English-speaking foreign diplomats who visited the city, since he was fluent in that language.

At the time, all Sato wanted was to get a good case to work on for his last month with the department. But what he got was the Down Low murder – girl dead, GI boyfriend nowhere to be found, but for Sato, worst of all, was the fact Jun Fujimori had become a prime suspect in the case. Sato had to solve the murder without exposing his ties to Jun’s father, Ses Fujimori, leader of one of Tokyo’s powerful crime syndicates. Ses Fujimori was Sato’s childhood friend, and their two families were linked in ways that would have been hard to explain to a police commission.

Abe saw a faint look of dread cross Sato’s face. He said, “Those two were arrested early this morning in Gotanda, trying to steal something that wasn’t there, so they say. What was there was a man with his throat slit. The Kobayashis were picked up for murder. And the people at Osaki don’t believe the twins’ story. But what’s really strange, those two idiots demanded to talk to you.”

Sato let slip a shocked “Why?”

“I don’t know. But Matsuda said something about anti-organized crime deciding ‘OK, call Sato.’”

“That’s absurd!”

“Well, forensics don’t have anything yet, obviously. Way too soon. But a dead man rankles a lot of people. Matsuda said he can’t help it if the press get their hands on the story, but they want to shut the case before it’s open.”

“The twins go to do a job and a guy winds up dead? And then they want to talk to me?”

Abe shrugged. “That’s what they say.”

“The only throats the twins ever cut are their own while shaving,” Sato said. “Whose bright idea was it to charge those two?”

“I don’t know. But Matsuda said the anti-organized crime supervisor wants you to come in.”

“Who is that?”


Sato sighed. Koichi Kamioka was young, ambitious, not particularly bright, and part of a gang of yakuza cops loyal to Tatsuo Tanaka, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department’s top anti-organized crime supervisor. Tanaka was handsome, vain, and hated Sato. They were partners once on a counterfeiting case. When Sato found out it was all Fat Katsuhara’s idea, he busted the fat man – with Ses Fujimori’s permission. This put Sato into Fujimori’s debt, a secret he kept his entire career. The case made Sato’s reputation, but Tanaka had always been suspicious, and Tanaka never forgave, or forgot.


His eyes close, Sato said, “The reason they want to talk to me is because of Fujimori,” and he shook his head, believing and disbelieving it all.

Abe lit a cigarette, and tried to think of what it would be like to have a childhood friend like Ses Fujimori, one of the most powerful crime bosses in Tokyo. The Fujimori clan – ruthless, efficient, powerful, and at least for Key and Ses, impossible to arrest. Abe was certain this new mess with the anti-organized crime boys and the Fujimoris was probably starting up again, all because the Kobayashi twins got caught burglarizing a copier repair shop.

“I can see Kamioka thinking the twins are part of some gang,” Sato said. “But Matsuda. He has more sense than that. He should be able to see that no one would take the twins seriously.”

“I don’t know,” Abe said. “It’s not like he’s never dealt with a case like this.”

“You really think they want to talk to me because the twins asked for me by name, and they know about me and Ses?”

“Well, a lot of people are going to think that,” Abe said.

“I know. But it’s just idiotic that those guys take one look at the twins and make them for killers.”

“Stranger things have happened,” Abe said. “The twins show up and say there’s nothing to be stolen. So why is there a dead guy? And where is the loot?”

Sato leaned back in his chair, his arms folded across his chest, and tapped his chin with his finger. “Was there another guy there for the loot and did he get surprised? Did he kill the guy on purpose? I can think of a lot of questions Matsuda might have. But it makes no sense.”

Abe stretched. “So what are you going to do? We’ve got a lot of things to decide.”

“Like what?”

“We’ve been getting calls from the ad I put out.”

“What ad?” Sato asked, as if the idea had been invented just then.

“The one advertising our business, Shig.” Abe walked to the side table and poured more iced coffee. “You think we can just sit here and wait for business to come to us? We need to make money. Pay rent.”

“Oh …”

“And we’re getting inquiries.”

“Like what?”

“Marriage proposal investigations, suspicious wives wanting dirt on wayward husbands, things like that. There’s a shop owner wanting to investigate a vendor because he thinks he’s being cheated. And I have to say ‘I’ll call you as soon as my partner returns from a big case.’ That seems to placate them, but that won’t last forever.”

Sato grunted. Lying. Cheating. Suspicions. It filled him with dread.

Abe knew Sato’s dejected look. “This was your idea.”

“I know. It’s just that –”

“This is it, Shig.”

“I know. I just need to let my mind catch up with all this.”

“It will. So what are you going to do about the Kobayashis?”

“Go over,” Sato sighed. “See what’s going on.”

Abe was not surprised – he knew his friend could not say no to a fellow police officer. But he could not help saying, “Shig, you’re not a cop any more. You don’t have to jump every time a station chief tells you.”

“I’ll head over. But how did they know to call here?”

“I saw Hiro the other day,” Abe said. “You remember him? The sergeant at Azabu? He was transferred to Osaki. When your name came up, he knew where to find you.”

“I see. What you are doing today?”

“Gotta go to Ikebukuro to see this woman. Wants to investigate her husband. It’s probably nothing. After that, a woman with a daughter who has a prospective groom. The mother wants the boy checked out.”

“Okay,” Sato said.

“I’ll probably be back here in the afternoon,” Abe said as he pocketed his cigarettes and lighter and checked his jacket pocket for his car keys. “Don’t forget, your pager is in your top desk drawer. So are the business cards.”


Sato watched Abe depart. Returning to his desk, he spread his fingers out like a fan and lightly glided his hands across the top of his desk. He opened the lap drawer and pocketed the pager and the cards. He shut the windows and then turned off the lights, and when he reached the door, he cast a rueful glance back at the darkened office and shut the door behind him.

Author Branding: Writing Partnership & Blogging

Joseph Mark Brewer:

A sticky note to tack to the computer: lots of good reminders and advice.

Originally posted on Publishing Insights:


A blog named Self-Published Authors Helping Other Authors is dedicated to introducing tips and advice on writing, publishing, and book promotion. I would like to briefly showcase three of their pieces on author branding: writing partnership, developing websites, and writing reviews.

Guidelines to Making a Writing Partnership Work: Some issues to note when you are co-authoring a publication, including picking the right partner, drafting a contract, assigning work, and sorting out arguments. An example contract is provided at the end of this article.

Developing Effective Websites: For author websites, it is important to define your site/blog clearly, and keep it consistent. Pay attention to not only the details of content but also the visual design, with a particular focus on readability and accessibility.

Writing Reviews: Tips on writing reviews which can work “in your favor as an author”, including commitment to honesty, structure of the review, development of a clear rating system, and frequency…

View original 12 more words

Shig visits Miki – an excerpt from The Gangster’s Son

Detective Endo was surprised to learn that behind the wheel of a patrol car, Inspector Sato drove like a Formula 1 driver and that the streets of Tokyo were his particular racetrack. Never had Endo clenched his stomach muscles so tightly, nor gripped a dashboard so severely, as he did while Sato sped through early morning traffic, leaving Meguro and heading north on Yamate-dori to Shinjuku.FINIFN

“Inspector?” Endo finally managed to say.

“I want to look in on my wife for a few minutes.” Sato said, his eyes fixed on the street. “You don’t mind, do you?”



In an unending series of turns, Sato kept his eyes on the road but his mind was on his wife, Miki. Before the strokes that had left her an invalid, she was a physician specializing in gerontology, working with wealthy and indigent alike, author or co-author of dozens of studies on the effects of aging, works esteemed by the Ministry of Health. Now she was the patient, with heart and lung and blood pressure issues that confined her to bed.

Sato loved his wife and loved her spirit. It was Miki who knew that her Shig needed to go back to criminal investigation after working diplomatic security for so long, to get back to a true sense of himself. She knew he was reluctant to return to Azabu for his last month with the department despite wanting it so badly, because it meant far more hours away from her.

Miki Sato smiled her weak, sweet smile and said, “Shigeru Sato, just do your best. Now go.”

And he did.

Sato sped past Okubo train station and then down another busy street until he turned again and abruptly stopped. Endo saw a modest two-story home with cheerful flowers in pots lined up next to the front door. Sato said, “I won’t be a minute.”

Before Endo could reply, Sato was out of the car and in the house.

His wife’s nurse was awake and in the kitchen off to the side of the front of the house, and watched Sato slip through the doors of his home.

“You’re easier to read than the newspapers,” Mai Sakamoto said to herself as she smiled, bowed, and said “good morning” as Sato quietly kicked off his shoes, stepped into the kitchen, said hello, and took the small breakfast tray she had just prepared.

Sakamoto knew Sato would take it to his wife. She knew Sato ate every meal he could with his wife, if only to encourage her to take some nourishment. Her heart melted at such devotion.

Sakamoto was at that indeterminable age – anywhere between 30 and 50, and nothing about her hair, skin, eyes, lips, chin, neck, posture, poise, or personality betrayed her. She and Miki Sato were friends and colleagues of many years, despite Miki being a doctor and Sakamoto a nurse. There were few doctors Sakamoto respected more than Miki Sato. But what Sakamoto particularly liked about Miki was her easygoing personality, one that made everyone feel warm and welcome. It never crossed Sakamoto’s mind not to help her friend during her illness.

Sakamoto knew the Satos loved each other deeply, and sometimes acted as if they were still honeymooners. She had been sure the inspector would look in sometime Saturday morning, even at such an early hour.

Sakamoto left her patient in the care of her husband, walked to the front door, and slid it open. Endo got out of the car, stood, and bowed slightly.

After exchanging their “Good mornings,” Sakamoto asked, “Would you care for some tea?”

Endo again bowed slightly and said, “No thank you, I’m fine.”

“Has it been a busy night?”

“It’s been quite busy, yes. A waitress was killed in Roppongi. A college student.”

“Oh, poor girl.”

“We’ll get to the bottom of it.”

Sakamoto smiled at Endo’s earnestness. “Oh, I’m sure of it,” she said, and slid the door closed.

Sakamoto turned on the small radio in the kitchen where the volume was set low. She searched for the news, which she found right away: “Police say a girl found dead in Roppongi Hills last night may have been the victim of a brutal beating.”

Sakamoto listened to a few more details about Kimi Yamada’s short life, knowing this was Inspector Sato’s case. She wondered if the inspector had heard the report in the next room.

“You all right?” Shig Sato asked his wife as he sat next to her with the breakfast tray.

“I’m fine.” Miki had been up for an hour, watching the morning light move across the room, listening to Sakamoto’s domestic rustling. Her words were slow to form.

“I slept well,” Miki managed to say, stretching, turning to her side, but smiling at her husband. “It’s so early.”

“Are you hungry?”

“A little.”

“Here, take some soup,” Sato said.

Miki always found his look of concern touching. “Rice and tea, thank you. You take the miso.”

“Fine,” Sato said. He managed to slurp down the bowl, and some soup remained on the corner of his mouth. Miki tried to reach up to wipe it away. Sato helped her.

He could not keep his eyes off her. He worried about her getting her rest. Pale, impossibly thin, wrapped in a soft cotton yukata, he knew she had difficulty finding a comfortable pose for sleeping. By noon, it would be too hot and humid for sleep.

“Who did you leave out front this time?” Miki asked.

“Endo. He’s new. We just finished with a witness. I wanted to stop by before going back.”

“Going well?”

“As well as can be expected,’ Sato said. “Some pieces fit, some don’t. Have you gotten any rest?”

“I feel fine.”

It was true. Miki had managed to sleep well during the night, and seeing her husband lifted her spirits. Miki could see that her husband’s eyes were tired, but he had that energy that only came from working on a case. She did so enjoy seeing it. Miki knew her husband and knew his sense of duty, but she also knew his devotion to her and their marriage. She was never surprised, morning, afternoon or evening, when he took time out of his day to stop by.

She was thinking about it just before he arrived. He’d often shout, “I’m home.”

“That you, darling?” she would say.

“Where are you?” he would ask.

“The back.”

“The back” was a small yard, no more than two yards by four yards, but it held flower boxes and her father’s two juniper bonsai. Shig laid in the stonework himself. It was her favorite spot.

Shig would peer out the back door to gaze at her, and liked what he saw: a slim woman with natural grace, a ready smile, short dark hair with just the beginning of gray. In June, she’d be dressed in her gardening outfit: Bermuda shorts, a plain white blouse, and a navy blue cardigan. She often sat in the back and read. He would come to the back and they would talk. It was never a long interlude, but it was something he knew would brighten her day, and make their long spells apart bearable.

Even before her strokes, Miki Sato knew her angina was serious. Her cardiologist said it was plain arterial deterioration. She knew it ran in her family. But the spasms, frightening spasms that called for quick action — as she got older, she cut back on her practice simply to rest. Shig worried then, and after the strokes, became more of a nursemaid than Miki was prepared for, but knew it came out of love. Miki treasured her husband’s concern for her.

That Saturday morning, Miki Sato could tell something was on her husband’s mind.

“Shigeru, what is it?”

He sighed. “Did I do the right thing, asking to go back to Azabu?”

“Of course.”

“I could retire now, if I wanted to. I could go fishing,” he said.

“Yes, you haven’t been in some time. You could go fishing, and then you would be bored with it. You go fishing to unwind, not kill time.”

Sato said nothing, his apprehension still in midair.

“Well,” Sato finally said, and Miki knew it was time for him to leave.

“Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine. Go.” Miki tried to read her husband’s mood, which was difficult when he had a case.

Sato smiled. “Will you be all right?”

“Mai said she can stay today but has to leave for a while this evening. She can stay tonight if we need her.”

But Sato could see that her breathing was labored. He hated having to say “I have to go,” but he did, and got onto his feet as boyishly as a man of 60 could manage.

Miki smiled. “I’ll be here,” she said.

“I’ll be back,” he said, the silent promise in his voice reassuring her.

Slipping past Sakamoto and preparing to leave, he looked up at the nurse. He could have asked how his wife was, but he already knew the answer, and wanted to spare Sakamoto from saying things he did not want said aloud anyway. Instead, Sato said a sincere “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, Inspector.”

Sakamoto followed Sato outside after he slid open the door. She watched as he stepped over to the patrol car, got behind the wheel, gunned the engine a little, and drove off. She watched the patrol car as it reached the end of the lane and abruptly turned right, and disappeared.

She then returned to her patient.

To order The Gangster’s Son, click here.

To get the latest on my Shig Sato Mystery series and other stories, sign up for my monthly newsletter by visiting my website www.josephmarkbrewer.com – see you there!

It’s not about e-books vs books

I find the e-books vs. books debate silly. Each day consumers make their choice about what to read and I’m willing to bet that it is seldom exclusively digital vs. traditional.

Rather, I always wonder when people talk about what children should read, when they read, why they read, why newspapers and magazines aren’t included in the discussion.

Sure, “reading” is about books and stories and the imagination. But comic books get thrown into this ‘just as long as they’re reading’ bag. Comic books, and not newspapers, are a part of this discussion?

Maybe so. We have two generations of non-newspaper readers, which has guaranteed that the medium will die, and not solely due to technological advances of the age. Did time pressure on the family or television or the breakdown of the family unit — pick any one you want, make one up of you like — really kill any incentive a child had in learning about the world around them on a daily basis? I don’t think so.newspapers

I believe that somewhere along the way, people bought into the notion that being informed is not important. But Being informed is being educated, as much as knowing reading, writing and arithmetic. Is it any wonder that in this new century arguments about evolution, health, history – whether a corporation is a person or not, for heaven’s sake – are taking place when education is failing our children, universities are being underfunded, teachings are vilified, and the simple act of finding out what’s happening in a community is on opportunity for political interpretation?

No winner in the e-book vs. book winner will decide any of those issues.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have been working in the news business for 35 years. I have worked in daily journalism 28 years. I write mysteries and short stories to amuse myself, and hopefully, amuse other people enough so that I might sell some copies of my books. That reading has taken a back seat to so many activities in this modern world that people like Neil Gaiman have to argue that reading and libraries are necessary  is pitiful. I believe that pity has a twin. It’s name is information in the modern age. I believe we will attend its funeral quite soon.

What do you think?


To get the latest on my Shig Sato Mystery series and other stories, sign up for my monthly newsletter by visiting my website www.josephmarkbrewer.com – see you there!



Social Media and Me

Once upon a time a friend of mine was putting tons of music onto his MySpace account. He said I should get one. I did. I had no idea what to do with it. I didn’t understand social media – having a place on the internet for people to find me, to see and be seen, share interests, whatever.Social-Networking-Sites

About the same time, I began shifting my thinking about writing and getting published from traditional to indie. I knew indie musicians, and I liked the model: play, connect with fans, sell some merch, move on, create some buzz, focus on the art without the nonsense of a label taking 98% of your earnings.  Talking to other writer friends who ghost-wrote and self-published, I heard their praise for indie. Made sense to me.

What I knew nothing about was marketing. Ah, they said. Write something good and use Social Media.

Huh? How does that work. MySpace disappeared into the Internet’s great void. What am I supposed to do with Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest? “Make yourself know,” I was told. “It’s like a cocktail party. Circulate.”

That was 2009. I was on Facebook because that’s where members of my family decided to post pictures – if I wanted to see them, I had to go there. I dipped my toe into the waters of Twitter, and have come to find it useful for may things, in my career as a journalist and as an indie author.

I’m not a very visual person and don’t take many pictures, so I haven’t got up to speed with a site such as Pinterest. But I’m told that’s a good place for any indie entrepreneur to go.

And then there’s blogging. I’m no fan of New Year’s resolutions, but I can tell  you, I’m convinced of the value of blogs and blogging. As a longtime newspaper reporter and editor, I know the value and drawbacks to writing a weekly column. In essence, that’s what a blog is. This post, really, is a column.

My conclusion regarding Social Media: it’s never going away. It’s a vital tool to reach like-minded people, and essential for communicating information to customers, friends and fans.

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

To sign up for my monthly newsletter, visit my website www.josephmarkbrewer.com and get the latest on my Shig Sato Mystery series and other stories. See you there!


I am an indie publishing noob

This is my confiteor:
When it came to wading into the pool of indie publishing, I did everything wrong.head_inmonitor
I had all the typical resources available to newbie author: great people are out in social media to help folks like me get started. Lots of good information. Really.
I just didn’t get it.
What I had in mind was launching my first book by a certain day in 2013. I read up on book marketing and indie publishing and came away with something I thought I could deal with. I had a book – the first in a series. Most of it is mapped out. Some it is written. I had it edited (not very well, either). I had an idea for a book cover a friend whipped into shape. I had no money for advertising.
I had no advance print copies – it’s an ebook – and I didn’t really reach out to bloggers and reviewers nor take advantage of some promotions offered at some web sites. I had both the second book in the series and the third book in the series half-written when I realized the third book should be the second book – big u-turn there.I released the first book during the holidays with no marketing plan other than playing around with free/99c. I have this blog that sometimes I really think is a waste of time. I have a website I put together (and don’t like). I created a Facebook pageand a Goodreads page.
But I had no budget for anything: editing, covers, marketing, no advertising, no membership to any groups or services to promote the book, and no email list.
I had no plan to have a print-on-demand copy or an audiobook until ‘sometime in the future’ – I had a plan that it might happen in year 2 (but the plan is very flexible).

Here’s what happened:
Had an advance order period of about three weeks – no orders, lots of downloads to check out the first few chapters of the book.
Heard from a dozen friends/readers who point out over 30 typos in the book.
Sought out some reviews – I got a few, mostly positive.
Did not know until two months later, after I made some corrections and raised the price of the book to $2.99, I had about 800 free downloads and about 80 sales at 99c. I didn’t monitor sales at all. I was busy writing Book 2.
On one vendor’s site I read reviews – mostly good – that I did not know I had. So I wasn’t tracking any response to the book.
On another site I had sales number less than a dozen throughout 2014 – at any price.
I did not finish Book 2 in time to take advantage of anything positive from book one. Book 2 remains unfinished, no cover art. Book 3 is half finished.
I still don’t have an email list.

What I learned:
For me,  writing every day is essential – I lose whatever momentum I have if I skip more than one day. Marketing sometimes can be more important than writing – pay attention to it, but remember to write every day. Social media is essential, but it’s no substitute for writing the stories or marketing. I now understand the value of an email list: I could have begun finding out who my readers are and sharing more of my stories with them. And I understand the value of promoting the book several months in advance, getting advance reviews, joining websites to promote and to find readers. Even $40 a month for marketing is better than nothing, and a lot of the free stuff out there is good, but limited. And social media is what you make of it: I found some good author-centric support and advice groups who want people to succeed. Curiously, I saw my sales rank rise 700,000 spots on Amazon if I sell just one book (image what it would be if I sold two, or five, or 10). Equally, that my sales rank can fall from 800,000 to 1,200,000 pretty fast when I don’t sell any books – as of this writing, it’s at 1,258,792.

Budgeting time is more important than budgeting money. But mostly, that being an indie author means you are an entrepreneur, that everything is on you. Get the help you need, pay for it if you can, do the heavy slogging and learn.

I have faith in my ability to write. What I don’t have is the marketing know-how. I have no marketing chops whatsoever – all of 2014 had been one gigantic cram session. I still have no confidence in what I’m doing, but I’ve learned a lot. Treat is seriously, and good things happen. Treat is like an afterthought, and that’s what it will become.

So as I tidy Book 1, finish Book 2 and 3, and begin writing Book 4, I know I have a lot of work to do. But it’s worth it. Why? Because shortly after I wrote the first book, I received this surprise, via Facebook:

“Just finished your 1st book and Chapter 1 of book 2. Bravo Sir, I’m a fan of your work. Love the characters, love the plot lines. Cannot wait for more!!”

Back to it, then.



One reason why we create

Richard Johnson of the Washington Post answers the question “Why We Draw” in a poignant article that appeared Dec. 31.  Johnson drew pictures of his infant son in neonatal intensive care as a way of coping with the boy’s heart condition after his birth.

Johnson says, “I don’t really remember the person I was before he was born. I don’t think any of us really become the person we are until we face some adversity. In this case, having a sick child made me the person I am, and in a way, he even taught me to draw. I owe him a lot and I don’t think he even knows it.”

I know what he means. My son was born two months ahead of his due date when his mother developed eclampsia. Although she had been feeling unwell, one evening she said she was feeling better, and since she had an appointment at her clinic the following day, we began an evening typical for most expecting parents: laying in bed, watching television, and making plans for the birth. Despite language and cultural barriers, we decided to remain in that city for the birth. We had found excellent support and believed we could manage. We were confident the experience would be memorable.neonat

She began convulsing at about 10 in the evening, and by 1 a.m., was at her doctor’s clinic. The nurses sent me home, to return when the clinic re-opened. When I did, I learned she suffered more convulsions during the night, and was taken to a hospital I had never heard of. I rushed to find the hospital, then the maternity ward, then a doctor who spoke English, and learned that in order to save my wife’s life, the baby would be delivered by c-section. My son came out in good form. My wife survived. She spent a month in hospital, the baby two months in NICU. We left Canada about six weeks after his release.

I remember these events not only because they are burned into my mind even after 24 years, but because from the moment I returned from the clinic, I began keeping notes on what was happening. My journalism training kicked in. Aside from wanting to record all the details for family so far away, I was in a mental state where everything is reduced to its most elemental. For me, it was writing. Take notes. Get the facts. Write what  others were saying. Write what I was feeling. Make sense of a confusing time. I knew I had a story to tell, if only for me, and for her, and the baby.

Why do we draw? Why do we create art? Why do we tell stories? All artists have their reasons. For me, I think it’s important to remember that our creativity erupts when our world is turned upside down, and there’s nothing left for us to do but pick up a pencil and draw, or pick up a notebook and begin writing, in the hope that after a while, the world will make sense again. And maybe, we will have created something to remember, if only for ourselves.

Caveat Venditor—Five Mistakes KILLING Self-Published Authors

Joseph Mark Brewer:

One of the best posts yet on what an indie writer must be aware of. No. 2 is me all over. I’m taking a break from writing to address it (and No. 3, 4 and 5!) if you’re an indie, this is for you

Originally posted on Kristen Lamb's Blog:

Rise of the Machines Human Authors in a Digital World, social media authors, Kristen Lamb, WANA, Rise of the Machines

All right, it’s about to be a brand new year and many of you are wanting to finally see your books published. ROCK ON! But, I am the friend who will tell you if there is toilet paper hanging out of your pants. Writing isn’t all glitter and unicorns and I want to warn you of the most common stumbling blocks, because I really DO want you to succeed.

When I began writing I was SO SURE agents would be fighting over my manuscript. Yeah. But after almost fourteen years in the industry, a lot of bloody noses, and even more lessons in humility, I hope that these tips will help you.

Self-publishing is AWESOME, and it’s a better fit for certain personalities and even content (um, social media?), but we must be educated before we publish. In fact, my last book Rise of the Machines (cover above) is much…

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