Thank you all for your comments on my last post. I still haven’t made up my mind about the C-section, but your stories and experiences have helped me relax a little about the decision. Thank you! I’ll see my doctor tomorrow, and I’m looking forward to talking through the options with her, as well.
But now, back to books. I had the pleasure of talking with Suzanne Kamata on the phone when she was in the U.S. a few weeks ago for the holidays and the release of her debut novel, Losing Kei. If you read this blog regularly, you know that I’m a fan of her writing and have used her essays in my Mother Words class.
Losing Kei is the story of Jill Parker, an American painter who settles in a small Japanese seaside village. Parker soon meets Yusuke, an art gallery owner, who takes an interest in her and her art. They fall in love and marry, but marriage to an eldest son proves difficult and their marriage is full of conflict.
Below is an interview with Suzanne:
Kate: Can you talk a little bit about how your process changes depending on whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction?
Suzanne: My process is basically the same regardless of genre. I write randomly, not beginning to end. I write scenes and memories that I find compelling and then figure out how to put them together. I do usually have a scheme or narrative arc in mind when I write, though I try to leave myself open to surprises. I actually had a different ending in mind for Losing Kei, but I realized it wouldn’t be realistic.
Kate: Because I’ve read a number of your essays, I can see some of your life experiences in the novel even though it’s clearly fiction. Do you ever run into people who read your fiction as nonfiction?
Suzanne: I think all fiction is autobiographical to some degree, and my fiction is no different. The scene in the first chapter of Losing Kei takes place at a real park near my home. In earlier drafts of the book I thought about giving Jill fertility problems, which I also experienced, but then I realized her marriage wasn’t strong enough to go through that. I was able to distance myself more in later drafts.
Kate: What kind of writing community do you have in Japan?
Suzanne: I’m in an odd position because I’m not known in Tokushima. Mostly I’m published in English-language magazines, so Japanese readers don’t really care about my work, and I’ve been gone from the U.S. so long that I don’t have a local community here either. I have a number of expatriate friends in Japan who read and write, however, and I have an online writing group with other expatriate writers there. I live on an island, which can be isolating, but I connect with people, and other writers, everyday via the internet.
Kate: Has motherhood changed you as a writer?
Suzanne: My subject matter certainly has changed. Motherhood provides great material, as you know. My writing time is also much more precious. I used to have evenings and whole weekends to write, but I actually got very little done. After I had kids, I realized there was no time to procrastinate. I became much more disciplined and learned to write in ten or twenty minute increments. This shortage of time also helped me turn off my inner editor. Before, I felt every word I put on the page needed to be publishable, but I stopped worrying about that, and I discovered that writing is much more fun when you’re not always worrying about publishing.
Kate: How do you balance writing and all the other roles you play—the life stuff?
Suzanne: Now that my kids are in school, I write during the day. I think my husband dreams that I would be a better housewife and a better cook—Japanese women seem to be cleaning from the time they get up until night—but I decided I wasn’t going to do that. So this regard, I’m sort of a failure in Japan. But I’m doing what’s important to me, and I remind myself that the day after I die, the dust will collect in corners anyway, so I might as well not worry about it.