Topsy-Turvy World

  

I was a bit depressed this afternoon because it’s finally starting to sink in that this new way of life is not just a two-week or a month-long situation but something long-term. Everything we’ve experienced or known so far is now topsy-turvy. I’m a person who likes to plan, knowing full well that plans do change. Now I’m realizing I can’t even attempt to plan because this is such unchartered territory. I mean, we can look at the 1918 influenza or what my parents went through–the bombing of Hiroshima, but this is a very specific time with new global connections, high-technology and economies.

On a very micro, personal level, Tulo is old, estimated age of 14 years, who probably has Cushing’s disease but I don’t want to put him on strong (and expensive) medication. He has to pee all the time, especially at night, so even though I took him on two walks today, I go out at sunset for his third. And lo and behold, the sky is gorgeous, streaks of pink against the blue, and I find myself angry. Like why is the sky so beautiful? Does the Heavens know how we are suffering right now? Nonetheless, I chase the skyline–not only because I want to take pictures to put it on social media (!) but also because I want to capture its fleeting beauty. As my dog and I walk home, I tell myself that I need to savor these small, good moments even though in some ways, it’s weirdly painful. And walking underneath some trees, I smell jasmine (a good sign because I heard you lose your sense of smell when you have COVID-19). It is strong and fragrant. I don’t know if I can be as fragrant during this time of unknowing. But the fact that I saw and smelled must mean something.

The Great Pause and Writers of Color

I’ll be honest with you all. I’m decimated by this Great Pause and how it will affect writers and specifically writers of color. Just when it seemed like we were gaining traction in certain circles–the publishing world seemed to finally be listening to Latinx writers and their criticisms of AMERICAN DIRT and #ownvoices contracts seemed to be flourishing. Young friends were getting streaming deals for their diverse content. The African American mystery writer, Barbara Neely, whose novels made me feel less alone, was chosen to be feted at the Edgar Awards.

Now we have to take some steps back. Okay, Naomi, don’t be so dark. I know my family are fighters–damn, we survived a nuclear holocaust, so we got this, right?

A part of me just wants to be more passive and “realistic” and continue to look at my projected income and expenses in the next few years and cross out some numbers. I still am going to do that in anticipation of a worst-case scenario but it occurred to me this morning that I have also consider a best-case scenario. A scenario in which we fight this force with ingenuity and optimism.

This is going to require all the smarts, skills, creativity and camaraderie we can muster. If we are complacent and think that life will be restored exactly how we left it pre-coronavirus, we will most likely be battered by the killer wave that’s coming for us. There’s no doubt that we need to do something different.

On Sunday I participated in a virtual Potluck and Poetry reading on the video conference platform Zoom, organized by Scott Oshima, Sustainable Little Tokyo Program director. In this session in which we were eating our individual meals in different locations, I was exposed to the literature and concerns of Tongvans who are native to Southern California. For a couple of hours, I was transported to a world that I didn’t know but should know.

Frankly I was skeptical of what an online exchange could do for me, but you know what, it was actually sustaining. Nothing will beat a face-to-face meeting, but the use of this technology is an alternative that has possibilities.

Come back here and look for new ideas that we need to employ. If you want to contribute a blog post, let me know at bachi@naomihirahara.com.

Here a debut writer shares what she’s doing to launch her book “in the middle of a global pandemic”:

Launching a Debut Novel in Middle of a Global Pandemic

This Season of Discovery

What a difference a week makes!

Just last week I was writing about my quandary about attending a couple of out-of-town mystery events and now both have been canceled because of the coronavirus outbreak. Since Sunday I’ve been sheltering in place with my husband and, of course, Tulo.

It’s an uncertain season with many people suffering, either physically, financially and emotionally. I mourn that. I’ve been spending my time writing and cleaning our second bedroom for a possible displaced college student. This bedroom has been in disastrous, my dumping ground for research and correspondence. In sorting through papers, I found a memo pad with the name and phone number of my first acquiring editor. I realized that was from 2003, when the first Mas Arai mystery was purchased by Bantam Dell, an imprint of Random House. I also came across the commemorative booklet that I had created for my father’s funeral in 2012. It reminded me of my parents’ legacy as Hiroshima atomic-bomb survivors. They both went through one of the most horrific singular events in the 20th Century. It was something that did haunt my father at times, but he mostly led a life of joy–joy for fishing, joy for games, and joy of family.

Hold onto those things during this season. We will get through this.

Coronavirus Dilemma: Cancel or Not to Cancel?

It’s so stressful to figure out whether to cancel out-of-town book appearances during this time when we don’t know enough about the coronavirus.

This is my writing year, so I don’t have much lined up but I do have two events (more than a hundred people) for this month. I will be attending Left Coast Crime San Diego, but always planned a low-key presence. I have one panel, an improv performance, a small celebratory dinner for one of the honorees, and a few small get-togethers. I’ll be driving and I’m not staying the conference hotel (more because of financial reasons plus I was considering bringing Tulo–I’m not going to).

The following week, I was planning to travel to Chicago participate in Murder and Mayhem writers conference at Roosevelt University and Noir at the Bar at one of the Chicago’s new bookstores. I also intended to do more research on my manuscript-in-progress, which is set in Chicago. As I’m a working novelist, I usually travel bare bones–like Spirit Airlines with one bag without my laptop and staying in my own room in a hostel-like hotel. Thinking of about this kind of solo discount travel through LAX with also the looming cloud of the coronavirus did me in. I’m healthy, but I do have regular contact with my 83-year-old mother. And my old neurotic dog will probably have a nervous breakdown if I’m away for a length of time.

So it’s yes to the drive to San Diego with proper precaution (bringing Lysol and sanitizing wipes) and limited activity and no to Chicago. I’m sad about the decision about Chicago, but it feels right to me.

My Upcoming Year of the Three Cs

I’m already anticipating 2020 as my year of the three Cs: cultivation, creativity and contemplation.

Other than being a part of a short story anthology, I won’t have any new books published. Although I’ll still be attending three mystery conventions–two in my home state of California, I won’t be on that hamster wheel of a self-financed book tour. Both my husband and dog will be very happy.

I’ll be spending a big chunk of my time at the living room table, typing away on my laptop, traveling in my mind to 1944 Chicago and contemporary Kaua’i. And while I look forward to deep and sustained times of story cultivation, I know that I also need to be careful not to get into trouble on various social media platforms, the freelance writer’s water cooler. Here’s where the contemplation comes in.

It doesn’t surprise me that mindfulness and meditation have been incorporated in many writer retreats and even healthcare programs. We’re not going to last long relying only on our limited physical bodies to carry us through these uncertain times. So I’m going to attempt to let go more, even perhaps release my identity as writer. I’ll still be writing but I’m going to check my motivations for my actions more. I want to get used to being on the sidelines, listening and observing.

 

First Person Female

I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s taken me a while to grab hold of my female voice. Maybe a psychoanalyst can figure out why, but then again the reasons may not be germane.

After my third Mas Arai mystery (that series is all written in the third person), I wrote a middle-grade book, 1001 CRANES. I initially started it from an adult woman’s POV, but my agent at the time, shook her head. “Naomi,” she told me, “the teenage voice in flashbacks is much stronger than the adult one.”

Darnit! Foiled again. So I went back and rewrote the book as one for a younger readership. The protagonist was first fourteen but then moved back to twelve. It was written in the  first person.

Somehow 1001 CRANES opened a dam for me. I was able to reclaim an adolescent girl’s voice. Although it wasn’t a bestseller, it was well received and was recognized by the Asian American Librarians Association. Delacorte issued it as a Yearling paperback, belonging to line which I had voraciously read as a child.

From that protagonist, Angela “Angie” Inui, I was able to grow into twentysomething Ellie Rush and then twentysomething Leilani Santiago in Hawai’i. I’ve also written a number of short stories in both first and third persons in the female voice.

The standalone historic thriller that I’m writing right now is also first person female. She’s Aki Ito, again a twentysomething woman, but this time a Nisei in the 1940s. I’m enjoying the writing process immensely. I can meld my passion for history with my love for women on the cusp of adulthood. I’ve attempted for years to get into the head of a “typical” second-generation Japanese American women. I want to capture the optimism and practicality of this generation yet also dive into the darkness of trauma. Even as a journalist and social historian in the Japanese American community, I’ve always tried to reconcile the smiling faces and immaculate appearances of Nisei women with the stark reality of their incarceration experience in World War II camps.  Were they in denial? Were they putting up a show for the cameras? And how were they able to keep their hair so well styled?

Writing this in first person is essential for me. I want to remove any filters or interpretation that an omniscient narrator can provide. Every writer brings their unique strength to a creative work. I feel as a postwar Nisei myself and historian of Japanese America, I can bring Aki Ito alive in her own words.