For the last GCC tour of 2009, I have the pleasure of hosting Wendy Nelson Tokunaga, whose latest book from St. Martin's, LOVE IN TRANSLATION, just came out last week. Wendy is also the author of MIDORI BY MOONLIGHT, which the San Francisco Chronicle called a “terrific first novel.” Now she’s back with her second book, again exploring the themes of Japan and Japanese culture and being a stranger in a strange land, which have played a major role in her life and writing.
Can you tell us the basic premise of LOVE IN TRANSLATION? After receiving a puzzling phone call and a box full of mysterious family heirlooms, 33-year-old fledgling singer Celeste Duncan is off to Japan to search for a long, lost relative who could hold the key to the identity of the father she never knew. This overwhelming place where nothing is quite as it seems changes Celeste in ways she never expected, leading her to ask: What is the true meaning of family? And what does it mean to discover your own voice?
You use some fascinating musical references in your novel, and I know they play a significant role! Could you tell us a bit more about that? The power of music is a big theme in LOVE IN TRANSLATION. When the protagonist, Celeste Duncan, learns to sing a Japanese song called “The Wishing Star (Nozomi no Hoshi)” her life changes in ways she never imagined. This fictional song is depicted in the book as being a hit by a singer named Maki Kanda (also fictional) who is described as a typical performer of traditional “enka” music, which is a kind of torch song influenced by Western pop and blues. Because in another life I’ve been a singer who sings in Japanese, I turned this made-up song into a reality with the help of my husband who wrote the music. We have released the song as a free download on iTunes and on my website. (That is SO cool!! Here are a couple of links for anyone who'd like to hear it--I *loved* it! Download at Wendy's website or on iTunes.)
What inspired your book? Many things. LOVE IN TRANSLATION is my cockeyed valentine to Japan, which is a place I’ve both loved and loathed, a place that has fueled both fascination and frustration. And it is also a place that has had a huge impact on my life and writing. I also wanted to explore what it means to be a gaijin (foreigner) in Japan and the benefits and downsides of that status and what happens when a gaijin sings in Japanese. I also am fascinated by the concept of the homestay, (something I never experienced), and how that would impact someone as an adult who grew up in foster homes and who never experienced a real family.
If you weren’t writing, what would you be doing instead? I’d be singing. Before I started writing fiction I wrote songs, sang lead and played bass guitar in my own bands. Later on I got into singing Japanese karaoke. And further down the road I took voice lessons from a great Japanese jazz singer. I learned so much from her and was able to take my singing to a whole new level. I began to sing jazz standards with my husband accompanying me on keyboards. We play low-key venues once in a while but usually we just practice for fun at home.
What's one piece of writing advice you've found valuable on your journey to publication? Develop a thick skin and a gracious demeanor to deal with rejection because it is very likely that you will still experience it in some way, shape or form even after you’re published.
Which craft books have inspired or helped you throughout your writing career? There are many and some are not technically “craft” books such as “The Resilient Writer: Tales of Rejection and Triumph from 23 Top Authors” by Catherine Wald. Others include “bird by bird” by Anne Lamott, “The First Five Pages” by Noah Lukeman and “The Art & Craft of Novel Writing” by Oakley Hall.
What do you love about being an author? There’s so much that I enjoy. First, it’s great to be paid for something you love to do. But I also find it inspiring to help other writers. I enjoy telling my story of woe on my road to publication and let others know that they don’t need any special connections to the publishing world in order to get published. I like to promote the message that you should never give up. And if you work hard, keep at it and be flexible, your publishing dream may come true. I also like helping other writers make their work the best it can be.
Thanks so much for being here, Wendy. I loved hearing learning about this book and look forward to reading the story that accompanies your wonderful song!
I also had the honor of receiving a Creative Blogger Award from the very talented Chick with a Quill recently (thank you, Vesper!!!), but with all the running around of the Thanksgiving holidays and trying to meet a story deadline, I haven't yet had a chance to post my 7 trivial facts... Robin Bielman, however, just posted hers today and they're delightful! Stop by her blog and take a peek ;).
Up next: Book Club photos!!