Cristy Burne

Blending STEM, literacy and creativity to enthuse, engage and empower


4 Comments

Awesome kids site: Folk legends of Japan

I’ve just discovered a terrific site for kids (and big kids) interested in learning more about Japan: Kids Web Japan.

There’s a cool section on Japanese folk tales, including the Tongue-cut Sparrow, The Mouse’s Wedding, and Japan’s tale of star-crossed lovers, Tanabata. Plus, of course, my favourite folktale: Momotaro, the story of a boy born in a peach.

(When I was living in Japan, my third year students performed their own version of Momotaro at our school’s cultural festival, writing the entire script in English and performing to the whole school. It was brilliant!)(We also did Hashire Meros, based on a short story by revered Japanese author, Osamu Dazai.)

Anyway, back to this terrific site: You can learn about sumo, explore a virtual Japanese house, try your hand at cooking… It’s brilliant fun.

Working, writing, playing!
I’ve been flat out this week preparing for school visits next week (the last week of school – YAY!) and library visits (school holidays – YAY!) and I’m absolutely loving Monster Matsuri…it’s a funny, scary and exciting book…Just the sort of thing I love to read. I’m nearing the end of the first draft but I know there’s lots more work to do.

I love writing!!
But MAN…I love writing. It’s so cool to invent a world and people who live in it, and then spend ages playing with them. I used to love playing with lego (and we’ve just introduced Fergus to lego too…he thinks everything is an aeroplane), and writing is just like playing with lego. You get a few pieces (words) and plug them together in different ways (sentences), and then you play with them for hours. FUN!

Off for more of that then!

xxx


7 Comments

8 cool myths about dogs, and why the inugami dog-god didn’t make it

The Filth Licker is almost finished and I’m flat out researching for book 3 of the Takeshita Demons trilogy, Monster Matsuri. All this research reminded me: just because a book has a plan, doesn’t mean things always go to plan. A big example of this is the inugami.

Inugami, exit stage left

The Filth Licker was supposed to feature an inugami, but in the end I chickened out. Why?

Because I felt inugami were too scary and too gruesome for 8 to 12 year olds. I know: they probably see more gruesome stuff just watching the news, but still, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. So, the inugami was executed (so to speak).

What is an inugami?

The inugami or dog-god is a spirit created by starving a living dog to death, usually by burying it up to its neck. (I know: pretty awful. That’s why I couldn’t include it in a children’s book.)

The inugami remains faithful to the person who created it, using its powers for their good fortune. Families in possession of an inugami (called ‘inugami-mochi’) are said to be very powerful and are able to cause illness in enemies and bring wealth to allies. In the Oki islands, belief in inugami is so strong that there are specific regions where inugami-mochi families live, and it is wise to determine the inugami status of the family you intend to marry into before you tie the knot.

But, just because the inugami didn’t make it past the first draft, doesn’t mean it’s not incredibly interesting. And, the inugami is just one small part of a wealth of fascinating dog mythology. While researching inugami, I discovered a heap of other interesting stuff about dogs:

8 of the coolest things I discovered about the mythology surrounding dogs

1) Dogs have supernatural vision
Dogs can see fairies, hobgoblins and elves in their true form, and will bark to let you know such creatures are nearby. Because their sight is so keen, they’re difficult to trick. Ordinary shape-changers, like the kitsune (fox) and tanuki (badger) can’t work their magic on a dog.

2) Dogs can foresee disaster
If a dog climbs up to the roof of a building, a fire is certain to break out nearby. Also, if a dog starts howling at night, it could mean a coming earthquake or approaching death.

3) Dogs can unearth or protect buried treasure
If you’d like to discover gold or precious jewels buried in the forest, your best bet is to travel with a dog. They’re constantly digging up treasure, probably because they’re closely associated with the underworld of the dead. If you’re traveling with a three-legged dog (or, even better, a three-headed dog), you’re in for especial luck.

4) Dogs can be terrible liars
Many years ago, when dogs could still talk, a dog tricked his master into the lair of a hungry bear. The bear promptly ate the man, leaving the dog free to woo his widow. Back at home, the dog tried to convince the widow that his master’s last request was that the dog should marry her in his stead. Angry and grieving, and not at all fooled, the widow tossed a handful of dust into the dog’s mouth. And voila: the dog could speak no more.

5) Old dogs should be closely watched
The older a dog gets, the wiser it becomes. Very old dogs are so clever they can possess the living (or the dead) and can even turn into vampires. The best approach, then, is to kill the old dog before it grows too powerful.

6) Old white dogs should be watched even more closely
Enormous white dogs, especially those living in the mountains, could quite possibly be mountain deities. Such dogs are difficult to kill: those who try are severely punished along with their entire village. To keep these spirits happy, a yearly sacrifice (usually a virgin) is a must. The dog may eat or keep the virgin, depending on his mood.

7) Dog spirits are afraid of skewer spirits
If you find your luscious tidbits are always disappearing, they’re probably being eaten by dog ghosts, who have a terrible sweet tooth. A simple way to protect your nibblies is to string them on a skewer: the spirit of the skewer will keep the thieving spirits at bay.

8 ) The smaller the dog, the greater its power
Dogs bred to work as companions to witches and wizards are uncommonly small, about the size of a mouse. Don’t worry if you’re the only person who can see the tiny dog: they’re usually invisible to all except one member of the family.

Other posts you might enjoy:

Could Harry Potter’s Invisibility Cloak really make someone invisible?

How to write a synopsis: four big secrets and an example

4 ways to recognise a Japanese iso-onna vampire

Selective genetics or ghosts reborn? Legend of the Samurai crabs

Dogs have supernatural vision

Dogs can see fairies, hobgoblins and elves in their true form, and will bark to let you know such creatures are nearby. Because their sight is so keen, they’re difficult to trick. Ordinary shape-changers, like the kitsune (fox) and tanuki (badger) can’t work their magic on a dog.

Dogs can foresee disaster

If a dog climbs up to the roof of a building, a fire is certain to break out nearby. Also, if a dog starts howling at night, it could mean a coming earthquake or approaching death.

Dogs can unearth or protect buried treasure

If you’d like to discover gold or precious jewels buried in the forest, your best bet is to travel with a dog. They’re constantly digging up treasure, probably because they’re closely associated with the underworld of the dead. If you’re traveling with a three-legged dog (or, even better, a three-headed dog), you’re in for especial luck.

Dogs can be terrible liars

Many years ago, when dogs could still talk, a dog tricked his master into the lair of a hungry bear. The bear promptly ate the man, leaving the dog free to woo his widow. Back at home, the dog tried to convince the widow that his master’s last request was that the dog should marry her in his stead. Angry and grieving, and not at all fooled, the widow tossed a handful of dust into the dog’s mouth. And voila: the dog could speak no more.

Old dogs should be closely watched

The older a dog gets, the wiser it becomes. Very old dogs are so clever they can possess the living (or the dead) and can even turn into vampires. The best approach, then, is to kill the old dog before it grows too powerful.

Old white dogs should be watched even more closely

Enormous white dogs, especially those living in the mountains, could quite possibly be mountain deities. Such dogs are difficult to kill: those who try are severely punished along with their entire village. To keep these spirits happy, a yearly sacrifice (usually a virgin) is a must. The dog may eat or keep the virgin, depending on his mood.

Dog spirits are afraid of skewer spirits

If you find your luscious tidbits are always disappearing, they’re probably being eaten by dog ghosts, who have a terrible sweet tooth. A simple way to protect your nibblies is to string them on a skewer: the spirit of the skewer will keep the thieving spirits at bay.

The smaller the dog, the greater its power

Dogs bred to work as companions to witches and wizards are uncommonly small, about the size of a mouse. Don’t worry if you’re the only person who can see the tiny dog: they’re usually invisible to all except one member of the family.


1 Comment

Ride on the yokai train? I’d be too scared!

BAKE-DEN NI NOTTE
Ride the “Transforming Train”

YOKAI SUTORITTO E!
To Yokai Street!

The awesome artwork on the left is part of a promo for the Bake-den, a train service in Kyoto that occasionally features some spooky Japanese monsters, or yokai.

Bakeru is a verb meaning  “to transform” (pronounced BA as in BARber;  KE as in KEttle, and RU as in RUde), and while the bake-den might look like an ordinary train, it’s not!

Sometimes the train transforms into the Yokai Train,  and in this case the yokai aren’t content to stay as pictures on the outside of the train: they manifest and ride the train (and no surprises there, because while adults have to pay 200 yen for their ticket, and kids ride half price, yokai only have to pay 50 yen, so why would they walk?).

The whole train is lit in eerie blue, hands hang from the roof, actors dressed as monsters board the train and sit next to human passengers. It sounds great, except YOU CAN’T GET OFF THE TRAIN the instant you get scared. That, for me, makes it way too scary.

I’m not sure how I feel about the yokai train: it’s a cool idea, but in some of the YouTube footage the kids are REALLY REALLY scared and very unhappy (“iya” = disgusting; “kowai” = scary; “da-me” = bad)(this short video gives you an idea without being too harrowing), and I think that’s overstepping the mark. Ghost stories should be fun, not leave you with psycological damage.

The best thing about reading a scary story is that you can always close the book, and the scariness stops. I hate the idea of being scared and not being able to make the scariness go away. (I don’t watch scary movies and I *hate* Horror Houses and that kind of thing)(ergh).

Anyway, the train gives you an idea of how popular yokai are in Japan. The yokai on the train are inspired by the Ge-Ge-Ge no Kitaro manga series, created by the amazing and prolific Shigeru Mizuki.

And I guess my response gives you an insight into me: I’m a scaredy cat! I don’t like being scared and I think stories should be exciting and thrilling and leave you hanging on the edge of your seat, not leave you with nightmares.

Especially for childrens books. I prefer scary stories that EMPOWER the kids who read them, not leave them quaking.


2 Comments

The JET program, budget cuts and Return On Investment

My students meet my sisters on their holiday

Yokozo Japan!
I studied Japanese at high school, but my first trip to Japan was as part of the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program, or JET, a huge international exchange program that now has 50,000 alumni around the world. I was a JET in Kawanishi (the town Miku Takeshita and her family come from ;-)).

Mata ne, JET?
Thanks to JET, I had two brilliant years in Japan. However, the chance for other young people to share this experience is under threat: the Japanese government are considering a massive cut to the JET program’s budget, and although this is not surprising, given that  Japan has to tighten its economic belt, it is sad.

Remember, though, that JET began 22 years ago, when seeing a foreigner in Japan was as rare as seeing a sushi train in an Aussie department store.

Now, more than 50,000 young people have worked and lived in Japan as part of the JET program, which means tens of thousands of people carry a warm flame for Japan in their hearts.

Return On Investment: JET the catalyst
Warm flames aside, the Japanese government need to show concrete return on their JET investment, and fair enough too. In economic terms, my time in JET has sparked a whole heap:

– Education: As a JET I worked as an Assistant Language Teacher at the local high school, interacting with Japanese students and teachers, trying kyudo (archery) or chado (tea ceremony) and never quite brave enough to try kendo (you have got to be kidding!).  I encouraged my students to write and perform theatre, to create stories, to talk to each other in a foreign language, and I still keep copies of their work, and photos of our time together (we even performed our theatre at the school Cultural Festival…in English! Woo hoo!). I also worked with the Parent Association, holding English classes for interested parents and hosting our very own quiz. It was great fun!

– Tourism: My family of four visited me in Japan twice, and both times we traveled all over the country. I’ve also returned on a holiday with my husband and continue to encourage everyone I know to spend some time traveling in Japan. (My aunt and uncle were there just last month!)

– Industry: After JET I returned to Japan for a year, working as a technical editor for a Japanese company, contributing directly to the Japanese economy and continuing the good work that JET began.

– Arts: My time on JET directly inspired the creation of Takeshita Demons, a children’s novel that features a Japanese heroine, Japanese culture and traditional Japanese demons, or yokai. Takeshita Demons won the 2009 Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Children’s Book Award and has been selected as part of the UK’s highly respected Booked Up program. It will be published in the UK, the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and hopefully beyond. Children everywhere are reading Takeshita Demons, learning more about Japan, and sharing JET’s vision for an international, multicultural world.

And remember: it’s 100% humidity

Multiculturalism: While working as a JET I assumed I was the only gaijin or foreigner living in Kawanishi – I never saw another in the street or in the shops, although other gaijin did live in neighbouring towns. With my white skin and unruly hair, I stuck out. I also did things differently: ate strange things at strange times, laughed at odd moments, marveled at ordinary things. And all of this is potent medicine for cultural understanding and cultural exchange. Now, thanks to JET, Japan is a much more international place than it was.

Internet shopping: My house is decorated with Japanese art and pottery and furniture, my bookshelves are covered in Japanese dictionaries and literature, my pantry is full of dashi and miso and mirin…

…and my head is full of Japanese memories and culture and warmth.

The influence of JET extends far beyond the classroom, acting to promote Japan and the Japanese culture whereever JET alumni are. In my case, I could never have written Takeshita Demons without my JET experiences.

So what to do?

In these lean times and hard times, it may be that Japan needs the JET alumni more than ever. That said, perhaps JET has done its job? There are thousands of ex-JETs spreading their enthusiasm for Japan globally, and Japan is a much more multicultural place than when JET first began. So what to do?

I respect the need to budget and perhaps the JET program is a more sensible target than health or science. But, whatever happens, the good work of JET should be celebrated and recognised and hopefully, in times more flush with cash, continued.


9 Comments

It’s here! But how do you pronounce “Takeshita”?

My first copy of Takeshita Demons arrived in the post! Wheee! It’s very strange, and it certainly doesn’t feel like “my” book. The letters that spell my name on the cover just seem to be some random jumble of foreign symbols. Very odd.

Don’t you think it  looks GREAT!!!

So a few questions remain:

How do you pronounce “Takeshita”?

It’s the one question everyone is certain to ask me, and, if you’ve ever studied Japanese at school, you might have an idea.

The word “takeshita” is made up of “ta-ke” or 竹, meaning bamboo, and “shita” or 下, meaning beneath.

TA: “ta” sounds like “ta-ta”, the word that many English-speaking babies use to say “goodbye”
KE: “ke” is the same as in “kettle” or “kennel”.
SHITA: The “shi” sounds like the English word “she” (as in “she studies Japanese”) and the second “ta” also rhymes with the English word “ta-ta”, but is squashed together into one syllable with the “shi”, making a sound like “sh-ta”

How do you write “takeshita” in kanji?

The kanji used to write “takeshita”are really cool, because they look like the word they describe:

Check out “ta-ke” or bamboo: 竹
You can imagine the two long vertical lines are long, straight bamboo plants, reaching to the sky. The details at the top of the kanji are like the leaves of the bamboo, waving in the breeze.

And “shita” or beneath looks like this: 下
There’s one long horizontal line at the top of the kanji, and then everything else is below or beneath that line.

HOW COOL IS THAT!!!!!

I love kanji, and I love Japanese language. It sounds SO beautiful and fluid, and it’s so logical, so the rules of grammar and spelling are easy to learn. And that’s a huge relief for me!!! (My least favourite grammar rule is “I before E except after C” because it’s not even a real rule!!!!!)

“I give you”

I met some cool kids at a wedding on the weekend (and two of them, incidentally, spoke Japanese!) and it was ace to play with them on the kiddies’ table while all the adults made conversation instead.  We played heaps of games, including “I give you”, which we made up on the spot. In the game, you take turns giving each other imaginary gifts: you can give powers, or magical instruments, or, if you think someone’s getting too many powerful gifts, you can give them a giant toad or an empty swimming pool, just to even things out 😉 It was GREAT! One of the greatest bits about being an author for children is that you get to play with kids. YAY!


2 Comments

Part of the e-bookery future? Step into “The Winter House”

Check it out! I know this is just the tip of the  iceberg, but it’s still very cool. It’s interactive fiction: “a story you can talk to.”

Have a go and let me know what you think.

I think: exciting, engaging, interactive… You can read it with a friend and not feel like you’re waiting for them to finish. There’s spooky music and sound effects. There’s mystery clues. And you have to follow your nose for the story to continue. I love it.

I love Ye Olde Fashioned books, don’t get me wrong. But, having moved house about a billion times in the last ten years, proper-paper-woah-that’s-heavy-oh-no-get-me-to-a-chiropractor books do have their limitations.

Are things more fun when you can get your hands dirty?

That said, a recent post by Angela Meyer (Show Me Your Spines) showcased the pile of books beside her bed, and looking at the pile made me realise: lugging paper books around does have a bonus.

Paper books must be shelved, stacked, put. They can’t hide away in your hard drive. They are in your face, screaming “Read me” or “Remember me” or just “Whee, aren’t books great.”

Fergus already has a stack of books he likes to “read”, and because we don’t have a shelf for them yet they generally flop around on the couch/floor/rug/table, spread out to take up maximum surface area, and thus to demand maximum attention. We’ve just ordered an iPad from the US, more as a plaything than a serious investment in e-bookery, but it will be interesting to see which of the two he prefers.


8 Comments

Japanese ghost stories: the yokai without a face

Born on Greek island in 1850, Lafcadio Hearn was quite the traveller, living in Ireland, the U.S., and the West Indies before settling in Japan.

Lafcadio Hearn, also known as Koizumi Yakumo, was a journalist best known for Kwaidan, his book of super-spooky Japanese ghost stories.

Hearn’s ghost story “Mujina” appears in Kwaidan and features a faceless yokai he calls a mujina, also known as a noppera-bō.

“Mujina” is reproduced below…
ENJOY! And…as you read it, just remember that similar mujina sightings have been more recently reported in Hawaii!

MUJINA, from Kwaidan
by Lafcadio Hearn

On the Akasaka Road, in Tokyo, there is a slope called Kii-no-kuni-zaka, which means the Slope of the Province of Kii. I do not know why it is called the Slope of the Province of Kii. On one side of this slope you see an ancient moat, deep and very wide, with high green banks rising up to some place of gardens; and on the other side of the road extend the long and lofty walls of an imperial palace.

Before the era of street-lamps and jinrikishas [rickshaws], this neighborhood was very lonesome after dark; and belated pedestrians would go miles out of their way rather than mount the Kii-no-kuni-zaka, alone, after sunset. All because of a Mujina that used to walk there.

The last man who saw the Mujina was an old merchant of the Kyobashi quarter, who died about thirty years ago. This is the story, as he told it:

One night, at a late hour, he was hurrying up the Kii-no-kuni-zaka, when he perceived a woman crouching by the moat, all alone, and weeping bitterly. Fearing that she intended to drown herself, he stopped to offer her any assistance or consolation in his power. She appeared to be a slight and graceful person, handsomely dressed; and her hair was arranged like that of a young girl of good family.

“O-jochu [young girl],” he exclaimed, approaching her, “O-jochu, do not cry like that!…Tell me what the trouble is; and if there be any way to help you, I shall be glad to help you.” (He really meant what he said; for he was a very kind man.)

But she continued to weep, hiding her face from him with one of her long sleeves.

“O-jochu,” he said again, as gently as he could, “please, please listen to me!… This is no place for a young lady at night! Do not cry, I implore you! — only tell me how I may be of some help to you!”

Slowly she rose up, but turned her back to him, and continued to moan and sob behind her sleeve.

He laid his hand lightly upon her shoulder, and pleaded: “O-jochu! O-jochu! O-jochu!… Listen to me, just for one little moment!… O-jochu! O-jochu!”

Then that O-jochu turned around, and dropped her sleeve, and stroked her face with her hand; — and the man saw that she had no eyes or nose or mouth,— and he screamed and ran away.

Up Kii-no-kuni-zaka he ran and ran; and all was black and empty before him. On and on he ran, never daring to look back; and at last he saw a lantern, so far away that it looked like the gleam of a firefly; and he made for it.

It proved to be only the lantern of an itinerant soba-seller who had set down his stand by the road-side; but any light and any human companionship was good after that experience; and he flung himself down at the feet of the soba-seller, crying out, “Ah! — aa!! — aa!!!”…

“Kore! kore! [Here, here]” roughly exclaimed the soba-man. “Here! what is the matter with you? Anybody hurt you?”

“No — nobody hurt me,” panted the other, “only… Ah! — aa!”

“Only scared you?” queried the peddler, unsympathetically. “Robbers?”

“Not robbers, not robbers,” gasped the terrified man… “I saw… I saw a woman — by the moat; — and she showed me… Ah! I cannot tell you what she showed me!”

“Ha! Was it anything like THIS that she showed you?” cried the soba-man, stroking his own face —which therewith became like unto an Egg

… And, simultaneously, the light went out.

Oooooooo! Spooky!

Interested in scary and strange Japanese mythology? You might also enjoy these posts:

Selective genetics or ghosts reborn? Legend of the Samurai crabs

Enma Daio, Datsue-ba, and one great reason to die with your clothes on

Japanese yokai memory game: test your memory, learn some Japanese and spook yourself out!

Do you love yokai and Japan? Check out these free resources. Have fun!

takeshitademons_blog-cover 4


Leave a comment

Slime-licking demons, taiko drums, and a very wriggly baby

akaname

Thanks to Patrick Gannon for this awesome idea of what an akaname might look like. I think one thing becomes very clear from reading this: you need to clean your bathroom people!

So it turns out one of the big things about publishing is that it takes longer than I ever imagined. Apparently Takeshita Demons will come out in June 2010, after being “unearthed” late April 2009. Translation: a fairly straightforward book takes longer to brew than a baby! I sit here 37 weeks pregnant. My book is only 5 weeks into its 56-week gestation. I guess I’ll just have to learn patience.

Clean your bathrooms people!

Since I last met with publisher Janetta I’ve put together a wicked proposal for two more Takeshita Demons books, both of which are super-scary and follow Miku and her pals on further supernatural adventures. It’s really amazing how many cool demons are out there. This time I managed to include my favourite, the akaname (aka-na-me). He’s a groovy little guy who likes to lick the slime from poorly cleaned bathrooms. He comes out at night, when you’re asleep in your bed, so if you wake up needing to go to the loo, watch out!! Check the bathroom ceiling, check inside the bath. If it’s been a while since you cleaned your bathroom, chances are the akaname is cleaning it for you.

Kodo’s “One Earth Tour”

And in other news, Doug and I went to see Kodo, the world’s most awesome taiko drumming group, at the Southbank Centre. They were incredible! Tickets were less than ten pounds and theykodoekkyo only played two nights: we snapped them up just in time. Their flyer says that taiko “is felt in the body, as much as heard,” and that’s entirely true. Kodo is a full-body experience. When those drums are going, the whole place is fizzing, your whole body is humming. The baby was going mental…he wriggled through the entire performance and was pretty much asleep all the next day.

Seeing Kodo is as much theatre as concert. The performers are as much athletes as they are musicians. Their stamina and muscular strength leave me gaping. The skill and control required to pound those drums with such rhythm and unrelenting power…breathtaking. We were in the second-back row and I could see thigh muscles rippling, back muscles shining: that’s the kind of power I’m talking. This was the second time I’d seen them (the first was in Japan) and both times the audience has erupted into joyous, spontaneous applause, clapping along to the finale and standing to give the players an ovation they truly deserved. If you ever get a chance to see them—especially for nine pounds—do it. It’s magic.


3 Comments

American writer in Japan: Suzanne Kamata on diversity, writing and winning the Indie Book Awards

My first introduction to Japan came as part of the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program, or JET to its fans. This is an incredible opportunity for young people all over the world to live and work in Japan, to experience Japanese culture from the “inside” (as much as is possible), and to form a life-long connection with Japan. As you can tell from Takeshita Demons, that connection is still strong for me (I’ve just been delivered a package from the Japan Centre: okonomiyaki ingredients, instant miso soup, canned green tea without the sugar: does it get any better than this?).

Suzanne_KamataBut I digress!
My purpose here is to introduce Suzanne Kamata, a JET from 1988-90 in Tokushima-ken, and a prolific writer heavily inspired by her experiences in Japan. Suzanne married a Japanese man and lives and writes in rural Japan with her “bicultural” twins. In addition to writing her own stuff, Suzanne is editor of LiteraryMama. This week Suzanne won several prizes in the 2009 Indie Book Awards (congratulations!!). She took some time-out from celebrating to answer some of my questions:

Interview with Suzanne Kamata – on diversity, writing and winning the Indie Book Awards

Me: What kind of stuff do you write?
Suzanne: My first love is fiction, so I mostly write short stories and novels, often with a multicultural theme. I write for both children and adults.  I also occasionally write essays, mostly when someone asks me to.

Me: Why did you start writing?
Suzanne: I’ve always written.  I started as a child, and never stopped.  I think that writing is fun and challenging. It’s sort of like golf, in that there is always room for improvement.

Me: Your novel Losing Kei describes the experience of an American woman living as a “fish out of water” in Japan. How much of your writing is inspired by your own experiences as a “gaijin” or foreigner living in Japan?
Suzanne:
A lot of it.  I find it harder and harder to write stories set in the United States, where I was born and raised. People always say “write what you know,” and I guess being a “fish out of water” is now what I know best. Having said that, Jill, the narrator of my novel, is not me. But her surroundings and some of her experiences – the visit to the art gallery to see the paintings of Yamashita Kikuji, for example – are based on mine.

Call me OkaasanMe: Your recent anthology, Call me Okaasan – Adventures in  Multicultural Mothering, just won two prizes in the 2009 Indie Book Awards. What inspired you to create this book?
Suzanne:
I’m pleased to report that it was also a Grand Prize winner of nonfiction overall!  This book was inspired by my becoming a mother. I read several books by children of multicultural backgrounds in an effort to understand what my Japanese/American children would be going through, but I always wondered about the mothers.  Since I couldn’t find any memoirs from the mothers’ point-of-view, and since attitudes toward raising multicultural children have changed in the past generation, I thought it was time for such a book.

Me: The Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices book award was introduced to encourage more diversity in children’s literature, and to promote social and cultural tolerance. Do you think there’s i) a need or ii) a market for children’s books that acknowledge and embrace multiculturalism?
Suzanne:
Definitely!  My own children are so thrilled when they find books featuring bicultural children or children with disabilities doing normal, fun things. I think it’s very important for kids to be exposed to kids with diverse backgrounds in this way. More and more families are multicultural these days, so there is more and more of a market for multicultural books, although not all publishers seem to understand this.

Me: What has been the response of Japanese people and press to your efforts as an American writing about Japan and Japanese culture?
Suzanne:
Because my writing is in English and none of my books have been translated into Japanese, the Japanese press (including the local newspaper) has ignored my books. My Japanese friends, however, have shown a great interest in my work, and when I read a translation of my picture book, Playing for Papa (which features a bicultural family in Japan, and a child with a disability engaged in normal, fun activities), to a group of Japanese children, they listened raptly.
Expatriates and the English-language press in Japan, on the other hand, have responded very enthusiastically and favourably.

Me: Who do you write for? Who do you hope will read your books?
Suzanne:
I guess I write for people like myself – expatriates, or English-speakers with an interest in other cultures.  Also, for children like mine – kids from bicultural families, and kids with disabilities.  But I hope that all kinds of kids will read my children’s stories and thereby become exposed to diversity.

Me: Favourite part of being a writer?
Suzanne:
Having someone say that they enjoyed or were moved by something I’ve written.

Me: Least favourite part of being a writer?
Suzanne:
Having someone trash my work on the Internet!

Me: One bit of advice to new writers?
Suzanne:
Join a critique group.  There are very few writers at any level who dash off a perfect first draft. We all need input.