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ENTRY

"What kind of books do you write?"
August 8, 2008

When people find out I'm a book writer, they ask, "What kind of books do you write?" I know the question is coming but I always cringe when I hear it. It's a legitimate question of course; the problem is I haven't figured out how to answer it.

If you've read my novels, you know why I cringe. I write in a relatively peculiar style employing sidebars, marginalia, elements of non-fiction and other genres, sprinkles of science and philosophy, and of course my wife's art. My stories are not typically mainstream either?some of my characters include an artist who goes mad painting a view of Mt. Fuji every day for a year, a lovelorn competitive calligrapher, a neuroscience graduate student, a dysfunctional curator. For plots, I like to weave in multiple storylines and time spans. My new novel Oh! A mystery of 'mono no aware' (Chin Music Press) contains elements of non-fiction, memoir, and poetry mixed in with the fiction.

To answer the question, I usually start out with, "I write novels." If the person responds with "Fiction or non-fiction?" then I know a little bit about how much they read. For them, I usually answer some very broad answer like, "They're fiction. Contemporary fiction. Not in any genre like mystery or science fiction. My wife illustrates them."

Their eyes have usually started to glaze over by now or they ask, "Children's books?"

If the person does know that a novel is fiction, I launch into a little more detail: "Somewhat experimental, post-modernish, dealing with Asian or Asian-American themes to some degree, but also broad questions of existence. A friend of mine calls them 'philosophical mysteries.'"

The glaze appears.

Sometimes, a person asks me for a comparable author or ones I like to read, probably expecting me to give them some name they recognize such as Stephen King, John Grisham, or maybe J.K. Rowling. Sorry, no. "My favorite author is the Japanese writer Kobo Abe. He wrote 'The Ruined Map' which is my all-time favorite novel. He's most famous for 'The Woman in the Dunes,' which was made into an award-winning film in the 1960s." Adding something about film usually sparks some attention, then I lose them with: "I also like Jose Saramago, Malcom Lowery's 'Under the Volcano,' and Umberto Eco, particularly 'Foucault's Pendulum'."

By now, they are trying to get away from me. I run after them, saying, "But my novels are really suspenseful with complex characters. Forget all about that postmodern, philosophy stuff I mentioned. They're just really good stories about love and desire, success and failure, and what it means to be human. If you just give them a try ? well, okay, thanks for asking anyway."

The problem of course is that not many people read novels. Even a smaller portion read contemporary, non-mainstream fiction. I'm lucky to have any readers at all, given the description I just gave. So I've come to appreciate every one of them.

#

COMMENTS

Number of comments: 2
click here to add a comment

Lee Witte
glad to hear someone else has this problem. It always comes out kind of a mess when I try to explain.

Jo Reed
The person asking the question usually doesn't really care. They are just being nice. I tell them sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll.

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