Friday, March 22, 2013

Grateful Heart

Rosemary Harris: I first met today's guest blogger at the Edgars banquet a few years back. Against some very stiff competition Naomi Hirahara walked away with the Edgar for best PBO and in the process created a warm and memorable character, Mas Arai. Here's how it started.

Naomi Hirahara:  “I wouldn’t be that interested in reading about an old Japanese gardener,” declared a woman in my writing group, who happened to be Japanese American.

            At that time, I had been working on my novel off and on for several years.  The main character?  A man named Mas Arai, an aging gardener and Hiroshima survivor.

            Her comment didn’t faze me much (well, on second thought, it must have, because years later, it’s still implanted in my mind).  Her comment, at least, didn’t persuade me from abandoning my protagonist.  So year after year, I wrote in early mornings before work and during my vacations.  My husband still hasn’t forgiven me for bringing my manuscript on our honeymoon.  I had forgotten it on the outdoor conveyer belt after going through security check at the Kona airport in Hawaii.  I didn’t realize what I had done until we were on the plane.  Luckily, due to their aloha spirit, Kona airport security called me when I got home to report that they were going mail me my found work-in-progress.  (It was sent cash-on-delivery, but still, what hospitality!)

            Mas Arai officially came into the world in spring 2004.  The third Mas Arai mystery, Snakeskin Shamisen, won the Edgar Award for best paperback original in 2007.

            I do believe that a writer’s experiences and true point-of-view are woven into his or her work.  In my Mas Arai books, especially so, because Mas is modeled after my late father, whose nickname was Sam.  (Spell the name in reverse and what do you get?  It wasn’t intentional, by the way.) 

(JR note : This is Sam Hirahara in front of the house in Watsonville that inspired the fifth Mas Arai mystery, STRAWBERRY YELLOW.)

I’ve always rooted for the underdog. For years, I observed my father toiling out in the hot Southern California sun without getting much respect (especially from his teenage daughter).  As a result, I had to make him the one man who could solve certain crimes that law enforcement could not.

            Of course, although inspired by him, Mas is not my father.  Mas is much more of a curmudgeon and nonconformist.  There is a large communication gap between him and his daughter, Mari, whereas my own father and I could sit and “talk story” for hours.  (Yes, there was still a lot of silence in between the talking, but we still were communicating.)   Imagine my personal distress when my father was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2010 and finally passed away in 2012.  In addition to dealing with everything involved with this kind of loss, would I be able to complete the fifth Mas Arai mystery, which was already in the works?

            Surprisingly, the writing process turned into a healing salve.  I could continue infusing my series with the essence of my father and other men and women like him.  And, let’s face it, whether we are writing thrillers or traditional mysteries like mine, we are engaged in fantasy building.  So while mixing truth with fiction, I was concocting something that I hoped would provide some pleasure for readers both inside and outside of Mas’s world.

            The resulting book is Strawberry Yellow, released this month and set in the strawberries fields of Watsonville, California.  While the writing and publishing community continues buzzing (and I’m part of that buzz, too) about the future of our industry, I can’t help but to exhale deeply.  The mystery genre enabled me to create a sleuth who represents “the least of these.”  And for that I will be forever grateful.

ROSEMARY: If this isn't one of the loveliest guest posts we've ever had, I'll eat my garden hat. Naomi is on her way to left Coast Crime today but she will be checking in when she can - AND she's offering a signed copy of Strawberry Yellow to one lucky commenter.
 



 

26 comments:

Joan Emerson said...

My sympathy for your loss . . . . It’s hard to lose those we love, especially, I think, a parent. How wonderful that you have been able to weave the spirit of your father into your stories. The measure of a person certainly inspires . . . and lives on in those who shared their lives and loved them. I wish you much success with your book . . . .

Naomi Hirahara said...

Thank you, Joan. I'm here in Colorado Springs, waiting to see if it's indeed going to snow 10-12 inches on Friday. Will I be able to get out of here on Saturday? It shall be interesting!

Courtney Hong said...

Hi, Naomi! Grateful to find out more about your journey as a writer, your perseverance, and the legacy of your father in your life. I am inspired by your honesty and tenacity. It would be great to hear your story in person sometime. I am based in Pasadena.

Naomi Hirahara said...

Courtney, you are in Pasadena, too? Had no idea.

Naomi Hirahara said...

Here's a little running update on LCC. Both Rhys and I got our butts kicked in billiards by Parnell Hall. Twist Phelan and Jack Chapple were absolutely beaming after tying the knot in Denver the night before with Jan Burke officiating (!). Alex Sokoloff knocked it out of the park again with her screenwriting for novelists workshop. The size of the crowd seems cozy, not as large as usual. There will be ton of interesting conversations after this conference is over.

PlumGaga said...

How have I missed this series? I'll have to seek out these books immediately.

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

What a lovely story Naomi, and such a treasure to be able to immortalize your dad in these books!

Libby Dodd said...

The warmth shown in your story makes me want to read your books. I'm sure they have a similar feel to them.

Naomi Hirahara said...

PlumGaga -- You can start off with the first, SUMMER OF THE BIG BACHI. It's the most "pungent" of the bunch -- stick with it!

Naomi Hirahara said...

Thanks, Roberta. And congrats on your new series. I was a fan of your psychologist sleuth, too.

Naomi Hirahara said...

Libby -- Well, my character Mas is a bit curmudgeon, but certain readers still seem to like him.

cumulus said...

My father came from Hokkaido into the US via England. He was a world traveler. He spoke a lot like Mas. Whenever I read your books, I must read Mas' dialog aloud because it brings back so many memories of his stories in broken English interspersed with Japanese words.

Naomi Hirahara said...

cumulus --

Glad to hear the Mas Arai mystery brought to mind your father!

circuitmouse said...

Whatever our origins, or or relationships with our elders, there are times we see flashes of gold in the stream. It's an added bonus, natch, when it comes from a talented mystery author.

Rosemary Harris said...

I fell in love with the series right away...and not just because I'm a gardener.Like all good books, they're about the people not just one thing a character happens to do, whether it's for a living or as a hobby.

Naomi Hirahara said...

circuitmouse AKA Mark

What a beautiful comment! Pure poetry.

Naomi Hirahara said...

Rosemary --

Thanks again for having me on Jungle Red! I have to disappear to go to some panels at Left Coast Crime, but I'll return at the end of the day to declare a winner of STRAWBERRY YELLOW, so keep those comments coming.

Grace Koshida said...

Being of Japanese-Canadian heritage, I really enjoyed reading the Mas Arai mysteries. My dad is in his 80s, worked in manual labour as a machinist and I can see the similarities in his personality and with Mas. Looking forward to reading Strawberry Yellow!

Reine said...

This is so beautiful I am unable to talk about it.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

It wasn't intentional? Sam. Mas? Wow. AMazing.
Or, maybe not.

So lovely to see you here--I am a huge fan!

xx

Hallie Ephron said...

Naomi - hope you don't get snowed in! Ironically the one left coast crime I've been to was in Hawaii.

Your book sounds wonderful, and I AM interested in reading about an old Japanese gardener. Most definitely. I'll be looking for your books.

Deb Romano said...

So exciting to find you here today! I "discovered" your books around a year ago, and have been waiting for Strawberry Yellow to become available. It's time for me to reread the earlier ones. Mas fascinates me.

Naomi Hirahara said...

Grace --

Your dad sounds like someone I would like to hang out with. Glad to hear that you are enjoying the series.

Naomi Hirahara said...

Reine --

Thanks for commenting.

Naomi

Naomi Hirahara said...

Hank and Hallie --

It's been great to be here. Your blogmate Rhys has been outdoing herself at LCC.

Deb --

Happy to hear that you find Mas fascinating!

Too many great comments. Libby Dodd, I'll be sending you a copy of STRAWBERRY YELLOW. Just e-mail me your mailing address to bachi@naomihirahara.com .

Mar (aka mar annabelle jacob) said...

just looked up your book Naomi and put it on TRB list

Enjoyed the interview

Mar