On Zen Nuns & Novelists

Setouchi Jakucho in her garden in Kyoto. Photo by Jeremie Souteyrat

"Usually people who do bad things make good writers. I did a lot of bad things, which is why my novels are interesting."

~Jakucho Setouchi, novelist-turned-Buddhist nun

Jakucho Setouchi is one of my heroes, and she made this comment during an interview with Reuters back in 2008, when she was eighty five years old. Here are some of the reasons why I admire her.

She was born in 1922 in Tokushima prefecture. She married and had a child, and then in her mid-twenties, she fell in love with one of her husband's students. She left her husband, lost custody of her daughter, and started writing novels. She wrote about the affair, and later about her relationship with a married man, breaking ground by freely describing sex from a woman's point of view. She was quickly labelled a pornographer by the mostly male Japanese literati, and the publisher of her second novel described her as "a writer who thinks with her womb." Responding to this, Setouchi said, "I was very excited about releasing the book, so I was shocked and flabbergasted when I saw the advertisement copy. Most upsetting was that some male critics reviewed the book and said I must have written it while masturbating."

She fought back and continued to write, but as her success grew, she started to lose what she called her power of judgement. Without hearing the Japanese, it's impossible to know exactly what she meant by the word "judgement," but I can't help feeling she might have been referring to a kind of breakdown of moral or ethical discernment in regard to her fiction, her self, and her voice in the world. She went into psychotherapy, which was very unusual in Japan at the time, and a decade later, at the age of 51, she shaved her head and took vows as a Tendai Buddhist nun, explaining that while she was willing to give up writing completely, she knew that were she to continue, she would need a backbone.


And continue she did. In 1998, she wrote a best-selling modern translation of the classical novel The Tale of Genji, focussing on the experiences of the women characters instead of the prince, and in 2006, she received the Japanese Order of Culture. Now, at the age of 90, she's still writing novels and plays and essays, giving hugely popular public talks, and working a political activist. She's best known for her opposition to the death penalty and to the Gulf Wars and she went to Iraq to distribute medicine. Most recently, at the age of 90, she staged a hunger strike to protest the reopening of Japan's nuclear facilities in the wake of the meltdowns at the Fukushima reactors caused by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.

Jakucho was an inspiration for the character of Old Jiko in A Tale for the Time Being, and she was an inspiration to me when I was thinking about ordination, too. The comment she made about needing a backbone in order to continue writing resonated strongly, and I wrote about it in an essay for the Spring 2013 issue of Buddhadharma Magazine, exploring the ever-changing relationship—sometimes harmonious and most often confounding—between my two beloved practices of writing and Zen.

I would like to meet Setouchi Jakucho, but I don't think she would like my novels. In another interview she said, "The most important thing to write about in novels is love affairs. Corporations and politics -- none of that is interesting." I disagree with her on this point, although maybe I could convince her to change her mind. She seems willing to admit when she's wrong. In talking about her decision to become a nun, she said that she had no regrets about her ordination, but she might have gotten the timing wrong. "I'm glad I did it, but it was a little bit early. It was a bit of a waste. I had no idea I was going to live so long. I thought it would be 25 years at most."


I just remembered an essay I wrote for the New York Times back in August of 2004, and since it's August all over again, I thought I would repost it here. The memory of this summer when I was seven, visiting my grandmother in Japan for the first time, is the source of the scenes at Old Jiko's mountainside temple. Perhaps it's also the source of my interest in the things that drop out of history, which the BBC's Mariko Oi writes about in her article, What Japanese History Lessons Leave Out. Matsushima

A Vacation with Ghosts, New York Times, August 11, 2004

My first six summers were American suburban, filled with the familiar thrills of Slip 'N Slides and sprinklers, the smell of gasoline lawnmowers and the tickle of grass blades sticking to my skin. Then, the summer I was 7, my mother took me to Japan to visit my grandmother. It was my first trip outside the United States.

My grandmother was very old. She lived by herself in a tiny house, made of paper and wood, that clung to the side of a mountain. A bamboo forest encroached upon it, tall and towering, like some kind of monster lawn grown out of control. The days were humid and hot, and the heat made everything, including time, stand still. It was a complex Asian kind of heat, made of far more than just temperature. It was textured with strange sound and scent: the incessant whine of cicadas; the moist exhalation of forest moss; the hot breeze rattling the bamboo's bladelike leaves; the faint stench of sewage wafting up the mountainside from town.


I was drawn to the forest but scared of it as well, and so I would stand at the edge, looking in. The forest floor was shadowy, but a bright green sunlight filtered through the canopy. There were trees other than bamboo: stout trees, cryptomeria and camphor, with huge wisteria vines looped around their branches that the local children swung from.

I was curious about these Japanese children. While my features showed that I was half-Japanese, in my heart, I was all American, and where I came from - Connecticut - no one else looked like me. Now, here were children whose faces mirrored mine, but who were still not at all like me. Their tongues made high staccato sounds that my ears could not decipher. I recall one little boy calling out to me—taah-zan! taah-zan!—as he swung from his vine. When he landed on the ground, he thumped his chest and yodeled. I ran back into the house.

My mother tried to get me to play with the children, but I didn't exactly trust her. In Japan, she had revealed hidden sides of herself, the existence of which I'd never before suspected. She and I had spoken only English. Now, as I watched her talk to my grandmother in Japanese, switching fluidly from one language to the other, I saw that in this strange new tongue she was a different person-possibly not my mother at all. It made me dizzy, all this switching, but maybe it was the heat.

The heat was relentless, even at night. After dinner we would put on light cotton kimonos called yukata and walk to the public baths, where it was even hotter. Inside the tiled rooms, steam curled from the surface of the large soaking tubs. Pink-fleshed ladies of all sizes and shapes submerged themselves, then slowly rose again from the scalding water. I had never, in all my seven years of living, imagined there could be so many shapes of ladies.

After we came out of the bath, my grandmother would buy me a soda in a thick green refillable bottle that looked as if it was made of sea glass. The stopper was a heavy marble, held in place by a rubber gasket, which popped when you pushed it back inside the bottle. After the scalding heat of the baths, that cold soda was the most delicious thing on earth, and even the warm wind felt cool on my skin as we walked home through clouds of fireflies that lighted the darkness.

In the morning my grandmother would make tea; she always offered a cup to the photograph of my dead grandfather that sat on the altar, talking to him as though he were alive. He had moved to America in 1896, when he was just 16, to build himself a life, but during World War II, he was interned and my grandmother, who had followed him there, was left alone in Hawaii. By the time the United States government released him, at the age of 65, they had lost everything. Disenchanted, he and my grandmother moved back to Japan and he died a few years later. Of course, I didn't know any of this then. I just thought it was strange that my grandmother talked to a dead man.

But she wasn't the only one. For three days in August, my grandmother told me, during Obon the spirits of the dead walked among us and the living raised red lanterns to guide them, first safely back to earth, then home again to their spirit world. The festival of the dead has been celebrated in Japan since the seventh century. In my grandmother's town, in 1964, a bamboo tower was raised in the schoolyard for the festival and the townspeople gathered and danced around it. There were fireworks, and it was fun, but I still found it strange to hang out with ghosts.

And then there were the soldiers. Like living ghosts, they wore green military uniforms under bedraggled white robes, and begged for alms on busy street corners. They leaned on dirty crutches. Many were wounded or disfigured—amputees—missing arms or legs or parts of their faces. The legless, resting on small platforms with wheels, were my height exactly, and I could look into their eyes. What I saw was terrifying and I couldn't help but stare. My mother took my wrist and pulled me away. When I demanded more information, she told me the soldiers were veterans of World War II. She seemed embarrassed. Japan had fought America and lost, she said, as though this explained everything.

Years later, when I went back to Japan as a foreign exchange student, I asked people about the crippled soldiers begging on the street corners, but no one seemed to remember them or be willing to talk about them. Confused, I wrote to my mother, but she said I must have made it up. She said that while there may have been soldiers begging shortly after the war, they would certainly have been gone by the time she and I went to Japan. She didn't actually say I was lying, but since I'd always been a storyteller, she was accustomed to attributing these discrepancies to an overactive imagination.

But the image of the soldiers persists. How could I have made it up? I was only 7, a postwar child who knew nothing of war's mutilations. I remember the hard red sheen of their scars, the brownish scent of the bandages. But when I went back to Japan in 1975, it was as if the clocks had been rewound, and the soldiers had been erased from history.


Now in midsummer, there are days when the air becomes heavy, and time stands still. Of course, in New York there are no forest mosses, no bamboo or eucalyptus trees looped with vines, but in my neighborhood, there are children swinging in the parks and playgrounds. Watching them, I remember how a light bulb went off in my head, when I ran back from the forest to my grandmother's house, and my mother translated the little boy's strange words. Taah-zan, she explained, was Japanese for Tarzan.

I was delighted! I knew all about Tarzan. It was an American film, after all, and, when I was 7, knowing that these Japanese kids had adopted my country's story was hugely comforting to me. So I ran back into the forest. Pushing the little boy out of the way, I grabbed hold of a stout vine, thumped my chest and swung.

On Bookers, Booksellers & The Bookshop Band

IMG_0476 On Tuesday morning, I sat down at my computer to find my inbox flooded with the loveliest messages of congratulations. It took me a while to figure out why. My well-wishers seemed to think that A Tale for the Time Being had been longlisted for the Booker Prize, but I figured it must be a mistake. Only the day before, I'd learned that a kind reader had nominated the book for the Guardian's Not The Booker Prize, and so I assumed that my friends had gotten the two prizes confused. Silly friends. How awkward. But then it occurred to me to check the Man Booker Prize website, and I discovered that in fact they were right, the book had been longlisted, and as usual I was the last to know. This is what happens when you live in Desolation Sound.

Thank you, everyone, for your kind wishes.

I just got back home to Whaletown after a wonderful trip to Spain, France and the UK, doing promotional stuff for the novel. It was fascinating to realize that while I think of the book as A Tale for the Time Being, that's only its English name and identity. In other countries, it has different identities, since each country has its own take on both the title and the cover design.

Here is the French Belfond edition:

Mise en page 1

They're playing with the line from the English translation of Dōgen Zenji's essay, Uji, which reads "For the time being, the entire earth and the boundless sky." The wave and the grey sky reflect this beautifully.



And Planeta has done something entirely different with the Spanish title and cover design:


They're playing off of the notion of the "Butterfly Effect"—the flutter of a butterfly's wing in Japan. It's a lovely image.



Canongate's UK editions have been stunning. The hardcover has an exposed Nepalese binding on the spine, which I love, because of the way it echoes one of the themes of the book, which is the hacking and deconstruction of the book-as-object. The paperback is equally clever, and it has an augmented reality feature which you activate with smart phone app called Blippar. The cover image animates, literally comes to life, and leads you to various online resources, and this again recalls the virtual realities evoked in the story.

Hardcover_UKThere have been several interesting articles written about the design, which you can read here on the Canongate.tv website.

The occasion for the UK tour was that A Tale for the Time Being won the 2013 Independent Booksellers Award, which is a special prize given by the UK Indie booksellers during Independent Booksellers Week. I was honored and delighted to receive this award. I love Independent bookstores. They are a lifeline for writers like me, and I doubt I would be publishing books without the support of the booksellers who are so passionate about books and know their customers and can take the time to hand-sell the titles they love. I wrote an essay for The Bookseller weblog, which talks about independent bookstores as the keystone species that determines the health of the cultural ecosystem.


Oh, and here's a picture of me receiving my award from Patrick Neale, at the lovely Jaffe & Neale Bookshop in Chipping Norton.

The UK Indie Bookshop Tour was really wonderful. It seemed to me that although many expressed concern about the sustainability of indie bookstores, the ones I visited were thriving. They'd built devoted communities of readers, were sponsoring all sorts of interesting events and offering a brilliant range of customer services, including book clubs and book spas and personal consultations with bookish professionals. And British bookshops serve wine at author readings...it really helps!


One of the highlights of the UK Indie Bookshop Tour was the visit to Bath and my reading at Mr. B's Emporium of Reading Delights. It's an absolutely lovely bookshop, and they were celebrating its 7th birthday. (Among Mr. B's specialized customer service offerings is a Proust Support Group. They are on Volume III, Chapter 2. How can you not love this? It's enough to make me want to move to Bath.) After the reading, we had sushi and wine and a beautiful birthday book cake (which I'm cutting it here, wearing my "fictional character" shirt from Village Books, in Bellingham, WA).

But the highlight of the evening for me took place before the reading, when The Bookshop Band performed two songs inspired by A Tale for the Time Being. The band is a trio comprised of two guitarists, Poppy Pitt and Ben Please and a cellist, Beth Porter, who write songs based on books they read and then they play them at bookshops before author readings. They started out performing mostly at Mr. B's, but since then they've gotten quite famous and now they travel all over. The two songs they wrote about my book were heartbreakingly beautiful, and as I listened to them sing, big fat tears just kept rolling down my face.

And it seems I'm not the first author to be so moved by their performance, and here's why. To a writer, a book is a gift. It comes to you more or less unbidden. If you're paying attention and you're willing to put in the hard work and the long years, maybe your book will find its way onto the page, into the bookshops, and into readers hands. At that point, your work is done and the book is no longer yours. You've given it away, because that's what you do with gifts. That's the nature of gifts, to be freely given.

But then, by some remarkable serendipity, a lovely trio of musicians reads your book and they are moved by it to write beautiful songs, and these songs are gifts, too, and they are unspeakably precious because rarely do writers get to experience their work so exquisitely received.

Here is The Bookshop Band, performing my two songs: With Words Alone and For The Time Being.



Thank you, Bookshop Band!

Thank you, Booker Prize judges!

Thank you, Independent Bookshops!

Thank you, dear publishers & editors & translators & book designers!

And most of all, thank you, dear Readers, because really, it's all because of you.





 2013-02-05 at 09_44_43.mov.Still001

 Dear friends,

Much has been happening these past few weeks in preparation for the launch of A Tale for the Time Being, and it's been a real team effort!

My friend & fellow filmmaker Bill Weaver and I shot a book trailer up on Cortes, with the backdrop of the brooding Pacific Northwest landscape and a lovely song by Le Mépris, which I listened to over and over again when I was writing the novel.

The trailer lives my homepage and on my beautiful new Facebook author page, which my friend Laura Trippi of Latrippi Designs made for me. If you "like" it, you'll be able to keep tabs on my tour schedule and the reviews as they come in, and find links to booksellers where you can pre-order the new book. I'll be uploading stories and pictures from the road, posting excerpts from the novel, and maybe some audio recordings, too…

Laura has also set up a tiny newsletter for me, which you can join here, or from the Facebook page, or from my website. I promise not spam you if you join. It's just another way of staying in touch, and I can let you know about readings, workshops, and other goings on.

And finally, Carole DeSanti, my friend, fellow novelist, and editor at Viking Penguin, is like a captain at the helm of a ship, keeping it, and me, on course!

It's been wonderful to be working with all my wonderful and talented friends to bring this book out into the world for all you wonderful and talented friends and readers. So thanks for your interest, and I hope to see you down the road!

Everything's up to date in Kansas City...

kansas city

Everything's up to date in Kansas City They gone about as fer as they can go They went an' built a skyscraper seven stories high About as high as a buildin' orta grow.

Winter Institute - Kansas City, MO. Just about to head down to the Century Ballroom to the gathering of my tribe—booksellers and booklovers, from around the country. How cool is that?

But before I go, I just want to upload, quickly, this interesting bit of information: Kansas City was the city chosen by Google to launch their Google Fiber 1. For about $70/month, households here can have access to 1 gig/sec broadband speeds. This, according to Google Access General Manager Kevin Lo, is "more than 100 times faster than what most Americans have today."

Hmm. Last I heard, our Internet in the East Village of Manhattan was still down, after Hurricane Sandy.

Okay, gotta run...

Life is tough...and transient

Shambhala Sun just sent me the pdf of Norman Fischer's article, Life is Tough - 6 ways to deal with it, from the March issue of the magazine, so I thought I'd share it here. As I mentioned in yesterday's post, it's a great article about the Lojong slogans, and his book, Training in Compassion, which I'm reading now, is even better. Today I'm studying slogan #2: See everything as a dream. Here's a little bit of what Norman says about it:

Everything is always passing away. That's just how it is in this world. As soon as something appears, in that same moment, it's already gone. Everything that exists in time is like this, appearing and disappearing in a flash. That's what we mean when we say "time is passing."

Now it is today. Where did yesterday go, and where is tomorrow now? You can't say. Nor is it really clear where today—where now—is. As soon as you try to figure it out, it is already gone. Since this is so, you have to wonder whether it was ever really here to begin with...

Reading this, I can trace so clearly the influence of Norman's thinking and teaching on A Tale for the Time Being. I can also hear the echoes of Dogen Zenji's beautiful fascicle "Uji" or "The Time-Being." After my mother's death, I spent several years studying these Zen teachings on impermanence, and the outcome of this study was a novel. Who could know?

This evening, as I was walking through the forest on my way back from a neighbor's house, life really felt like a dream. It was getting dark. The mist was hanging low in the trees. Drops of rain clung to the tips of the cedar boughs. The ground was spongy and deep, and the moss, clinging to the dark wet bark of the fir trees was brilliantly green. At least that's what I remember.

Norman writes that everything is a memory, even while it's happening. Research in neuroscience has demonstrated that the brain registers experience a moment after it occurs, so by the time it occurs to us that we're experiencing something, it's already over. Life, as we think we're living it, is always a dream. It's always an illusion. This sense of the fleeting and ephemeral is at the heart of the Japanese term wabi-sabi, which refers to the exquisite, dreamlike beauty of impermanence, simplicity and imperfection. This is an aesthetic ideal I aspire to as a writer.


ALA panel & some thoughts on libraries

On Friday, January 25, from 4:00 - 5:15 pm, I'll be on a panel at the American Library Association's Midwinter meet-up to discuss the topic "The Novel is Alive and Well" with Seattle authors Terry Brooks, Ivan Doig, and Gregg Olsen. I'm looking forward to this because I love librarians, I have always wanted to be one, and I do believe that the novel is alive and well so talking to these guys about this topic should be fun. studentonperch

Regarding libraries—one of my summer jobs in college was in the library, where I was hired to put little magnetic theft prevention strips into the books. This required physically taking each book from the shelf and opening it in order to slip the strip into the spine. Needless to say, this was extremely time-consuming work, because how could you open a book without spending at least a few moments reading it? I remember the thrill of pulling books one by one from the shelves, skimming through them, and watching ideas form in my mind, triggered by these random juxtapositions. It was hugely exciting, and I kept a notebook next to me so I could write down all the stories that emerged. I'm surprised I wasn't fired, but now when I think about it, I imagine all of the other students hired to do this work were similarly occupied, and none of us were working with much efficiency.

That summer, in the library, I discovered the generative power of randomness, juxtaposition, and browsing. Browsability is something we are losing in the Internet age, where so many of our searches are controlled by algorithms, which deliver results that are pre-shrunk and tailored to what we think we want, or we've wanted before. How can we stumble across anything new? Google and Amazon doom us to the rut of our habitual mind where, as we find the same things over and over again, our interests narrow and we grow smug, believing that everyone in the world is just like us, like we are and used to be.

That summer I also learned the approach I still use to write novels, an approach that requires a high degree of randomness, juxtaposition, and browsability. It reminds me a lot of meditation, because it requires keeping the mind alert and open enough to allow disparate elements to filter in, accumulate, and combine into a story. Inspiration is this happy convergence of random factors, which if you are lucky and awake, you can notice and put to good use.

Prelinger stacks - photo by Peter Richardson

I started thinking about browsability several years ago in the Prelinger Library, talking to my friend Rick. Rick is an archivist and a maverick librarian, who started the Prelinger Library with his wife, Megan. Together, they have raised browsability to a fine art. The stacks are arranged in a way so as to maximize browsability. Here's how they describe it:

The main shelves are organized according to the library’s unique geospatial taxonomy. This arrangement system classifies subjects spatially and conceptually beginning with the physical world, moving into representation and culture, and ending with abstractions of society and theory. It can be summarized as a walk through a landscape of ideas, from feet-on-the-ground to outer space. Within that framework are dozens of associative links between subject sections, moving from site-specific, to mediated, to abstract; from particular to general, and from micro- to macro-. The geospatial system is set up in five rows, each row holding part of the structure in a consistent series of smaller sections. The system begins at the front of Row One and ends at the back of Row Five.

Each labeled section on the main shelves is a composed set of juxtapositions, bringing together government documents, periodicals, monographs, and occasional works of fiction, in greater or lesser order, to illuminate a subject area. Within these sets, the compositional structure is fairly loose.

If you haven't been to the Prelinger Library and you find yourself in San Francisco, you really should make an effort to go. And if you are going to be in Seattle next weekend and you happen to be a librarian, please come to our panel and say hi.

Rick, Megan & library patron

The Next Big Thing: Authors Tagging Authors

My friend Sarah Sentilles tagged me to participate in The Next Big Thing: Authors Tagging Authors, a blog chain, a meme, a community, an ever-emergent and aggregating non-event that’s wending it’s way around the Internet. It’s authors tagging authors to answer ten questions about the book they’re working on. And it’s a nice way to acknowledge and bootstrap your writer friends.

Sarah Sentilles is a wonderful writer, feminist theologian, and the author of Breaking Up With God, a magnificent, funny, intelligent and heartfelt book about God, institutional religion and personal faith. Thank you, Sarah, for tagging me!

Okay, on the the ten questions:

1. What is your working title of your book (or story)?

A Tale for the Time Being is the final title, but it took me a long time to find it. I wish I could say that I came up with it myself, but I can’t. My husband thought of it. I had several not-so-good titles—actually, they were pretty awful—and I was racking my brains, combing through dictionaries, the thesaurus and Bartlett’s for inspiration, scribbling long lists of words and evocative phrases, following Oliver around the house and reading my lists  out loud, while he listened, politely, wincing as the ideas got worse and worse. Occasionally he would venture to make a suggestion, which I would quickly dismiss. Weeks passed. Then finally, one night, when he was taking a bath, he called out, “I’ve got your title.”

Something in the way he said this made me pay attention. I went to the door and opened it. He was lying in the tub, reading the latest issue of New Scientist magazine. “What is it?” I asked.

“A Tale for the Time Being,” he said. “That’s your title,” and then he went back to reading his magazine. He was right. I couldn’t believe it. I repeated it a couple of times, then went upstairs to email my editor, who agreed. Everyone agreed. It was the title.

Later, when I asked him how he’d come up with it, he shrugged and said it was self-defense.

2. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A semi-fictional novelist named Ruth, living on a remote island in Desolation Sound, discovers a Hello Kitty lunchbox containing the diary of a troubled Japanese teenager washed up on the beach, and assuming it’s debris from the 2011 Japanese tsunami, sets out to discover all she can about the fate of the mysterious schoolgirl named Nao.

Ugh, not a very elegant sentence, I’m afraid.

3. Where did the idea come from for the book?

Many places, but Zen Master Dōgen is a good place to start. Dōgen was a 13th century Zen teacher who wrote several essays on the subject of time, and I happened to be studying these when Oliver sent me the link to an article about Japanese maid cafés. (He’s always sending me useful links, including one to a New Yorker article on quantum computing, which ended up in the book.) Soon I was immersed in the world of Japanese cosplay, manga, animé and pop culture, and from there, I became interested in the problem of bullying and teen suicide in Japan. At the same time, I was reading about kamikaze fighters during World War II, thinking about 9/11, watching the war on Iraq unfold, and living my life on a remote island with my husband and my cat. And cooking soup. And then the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami hit and the nuclear reactors at Fukushima melted down. Somehow all these factors, and more, came together and the novel was born. Inspiration is a convergence of random factors, which if you are lucky, you A) notice, and B) appreciate, and C) incorporate and turn into something new.

4. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Books are time beings, too. I started writing the first draft in 2006 and worked on it for two years. In 2008, I decided it was hopeless and I abandoned it. In 2010, on a whim, I started working on it again and finished a draft in early 2011. So that makes three years, so far. Then I was in the process of submitting the manuscript when the March 11 earthquake and tsunami hit Japan. Overnight Japan was a different place, and the world was different, too, and the novel I’d written was no longer relevant, and so I withdrew it. I spent several months thinking about what to do, and then in May I threw half of the manuscript away and started to write again, and a year later, I finished. So excluding the two years when it sat untouched on my computer hard drive, and including the editing time, I’d say it took about five years, but I don’t think it’s really accurate either, because some of the material I can trace back to 1999, and even earlier.

5. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I think I answered the what part of this question, above, so I will focus on the who. My novelist friends inspire me to write so I can continue to hang out with them and talk shop. And in particular, Karen Joy Fowler inspired me to finish this book. She read the first fifty pages of the rewrite and called them “audacious,” which was the best affirmation I could have hoped for.

Of course writers I don’t know, but whom I admire, inspire me to write books, too: Jane Austin, Margaret Atwood, Milan Kundera, Jorge Luis Borges, Kurt Vonnegut, Haruki Murakami, Setouchi Jakucho, David Mitchell...the list goes on and on.

My husband, Oliver, inspires me to write books. He has a very interesting mind and sees the world in ways that astonish me.

Readers inspire me to write. Without readers, books don't exist.

6. What genre does your book fall under?

Literary fiction? Mainstream fiction? Speculative fiction? Philosophy?

7. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Oh, boy. It’s not a genre book, so I don’t know. People tell me that there are some parallels between A Tale for the Time Being and Murakami’s newest novel 1Q84, but I haven’t read it yet, so I don’t know. I’m waiting to read it until mine is published.

8. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

It’s represented by an agency and will be published by Viking Penguin in the US and Canongate in the UK. It’ll be coming out on March 12, 2013, which also happens to be my birthday.

9. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I have absolutely no idea.

10. What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

It’s funny! I mean, it’s also serious and has a lot of serious and tragical things in it, including bullying, suicide, war, philosophy, and quantum mechanics, to name just a few, but it’s also funny. So don’t get scared off by all the heavy stuff. If you cry, I promise you will laugh a lot, too.

Okay, now, here is when I get to tag some of my wonderful writer friends.

  • Karen Joy Fowler, author of The Jane Austen Book Club, who has written one of the most amazing books I’ve ever read, We are all completely beside ourselves, which will be published in May of this year. Karen will post her answer here.
  • Rahna Reiko Rizzuto, author of Hiroshima in the Morning and Why She Left Us, who is working on a wondrous new novel, which I’ve had the privilege of reading in an early draft! She will post her answers here.
  • Laurie Frankel, who I hope will write about her new book, Goodbye For Now, a remarkable love story about a software engineer who invents a way for people to email their dead loved ones. which will be coming out in paperback soon. She will post her answers here.