I'd like to start my blogging with thanks to several good folks. It's not only because I feel indebted to them, but it will illustrate the number of people involved in developing a book, producing it, and marketing and selling it. The energy and creativity (not to mention money) they put into the project always amazes me. Of course I can't mention everyone, there are so many, and I promise not to let it go on too long before I get around to talking about my novel Oh!
and writing in general.
Thanks to all at Chin Music Press. When I pitched Oh! to publisher Bruce Rutledge, blathering about centuries-old Japanese poetics, contemporary suicide clubs, bits of non-fiction, four-color art, and an antique Chevy pick-up truck, I thought I'd probably get a big non-response. But Bruce saw the potential and enthusiastically accepted the project. Also at CMP, thanks to Yuko Enomoto, Jennifer Abel, David Jacobson, Mark MacKay, Craig Mod, Dave Rutledge, and interns Kimi, Kate, Kenzo. A special thanks to designer Joshua Powell who created a work of art. Another special thanks to my wife and collaborator, L.J.C. (Linda) Shimoda, whose beautiful art reveals more about mono no aware than I can with words. More about the design and the art in the future.
I appreciate those who took the time to write blurbs for the book under a tight deadline: Liza Dalby, Michael Marra, Leza Lowitz, William Poy Lee, and Laura Pritchett. Thanks to fellow writers in the Slow Sand Writers Society who provided so much feedback on drafts. Thanks to all the reviewers and bloggers who wrote about the novel, including Wendy Nelson Tokunaga, Lucia Silva, Jeff Snodgrass, Pam Woolway, Eve Kushner, Nick DiMartino, and Pat Hartman.
Thanks to Sirivatana Interprint for the excellent printing and production. Thanks to Jim Nichols and all the great reps at Consortium Distributing. Thanks to Powell's Books for hosting this blog. In all my travels I've never been to Portland and hence never to this great bastion of independent bookstores. I'll make it someday. And thanks to all bookstore owners and staff, especially the events coordinators such as Nan Macy at Village Books in Bellingham, WA, who get books into readers' hands. Of course, readers are the real heroes!
Okay, on to Oh! The novel is the third in a loose trilogy, the connection between them being stories weaving a Japanese art and some facet of modern culture. In my first novel, 365 Views of Mt. Fuji, the story revolved around old wood block prints (ukiyo-e) and robotics. The story in The Fourth Treasure entwined calligraphy (shodo) and neuroscience. In Oh! the art is Japanese poetry, particularly the aesthetic mono no aware, and social networking websites, in this case those devoted to the tragic phenomenon of suicide clubs.
I first heard about the concept of mono no aware when I was working on my second novel, The Fourth Treasure. Literally translated, mono "things," no "of," aware "emotion," the term was created by the Japanese scholar, Motoori Norinaga, in the mid-1700s to conceptualize the heart of Japanese poetry. The term refers to moments of intense emotional awareness, ones which make you say "oh!" or "ah!" One of its main sources is the sadness and transient nature of beauty — the short-lived beauty of cherry blossoms, for example. Norinaga especially referred to The Tale of Genji (Genji Monogatari) and Myriad Leaves (Man'yôshû), the oldest collection of Japanese poems, as examples of written works which depend on mono no aware. Genji is largely about the romantic encounters of a "shining prince" and is rich with poetic metaphors of longing, passion and sadness, or aware.
The concept seemed like what writers, really all artists, are trying to do: get across an emotional reaction to the world through their works. I researched the idea some more and found there wasn't much written about it in English. So I put together a non-fiction monograph on the subject and tried to get it published. That didn't work out and I realized I wasn't fully capturing the feeling of the idea. I wrote a short story to illustrate the concept (published in The Sand Papers). I gradually expanded the short story into three chapters of a novel, built around Oh!'s main character, Zack Hara, and his search for an emotionally fulfilling life.
I'll leave it here with this question for tomorrow: What do an antique pick-up truck and cherry blossoms have in common? Also, if you have any mono no aware moments you wish to share, please leave them as a comment.