Tuesday, April 08, 2008

GCC Presents: Wendy Tokunaga and Midori by Midnight

So I haven't done a GCC post in months, and I can think of no better way to get back into the swing of things than with a Q/A with Wendy Tokunaga, whose debut novel, Midori By Midnight just hit bookstores and which Publishers' Weekly called, "a delectably frothy romp!" Sounds like the perfect beach novel when/if spring ever arrives here in the Northeast! (But my weather complaints are another post for another day...) I especially like her answer to #3, and suspect that many blog readers will as well.Here's the scoop on the book, then read on for her wonderful answers to my usual questions:

What happens when a young woman, fresh from Japan and too independent for Japanese society, finds herself suddenly lost in translation in San Francisco as she searches for her American Dream and the perfect dessert?

Wendy Nelson Tokunaga answers this question and more in her poignant comic novel, MIDORI BY MOONLIGHT, where we meet thirty-year-old Midori Saito, whose dream seems about to come true. A strong independent streak has always made her feel like a stranger in a strange land in her native Japan, but now she’s embarking on a new life in San Francisco. She’s about to marry Kevin, the perfect American man—six feet tall, with curly hair the color of marmalade. Unlike a Japanese guy who’d demand she be a housewife, Kevin doesn’t mind if Midori follows her dream of becoming a master pastry chef. Her life is turning out as exquisitely as a Caramelized Apple Tart with Crème Fraiche, until Kevin dumps her at their engagement party in favor of his blond, ex-fiancée, whom Midori never even knew existed.

Now Midori is not only on her own—with just a smattering of fractured English in her repertoire—she’s entered the U.S. on a fiancée visa that will expire in sixty days. Unable to face the humiliation of telling her parents she’s been dumped, and not wanting to give up on her American dream, Midori realizes she’s “up the creek without a saddle.” Her only hope is new acquaintance Shinji, 30, who long ago escaped Japan after a family tragedy, is a successful San Francisco graphic artist and amateur moon gazer, and who lets her share his apartment as a platonic roommate.

Soon Midori finds herself working at an under-the-table hostess job at an unsavory Japanese karaoke bar, making (and eating) way too many desserts, meeting a charming and handsome chef with his own restaurant who may be too good to be true, and trying to uncover the secret behind a mysterious bar hostess who looks strangely familiar. But Midori’s willing to endure almost anything to hang on to her American dream, and she just might find that the love she’s been searching for far and wide is a whole lot closer than she thinks.

1) What’s the backstory behind your book?

~ MIDORI BY MOONLIGHT is about 30-year-old fresh from Japan Midori Saito, who finds herself lost in translation in San Francisco searching for her American dream and the perfect dessert. It is inspired by my Japanese husband’s story of how he never felt he fit in Japan and ended up trading his native culture for a new one when he settled in the United States.

2) It seems that a lot of readers confuse fiction with real life, assuming that a novel must be an autobiography of the author as well. How many elements of your real life are reflected in your book?

~ MIDORI BY MOONLIGHT is the story of a Japanese woman who feels like a stranger in a strange land in her native Japan and escapes to the United States, so of course it’s not autobiographical (I am Caucasian American and was born and raised in San Francisco). But I have had a long love affair with Japan and Japanese culture, am married to a man born and raised in Japan, have Japanese in-laws, and I speak the language half-way decently so I have put a lot of my experience and knowledge into the book.

3) A lot of my blog readers are aspiring or new authors. How did you land your first book deal?

~ MIDORI BY MOONLIGHT is my debut novel, but is actually the fifth I have written. For me to get a major publishing deal it took over ten years of trying, along with getting hundreds and hundreds of rejections from agents. I did win an award in the Writer’s Digest Best Self-Published Book Awards in 2002 for my novel NO KIDDING, but that didn’t help much in getting notice from agents. Along the way I published some short stories in small journals and wrote a couple of children’s non-fiction books as works for hire (flat fee, no royalties). So this has been a long road (including finally getting an agent who couldn’t sell book number three or four, then him dumping me). I decided that maybe out of these five novels I’d written I could at least get an MFA in Creative Writing. So I applied to grad schools, decided on the University of San Francisco, and right when I started in Summer 2006, I got my great agent Marly Rusoff and she got me a two-book deal with St. Martin’s about eight weeks later.

4) I have a serious procrastination problem when it comes to tackling my fiction. What’s your routine? How do you dive it? Do you have any rituals or necessary to-dos before or while you write?

~ I procrastinate when I know I have to write something new because that’s the hardest part for me. On the other hand, I can spend hours happily revising, rewriting, and tweaking. I don’t have any particular rituals. I am deadline driven and always meet my deadlines so I guess that motivates me.

5) Clearly, your book will be optioned for a multi-million dollar film deal! Who would you cast as the leads, if you were given creative control?

~ Rinko Kikuchi ("Babel") as Midori and Masi Oka ("Heroes") as Shinji.


Angela Williams Duea said...

Whew! Hundreds of rejections? That sounds discouraging. But I suppose the end result is worth it!

Anonymous said...

Very interested in this book, as I lived in Japan a couple years. I'll be sure to look for it. Though it's a little weird for me since I was good friends with a Midori Saito!