Sometimes When Trouble Knocks, You Have to Answer

Yoshino-1Mild spoiler alerts–mostly for those who have not yet read the Yamada book.

I’m an observer. By that I mean I try to pay attention to what’s happening around me. What people say, how they say it, what they do. How what they say often conflicts with what they do. That’s a natural state for me. People seldom become fiction writers if they don’t, at least to some degree, find their fellow human beings fascinating creatures. I don’t pretend to have any great insights, mind, but sometimes a story or book is just me thinking out loud about the subject of people, and why they do the things they do. Of course, it also means that I tend to keep my mouth shut in most social situations, which makes me very dull company. Yet even I know that sometimes you gotta face down the dog in his own junkyard.

So is this a blog post about my abundant shortcomings? In a way, yes. Or at least the perception of one. See, the reader response to Yamada Monogatari: Demon Hunter is, except for the volume of it, pretty much what I expected. A great many readers like it a lot or a little. Some think it’s a waste of paper. One or two think I’m a waste of perfectly good carbon. The usual. One thing I did not expect—though to be fair, I should have seen it coming—was the criticism of the women in Yamada’s world, or rather my portrayal of them. As one reader/reviewer pointed out, they tend to be demons like Lady Kuzunoha and Lady Abe or conniving schemers like Princess Teiko. And I thought about that for a little while and came to the conclusion that the reviewer was absolutely right. Yes, Lady Kuzunoha is a fox-demon. Yes, Princess Teiko is a schemer, and she did ruthlessly use Lord Yamada and her own brother to achieve her goal. But even as I conceded those obvious facts, my overall reaction remained something like, “And your point is?” Continue reading

Forests and Trees, Redux

Japanese MaskSometimes it’s hard for me to read. That is, to read as someone who reads strictly for personal pleasure does. I made that connection a long time ago. I know there are writers who can turn their editor brain off and just read for pleasure, and I envy them. I can still do it, but only under two special circumstances: one, the book has to interest me (simple enough, but when combined with–) two, it has to be the sort of book that I would never, ever, be interested in trying to write. Which is why I can read both the Harry Potter series and classic-age science fiction without the writer brain going “Okay, that was a clever transition there. Let me see how they pulled it off… And boom, your reading experience has just been blown out of the water, since now you’re reading for technique, not pleasure, and you’re on the outside of the book looking in, instead of properly immersed in the world the writer created for you. Which is why I do have so much trouble reading for simple enjoyment. I remember doing it–ages ago, it seems now, but I do remember. Which is probably why I am inordinately fond of something like Harry Potter, or Clifford Simak. They give that back to me, at least for a little while.

As I said, I’ve been coming to terms with that for quite some time. So what actually did come as a bit of a surprise was the understanding that the research bug was having the same effect. Now even books I normally could read for pleasure are tripping me up, and I’ll hit something and go “Hmmm. I didn’t know that about Japanese Buddhism as opposed to the versions that came through China. I wonder if it’s accurate….” Boom. Tossed out of the book on my butt once again. Worse, now it’s not just books. I mean, seriously– you know you’re suffering from research overload when you’re watching Kurosawa’s version of MacBeth (“Throne of Blood”) and think, “Ok, all those blades are in tachi mounts, and the secondary sword is a tanto, and only the foot samurai are carrying what appear to be katana…therefore this was set sometime after the Kamakura period, probably into the Muromachi period.”

Dang. There go the movies. No wonder I took up guitar.