Musa Author Interview: Keith Yatsuhashi
Posted by Dianna Gunn
Today’s author is debut novelist Keith Yatsuhashi, author of Kojiki, a YA fantasy novel scheduled for release on April 5th. In his youth he was a pro figure skater and now he holds one of the longest titles I’ve ever seen–Director of the U.S. Department of Commerce Export Assistance Center–as well as a publishing contract with Musa. Please give him a warm welcome and be amazed by the wisdom he’s here to impart upon you.
1. Can you tell us a bit about your book, Kojiki?
Sure Dianna. First let me thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about my book. Kojiki is the story of a young woman, Keiko Yamada, who’s lost her way. Her father, her only living relative dies, leaving her rudderless. Desperate to find a new life, she embraces his dying wish, that she go to Japan and find something he calls ‘the Gate.’ Once there, ancient Japanese myths come to life around her. Monsters and powerful Spirits appear in Tokyo, and Keiko learns her father was somehow involved with them.
2. When did you first realize you wanted to pursue writing as more than a hobby?
When I was a teen, I dabbled at writing but never made it very far, mainly because I didn’t have the skill or patience. In college, no matter the class, my professors routinely commented on how much style my papers had, which made me wonder if I had a talent I didn’t know existed. Then, back in 2003, after the death of my aunt, my father’s last surviving sibling, Kojiki’s story started to grow. I wrote what I thought would be a prologue. That prologue turned into chapter one, then two and so on.
3. A large part of Kojiki takes place in Japan. What inspired you to write about this location?
Family history. My father never spoke much about his family. His sister-in-law told us that my father’s family traced its roots back to the Imperial court and that my grandmother had an ancestor who fought the Mongol invasion of Japan in 1281, during the famous Kami Kaze, the typhoon that wiped out the Mongol army. At a friend’s wedding, the bride’s father, a Japanese national, when introduced, said I had a ‘noble’ name. My wife had none of it. I still have to take out the garbage. Still the stories were so wild, they fired my imagination. Hence, Keiko’s backstory and her father’s involvement with the Spirits that formed Japan–and the world.
4. What kinds of research did you do in order to write well about Tokyo?
I visited Tokyo in late 1983. I was there as a member of the U.S. Figure Skating Team, competing in the World Jr. Figure Skating Championships. Well, the actual competition was in Sapporo, but the entire team went to Tokyo after the competition. The locations are places I visited. I had my hotel, the Takanawa Prince, in an early draft, but it didn’t make the cut. I used Google maps and street view to fill in the gaps in my memory, and to make sure I was was somewhat accurate 🙂 Of course, I took some liberties. Tokyo’s just one of many locations. I set events in Miami, the Carpathian Mountains, the Himalayas and, of course, near Mount Fuji. I’ve been to all but two, the Himalayas and the Carpathians. I’ve been to the mountainous regions in former Yugoslavia, around Sarajevo. Memories of those mountains provided a stand-in for the ones in Romania. My favorite setting is fictional. I looked at an aerial map of Tokyo Bay and thought…hmmm, that’s a pretty clear oval. From there, I came up with the idea that Tokyo Bay is the remnant of a massive volcano. Today’s bay is that volcano’s caldera, destroyed and submerged. A long time ago, one key character had a fortress in the middle of the caldera. While it was active.
5. What made you the only person who could write this book?
Hmmm. That’s a tough question. I suppose, as with anything, a person’s work is the sum of his/her experiences. While none of the events in Kojiki really happened, the voice, the characters, and how they react are all part of me. Plus, I always wanted to read a big, loud, operatic version of the anime and Japanese monster movies I loved as a kid. Kojiki’s an homage to all of that. I guess, one particular piece in the story is unique to me. It has to do with the stereotype of the Japanese running from monsters in terror. I’m really sick of it, so I made a conscious decision to tackle it. In Kojiki, I have reactions from Americans, Europeans, and Japanese. The Americans can’t resist going out for a closer look at the monsters. The Europeans run in terror (see what I did there?), and the Japanese face the threat head on. No panic, no fleeing. None of that garbage. So there!
6. With a strong career and three kids, how do you find time to write?
The wonder of Dragon Dictate and a 1/2 hour commute each way! Today’s technology really makes things easy. You always have a smartphone, tablet, or computer nearby to jot down ideas. My daughter, Caitlin, loves to read and is always after me to see what I’m working on. At times, she’s like a writing partner.
7. What does your editing process look like?
First off, I want to give a BIG thank you to Lorin Oberweger of Free-expressions.com I approached Lorin after a writer’s conference and several rejections. I had no idea what I was doing, and Lorin basically taught me from square one how to look at my writing, how to turn writing into story-telling, and what to look for when reviewing. After that, it’s write, then review, review, review. I’ll rework a chapter as well as I can on the computer, but when it reaches a point that feels right, I’ll transfer it to my Kindle or iPad, so I can read it like a book. That makes all the difference. The document no longer feels like a document; it reads like any other book, which makes it easier to find mistakes.
8. Why did you choose an ebook publisher instead of a print publisher?
Well, I researched Musa and liked what I read. I liked that they have a strong vision and a solid business plan that they stick to. Naturally, they weren’t the only publisher or agent I submitted to. They came back VERY quickly after my submission, though. And while I had full manuscripts out with agents, landing one, if that happened at all, was no guarantee the agent could find a publisher. And there I was, with one that wanted my work. Also, I’ve been to many publishing conferences, twice to Frankfurt, BEA every year since 2007. I’ve met the people at the IDPF and attended one of their conferences. I even arranged for them to do a webinar to my professional colleagues. I’ve seen the growth in ebooks, and I’m impressed. Also, from my professional experience, I know it’s often better to go with a young hungry company than get lost with a larger one. I can’t be happier with my choice; the staff at Musa is fantastic! I haven’t worked with another publisher, so I can’t speak to what the experience is like outside Musa, but I can’t image getting so much time, advice, and guidance from anyone else. It’s not just me either. Every one of their authors get top notch treatment.
9. If you could give an aspiring writer one piece of advice, what would it be?
Just one? I’ll do 1A and 1B. 1A, of course, is don’t give up. Getting a publisher is a LOOOONG, slow, frustrating process. It’s on the job learning. Which brings me to 1B. I wouldn’t be anywhere if I didn’t contact Lorin Oberweger. So, as far as that goes, hire a professional editor. One who’s willing to mentor you, who can listen to what you’re going through and offer SOLID guidance. Not platitudes, guidance. Lorin did so much more than just edit and improve my MS. She walked me through the submission process, told me what to expect, discussed trends in the industry. God–her input was endless.
10. What are you working on that readers can look forward to?
I’m writing a follow up to Kojiki. It’s not a pure sequel in that the characters from Kojiki, if they show up at all, have cameos only. I’m doing this because Kojiki is a finished story, with–really–one loose thread that I’m tying up here. Going back and throwing the characters into another ‘cataclysmic’ event feels false, so I need to go in a different direction. It will feel familiar, though, I guarantee it. Again, it pays homage to my love of anime and Japan. This time, instead of the mysticism, I’m tackling mecha 🙂 Aside from that, I’m working on a dystopian YA novel with my daughter. It’s all her idea, her story, her characters. I’m basically helping her write it. We’ve only just started, but it has some pretty big themes for teens. The idea of feeling invisible. She’s actually titled it ‘The Invisible’. I have one thriller rattling around in my head. It’ll be a doozy. 🙂
Keith Yatsuhashi was born in 1965 in Boston, MA. He graduated from Northeastern University in 1989 and is currently the Director of the U.S. Department of Commerce Export Assistance Center in Providence, Rhode Island. Keith was a competitive figure skater for ten years, winning the U.S. National Junior Dance Championships in 1984, a bronze medal in the 1983 World Junior Figure Skating Championships, and a silver medal in 1984. In addition to his love for writing, Keith enjoys many hobbies such as golf, reading, and playing football and hockey with his sons. Keith currently lives in Norfolk, MA with his wife, Kathleen and three children—Caitlin, Jeffrey, and Justin.
Keith’s big release date is coming, so make sure to watch the Musa website on April 5th so you can grab your copy of Kojiki