Talking Story

Adult Fiction

Jennifer Griffith’s newest novel, Big in Japan, tells the story of Buck Cooper, a Texas gentleman with a heart as large his home state and a body and self-esteem problem to match. What starts as a supporting role in a family business trip to Tokyo ends with Buck staying in Japan training to be a sumo wrestler as the kohai to the Kawaguchi Stable’s star ozeki, Torakiba. Torakiba is the senpai from hell, subjecting Buck as his kohai to humiliating tasks including foot washing and warm watermelon spit. There’s also a love interest, Cho-cho san, who like the butterfly she’s named for flits in and out of Buck’s life, motivating him to prove to himself and the sumo world that he’s got what it takes.

Buck may be big in Japan, but in Hawaii sumo is huge. The first foreign-born non-Japanese sumo champion was Jesse Kuhaulua, fighting name Takamiyama Daigoro. He was born on Maui and his career spanned twenty years from 1964-1984. Growing up in Kahului, we all knew Jesse and followed his career avidly. When he came home to visit family, the whole town came out to greet him. I can still see him in his traditional Japanese attire as he majestically strolled across our school’s parking lot, smiling and waving at us as we peeked out from behind the monkey pod tree. Other Hawaiian-born sekitori followed including Konishiki who earned the rank of ozeki, Akebono who earned the grand champion rank of yokozuna, and my cousin William Tyler Hopkins, fighting name Sunahama Shoji, who earned the rank of juryo 5 before retiring in 1997 at age 25 due to injury.

Since I knew a little about sumo and what it takes to succeed in Japan as a foreign-born wrestler, I was intrigued by Griffith’s premise. While Big in Japan does touch on some of the modern criticisms and controversies in sumo wrestling, at its heart it’s a love story with coming of age themes told with a humorous, light touch. It’s Buck’s story of leaving home in order to find his true self. Westerners will get a taste of some of the cultural differences and an idea of what it takes to be a sumo wrestler, but it’s Buck’s inner and outer transformation combined with his hilarious inner monologue that’s the draw here. Griffith sometimes compares her books to cotton candy—something sweet, light, frothy, enjoyed, and gone, but I think this novel has more weight behind it, more like a makizushi meal than a simple sweet treat.

Big in Japan, written by Jennifer Griffith and published by Jolly Fish Press is available in hardback, trade paperback, and eBook from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other purveyors of fine literature.

Griffith’s blog can be found at: http://www.authorjennifergriffith.com/

For more information about Jolly Fish Press and its titles, please visit: http://www.jollyfishpress.com/

This week we’re talking story with Christopher Loke, Executive Editor for Jolly Fish Press, as he shares his tips for telling stories set in unfamiliar places.

So, you have a story you are writing, and it is set in an exotic setting with foreign cultures, and you’re scratching your head, asking yourself: How do I go about telling my readers about this place or culture that they may not understand or know? The answer is simple: Show, don’t tell.

One of the biggest mistakes that writers do when they write a story based on a foreign setting is telling the reader everything–much of this mistake comes from a legitimate concern: I’m afraid my readers will be lost if I don’t tell them what’s going on. Well, not quite. As writers, we cannot underestimate our readers’ ability to comprehend. Now, that’s if we write clearly, and well enough to not confuse them. Ultimately, it is up to us.

Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club dwells heavily in the traditions and cultures of China, old and new. But not once in the entire book does she tell us any textbook-facts regarding her setting and the traditional practices of her characters. But yet we, as readers, understand every single aspect of the book. At the end of the book, her readers will have lived and experienced life as Chinese in China and America. How does Tan masterfully explain a foreign culture without explaining? Well, she doesn’t. Her characters do what they need to do to move the plot along. They say what they are supposed to say. They wear what they should be appropriately wearing.

By painting her setting with words, Tan’s narrative takes off beautifully without effort. There is no need to explain. Tan merely shows you how Chinese eat, how they talk, what they think, and how they react to things. And before long, we, as readers, will have learned a culture without being explained to.

The same can be said of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings volumes. He does not need to explain a culture to us, he merely shows us how things are done, from Gollum’s speech patterns to the Hobbits’s eating habits. He does not need to explain what elevenses are or the fact that the Hobbits’s calendar starts on a Saturday and ends on a Friday. But readers know this culture as much as they know their own. Why? Because Tolkien describes everything through dialogues and idiosyncrasies.

Perhaps the biggest example of the perfect explaining of cultures without explaining is J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Believe it or not, this series is heavy on British culture and traditions, from school regulations to casual conversations. For example, Rowling throws out the word prefects without having to explain what they are. She doesn’t tell you, she shows you.

As writers we should let our readers discover and explore everything themselves. The correct way is to show our readers the world and culture in our books and let them find out for themselves. Give them the opportunity to ask important questions, and let them answer those questions themselves. Don’t worry about explaining everything; focus on telling your story instead, and trust me, your story will be 110% much stronger and powerful if you do.

 

Christopher Loke, Executive Editor for Jolly Fish Press, has made a splash in the writing world with his powerful and touching novel, The Housekeeper’s Son. This novel explores how far a mother can go for love. The answer? Murder. The Housekeeper’s Son is available as a hardcover and e-book through all major online retailers near you. Follow Chris on Twitter and Facebook for updates on his signings and events.

This book opens with a recurring fantasy of mine. A matronly woman comes to the door wanting to cook and clean for the family. All she wants in return is a place to stay and a little petty cash. Not only is she willing and able, she’s fantastic at all things domestic, her attention to detail exquisite, her emotional radar attuned to the slightest nuance of every member of the family.

The biggest drawback? She’s a murder, of course. But that was 42 years ago. Have you tasted her apple pie? Seriously, the whole murder thing seems so passé in comparison.

Meet Eleanor Ethel Rose, a complex women of simple tastes and pleasures and epic doses of motherly love. In Christopher Loke’s debut novel, The Housekeeper’s Son, we meet Eleanor and slowly strip away the layers of her story, much like peeling an apple and removing the flesh to make a pie. Eventually you’re left with the once hidden core of motives and facts lying naked on the cutting board, revealing ideas and planting seeds that challenge the reader’s understanding of what it means to be a good mother—and son. There’s no O. Henryish gimmick in the twist; the whole apple is there from the beginning. The reveal is a matter of what’s not said as much as what is—but to tell more would only spoil it. If you like mysteries and thrillers, you’re sure to find it entertaining.

Set in rural Utah, The Housekeeper’s Son, touches on but doesn’t fully explore some of the hot button issues in modern LDS culture/Mormonism today: homosexuality, child abuse, incest, neglect, depression, and, of course, murder. It’s an adult book with adult themes handled in oblique, non-graphic ways. While I enjoyed it thoroughly, I want to stress that it’s not for middle grade readers of One Boy, No Water or The Niuhi Shark Saga.

After reading The Housekeeper’s Son and then wandering through my kitchen filled with dusty light fixtures and uninspired ingredients, I still think I’d hire Eleanor Ethel Rose. After all, as the saying goes: if good friends bail you out of jail, but great friends help bury the body, then Eleanor’s in a class of her own.

The Housekeeper’s Son, written by Christopher Loke and published by Jolly Fish Press is available in hardback and eBook from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other purveyors of fine literature.

Chris’s blog can be found at: A Writer’s Notebook, http://www.chrislokenotes.blogspot.com/

For more information about Jolly Fish Press and its titles, please visit: http://www.jollyfishpress.com/

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