Hans Ostrom has kindly tagged me in this year’s blog meme, a series of writers talking about their works in progress. (Thanks, Hans!)
What is the working title of the book?
I’m still playing with the title—but for now? Life After History: Talking to the Archives of My Dad’s Life.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
It started when my young daughters started to ask about my father. They knew he was dead, but they wanted to know more about him. My daughters will be children of the digital age, and I wanted to think about concrete ways to give them a sense of his presence. In trying to “restore” him for my daughters, I was struck by how much technology and communication has changed from the time of my father’s death (in the early 1980s) and our Facebooking, online lives now. So I started looking at the hard copy archives of my dad’s life: his unpublished book, manuscript his military records, his recipes. My sister’s a visual artist, and we also thought it would be wonderful if she could create a series of works that visually responds to the artifacts and his life (and death). She does some amazing work and I can’t wait to share it.
What genre does your book fall under?
It’s a memoir, although it will also include excerpts from my dad’s unpublished memoir and pictures of my sister’s artwork. Three voices for the price of one!
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
That’s a tough one, especially for a memoir; who do you cast as yourself? Lea Salonga, Tamlyn Tomita, and Suzy Nakamura are talented and beautiful Asian American actresses, and approximately the right age, but I am not sure I’d ask to cast them as me, precisely for those reasons!
For my dad? One of my grad professors, Steve Sumida, is an amateur actor, and looks a lot like my dad. I’ve gotten to know Ken Narasaki a bit, and he’d also be wonderful to play my dad at a few different ages. But actors like Sab Shimono are probably closer to the right age.
What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
It’s the story of two writers meeting on the page, and the results of that meeting: how I tried to restore my dad for my daughters by talking to the archives of his life, how technology helped that quest, and how I became a writer again through that process.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
Still writing that first draft, going on two years now.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
There are so many sources, though of course there’s my dad’s book. He died when I was ten years old, and left (among his many other papers) an unpublished memoir about his family’s incarceration at Tule Lake during World War II. I’m also inspired by other Asian American writers like Maxine Hong Kingston and Eugenia Kim, who have written works based on the lives of their families.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
I’d love to see the book spark different conversations about the legacies of memory and history. So many of us have experienced sweeping technological changes in our lives, but we’re also anxious about the costs and benefits of these changes. What gets lost between page and screen? What gets restored from screen back to page?
If the thousands of registered users on Ancestry.com are any indicator, many people are interested in genealogy and their family histories. People who are interested in family history might also wonder about the archives of their own families, both digital and in print.
Some of the book is about grief; I had not really processed some of my grief about my dad’s death for over twenty-five years. I’d like to think about this book as a step in helping to move grief conversations from the self-help aisle and into other areas of the bookstore.
And of course I hope that people (both within and without the Japanese American community) who are interested in the World War II incarceration experience will find a great deal that resonates.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I’d love to find representation with an agent who believes in me and my work, and an editor (and publishing house) who feel the same way.