Friday, October 28, 2011

A Novel Travelogue

The other night I spoke to a group at our local library about Japan, my novel, and self-publishing. Because the characters I created in the novel travel on an imaginary tour to some of my favorite real places in Japan, and because I have pictures of the places, the presentation follows the tour. For those who've read the novel (or who plan to read it), the pictures add a layer of verisimilitude. For those who've been to Japan, the presentation is a trip down memory lane.

At the end of the talk, I invited questions. What roused my interest in Japan? How did I create the characters in the book? What happens to the tablets in my author picture?

When I was a GI stationed in Korea, I went to Japan on vacation several times. I was fascinated by the language, the culture, the people, so much so that I re-enlisted to be stationed there. I have been interested ever since.

I'm afraid I don't have a good answer to how I create characters. I think I begin with a vague form in a situation or with a history and then try to fill in the outline with as much detail as possible: what the character looks like, sounds like, acts like, thinks like. For main characters I often draw up a detailed biography: where they were born, when, family details, education, formative events, basic drives, and more.

The plaques are votive wooden tablets offered in prayer or in thanks for a prayer answered at a Shinto shrine. One buys it at the shrine, writes on the back, and hangs it at the shrine. At the end of the year, I'm told, the priests make a bonfire of the tablets so that the prayers continue on up to heaven.

At the end, of course, I sold and inscribed books. I can only hope that the people who came had half as much fun as I did.

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