Friday, March 18, 2016

Guest Blogger: Naomi Hirahara

John here.

A year ago, I asked my pal SJ Rozan for a recommended read. She gave me the name of an author I'd never read but upon reading MURDER ON BAMBOO LANE immediately loved. That author is Edgar Award-winner Naomi Hirahara, this weekend's guest blogger.

Naomi Hirahara, born and raised in Southern California, is the author of the Mas Arai mystery series, which features a Japanese American gardener and atomic-bomb survivor who solves crimes (SUMMER OF THE BIG BACHI, GASA-GASA GIRL, SNAKESKIN SHAMISEN, BLOOD HINA and STRAWBERRY YELLOW). Books in this series have been translated into Japanese, Korean and French.

MURDER ON BAMBOO LANE, her new mystery series with a female twentysomething LAPD bicycle cop, was released with Berkley Prime Crime in spring 2014, with A GRAVE ON GRAND AVENUE following in April 2015.

She also has penned a middle-grade novel, 1001 CRANES, which was chosen as an Honor Book for the Youth Literature of the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature in 2009.

A former editor of the largest Japanese American newspaper in the U.S., she also has released a number of nonfiction works, and her short stories have been included in various anthologies. Her sixth Mas Arai novel, SAYONARA SLAM, will be released in May 2016. I hope you enjoy her post. To learn more, visit her web-site.

Flourishing in Blockbuster Times
By Naomi Hirahara

Last year I was invited to speak at the San Fernando branch of the California Writers Club. In addition to a consummate L.A. meeting space -- Motion Picture Television Fund retirement home next to Spielberg Way, the club had wonderful members devoted to improving their craft.

My topic for that talk was “Flourishing in Blockbuster Times.” Here’s the blurb I provided them:

According to prevailing economic theory, publishers and movie studios need to chase blockbusters to stay in business. But what about on the other side – creatives who are not necessarily making blockbusters, but still producing valuable work that provokes, entertains and informs society. Are we destined to be on the financial periphery – writing creatively on the side or perhaps a hobby? Or can we make creative production at the center of our work lives?

What spurred this topic was an online debate about the long tail versus the blockbuster. A Harvard business professor, Anita Elberse, has introduced a strategy that media conglomerates should go after the blockbuster movie, books, etc. as a better financial bet than going for the long tail of countless smaller projects. Professor Elberse had been making the rounds on talk shows since 2008 – I had been clueless at the time, but was witnessing this playing out in the 2010s.

In a strange way learning about this established financial theory for the pursuit of blockbusters made me feel better. What I faced in publishing wasn’t personal; it was the system. I could cry and wail, or I could put on my armor and grab my weapon and figure out where there were cracks in the wall. This was actually no different from what I faced my whole professional writing life. So here are a few things that I’ve learned on the way.

Timing is everything.

Luck does play a role in a writer’s success. For instance, timing. But we often can’t predict the right time for a book. The important thing is that we actually create our stories and put them out there. If they aren’t written, you’ll definitely have no luck.

Be open to change.

If one path isn’t working for you, perhaps think about going in another direction.

Never say never and don’t burn bridges.

I know that when we feel personally mistreated by a certain company, system or person, the tendency would be to lash out. That’s where professional comrades and bars come in. No need to rant and rave in public, and that includes the Internet. I’m talking business, not systematic discrimination. There’s a place to put the latter on notice in a big way.

Work from your strengths.

Is description, not dialogue, your thing? Then saturate your writing with your beautiful prose. If it’s dialogue, maybe keep your descriptions to a minimum. Are you more of a comedic writer than hard-boiled? Then own your power. There are many homes for books. Don’t try to be like your neighbor or even like your favorite scribe if your writing voice takes you to a different place.

Live cheaply and smartly.

Do you want to write on a fulltime basis? Then don’t drink champagne unless it’s purchased for you. Be smart on promotional travel, especially if it’s on your own dime. In the beginning, swallow your pride and stay on friend’s couches.

Ask for money.

When you are starting your career, it makes sense to do select non-bookstore events pro bono. But once the invitations from groups and organizations come in, it’s time to inquire about an honorarium, at least to cover travel. Your time, too, is valuable. You could be writing rather than speaking.

Global can be your friend. And so can other licenses and rights.

My debut novel, published in 2004, got its first French deal last year. The same publisher picked up the second and third. Audio books for five in my series were released last year. And finally some serious movement on an independent feature film this year. Take good care of your books. Keep nourishing the stories so they are not forgotten. Sometimes the right timing is 11 years after the publication. This takes me to the first point on this list. Timing is everything. Rinse and repeat.

More on big-publishing consolidation here.


Naomi Hirahara said...

Thanks for having me here, John!

J.A. Hennrikus said...

Terrific advice! So important but difficult to follow those steps.

J.A. Hennrikus said...

Terrific advice! So important but difficult to follow those steps.