Saturday, March 31, 2018

Guest Blogger: Naomi Hirahara

Hi, everyone. John here. This week's guest is my dear friend, Naomi Hirahra. I have enjoyed reading (and teaching) her books, and my students have enjoyed her Skype visits to my classes. She is the Edgar Award-winning author of two mystery series set in Southern California. Her Mas Arai series, which features a Hiroshima survivor and gardener, ends with the publication of HIROSHIMA BOY in 2018. The books have been translated into Japanese, Korean and French. The first in her Officer Ellie Rush bicycle cop mystery series received the T. Jefferson Parker Mystery Award. She has also published noir short stories, middle-grade fiction and nonfiction history books. For more information, go to

Beauty of the Fan Convention

By Naomi Hirahara

I got a new perspective on mystery book conventions when I was describing them to my friend Martin, a punk rock aficionado and former zine publisher. “Oh, that’s your fan base, right?” he said, commenting that an entertainer always wants to be where their fans are.

New Yorker SJ Rozan with Naomi
I honestly didn’t view the attendees of Left Coast Crime and Bouchercon in the same category as Comicon cosplayers or groupies. As you probably know, most people at our conventions skew older and are predominantly white, different from my identity, although as the years pass, my hair is graying more and more and I now definitely fall in AARP designated status.

But as I was attending Left Coast Crime Reno as one of its guests of honor (unbelievable – but that’s another post), I changed my thinking on how I would approach the experience. I would still reserve time to hang out with my writer friends, whether it would be a one-on-one walk by the river in downtown Reno or a bowling party held by my publisher. But more than any other mystery convention, I decided that I needed to hang out with fans, or readers.

Bowling for beers and laughs
Probably the best thing to break the ice was agreeing to lead a Mystery Improv session. This had never been done before and I had only taken one class last summer, but I suggested it as an activity as a break from the talking heads of panels. As time passed and I got more busy, I tried to get out of it, but programmer Chantelle Aimée Osman insisted on it, and she can be quite convincing.

Oh, well, I thought. There probably would be only a handful of people attending so it could be a small, intimate affair. I was even finding it difficult to recruit my fellow writers to participate, so my expectations were low. But about 30 minutes before the session, people started walking in and filling seats. It didn’t stop. The fans were curious and perhaps they also wanted to get away from panels, too.

Improv with Glen Erik Hamilton, left, and Tyler Dilts.
I purposely planned on doing simple games that I had done before; at least I understood how they worked. I was delighted to see volunteers from the audience – some of them writers, but many of them fans. It didn’t matter if you weren’t a published author; you got a chance to be on stage and be the center of attention.

With Angie of Petaluma, CA
The other guest of honor, William Kent Krueger, also did an improv session with me and afterwards he said, “We should do this at every convention.” I kept hearing that over and over and I do think there are plans to reprise it at next year’s Left Coast Crime (but it doesn’t have to be led by me!).

During the awards dinner (food was excellent, by the way), I hosted a table, and had a chance to talk to readers. One, Angie, I had seen before but I never really had a long conversation. I learned that she was part of a book group which had read my first mystery, SUMMER OF THE BIG BACHI. “We were hooked from then,” Angie said. A resident of Petaluma, she drives an hour to San Francisco to attend the ballet as a season subscriber. Another couple, Dwight and Kathy, were from Riverside, California, and active in the movement to preserve the Harada House, important because the property was used to challenge the alien land law in California that barred Japanese and other Asian immigrants from purchasing land. They were also close friends of literary writer Susan Straight, who won an Edgar for her short story in LOS ANGELES NOIR and a wonderful supporter of my Mas Arai series.
Full improv mode with Guest of Honor William Kent Krueger

There were many other conversations, an elderly woman who remembered her Japanese American friend disappearing from elementary school during World War ii and no one explaining to her what had happened. Tears came to her eyes and even though she must have been in her eighties, I felt her childhood pain and confusion. I began to realize that as I sometimes feel stereotyped in these settings, I was also stereotyping the attendees. Each has an interesting story to tell, a reason why she or he loves mysteries and fan conventions.

On the last day of the convention, I had an interesting conversation with a long-time convention organizer. We both are very much aware of the aging of the attendees and planners – would there be these types of gatherings, produced by volunteers, in ten years? My friend was unsure. But then younger enthusiasts like Chantelle, author Jay Stringer and Erin Mitchell came to mind. Maybe there’s a future for these fan conventions. I certainly hope so. In the meantime, I plan to take another class in improv this spring. You never know when it will come in handy.
Dwight and Kathy from Riverside

Naomi Hirahara’s final Mas Arai mystery, HIROSHIMA BOY, was published this spring.


Gringos at the Gate said...

See, that'll teach you to talk to Martin Wong. You won't make that mistake again ;-)

Sybil Johnson said...

The improv was fun. Nice to have something different. Interesting about the conversation about future conventions. I hear that a lot at decorative painting events. Everyone is aging and there aren't very many younger people attending. Never thought about it for mystery conventions.

Donis Casey said...

Love love love Naomi. Oh, and I love Mas, too.

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