Please welcome Barry Lancet to the blog! His debut thriller, Japantown, just came out in September and he stopped by to answer some questions about the book (plus much more), and also, we have copy to give away to one lucky winner (be sure to check out the details at the bottom of the post!)
Will you tell us a bit about your debut novel, JAPANTOWN, and its hero, Jim Brodie?
The book opens with the perfect murder in San Francisco’s Japantown with no sign of the killer and one clue that no one can read—a Japanese character written on a scrap of paper. The SFPD call in Japan expert Jim Brodie, an American born in Tokyo to Caucasian parents. Brodie begins to track the Japantown character and notices odd things happening around him. He soon realizes that as he’s hunting down the origin of the character someone is hunting him.
Why do you think readers will connect with Jim?
First, when it comes to Japan, he sees things most people can’t. He has a deep insider knowledge and can explain it in a way everyone can understand. And second, while he’s street smart and versed in martial arts, he’s struggling just like the rest of us to strike the right balance in his life. He’s fighting to make ends meet at his fledgling antique shop in San Francisco while trying to raise his six-year-old daughter singlehandedly. His Japanese wife died in an accidental fire several years earlier. Both personally and professionally, Brodie’s got a foot on both sides of the Pacific and is trying to find a balance between them.
What is your writing process like?
I have a great time with it. I want to make each book thrilling, informative, fun and surprising. Another of my goals is to reveal parts of Japan and Asia in a way that hasn’t been done before, but always from within the plot of a mystery/thriller.
I work in two sessions, morning and afternoon, with a long break in the middle for reading and other activities. By breaking the day into two parts, I come to keyboard with a clear mind twice a day.
Usually I would ask what inspired you to write JAPANTOWN, but you actually address that on your website. Don’t suppose you’d want to elaborate on that interrogation in Tokyo…?
Sure. The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department was instrumental in helping me find direction. How many authors can make that claim? For years I wanted to write a novel but couldn’t find a focus. When I returned to Japan to stay for a two-year stint—it’s now more than twenty-five, but that’s another story—it occurred to me that I could write about Japan but that’s as far as I got.
Then the Tokyo MPD called me down for a “voluntary interview” I couldn’t refuse. They grilled me for three hours. At first I was angry, but my anger was soon smothered by a fascination with the clever and very subtle cat-and-mouse game unfolding before me. It had taken me six months to get a long-term visa into Japan. The effort required letters of recommendation, copies of my bank balances, and more. The process was long and tedious. Once I got the visa, I packed up, moved to Tokyo, and now—with this MPD interrogation—I was on the verge of losing everything I’d worked to build over the last two years. The police questioned me on every aspect of my personal and professional life. I could have refused or cried foul or “unfair!”, but then I would have been politely asked to leave the country for good. I opted to play the game as best I could, and I survived.
I gained two characters from the experience, a surly Tokyo PI named Noda, who is Brodie’s sidekick and mentor in JAPANTOWN, and Inspector Kato who has a brief mention in the book and a major role in book 2, TOKYO KILL, due out next fall. Noda has become a reader favorite, and there are early signs that Inspector Kato will have his fans as well.
Oh yes. And the grievous infraction that started it all? A noncriminal offense: after a visit to Immigration to extend my visa, I’d neglected to notify the city office of the change. This slip allowed officials to probe into every aspect of my life. Any wrong answer would have seen me kicked out. Fortunately I managed to give answers to satisfy them while protecting myself. My gain all around in the end!
What do you enjoy the most about writing suspense?
Writing about what I call “the high and low.” Every thriller explores some dark corners of society, a group, or a person. But I want to do more. I want to weave the more elevated and intriguing aspects of Japanese culture into my stories. Not just crime or conspiracy or the dirty underside of things, but aspects of life and culture we can revel in and enjoy. Then readers get the thrills and something extra—a rewarding glimpse into a new world.
What, or who, have been some of the biggest influences on your writing?
Well, first, Japan itself, and a burning desire to get a look behind closed doors. Second, the firm belief that you can do anything with a book. There are a lot of talented writers in contemporary fiction and its various genres who are taking readers on incredible journeys. In the field of mysteries and thrillers, there are a number of authors with inimitable styles and great storytelling abilities. I’d like to be able to one day join their ranks.
What are you reading now?
Among the books on my desk at the moment are The Prophet by Ethan Cross, Sacrifice Fly by Tim O’Mara, Black Friday by Michael Sears, The Doll by Taylor Stevens, Learning to Swim by Sara J. Henry, The Accident by Chris Pavone, Sandstorm by Alan Lee, The Breach by Patrick Lee, Desolation Row by Kay Kendall, and I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes.
As an American living in Japan, what do you think is one of the most common misconceptions the Japanese have about America, and vice versa?
On the lighter side, the belief that our fast food is good and that all Americans eat it! The Japanese flock to McDonald’s and KFC and all the rest of the fast food chains, mostly for a quick “American fix,” I realize, but still. We have so much more.
Putting the cultural shoe on the other foot, many Americans go to Japan expecting to see “quaint” around every corner. Japan is a modern country, with modern concerns and achievements, as well as an impressive culture. The traditional abounds—but you’ve got to scale down your focus. You don’t go to Japan for a Grand Canyon or a Niagara Falls. After Mount Fuji, you’ll find the heart of the country in its small vistas. Look at the detail. A traditional home sandwiched between two apartment blocks. A bud vase hanging in a corner, a shoji screen over a window, a slight flicker of amusement in someone’s look. Outside the traditional quarters or towns, the grand has been minimized but it is there in abundance.
If someone were to visit you in Japan for the first time, where would you take them?
I’d mix old and new. In Tokyo, it might be a walk down the quiet old neighborhoods of Nezu, or a visit to the big temple in Asakusa, followed by a river cruise in one of their state-of-the-art ferries. Then a tour of some high-end art and craft galleries, and a few choice museums or, depending on their interests, tours of the Shibuya, Harajuku, or Kabukicho districts.
In Kyoto, I’d take them to some of my favorite temples—with their world-class yet subtle gardens, statuary, architecture, and more—then walks through the town at night, one of the most overlooked aspects of the old capital. In both places, I’d include meals at a good izakaya pub-restaurant, an eel (unagi) place, good noodles, good sushi, good kaiseki, maybe blowfish (fugu), and so on, with some sake or shochu (a local spirit) or Japanese craft beer thrown into the mix. There’s plenty more, but you did say “first time.”
What’s next for you?
I just put the second book in the Jim Brodie series to bed, so it’s on to book 3 after a bit of holiday festivities. In Japan that means a round of year-end parties with friends. Then I’ll take a quick trip into the mountains, with a stopover in Kyoto.
2.) Giveaway is for 1 copy of JAPANTOWN by Barry Lancet to 1 winner
3.) Giveaway is open to US residents or those with a US address for mailing (no PO Boxes)
4.) You must enter on or before 12/4/13
5.) Giveaway book courtesy of Simon & Schuster
6.) Please see my Giveaway Policy.
FIVE BODIES. ONE CLUE. NOT A TRACE OF THE KILLER.
San Francisco antiques dealer Jim Brodie recently inherited a stake in his father’s Tokyo-based private investigation firm, which means the single father of six-year-old Jenny is living a busy intercontinental life, traveling to Japan to acquire art and artifacts for his store and consulting on Brodie Security’s caseload at home and abroad.
One night, an entire family is gunned down in San Francisco’s bustling Japantown neighborhood, and Brodie is called on by the SFPD to decipher the lone clue left at the crime scene: a unique Japanese character printed on a slip of paper drenched in blood.
Brodie can’t read the clue. But he may have seen it before—at the scene of his wife’s death in a house fire four years ago.
With his deep array of Asian connections and fluency in Japanese, Brodie sets out to solve a seemingly perfect crime and at the same time learn whether his wife’s tragic death was more than just an accident. And as he unravels a web of intrigue stretching back centuries and connected to the murders in San Francisco, the Japantown killer retaliates with a new target: Brodie’s daughter.