A Writer’s Inspirations
by Wendy Nelson Tokunaga
The Creative Writing 101 teacher stated that the course requirement was for each student to complete three short stories in a semester. They could be about anything—anything that inspired us.
I’d enrolled in this community college evening course inspired by my colleagues at a technical writing job I’d just landed in Silicon Valley. By day we wrote summaries of computer magazine articles and at night, many of my fellow employees wrote fiction. I’d always had a strong creative side and spent a lot of my twenties and thirties pursuing music and writing songs. But I’d never written fiction. It appealed to me and that’s how I found myself one September night with the daunting task of writing three short stories in about 16 weeks.
Could I do it? And, even more important, what would I write about? What would be my inspiration?
It surprised me when the stories that poured forth turned out to be about Japan and Japanese culture, though if I’d thought about it, it was a natural outcome.
I’d become a raging Japanophile starting in college when I stumbled upon a course called Japanese American Personality, which filled a general studies requirement. Taught by a dynamic Japanese-American professor, he fueled my interest in all things Japanese—the literature, the tea ceremony, the language, etc. It didn’t hurt that he was also good looking as I’d always been attracted to Asian men instead of big, blond football types. I also greatly admired the politeness, order and ritual of the Japanese language and culture, which is generally much more reserved and refined, as opposed to in-your-face. Being a Caucasian-American with no prominent heritage or religious identity, the idea of embracing a new culture was attractive to me.
Friends kept saying that I must have been Japanese in a past life because it was such a good fit. My passion for music dovetailed when my first trip to Japan was as a winner in a songwriting contest sponsored by a Japanese record company.
Eventually I lived in Tokyo for a year. I taught English, did recorded narration work for language tapes, and sang with some rock bands. When I returned home I participated in Japanese karaoke contests in San Francisco’s Japantown and won a number of prizes. And it was in San Francisco that I met and married my husband Manabu Tokunaga, an expatriate who had moved to the United States from Osaka when he was eighteen.
Japan and Japanese culture have not only influenced those first short stories and, eventually, my two novels, “Midori by Moonlight” and “Love in Translation,” but they have played a major role in my life.
I couldn’t help but be inspired.
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Wendy Nelson Tokunaga is the author of the novels, MIDORI BY MOONLIGHT (St. Martin's, Available Now) and the forthcoming LOVE IN TRANSLATION (St. Martin's, November 2009). Japan and Japanese culture have been major influences on her life and this is reflected in much of her writing. Her novel, NO KIDDING, won the Literary/Mainstream Fiction category in Writer’s Digest’s Best Self-Published Book Awards in 2002. She is also the author of two children's non-fiction books, and has had short stories published in various literary journals. Wendy signed her two-book deal with St. Martin’s just as she was beginning the MFA in Writing program at the University of San Francisco in 2006. Along with her MFA, she also holds a BA in Psychology from San Francisco State University.
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