Monday, August 22, 2011

Interview with Wendy Nelson Tokunaga

Esteemed Author and MFA, Wendy Nelson Tokunaga, agreed to an interview on my blog. Wendy has written a number of novels, is a freelance editor, and teaches writing classes. She was my substantive editor for Koicto, which will be released in December – I definitely recommend her if you’re looking for an editor.

Hi Wendy!

I know you went through quite a long process getting your first book contract. Can you tell us a little about your experience?

Yes, it took me a long time to get my first novel published. My “debut” novel was actually the fifth manuscript I’d written. I made lots of mistakes in the process and it was quite a learning experience. But now there’s so much info on the Internet and blogs from agents and editors telling writers clearly what they need to do in their query letters and manuscripts and I advise people to do their homework. I also feel that novelists should have their manuscripts looked at by a developmental editor or manuscript consultant who will look at things like plot, pacing, structure, character development, style, voice, etc. Critique groups are helpful to a point, but I think having your entire ms read by a qualified editor with fresh eyes will do wonders. I know this helped me!

Could you tell us about your current projects?

My agent is in the midst of shopping my current novel (not about Japan!) to publishers, but I’m already beginning work on some new projects, including a young adult novel with a Japan theme and an adult novel that might turn into some kind of thriller. :-) I’m also excited to have my work published in several forthcoming anthologies: an essay in Madonna and Me [] coming next March by Soft Skull Press; a piece in Essays for a New Generation, to be published by Macmillan and a short story in an upcoming book of Japan-related fiction to be published next year by Stone Bridge Press.

~Amy – Wow! It sounds like you’ve been busy!

I read your amazing book, Love in Translation. How did you come up with the story, and decide to write about Celeste’s experiences in Japan?

Thanks! Love in Translation is my cockeyed valentine to Japan, a place I’ve both loved and loathed for different reasons. I wanted to write this to reflect some of my experiences in Japan of being a foreigner (gaijin) but within a completely fictional story. Celeste finds herself unexpectedly in Japan looking for a long lost relative who may hold the key to the identity of the father she never knew. She finds herself falling in love with a Japanese man, another unexpected development and the book asks the question whether love can transcend culture.

Presently you have a self-published e-book out, Marriage in Translation. Would you tell us about your book, and share with us what persuaded you to take the e-book route?

Marriage in Translation: Foreign Wife, Japanese Husband consists of 14 candid interviews of Western women married to Japanese men. It started out as a series of interviews on my Japan-themed blog, which generated a lot of interest and I did look into publishing it “traditionally.” But it seemed prudent to just put out the book as soon as possible because of the demand and a traditional publisher would have taken about a year. I also wanted to keep the book relatively short and I’m not sure if a traditional publisher would have done with that. In addition, I wanted to include photographs of the interviewees and their husbands and that would have made it expensive to reproduce in print. So an e-book seemed like the best way to go and I’ve been happy with the experience. The book is currently available for Kindle (either on the Kindle e-reader or on various Kindle apps for smart phones, iPads, PCs, etc.), but hope to have it available on other digital platforms soon.

How can writers rise above the “white noise” when marketing e-books?

I self-published a novel in 2000 called No Kidding through iUniverse, which won the Mainstream/Literary Fiction category in the Writer’s Digest’s Best Self-Published Book Awards. So I was somewhat experienced with online marketing. But things are so different now and, in my opinion, there are many more opportunities now. Yes, there is a lot of white noise and competition and it’s challenging to get heard about the fray. The key is to create a platform for yourself and to not just promote your book 100% of the time. Establish who you are and offer people interesting content and information on Facebook and Twitter—not just what you ate for breakfast or how much you love your cat. :-)

What are your upcoming writing workshops?

For those people who live in the San Francisco Bay Area, I’m doing my workshop for novelists on Strong Beginnings at Book Passage in Corte Madera on September 17 []. I’m also teaching a workshop at Harbor Books in Half Moon Bay on October 15. And I hope to be teaching again next year through Stanford University’s Continuing Studies Online Writer’s Studio.

Now for the fun stuff.  Do you have any guilty pleasures or fun interests?

I don’t believe in guilty pleasures—I have no guilt about anything I enjoy doing! I love to watch Househunters International and see how people live all over the world and I also enjoy old films on Turner Classic Movies. In another life I was a musician and I enjoy singing Japanese karaoke when I have time and singing jazz standards with my husband accompanying me on piano. I also love trying new restaurants and spending time in the wine country.

Where can readers find you on the Web?

The San Francisco Chronicle called my debut novel, Midori by Moonlight, a “terrific first novel.” Now I’m back with my second book, Love in Translation, which again explores the themes of Japan and Japanese culture and being a stranger in a strange land, which have played a major role in my life and writing.

For anyone who’s ever dreamt of finding love and family in an unexpected place...

After receiving a puzzling phone call and a box full of mysteries, 33-year-old fledgling singer Celeste Duncan is off to Japan to search for a long, lost relative who could hold the key to the identity of the father she never knew. This overwhelming place where nothing is quite as it seems changes Celeste in ways she never expected, leading her to ask: What is the true meaning of family? And what does it mean to discover your own voice?  

“A delightful novel about love, identity, and what it means to be adrift in a strange land. This story of a search has an Alice in Wonderland vibe; when Celeste climbs down the rabbit hole, one can't help but follow along.”—Michelle Richmond, New York Times bestselling author of The Year of Fog 

“An amusing story of one woman's quest for her father and the improbable path of love.” —Meg Waite Clayton, author of The Wednesday Sisters

"Tokunaga... describe[s] Japanese culture in absorbing detail."--Publishers Weekly

"A delightful plot with wonderful characterizations."—Affair de Coeur Magazine 

"Four stars!" —RT Book Reviews Magazine

"Witty, lighthearted and charming story of finding love in an unexpected place."—Fresh Fiction 

Many thanks, Wendy, for spending your time on my blog! Best wishes for your continued success. 


  1. Wendy, your work sounds fascinating! I love books set in cultures different from my own. Best of luck!