The Great Pause and Writers of Color

I’ll be honest with you all. I’m decimated by this Great Pause and how it will affect writers and specifically writers of color. Just when it seemed like we were gaining traction in certain circles–the publishing world seemed to finally be listening to Latinx writers and their criticisms of AMERICAN DIRT and #ownvoices contracts seemed to be flourishing. Young friends were getting streaming deals for their diverse content. The African American mystery writer, Barbara Neely, whose novels made me feel less alone, was chosen to be feted at the Edgar Awards.

Now we have to take some steps back. Okay, Naomi, don’t be so dark. I know my family are fighters–damn, we survived a nuclear holocaust, so we got this, right?

A part of me just wants to be more passive and “realistic” and continue to look at my projected income and expenses in the next few years and cross out some numbers. I still am going to do that in anticipation of a worst-case scenario but it occurred to me this morning that I have also consider a best-case scenario. A scenario in which we fight this force with ingenuity and optimism.

This is going to require all the smarts, skills, creativity and camaraderie we can muster. If we are complacent and think that life will be restored exactly how we left it pre-coronavirus, we will most likely be battered by the killer wave that’s coming for us. There’s no doubt that we need to do something different.

On Sunday I participated in a virtual Potluck and Poetry reading on the video conference platform Zoom, organized by Scott Oshima, Sustainable Little Tokyo Program director. In this session in which we were eating our individual meals in different locations, I was exposed to the literature and concerns of Tongvans who are native to Southern California. For a couple of hours, I was transported to a world that I didn’t know but should know.

Frankly I was skeptical of what an online exchange could do for me, but you know what, it was actually sustaining. Nothing will beat a face-to-face meeting, but the use of this technology is an alternative that has possibilities.

Come back here and look for new ideas that we need to employ. If you want to contribute a blog post, let me know at bachi@naomihirahara.com.

Here a debut writer shares what she’s doing to launch her book “in the middle of a global pandemic”:

Launching a Debut Novel in Middle of a Global Pandemic

This Season of Discovery

What a difference a week makes!

Just last week I was writing about my quandary about attending a couple of out-of-town mystery events and now both have been canceled because of the coronavirus outbreak. Since Sunday I’ve been sheltering in place with my husband and, of course, Tulo.

It’s an uncertain season with many people suffering, either physically, financially and emotionally. I mourn that. I’ve been spending my time writing and cleaning our second bedroom for a possible displaced college student. This bedroom has been in disastrous, my dumping ground for research and correspondence. In sorting through papers, I found a memo pad with the name and phone number of my first acquiring editor. I realized that was from 2003, when the first Mas Arai mystery was purchased by Bantam Dell, an imprint of Random House. I also came across the commemorative booklet that I had created for my father’s funeral in 2012. It reminded me of my parents’ legacy as Hiroshima atomic-bomb survivors. They both went through one of the most horrific singular events in the 20th Century. It was something that did haunt my father at times, but he mostly led a life of joy–joy for fishing, joy for games, and joy of family.

Hold onto those things during this season. We will get through this.

Coronavirus Dilemma: Cancel or Not to Cancel?

It’s so stressful to figure out whether to cancel out-of-town book appearances during this time when we don’t know enough about the coronavirus.

This is my writing year, so I don’t have much lined up but I do have two events (more than a hundred people) for this month. I will be attending Left Coast Crime San Diego, but always planned a low-key presence. I have one panel, an improv performance, a small celebratory dinner for one of the honorees, and a few small get-togethers. I’ll be driving and I’m not staying the conference hotel (more because of financial reasons plus I was considering bringing Tulo–I’m not going to).

The following week, I was planning to travel to Chicago participate in Murder and Mayhem writers conference at Roosevelt University and Noir at the Bar at one of the Chicago’s new bookstores. I also intended to do more research on my manuscript-in-progress, which is set in Chicago. As I’m a working novelist, I usually travel bare bones–like Spirit Airlines with one bag without my laptop and staying in my own room in a hostel-like hotel. Thinking of about this kind of solo discount travel through LAX with also the looming cloud of the coronavirus did me in. I’m healthy, but I do have regular contact with my 83-year-old mother. And my old neurotic dog will probably have a nervous breakdown if I’m away for a length of time.

So it’s yes to the drive to San Diego with proper precaution (bringing Lysol and sanitizing wipes) and limited activity and no to Chicago. I’m sad about the decision about Chicago, but it feels right to me.

No Writer’s Block Here

I recently heard that writing leads to more writing, which I’ve found that is true. While being immersed in my novel-in-progress, I’ve been called to contribute some unrelated essays, short stories as well as new installments to my serial, Silk, on Discover Nikkei. What I’ve found is that the words and ideas have come easier than usual. A relief, because as I age, I seem to be checking the thesaurus more for synonyms because a word seems out of reach.

This weekend I met a high school student who asked me what I do about writer’s block. “Are you a perfectionist?” I asked her. She reluctantly admitted that she was and I told her that perfectionism holds creativity back. How can you be creative if you are afraid to make mistakes? I told her about Anne Lamott’s BIRD BY BIRD, which is my go-to resource for writing. As I’ve referred to here, she writes about shitty first drafts. Know that the first words you type in your computer may be terrible. Awful. But when you move from that and dig deeper, you may uncover the glimmer of a beautiful mineral hidden beneath the surface. Keep digging and keep polishing. If you don’t break ground, you won’t discover anything underneath. I told this young woman to just start typing, “I have writer’s block. I don’t know what to write. BLAH BLAH BLAH.” Inevitably when you start doing that, truth emerges. A story appears. A characters speaks.

I’m a strange one because some people have been very hard on me, but I give myself a lot of grace (maybe too much!). Grace perhaps comes from my faith or my late father. I love giving grace and mercy to people around me, so I figure I need to sprinkle some on myself. It’s not that I don’t have high expectations for myself, but I know that I will be missing the mark as I go through life as a writer and person. The worst is not to try when you’re capable.