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Monday, March 14, 2016

GUEST BLOG: The Allure Of Tokyo by Dobromir Harrison

Tokyo is a city that works. That is, on the surface, everything is fine and clean. The trains generally run on time. Public restrooms are everywhere and usually in good condition. There’s a convenience store or Starbucks on every street corner, it seems. You can walk in the city at any time and feel safe (though your mileage may vary if you’re a woman – some crimes are under-reported). The food is delicious, and often surprisingly cheap.

I could have written a vampire story anywhere. I could have chosen cities in the US or my home country, the UK. Places that would have been more violent, where you had to look over your shoulder more. But I didn’t think I could do them justice. I wanted my story to feel authentic. I knew I’d be up against it writing vampires, something so overplayed in modern literature. I needed something to make them stand out, and to drag readers in.

Tokyo was a delight to write. It was a place I knew well, and a city I loved. Like the best settings, it was also a place of contrasts and hidden things. Look closer, and the darker parts of the city come to the fore – crimes that go unreported, poverty and desperation hidden away, a shocking suicide rate that delays trains on a daily basis. Any city of over 13 million people is bound to have a lot of darkness, and a wealth of settings for any writer.

The setting drove much of the story for me. It was a thrill to place my characters in Tokyo and watch them interact with the city and its inhabitants. I decided to set most of RACHEL in places I knew well, streets I’d walked down so many times. I’ve been to almost every place mentioned in the book, I knew the sights and sounds and smells, and I sat down each evening and tried to get that across in the writing; change my perspective, see things through Rachel’s eyes, write about places I knew from someone else’s perspective. That was the challenge I set myself as a writer, and I’m thrilled with how it turned out.

The problem with writing about Japan, though, is that most of your potential readers haven’t been there. Set something in an American city and people know the landmarks, or can imagine them clearly. They can picture the kind of places you create, even if they’re made-up. They know the shops and restaurants characters may walk past, the scents that drift through the streets, the car horns and shouting they might hear. They won’t necessarily picture a typical scene in Tokyo. They won’t see the 7-Eleven on the corner, with salarymen smoking around the ashtray outside by the trashcans. They won’t imagine the overflowing bin of empty coffee cans next to one of many vending machines, some of the drinks labeled “attakai” (hot) because it’s winter and people want a warm soft drink. They won’t know the tiny Shinto shrines that dot the landscape, sometimes hidden next to office buildings or on the roofs of department stores.

So you have to write for those people. You have to find ways of bringing them into the story. Japan can remain mysterious, but they have to be able to relate to the narrative. Sure, they might not realize that your character is staying in Ikebukuro because there are some empty rundown buildings on the north side where the suburbs begin, but they can still get a sense of the area through how you write about it. They may not know that because someone lives in Roppongi he must be pretty wealthy, but they can still see his apartment through the protagonist’s eyes and understand how she feels about it. Character is everything in a story like this, and I purposely wrote it to be fast-paced so readers wouldn’t have to worry about every little detail. Rachel’s life is messy, and dangerous, and violent, and I trusted that if people cared about what happens to her they would follow along with the story, even if I didn’t take the time to explain every little thing about the city or the culture.

Rachel herself also changed to accommodate this. In early drafts, she was clueless, until I realized she would know the city well. In fact, we see this in flashbacks – a younger, innocent character new to the country, terrified of going outside, contrasted with the way she is today: confident, not getting lost in the city, speaking the language fluently and knowing where to hunt her prey. Creating that contrast really brought the story to life for me, and meant I could have my cake and eat it! I could show Rachel coming to terms with living in Japan as an outsider, have her stumble and make mistakes in the distant past. And I could show her in the present as a more confident character, still messing up but someone we can follow for a whole novel. A monstrous but charismatic tour guide to Tokyo and Japan. Always the outsider, but with a depth and complexity of character that would bring any story to life.


Official Author Website

GUEST AUTHOR INFORMATION: Dobromir Harrison was born and brought up in the UK, after growing into adulthood, he spent 11 years in Japan, and since then has moved to Northern California. Growing up Clive Barker's books held a special position in his heart. He especially loves stories told from the monster's perspective. Dobromir and his wife share a passion for board games. They live in Crescent City with their cat, Koshka, who keeps them awake most nights with a truly hideous meow.


Bibliotropic said...

A vampire story set in Tokyo? ...This is my "shut up and take my money" moment of the day!

Jennifer S said...

Sounds perfect. Too bad it falls flat. *not recommended*

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