Category Archives: Naomi Hirahara

Everything You Want to Know About Library of Congress Numbers, ISBNs and More


Ever since I’ve struck out on my own in 1997, I’ve worked consistently on some element of book publishing–writer, editor, publicist, and yes, publisher. In addition to writing fiction and doing some public relations on the side, I have a small, tiny press–Midori Books (not to be confused with the S&M bondage outfit). I call it a legacy press; it’s not vanity in that we don’t publish anyone’s work indiscriminately.

Instead of depending on the consumer market, I’m paid by organizations, families, and individuals to either write and/or produce history publications or memoirs. I use freelance artists, copyeditors, and sometimes production managers. Not all of the books are sold over Amazon or retail stores; instead they may be distributed by corporations/nonprofit organizations to employees, members, and stockholders or families to friends, relatives, and colleagues.

Since I worked as a newspaper editor for almost ten years, the transition from creating newspapers to producing books was not that big of a leap. But there are some differences. The two most distinct differences are related to numbers: 1) Library of Congress catalog number and 2) ISBN.

Let me first explain these numbers to you:

1) Library of Congress CIP vs. PCN

Every bibliophile has heard of the Library of Congress. I’ve never had the opportunity to visit, but picture it as this vast, hyperorganized tomb of books, pristine marble floors and columns, and row after row of book shelves. I’m not sure if the reality is as idealized as my image, but after perusing its web site, I’ve concluded it comes pretty darn close.

Anyway, there are two numbers available to publishers:

The CIP is the luxury model of the Library of Congress number. The publisher sends an electronic file of the manuscript weeks before the book is due to be published to the Library of Congress and the staff creates bibliographic information based on the contents. Sometimes the bibliographic information is sparse, consisting of only the title and the author’s name. This information, which is often printed on the copyright page of a book (usually opposite the title page), is available to library and book vendor databases throughout the nation.

For instance, my first mystery, SUMMER OF THE BIG BACHI, published by Bantam Dell, has the following subject headings:

1. Japanese Americans–Fiction

2. Los Angeles (Calif.)–Fiction

3. Gardeners–Fiction

4. Aged men–Fiction

5. Revenge–Fiction

I especially like the last subject heading. So I suppose if some student is doing a research paper on revenge for an English class, he or she can look up Revenge-Fiction and come up with SUMMER OF THE BIG BACHI. It’s too bad that Hiroshima or the atomic bomb wasn’t mentioned. Oh well.

My bibliographic information also includes a number, the title, my name, and heaven forbid, my birth year. I understand that the birth year is important to distinguish one Grace Lee from another Grace Lee or perhaps a Jeff Cohen from another Jeff Cohen, but a Naomi Hirahara? How many Naomi Hiraharas are out there? Age is not that big a deal for me, but I’ve noticed that many authors don’t necessarily have their birth year published on their copyright page. Well, enough said about that.

As a tiny, tiny press, Midori Books is only eligible for a Preassigned Control Number (PCN), not a CIP. The books that I publish unfortunately do not get a bibliographic record. As a result, I don’t have to e-mail the manuscript to the Library of Congress. I merely provide them with the exact title, publication date, ISBN, etc. In usually less than a week, a nice woman (or at least a computer program with the nice name of a woman) sends me a number that I’m supposed to place on the copyright page. This number provides libraries with a unique identification number that is used for cataloguing purposes. It’s up to the publisher to then send the printed product to the Library of Congress, which then decides whether the book is worthy for the tomb.


Everyone knows what ISBN stands for, right? Okay, I see some of you scratching your heads. ISBN is the International Standard Book Number. Oh, so what the heck does that mean? It’s basically the fingerprint of your precious book–the "unique identifier" assigned to each book format (hardcover and paperback versions of the same book get different ISBNs) for booksellers throughout the world. Or at least Amazon, which requires it and a corresponding bar code, as well as a whole lot of retailers. It usually consists of 10 numbers, or digits, that is until January 1, 2007. That’s kind of the Y2K time for ISBN numbers. Because officially those numbers need to be 13 digits by the beginning of next year.

Why? Well, just like overflowing land fills, there’s too much junk–excuse me, books. Or not enough space. So yes, what I’m saying is that we have an ISBN shortage. And apparently 13-digit number would conform more readily to the international standard.

So how does a small publisher get an ISBN? Let me tell you–it’s become increasingly difficult, at least from my limited experience. I suspect that the popularity of self-publishing and POD print services, which have contributed to the 195,000 books published in 2004, have caused a numerical logjam. The keys to these numbers in the U.S. are owned by an agency called R.R. Bowker in New Jersey. In 2000, when I applied for a set of ISBNs for one of my clients, there was no problem. We filled out the application and paid our 200-plus dollars and wha-la, in a month’s time, we received a set of ten spanking new numbers.

But after I created Midori Books and applied for my own numbers in 2003, I hit a major roadblock. Month after month passed and no numbers. Our book was at the printer in Vermont and no number. I sent e-mail after e-mail and even called this mysterious place called Bowker multiple times, and finally, after much cajoling, my numbers arrived in an e-mail. Now I could proceed–I then ordered and received a bar code over the Internet almost instantaneously.

The ISBN is a mighty number, and I discovered this week that libraries depend on the ISBN more than the number issued by the Library of Congress. "[The ISBN] is always available by the time a book is bought for the library. It is the most frequently used point of identification for a book. Public libraries rarely use the Library of Congress number, preferring the ISBN," explained Viccy Kemp, a technical services manager of a library in Texas who also worked as a bookseller for 10 years. This doesn’t mean, however, that the publisher should forsake filing for a Library of Congress number as the ISBN will get recorded into the library system during the application process.

With the implementation of ISBN-13, those publishers with 10-digit numbers like me will have to obtain new numbers with the prefix of 978. But it’s not like an additional area code; I can’t just tack 978 onto my existing numbers. That would be too easy. Instead, I’ll have to go to the ISBN converter to punch in our old numbers to get some new replacement ones.

Large publishers and bar code service bureaus have already prepared for ISBN-13. If you look at the bar code on the back of most any book, the new ISBN-13 number should be underneath the stripes (it’ll have the 978 prefix). In fact, my latest book published this year, SNAKESKIN SHAMISEN, has both the ISBN-10 and ISBN-13 numbers on the copyright page.

What does this all mean for authors? Not a whole heck of a lot. Only that you may have to update your promotional material in 2007, because ISBN-13 will soon be here. And for you neurotic ones, you will have three more numbers to press on your phone when you check your Ingram numbers in 2007. Happy Early New Year!

SISTERS IN HOLLYWOOD: It looks as though the SinC Goes to the Movies: Selling Your Book to Hollywood conference is close to being filled. But there might be some slots still left. (The event is only open to 100 participants.)

The beauty of the Nov. 3-5 conference is that the Author’s Coalition will be reimbursing all participating Sisters in Crime members–who must be published by a traditional publisher–the $100 conference fee. The event seems extremely well organized, complete with group signings at area bookstores on Saturday, Nov. 4. What a great idea! (Unfortunately, the deadline to put your name in for the signings was this past Monday.)

I don’t harbor any illusions that a Mas Arai feature film would ever be made. Hey, there’s not a Jack Reacher film yet, so you know that the deck of cards is stacked against you. For 14 years, Robert Redford had to scratch and claw his way into making Tony Hillerman’s novels into PBS movies. Robert Redford, with all his connections!

But I’m going there to learn–maybe a film student someday might want to try his or her hand in turning Mas into celluloid for a short film/school project–and besides, the event is in my backyard. Best of all, out-of-state friends will be in L.A., and I’m just thrilled that Sujata Massey will be coming out west (I think her L.A. fans will be, too). Sujata and I will be teaming up to do a program together at Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena on Thursday, November 2. I’ll keep you posted with details as we get closer to the date.

And I just learned this week that Murderati’s Pari Noskin Taichert will be making the trip from Albuquerque as well! Double-trouble, I’m telling you.


Dog. Do you know that 2006 is the Year of the Dog? Since the Asian zodiac repeats itself every 12 years, anyone born in 2006, 1994, 1982, 1970, 1958, 1946, 1934, etc. is officially a dog–known, of course, for being loyal. In contrast, for second-generation Japanese Americans incarcerated in World War II U.S. detention camps, inu also refers to being an informant to authorities, a snitch, a stool pigeon, a backstabber.

Last POV Standing


I love books with multiple POVs, especially those that mix first person with third. They range from upmarket women’s books, including Ann Darby’s The Orphan Game and Mary Sharratt’s The Real Minerva to Japanese classics (Natsume Soseki’s Kokoro) to literary fiction (Barbara Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible, Suzan Lori-Park’s Getting Mother’s Body, and my favorite of all time, Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine).

My debut mystery SUMMER OF THE BIG BACHI started off with two POVs–my main character Mas Arai and a Japanese doctor named Yukikazu Kimura. I ended up killing off Kimura’s voice and morphing the character into a red-haired journalist slacker in his early twenties. Mas was the last POV standing.

With my second mystery in the series, GASA-GASA GIRL, again I attempted to add other voices to the mix, including Mas’s good friend, Tug Yamada, a World War II vet with a shortened finger. My dear editor at the time suggested that I stick to the most interesting voice, Mas’s, and I complied. She was right.

I don’t know why I gravitate towards storytelling in multiple voices. Perhaps it’s because I love to look at things from different points of view. A psychoanalyst may posit it’s because I’m the first child of an immigrant and had to understand and interpret multiple worlds for my parents. It may be because I worked as a journalist and had to question people on opposite sides of an issue. Or it just may be my natural predisposition.

With my present project, I’m running into the same conundrum. I was envisioning a women’s book like Whitney Otto’s How to Make an American Quilt or Terry McMillan’s Waiting to Exhale. Again, a combination of first person and third.

Of course, the mystery genre, especially thrillers, implement this method of storyline all the time. I asked members of various mystery listservs about what books they feel did a good job of mixing first person with multiple third-person perspectives.

Here’s a compilation of suggestions I received:

  • Donna Andrew’s Turing series
  • James Lee Burke’s books
  • Jan Burke’s BONES and other books
  • Harlan Coben’s standalones
  • Robert Crais’s L.A. REQUIEM
  • Sue Grafton’s S IS FOR SILENCE
  • Joan Hess’s Maggody series
  • Joseph Hone’s spy books
  • Margaret Maron’s Deborah Knott books
  • James Patterson’s Alex Cross books

But in spite of all these models, as I wrestle with my crocodile of a manuscript, I realize that I have to heed my book’s inner voice. One single voice: my main character’s. Unlike my Mas Arai series, which is third person throughout, I’m using a first-person POV of the same character during two different time periods.

And that story with multiple voices–it’ll happen someday with a book I write, but apparently not this one.

WEDNESDAY’S WORD: bakatare (GASA-GASA GIRL, page 84)

Bakatare, pronounced ba-ka-TA-re, can have different versions–bakayaro or just plain baka. They all mean essentially the same thing: stupid or foolish. In high school, I somehow convinced my junior varsity basketball team to yell "BAKATARE" before we started an official game. S.J. Rozan, what do you think?

GO, JANET RUDOLPH, GO: If you haven’t ever read Janet Rudolph’s Mystery Readers Journal, this is definitely the time to do it. Mystery Readers International’s latest issue is titled Murder in the Far East and it’s a doozy. There are articles on Japanese mystery fiction, the four leading Japanese female mystery writers, Asian fact crime, Judge Dee, and author essays. I contributed an essay, and so did Colin Cotterill, Barry Eisler, Dale Furutani, G. Miki Hayden, Peter May, I.J. Parker, Laura Joh Rowland, Eric Stone, and so many others. It’s really outstanding. To subscribe, see the Mystery Readers International website.

SADDEST MOVIE EVER: I recently viewed a DVD with one of the saddest and most infuriating storylines ever. It’s a Japanese movie called NOBODY KNOWS, inspired by a true incident that occurred in Tokyo in the 1980s. Beautifully made with an exquisite performance by a 14-year-old boy who captured Cannes Film Festival’s best actor award in 2004. Also saw CACHÉ , starring Juliette Binoche. This one’s also foreign–French. This film received rave reviews from critics; I thought it was pretty good, but not quite up to the critical buzz. The most interesting feature was actually the director’s interview, in which he expressed that he tries to enter a scene as late as possible and then leave as soon as possible. A great tip for writers. Both these films have a much slower pace and rhythm than most American movies, so if you’re used to a lot of talking and fast cuts, you may find them utterly boring. For me, however, watching NOBODY KNOWS confirmed that deep within my American soul resides a strong Japanese aesthetic.

AND A SAD FAREWELL: I always pictured him playing Mas in a film or play, and now he’s gone.

Categories, Schlegatories: Do Labels Matter?


Apparently on the DorothyL discussion list, there’s a debate that occurs seasonally about book categories, specifically mystery vs. literary. I presume this is a regular ritual as mystery writer and January Magazine editor Linda Richards contributed the following entry: "Is it that time of year again already?"

As a person currently writing an upmarket women’s book, I wonder, do these labels really matter? (Don’t worry, I’ll attempt to at least give some examples of authors who write upmarket.) I love books in the Literature section. I love books in the Mystery section. I don’t understand why mystery authors say that they stay away from anything labeled "literary" and why I’ve encountered some readers who adamantly proclaim that they don’t read mysteries.

Adding to the confusion is the way my mysteries are handled at the Borders chain. My first, SUMMER OF THE BIG BACHI, is shelved in the Literature section, while the two others are in the Mystery section. Of course, I would prefer them altogether, but it does amuse me that somehow the books in the same mystery series would be categorized differently like this.

Reading various opinions about the literary vs. genre debate has prompted me to address and reevaluate some common myths. Some of these myths, by the way, were held by me as recently as last week.

MYTH #1 Literary books are not plot-driven.

The bestselling literary books seem to always involve a great yarn. Arthur Golden’s MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, Alice Seibold’s THE LOVELY BONES, Audrey Niffenegger’s THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE, to name a few, have very strong storylines. Or take the recent book I just read over the summer–Sara Gruen’s WATER FOR ELEPHANTS–yes, unforgettable characters, beginning with Rosie the elephant, but also masterfully constructed. The novel opens with a murder and has intrigue, erotica, and secrets along the way. It ends with answers to the beginning murder scene.

It could be that more literary books experiment with language and structure, but the most popular ones are replete with plot devices.

MYTH #2 It’s easier to write a mystery than a literary book.

As I tackle this current non-mystery book, I was finding that the structure, the words and the general flow were coming a lot easier than when I attempted my mystery book. I chalk that up to the experience of writing three mysteries. But the key operative word is "was." I’ve hit a few rough patches, which just confirms that writing for me in any genre is a messy, organic process.

MYTH #3 Categories are just for the reader and publisher, and should not influence how the writer shapes his or her book.

I, up to a week ago, would publicly contend that the above statement is patently true and was going to post something to DorothyL stating as much. But when I waited and thought about it, I realized that my own actions contradicted this statement.

As I was developing my current book, I was trying to figure out what category it would fall in. It has a female teenager’s voice. So young adult? No. Chick lit? No. Literary? Well, kind of. And then I learned of this category used by agents–Upmarket Women’s Fiction. It’s not a new term, but I had not heard of it before. So I googled upmarket women’s fiction and came up with names like Mary Sharratt. I then read Mary Sharratt, and then nodded my head. Yup, this is what I was aiming for.

(I haven’t come across a good concise definition for "upmarket," but Miss Snark, the blogging literary agent, has come up with some snazzy descriptors. I’m also taking a look at Aurelie Sheehan’s work, namely HISTORY LESSON FOR GIRLS. Upmarket, of course, is not a bookstore section; these books would be under the Literature section.)

This investigation has helped me to understand the expectation of a genre. It doesn’t mean to necessarily have to go along with the formula or follow each convention. But be mindful of them.

In an earlier draft of BIG BACHI (when the label was literary and the title was BROKEN BRANCHES), my aging protagonist, Mas Arai, goes catatonic as he is faced with what happened to him and his friends during the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. It was then up to a young Japanese doctor from Hiroshima to save the day. But the book didn’t work. I couldn’t get representation. I couldn’t find a small press publisher.

So I kept chiseling at it. Someone in a writing group mentioned that she didn’t think much was at stake. "What?" I thought to myself. "She doesn’t know what she’s talking about." But her words stayed with me. Weeks later, I finally admitted to myself that she was right. Thus began the seeds of a murder. The elimination of one major character, the doctor. It became solely Mas Arai’s story. And it became a mystery.

For my mystery, I had a very reluctant, reluctant sleuth, but I couldn’t make him catatonic, according to the conventions of the genre (Chester Himes and Walter Mosley taught me well). He would have to get off his butt and do some sleuthing. From this process, something beautiful happened: I found the perfect container for my story–the mystery genre.

MYTH #4 It doesn’t matter where your books are shelved.

Although I did make light on how my books were categorized at the Borders chain, it does make a difference. But the most hotly debated issue revolves around the African American section. A Japanese American writer friend bemoaned that booksellers don’t fully embrace the growing number of books written by Asian Americans to warrant our own section. But I say–beware of what you wish for.

Certainly some readers read exclusively or predominantly African American novels and will seek out that section for good reads. That’s how my husband found an exquisite collection of short stories, I GOT SOMEBODY IN STAUNTON, by William Henry Lewis. But he might have discovered it in the Short Story section as well.

African American publishing is a big and thriving business, so I understand publishers and booksellers wanted it extremely targeted for the easy sale. But I also understand the frustration of some black writers who feel ghettoized, the impact of their writing word not being fully felt in other parts of the store.

If you are a person of color who writes mysteries set in ethnic communities, your books should be shelved under the Mystery section. This will be better for your career in the long run. Your faithful readers will find you, while exposing you to a new, larger readership.

Alphabetically speaking, I love being close to Tony Hillerman (and not that far from Denise Hamilton) because our books probably have more in common than my Mas Arai mysteries do with chick-lit books with Asian American heroines.

So are categories and labels are important? Most definitely, but books in different sections may have more in common than we think.

BIG BACHI’S ON FOURTH AND GASA-GASA’S ON THIRD: Yay for multiple printings! SUMMER OF THE BIG BACHI’s is now in its fourth printing and GASA-GASA GIRL is in its third. I do think Jason Pinter’s observation is correct–trade paperback originals do tend to have longer shelf lives.


To complain or a complaint. Once upon a time in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo, there was a shoe store that sold T-shirts that read, "Monku, Monku, Monku." In this record-breaking heat in Southern California, monku is plentiful. But considering the unstable situation our world is in, a little heat is easy to bear.

BABY, BABY: First it’s baby Justin, born to some local friends on Monday, and now we have word that David Montgomery’s daughter is on her way. Congrats, Papa and Mama Montgomery!

A Traitor in Our Midst


I’m a traitor, that’s what some of the hardcores are going to say. But a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.

What am I talking about? Well, brace yourself–the book I’m currently writing is not a mystery.

I didn’t train to be a mystery writer. So I was unaware of the requirements of the genre until, well, I received my first mystery book contract in 2003.

Rule #1:

If you write a mystery series, you need to produce at least a book a year.

Imagine my naivete. Before getting published, I had no idea of the required annual output. I read mystery series, but often out of order, and never bothered to check the publication date.

Rule #2:

You write five or six mysteries in a series, and then you can write a standalone–and that should also be a mystery, preferably a thriller.

My response: I’ve never been that good with rules.

I’ve only done three in my Mas Arai mystery series–and they all have been trade paperback originals. I guess my goal should be to get a book in the series in hardback before I go out and strike it out in another genre.

But the publishing industry is more cutthroat than ever, and there’s less time to make your mark. Some of my readers are not necessarily mystery fans–a number are more likely to pick up Lisa See’s Snow Flower and the Secret Fan or Cynthia Kadohata’s Kira-Kira before Janet Evanovich or James Patterson. I’ve been itching to write from a woman’s point of view and not necessarily in the context of a standard mystery. So here I go.

I should be scared, but I’m exhilarated. Cut off all the safety lines and jump.

Getting that first contract does change you, and many things have been lost along the way. Just as spirituality needs to be cultivated on a regular basis, so does the art of writing. The risk of it. Entering new territory and not knowing really how you and your work are going to be transformed.

I do plan to return to the mystery series, fully refreshed. In addition to this nonmystery novel, I have an idea for a mystery standalone, so it may be two books before I return to my crusty protagonist Mas.

I wish that I could tell you the next episode in this writing story. Show you some teasers–perhaps of a small band of Mas Arai fans in revolt or me rotting away in the corner of my office, spider webs stretching from my head to the ceiling.

But there are no signs of the future.

I just jump.


Definition: dangerous, risky, perilous. Abunai, Will Robinson, abunai. Enough said.

Magic Machine


I’m one of those sickening loyal people. Not only about friends, but also regarding material objects, especially those I’ve traveled in (case in point–my1991 Honda Accord) or worked with.

That loyalty extends to my computer as well. So I have a confession to make. I’ve worked on the same PC for close to eight years. I’m on Windows 98. I use WordPerfect 6. I don’t have a CD burner and I don’t have plug-in for a memory stick. As my thirtysomething acquiring editor commented two years ago, I’m so old school.

In the past, employers would introduce me to new programs. From WordStar (remember that one?) to Word, from PageMaker to QuarkExpress, from floppies to LAN connections, from modems to e-mail. But being self-employed since 1996, I must now look to myself to make technological advancements. And sadly, in some areas, I’ve been largely frozen in time.

My younger Gen-X brother, who goes through technological equipment like toothbrushes, does not understand.

Is it because I’m cheap? (Yes.) Is it because I’m concerned about the environment? (A little, especially after seeing what those Chinese villagers have to do in destroying old computer parts.) Is it because I loathe change? (I don’t think so.)

I’ve always felt some disdain towards the belief that there’s some kind of magic in the externals–what computer you use, your software program, what room you write in, your writing schedule. After all, I cut my teeth as a journalist in a big room without dividers, sitting across from another writer, a good friend, who smoked. I couldn’t wait for my environment to be comfortable or quiet. I just needed to turn on my pitiful desktop air filter, get my thoughts in order, and then allow these organized thoughts move to the tips of my fingers.

And I’ve heeded warnings from colleagues such as Jervey Tervalon who wrote in his essay, "Literary Sharecropper" in the L.A. Weekly back in 2004: "My advice to those who want to write the Great American Novel? Keep the overhead low. Forget about that iMac with the 22-inch monitor; soon enough you’ll regret it, no matter how much you imagine it will improve your productivity. " I took that advice hard. Why spend that advance on technology, when you can use it for things like food and a roof over your head?

And last of all, I admit that it had become a point of pride that I had either written or edited nine books on a crappy piece of equipment. As if I deserved a badge of honor.

But finally, finally, I must say that I acquiesce. When I used Turbo Tax this year, my IBM computer monitor was so outdated that I could barely open the program. And when I did, it came out all distorted on my old monitor. I can’t download the latest Adobe Acrobat or some templates from Microsoft.

It’s really starting to affect work.

Laptops are not for me. I can’t stand the keyboard and the mouse pad is horrific. My husband says that when I type on my standard keyboard, my fingers move as if I’m playing a piano. (So those all of those years of piano lessons, didn’t go to waste!) I know that you can stick a regular keyboard onto a laptop, but why bother? And I’m very rough on my equipment, not good for the delicate construction of laptop computers. I like to leave the computer on 24/7, a practice I learned from my boss at a pr firm I used to work at.

So I need your advice. What kind of IBM-compatible personal computer would you recommend? And more importantly, what features? CD burner, etc. What gigabyte capacity? Help me, help me. And what do I do about all my e-mail addresses in Outlook?

And to my dear computer, manufactured by a company long out of business–what we had together was truly magic, but it’s really time for you to go now.


The beauty of the Japanese language is its onomatopoeic language. Say kuru-kuru three times fast. What does it sound like? Perhaps an old wooden spoked wheel going round and round? Or fishing line being released from around a rod? In fact, kuru-kuru means to turn, twirl, or go round and round. Kuru-kuru-pa, on the other hand, is a colloquialism meaning "crazy." It comes with its own hand gesture, too–use the same American gesture for crazy, twirling an index finger around the ear and then when getting to the pa part of the phrase, close the hand and open quickly, extending all five fingers. There you go. Apparently kuru-kuru-pa is no secret in the States–there’s an art-noise punk band in Philadelphia who has adopted the phrase as its name.

DID ANYONE SAY HAWAI‘I?: According to an entry on DorothyL, convention planners extraordinaire Toby and Bill Gottfried are considering a Left Coast Crime in Hawaii (either on the Big Island or Kauai) in 2009. Is there any interest, they ask? Well, as a person who just returned from Kauai on Monday, I would say a resounding "yes"! My ultimate dream to see a sea turtle up close was realized on this trip. Of course, bookstores are far and few between in Kauai, but Borders Kauai will be fully remodeled by September 2006. I picked up McDougal’s Honolulu Mysteries, edited by the late Glen Grant, at the Kauai Museum and am utterly charmed by these truth-based tales of a lone detective in Honolulu in the 1930s. If you are planning to go to Honolulu on vacation this year, I highly recommend you read these stories on the plane ride there.

I THINK I’M TIRED DEPT.: You know when you’re a little slow when an official New York resident beats you to the news about an article in your local paper. Some nice bits on great friends and literary heroes.

Do You Write Red or Blue State Books?


Fan mail is wonderful. Besides stroking your ego or perhaps creating a dialogue about what you’re writing, this correspondence provides you with demographics to do your own market study.

Over the past two years, I’ve noticed that most of my fan letters–with a few exceptions (Colorado, Virginia, New Mexico, and North Carolina)–are from the blue states. California, of course, Washington, Oregon, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and so on. So now when I’m asked who reads my books, I quip, "The blue states."


Now this doesn’t necessarily relate to party politics. I’ve heard Walter Mosley himself say that his fiction has been embraced by conservatives and progressives alike. Even when there’s a strong underlying political message, the reader brings his or her interpretation to the table, which can completely twist the author’s intended ideology around. And since we write mysteries, our readers’ attention are foremost on the micro, not the macro.

But beyond politics, there might be something going on with regional cultures and what people like to read. Of course, since I write about Japanese Americans, it’s no surprise that a bulk of letters come from the Pacific Coast. But I’ve lived nine months in Wichita, Kansas, so I realize that you can’t paint states with static colors. Demographics change.

As much as the Midwest has preconceived notions of those crazy L.A.ers, West Coast urbanites have even worse stereotypes about America’s Heartland and South. When I left to go on my writing fellowship in Kansas, I was presented with a gallon container of soy sauce and a carton of Top Ramen by my L.A. friends and collegues. Attention Angelenos–they do have soy sauce and Top Ramen in Kansas! And more than eight Asian markets in Wichita in the mid-1990s (probably more in 2006). And a Japanese restaurant called Mama-san’s.

Wichita Public Library had a fabulous collection of works, both books and videos (probably CDs now). That’s where I checked out AMERICAN KNEES by Shawn Wong and Paul Beatty’s THE WHITE BOY SHUFFLE. And where I borrowed the collected works of Woody Allen as well as director Wayne Wang’s early work, CHAN IS MISSING.

Yet with shifting racial demographics touching every American community, whether it likes it or not, there are undeniable reading preferences. And as I mentioned earlier, based or e-mails and reviews, my books appeal more to the blue states.


There are authors who are not that easily categorized, such as Midwest noirists Scott Phillips, Sean Doolittle, and Victor Gischler. It would seem that their work might even play better in the blue than the red, where many of the books are set. Earlene Fowler, who writes a popular quilt series and a L.A. Times bestselling standalone, THE SADDLEMAKER’S WIFE, lives in California, but I bet her books sell up a storm in the Midwest and South.

But labels are limiting, and in spite of the demographic response for my books, it doesn’t mean I’m not going to do outreach in the red states. I’ve been somewhat successful in Arizona and had a great time in Mayhem in the Midlands in Omaha, Nebraska, two years ago. I hope to someday travel to do events in Florida. I have a very good friend in Nashville (yes, J.T., I do know another Nashvillian!) who keeps doing research about the Japan societies in her area so that my husband and I will make the trip to the Music City. I know that these events will be powerful because we will be attracting people who march to a different beat than their neighbors. And undoubtedly to have ultimate success as a writer, you need to touch every segment of society, both red and blue.

So, I wanted to ask y’all this question: are your books more red or blue state? Or do you think that this demographic analysis carries no weight and can be thrown in the bushes?

Maps are courtesy of Michael Gastner, Cosma Shalizi, and Mark Newman, available at their website. The bottom map is a population cartogram, more representative of the population in each state.

CUTTING THE RED RIBBON: Starting with today’s entry, I’ll be starting a new regular feature, WEDNESDAY’S WORD, which will introduce you, dear reader, to a new Japanese, or Nihongo, word each week found in one of the Mas Arai mystery books. I’ll be compiling the words once a month in the glossary page on my website.


Take a good look at the word–see something that you recognize? How about "ATARI," like in video games? Atari means "hit," "success," or "gotcha." Mae, pronounced mah-’e, means "before." Together, atarimae means "naturally," "a matter of course," or "of course."

GUEST BLOGGER QUIZ: On Wednesday, June 28, a guest blogger will take over here and to add to the suspense, I wanted to pose a "Jeopardy" type question: Our guest blogger has been on the front cover of one of her/his mystery books and came close to gracing the cover of a bestselling mystery writer’s. Who is this cover gal/boy? And what are the names of the two books in question? Go ahead and post your guesses in our comment section (one guess per person, please!) The first one to answer correctly will gain the undying respect of the Murderati crowd and we all–well, at least I’ll make sure Evil E does–will bow at your feet next Wednesday when the blogger’s identity will be revealed. Evil E, do your calisthenics!

Spam vs. Plasma


In last week’s Publishers Weekly, award-winning and bestseller author Joseph Finder wrote an essay about book tours–mainly why publishers finance them for certain authors when they don’t seem cost-effective. He ended the essay with an announcement: ten 42-inch plasma television sets would be given away during his book tour. (His protagonist in his latest book, KILLER INSTINCT, works for a company that manufactures plasma-screen TVs.)

Well, Mr. Finder, I hate to one-up you, but I’ve been giving away something even more powerful during my self-financed tour on the lower West Coast. Something that the characters on the TV show, LOST, would kill for. Yes, you Murderati regulars know what I’m talking about–a smaller than a bread box (and certainly a 42-inch TV), as compact and lethal as a hand grenade, coveted by citizens all across the globe–a can of Spam.

The reason why? You all know. My amateur sleuth, JA gardener and a-bomb survivor, Mas Arai loves it. My third mystery, SNAKESKIN SHAMISEN, begins with it. Spam travels well and each can costs less than a gallon of gas. And it makes people laugh. The perfect door prize.

We officially ended the inaugural Mas Arai Spam Contest with an announcement this Saturday at my hometown mystery bookstore, Book’em Mysteries. Drum roll, please. The winner is Liz Peck of Albuquerque, New Mexico, with her entry, "Growing up, we had Spam with brown sugar and mustard. I can picture Papa now–he cooked our meals–carving the Lilliputian size main course, just like pretend ham!"

The judges were impressed with the brevity yet emotionality of her entry and, of course, the use of the word, Lilliputian. In a few simple words, Liz drew a precious picture of her father and the relationship they all had to Spam and each other.

For her efforts, Liz will win the following:

  • Signed copy of SNAKESKIN SHAMISEN01500015_1
  • Okinawan music CD
  • Go for Broke veterans cookbook
  • Spam musubi (sushi) maker
  • Nori (seaweed)
  • And–do we even have to say it?–Spam!

We at Mas Arai Central also had a special drawing of names from an L.A. Dodgers cap, no less. The winner of that drawing was Janet Cearley, the kind soul from Eugene, Oregon, who answered another’s call for a recipe for Spam Touchdowners. Here good deeds are rewarded, and Janet will receive a signed copy of SNAKESKIN SHAMISEN. Please go to my contest page to read the entries and full recipes of all the finalists.

In all seriousness, having an interactive contest has been great fun, but just like anything else, it takes time and effort to get the word out. I was surprised by the geographic diversity–I had submissions from all over the nation. I’m not sure if I’ll be doing a second annual Spam Contest, but rest assured, for the rest of my now sporadic book events for SNAKESKIN SHAMISEN, I’ll have my cans of Spam in hand.

And regarding Mr. Finder’s contest vs. mine, we all know that a plasma television’s life is limited, while Spam lasts forever.

Here are a few photos from our Spam festival in South Pasadena:


Okay, Mr. Barry Martin–let Mary do all the dirty work.  I tried to get Barry to try to make Spam musubi, but he flat out refused. There’s only so much rejection a girl can take. Here Mary’s placing some sticky, short-grain rice on a sheet of nori.  The plastic frame keeps everything in place.


Next it’s two slices of marinated and pan-fried Spam on top of one layer of rice and then it’s more rice. Mary’s pushing down everything here with the clear plastic top of the sushi maker. The plastic frame is easily removed.


And here we have it–a nice juicy slice of Spam musubi!

Hey, Rachael "30-Minute Meal" Ray, you might have some competition. Mystery author and chef? Maybe the beginning of a beautiful career.

Come back next week for a quiz about an upcoming guest blogger and a new feature, WEDNESDAY’S WORD.

An Amazonian Waste of Time


As published writers, we stumble in the dark, attempting to measure how our books are selling in the present time. We feel sharp corners and say, "Ouch, I guess things aren’t going that well." Or feel plush fabric and sit in that luxury for a while. Then six months later, the lights come on and we realize that the things that we had been feeling were nothing like the reality before us.

Yet we still play the game and do the drill. Yes, I’m talking about frequenting our local bookstores and counting how much stock has turned over (some bookstores even have dates on their bar code stickers stating when the books were ordered). We use our cell phones to call Ingram’s, one of the larger book distributors, to find out how many our books have been ordered. (For the uninitiated, the number is 615-213-6803. A caveat–this only represents a portion of your sales and does not include books shipped directly by your publisher to stores or other distributors.) And the worst yet, we check our rankings on on a regular basis and depending on your neurosis factor, this could mean weekly, daily, or hourly.

Now I know most of us are lost causes, but I’m writing this for the benefit of our brothers and sisters who will soon be seeing their mystery titles in print. Regarding the biggest offense, Amazon slumming–all I can say is, don’t do it. Yes, your heart will soar as your ranking edges to the low four figures for a hot second, but it will also sink as the numbers for your precious child falls to 150,000 or worse. Still don’t believe me? Here are three quick reasons not to.

1) Amazon sales are most likely only a very small percentage of your total sales. We’ve heard this time and time again, especially from bestselling authors. Last year Lynn Viehl of Paperback Writer kindly e-mailed me her sales data for her USA Today bestselling mass paperback book, IF ANGELS BURN. She was surprised that her Amazon and sales figures were so low, in spite of ranking in the top 500-1,000 sales of and 2,000-5,000 on Between the two of them, during a brief time span, she reported that she had sold less than a hundred copies total. (Actually, it looked to me that she had sold almost 300 copies–but then accounting is not my thing!) For bestsellers, it’s the stats from Walmart, Costco, Target, and the chains that separate the Big Boys/Girls from the rest.

And because each book may be sold a little differently, this percentage cannot be standardized. Some authors may do their best selling though brick-and-mortar independent bookstores. Many presses, both small and big, are also discovering that they need to go where people already congregate–churches, craft shows, etc.–and sell books there. Those sales will not be reflected in an Amazon ranking.

2) The ranking system is the mathematically equivalent of gobbledygook. Now, I say this because I’m not a numbers person as I indicated before. Most authors I know are also similarly mathematically challenged. There are, however, folks and academicians who really groove on numbers. Morris Rosenthal, the publisher of Foner Books, is one of them and has launched a new blog, The Rank Economy. He also is the author of What Amazon Sales Ranks Mean. It’s an amazing document, which includes a graph and, needless to say, a bunch of numbers.

I can only add to the confusion by offering my real world example–GREEN MAKERS, a very specialized nonfiction book that I edited and produced for a professional organization. After the book was officially released in April 2001, I placed the book on through the Amazon Advantage program. I’m the book’s official contact, so when orders come in for the book, I am directly e-mailed. I must then ensure that books are mailed to Amazon’s distribution center in Kentucky; all mailing costs to the distribution center must be absorbed by the publisher. (For a small press like ours, hardly any inventory is kept in the warehouse.)

First of all, some fast facts:

Publisher: Southern California Gardeners’ Federation

Pub Date: 2001

Print Run: 4,000

Printing Costs Per Copy: $3

Retail Price: $19.95

Wholesale Discounted Price: $12 (40% Discount)

Amazon Discounted Price: $8.98 (55% Discount)

Out of the 4,000 copies, 2,000 were given away to the membership of the Southern California Gardeners’ Federation. More than 1,000 have been sold so far. A bulk of the sales were made directly by the Federation through direct mail solicitations, press releases, and book events. Other than the Federation itself, the book is still being sold by one brick and mortar outlet, one direct mail/special events outlet, and Since joining Amazon in 2001, we have sold a total of 78 books.

Just for our readers at Murderati, I followed the rankings for this very humble book for the past week:

Sunday (May 21) 202,709

Monday (May 22) 247,785

Tuesday (May 23) 404,535

Wednesday (May 24) 427,460 (later 71,862)*

Thursday (May 25) 130,022 (later 202,455)*

Friday (May 26) 230,864 (later 257,346)*

Saturday (May 27) 325,134 (later 366,433)

Sunday (May 28) 374,337 (later 414,163)*

Monday (May 29) 470,316 (later 473,093)*

Tuesday (May 30) 487,774

* Apparently the number changes throughout the day.

So what accounts for the spike in the number on Wednesday, you ask? Let’s look at our order report for the past year, organized by most recent date of order received:

April 10, 2006–5 books

February 27, 2006–6 books

November 14, 2005–3 books

October 31, 2005–1 book

October 24, 2005–4 books

August 8, 2005–2 books

August 1, 2005–1 book

So that’s it. No orders since April 10–yet our numbers have yoyo-ed from 71,862 to 487,774 during this past week. (I can only attribute the spike to a used book sale–which I’m not informed of, since the book would come from another party and not the publisher.)

So why are we hooked into Amazon, as if it can foretell our literary futures?

I’m not saying that the Amazon ranking is not some measure of success. Surely if you consistently rank from #1-#100, you are undeniably a bestseller. Yesterday this list included Patricia Cornwell, Dan Brown, Janet Evanovich, Lee Child, James Patterson, Dean Koontz, Jeffrey Deaver, Alexander McCall Smith, John Sandford, Harlan Coben, and Mary Higgins Clark. No surprise.

If you are regularly in the 1,000 or less category, you share company with Jonathan Kellerman, Tami Hoag, Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, Sue Grafton, and others. In "What Amazon Sales Ranks Mean," Rosenthal says, "Books with steady sales ranks below 1,000 are selling very well, topping several dozen copies a day as you approach 100."

But most of us are on the yo-yo track, where darkness unfortunately prevails.

3) And if your ranking is bad one day, so what? What are you going to do to remedy the situation that day? Walk down your street wearing a sandwich board advertising your book? Flog yourself until you bleed? Buy some books on Amazon yourself?

Ultimately the numbers that really count are those on your royalty statement, which is received only two times a year. Some editors are more open about numbers than others, so you may be able to get more regular reports about print runs, etc. outside of royalty reporting times. This information can be helpful. Even though my tendency is to be in dreamland about money matters, I’ve discovered that I need to do periodic evaluations based on hard numbers and quantifying past results. If we have poor sales, we need to attempt to figure out why. Is it what we’re writing about? Or perhaps our writing itself? Has it been the way our books are been promoted? Is it just the whims of the market? And if we feel impassioned to continue down the same writing path, we must be realistic and seek other financial ways to support our work.

I don’t think our Amazon ranking is going to help us in any real way in getting these answers. But I know that we are so starved for information about sales of our book that we grasp onto any little morsel–even one that may be rotten–and take it in.

In due time, the Mystery Writers of America will be offering a BookScan service for their members (the contract is currently being negotiating). This service will be limited, however, to the top 100 mystery books. Even though most of us won’t fall into the category, odds are that many will join and soon we’ll have new numbers that we can obsess over. Even though Bookscan figures don’t encompass all sales either, at least they will be hard numbers and not elusive ones that will change with the click of a button.

SOUTH OF THE BORDER SPAM: Nellie Estrada of Chino Hills describes how she ate Spam as a kid–"fried and rolled into a hot corn tortilla with a bite of a serrano chili and some salsa." Muy deliciosa! Okay, gang, you have less than 24 hours to submit your entries to the inaugural Mas Arai Spam Contest. Judges will be myself and Mas, with Haruo as our tiebreaker. E-mail them to The winner will be announced this Saturday at my event at Book’em Mysteries in South Pasadena at 2 p.m. and posted next Wednesday here on Murderati and my website.

FREE TRIP TO JAPAN, ANYONE?: From the pages of Poets and Writers–Five five-month residencies, which include a monthly stipend of 400,000 yen (approximately $3,450) for living expenses, plus expenses for housing, transportation, and language study, are available to U.S. artists to live in Japan. Check out the website,

Update! ADDING TO THE MADNESS: Just opened up an e-mail from Amazon. We received one order of GREEN MAKERS last night about 10 p.m. PST. Apparently that order helped to lower our 487,000 number to 127,910. Now we’re at 231,077 (3:14 p.m. Wednesday). What does this mean? Not a whole heck of a lot.

Notes from the Underground


When I was in high school, I took a career assessment exam, and discovered that I was wired to become either a traveling salesman, a playwright, or an undertaker (well, perhaps a prettier word is bereavement counselor). Imagine my disappointment. Singularly each job didn’t seem that impressive to a teenager, and together they formed a bizarre Frankensteinian figure. What kind of monster would I become?

Well, more than two decades later, I use some aspects of those occupations in my work as a writer and editor. It has become even more evident during these past couple weeks of whirlwind promotional and educational activities.


What’s more Willie Loman than traveling solo to far-flung areas with only a single suitcase filled with books and postcards in hand? I certainly felt that way when I arrived in Norman Mineta San Jose International Airport last Thursday. One thing I soon discovered, getting a fun rental car can ease the bite of loneliness on the road. PT Cruisers are the best and they have a lot of drink holders for all the liquids necessary for a self-financed book tour.

Northern California can be divided, generally speaking for mystery writers, in three easy pieces:

1) Peninsula (San Jose, Sunnyvale, Mountain View–Books Inc., Menlo Park–Kepler’s, Palo Alto–Books Inc., Redwood City, and San Mateo) anchored by "M" Is for Mystery in San Mateo.

2) San Francisco, or "The City," anchored by the San Francisco Mystery Bookstore. (I’d also include Corte Madera’s Book Passage–a quick and wonderful drive over the bridge. Have that five-dollar bill ready for the toll on the way back.)

3) East Bay (Berkeley, Oakland, Danville–Rakestraw Books) anchored by Dark Carnival in Berkeley.

I’ve done drive-by or stop-in signings in the past at all these regions, but this time I concentrated my efforts in the first, the Peninsula.

The nice thing about the Peninsula is that it’s usually ten degrees warmer than San Francisco and on Thursday, it was sunny and about 80 degrees. Nirvana. Another strong point is parking is usually easily available in neighboring lots. Double or maybe triple nirvana. Before you go on out-of-town drop-by signings, try to call stores two weeks ahead of time to make sure they have your books on hand. Of course, I didn’t do that (see my last Murderati blog entry for my recent state of mind) and I learned the code phrase "shortlist." I thought "shortlist" was a term reserved solely for awards and honors, but apparently in the Barnes and Noble world, it also means to stock stores with small orders of a certain title. "You don’t have it? Can you shortlist it? Five books–sounds good."

My yellow-brick road in San Jose turned out to be Saratoga Boulevard. As you cultivate your readership, you get a sense of who your prime demographic is. As I passed a mini-mall called Strawberry Plaza and spied a Mitsuwa Market and Kinokuniya bookstore, I knew that I was nearing the heart of my readers. Upon seeing a RingerHut Nagasaki Champon restaurant (what the heck?), I knew that I had entered the Emerald City. The Barnes and Noble there on Saratoga had two copies of SNAKESKIN SHAMISEN, which were promptly sold. On my way back to 880, I stopped by Kinokuniya to meet the manager and had a great discussion about the popularity of mysteries in Japan. He told me that the Japanese translation of Nina Revoyr’s book, Southland, was on Japan’s list of best mysteries. Congrats to Nina and good news for everyone writing about ethnic Americans.

To reward myself for making some great contacts, I went into Mitsuwa Market and bought myself a tall bottle of Calpico, manufactured by Calpis, which for obvious reasons changed the name of its product for the American market. It’s a yogurt flavored beverage that I grew up with in L.A.–so, in a sense, my comfort drink.

I did the same after my gig at the Clark County Library in Las Vegas on Sunday. I drove into downtown Las Vegas and headed straight for the California Hotel and Casino, where I ordered a bowl of saimin (Hawaiian noodles) with haupia (coconut pudding) to go along with the Ross MacDonald book I was reading. If this isn’t the life of a mystery author, I don’t know what is.


I’ve never written a play, but I’ve been in my share of plays in college. (BTW, I would recommend all aspiring writers to take an acting or speech class–so helpful for those speaking engagements.) So the thing about playwriting vs. book writing, playwrights have a lot more interaction with other people, including not only the director but the actors.

Although I’m in my soul of souls introverted, I do like people in reasonable doses. So it’s been nice not only to meet booksellers on the road, but also other literary folks at conferences and seminars. Before I left for my out-of-town book tour, I had a great time with people at our planning sessions for the inaugural Asian Pacific American Book Festival, scheduled for Los Angeles on May 12, 2007 (so put that on your calendars). It was great to hang out with old friends–David Mas Masumoto and others–as well as hear dynamic speakers such as Shawn Wong. I moderated a publishing panel, which included Patricia Wakida of Heyday Books, Dana Goldberg of Children’s Book Press, agent Sandra Zane of Global Literary Management, agent Taryn Fagerness of Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency, and Philip Lee, cofounder and former publisher of Lee and Low Books.

Some topics of interest: Taryn advises newbie writers seeking agents to place a positive blurb from a bookseller in their query letters–what a great idea. And for those who underestimate the power of reviews, Philip explained how the first children’s book Lee and Low published–BASEBALL SAVED US by Ken Mochizuki–sold half a million copies after a full-page review in the New York Times by a sports writer! Amazing.


There’s a lot of grief and loss involved in getting a book published. Loss of privacy. Grief over what you didn’t include but should have. Final surrender of the manuscript to the world. I won’t even go into the tragedy involved in selling the book.

One of my goals in creating my character of Mas Arai was giving a name to the unnamed gardener in movies like "Chinatown." And not only a name, but a voice. If you think about it, that’s what an undertaker or bereavement counselor should do. Not only help with the grief but also celebrate a single life.

Three specific people who attended my reading at Kinokuniya Bookstore in San Francisco’s Japantown made a profound impact on my husband and I. One was a man named Isao, a retired photographer who used to work at the College of San Mateo. He had followed the whole Mas Arai series and was now in the middle of SNAKESKIN SHAMISEN. I could tell that he experienced great joy in reading references about Japanese American history and culture, pieces of his own life. The other was a woman about my age with long, flowing strawberry blond hair and hazel eyes. She was originally from Pasadena, but had relocated to San Francisco. As we talked, I discovered that her grandmother was from Okinawa, the subject of SNAKESKIN SHAMISEN. She was with her nephew, a medium-framed young man with short-cropped blond hair. They, along with other relatives, would be traveling to Okinawa later this year.

We authors want as many people as possible to read our books, but we may have an ideal reader in mind. I think I met three of them in San Francisco on a rainy Friday evening.

Cliff Notes! Three Top Reasons to Do Out-of-Town Book Signings

1) Meet fans/readers/booksellers and be reunited with old friends. (A shout-out to my Stanford buddies Russell and Mark–great to see you guys. And it’s always good to spend time with the kind folks at "M" is for Mystery and the San Francisco Mystery Bookstore. Thanks also to Kinokuniya’s Richard Matsuno and the Clark County Library’s Suzanne Scott.)

2) Be introduced to new geographic areas (Mas investigating a murder in San Francisco Japantown or Silicon Valley? Possibilities, possibilities.)

3) Have an excuse to buy new clothes. (Obviously the best reason. After so many years being content to work in T-shirts and sweat pants, I can now break out on occasion to buy real clothes! Now mind you–my favorite TV show these days is WHAT NOT TO WEAR on TLC, so be aware of how shallow and cruel I really am.)

FINAL TWO WEEKS OF SPAM: Who says we aren’t doing some great things at Murderati? Remember last week’s SPAM dilemma–a reader had lost a recipe for her beloved Touchdowners. Well, another reader, Janet Cearley, has come to the rescue with this e-mail:

The recipe which I have (also a childhood favorite) is made with bologna, but I think otherwise it is the same.

1 lb. bologna
3/4 lb. sharp cheddar grated
1/4 c. prepared mustard
1/3 c. mayonnaise
1 T minced or grated onion
2 T sweet pickle relish

Grind bologna. Add other ingredients and mix well. Spread on hamburger buns and wrap in foil. Bake at 325 for 25 minutes.

Thank you, Janet! If I’m aiding people to recreate their childhood comfort food, what’s next? Evil E (also known as Elaine Flinn) giving advice to the lovelorn? Anything is possible.

And for those of you who’ve had enough of the Spam, rest assured, it’ll be over in two weeks with the winner being announced on June 7!!! So send your entries in to And like always, see the website for more info.

Take a Break


When I first took over the editorship of a small newspaper for a period of six years, a freelance graphic designer noticed that I never ate lunch sitting down. Or even ate lunch at all. I was on a coffee-Coke diet (two to three cups in the morning and then a Coke at about 3 o’clock) and proceeded to drop about 10 pounds, which proves that you can lose weight with any weird combination if you eat only one square meal, dinner, a day. (My face also became very pasty-colored, not very attractive at all, so this weight loss program–which was not intentional–is definitely discouraged. And I’m happy to also report that I’ve gained the weight back and then some!)

The point is, I was and am still a bit intense. Driven. Maybe even neurotic. When I’m in the rhythm of work, everything else fades away. Papers remain unfiled. Clothing unfolded. Bills unpaid. As you can imagine, this is not good, especially when you live with other people and are in charge of the finances.

Somehow the promotional work of a writer gets to me more than the writing does. There are e-mails to answer, ARCs and books to send, interviews to respond to, bookstores to visit. (This for no pay!) And since I was a journalist and a p.r. specialist, I know that timing is everything. So after a book comes out, the running begins and doesn’t quite end until two months later.

This past Friday was my birthday. So how did I decide to celebrate? By working at events from 7:30 a.m. to about 9 p.m. The night before, a library event from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. (I’m factoring travel time here, too.) And on Saturday, a panel in Westwood and then an event in Arcadia, a total of 80 miles and nine hours. All of this activity took its toll. By Saturday night, I was like a piece of raw flank steak, beaten to a pulp. I couldn’t enjoy my supposed birthday dinner and the play that followed.

So on Sunday, after celebrating Mother’s Day with the family, my husband and I decided to escape. We drove down 60 miles to San Juan Capistrano, stayed the night, and then went to San Clemente to sit on the beach. I didn’t visit one bookstore or write one word. My husband and I sat across from each other and shared three meals together. We talked about what was going on in our lives in between the signings and event mailings.

Writer Alice Walker talks about the importance of "fallow" time, allowing your creative mind to rest as ideas take root down below. While we writers are all on that hamster wheel, attempting to keep our careers alive with new books and new promotional strategies, the "work" can extinguish the light that drew us to writing in the first place.

I’m a slow and stubborn learner, but I am learning. I’m off tomorrow to San Francisco and Las Vegas for four book related events. While I’ve added drive-by signings on the itinerary, somewhere on the calendar needs to be some "do-nothing" time. As much as writing deadlines need to be met and books promoted, there’s also a time to sit down, rest, and just eat.

SPAM AND FOOTBALL: Hirahara Central received this from Lois Reibach from Blue Bell, Pennsylvania: "My mother made sandwiches called Touchdowners that had ground Spam, grated cheese, and pickle relish mixed together, then put on a hamburger bun, wrapped in foil and the packet was heated. She got the recipe out of some magazine or newspaper for things to eat while watching football on TV. This was over 40 years ago and I still remember them fondly." Lois has since lost the recipe, so if you have it, e-mail it or any other of your Spam memories to For more information about the inaugural Mas Arai Spam Contest, see

02350003_19A SPECIAL THANKS TO ISHIHARA-SAN AND COMPANY: The SNAKESKIN SHAMISEN book event at the Japanese American National Museum on May 6 was made all the more special by a performance by Hiroshi Ishihara and members of his musical troupe. I’m posing with a snakeskin shamisen, but it’s all for show! (The only stringed instruments I learned to play badly, very badly, are the guitar and the cello.)

News Flash! MAS ARAI GOES BIG PRINT: The Mas Arai mystery series got its first license this week–a large-print deal with Thorndike Press. The first title, SUMMER OF THE BIG BACHI, may come out as early as this fall. FYI, dear librarians!

AND FINALLY, A LOSS OF A CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER: Sweet Sue, rest in peace and may your work live on.