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.