A Beautiful Case of the Blues

In which an upcoming novel set in Japan is announced and explained.

Image for post
Image for post

Presented here the author’s note for a manuscript I am currently readying for (re)submission to agent and either trad. or self publishing.

A Beautiful Case of the Blues (ABCOB) has been ongoing, whether on high blast or extremely low heat, since 2005. The cultural landscape has changed quite a bit during that time. For that reason, a few notes seem in order.

I began the novel while residing in a Tokyo “gaijin house” much like the one described in ABCOB. This followed on the heels of four years teaching in suburban Chiba, where action also takes place. Starting off under the provisional title “The Bomb” and then “The Disappearance of Darren Loewe” and then “Testcut,” the book morphed into recognizable shape as “Arisugawa Park” when I moved back to the States.

Image for post
Image for post

From the start, I was after well developed characters whose stories would be fleshed out in ways that extended beyond the main plot. A specific impetus was Japanese film sensibilities, as well as popular series of the time such as 24 and the Dan Brown thrillers. While enjoying the premises of the latter, I thought there was something really formulaic and lacking — fast food narratives without a real payoff. So I aimed for depth, while staying within a genre that I have always enjoyed when it gets to the Le Carre level.

The international thriller angle took shape through the experience of earning an MA at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and completing an internship in Washington DC with the International Trade Commission. I learned enough about how superstructure systems work to write realistically about them. I left that milieu just in the nick of time, preventing a stilted and quant-heavy style of writing from infecting my fiction. Still, I had years of unlearning to do.

Image for post
Image for post

In terms of character development, I have made every effort to create characters who, while conforming to certain aspects of suspense and mystery genre conventions, are uniquely their own. One alone, or several in tandem, could hold up a sequel.

I have also worked to make each scene relevant within a complex, linearly unfolding, narrative that contains several puzzle elements. I rarely find a thriller or whodunnit these days that does not disappoint in the confusing, tacked-on explanations of what occurred at the end.

Because the thrust of ABCOB is not explicitly whodunnit, the pieces may fit together in a way that the reader is not expecting and thus have a more powerful cumulative effect at denouement.

Image for post
Image for post

While major elements of ABCOB are completely fictitious (there is no TMAT), my hope is that the reader has a sense that every element of the narrative could have unfolded in the way that it did. As far as the setting goes, I am seeking to create a vivid sense of place that those who have visited or lived in Japan will readily recognize. I want the reader to leave understanding the social and geopolitical complexities of the region a little better.

The narrative is set in 2007, which reflects the era in which the bulk of the first half was initially written. One thing that has surprised me in going back and revising the manuscript, about six years after it was last passed on by publishers, and 15 years after its inception, is how relevant many of the themes are to recent geopolitical developments.

Image for post
Image for post

While I was initially thinking of updating the action to 2020, I came to the conclusion that there is value in exploring that brief moment in time, just before the advent of the iPhone, when smart devices existed but had not warped our ability to process information. When you could not simply deep fake everything to death or use drones and cameras to recognize everyone everywhere. When social media and the need for 140-character solutions had not yet carved out major real estate in the public dialogue. Before pop consciousness was completely invaded by beats.

That said, the novel, as written, could not exist in any year but 2020. Stylistically, the passively structured, Japanese-influenced elements of the original manuscript have been combined with a contemporary, active, punctuated prose. (Thanks social media!) This may lend the work a multi-layered originality that I am proud to call my own.

Image for post
Image for post

I have also changed, but not completely altered, the nature of the main threat in the narrative from botulin toxin to reflect a heightened public awareness of biologics, coronavirus, and pandemic. This is a learning opportunity for me as well — why write if not to gain new insights?

One other aspect of ABCOB is important to me. Throughout the narrative, I am seeking to avoid the often gratuitous elements of violence and predation that we find in many contemporary narratives — even those that nominally stand against such actions. I am more interested in subtle, naturally unfolding, interplays between characters and events. That said, this book is no cozy — there are gritty elements at play and I beg the forbearance of the sensitive reader in certain sections.

With cultural appropriation a byword in today’s public-facing landscape, I can only say that I taught English in Japan for five years and many of the impressions presented are those which the country left on me. Characters in the book are of both sexes and of a variety of ages and ethnicities. Of course, being human, I am only one person. We have committees and AI algorithms of the future to write fluent, well-crafted books that encompass a totality and do not in any way engage or offend.

Image for post
Image for post

With cultural appropriation a byword in today’s public-facing landscape, I can only say that I taught English in Japan for five years and many of the impressions presented are those which the country left on me. Characters in the book are of both sexes and of a variety of ages and ethnicities. Of course, being human, I am only one person. We have committees and AI algorithms of the future to write fluent, well-crafted books that encompass a totality and do not in any way engage or offend.

If you listen closely to this fabric composition, you can hear where I came up with the phrase “a beautiful case of the blues” ad-lib in the studio, way back in 2018. A title that stuck in my head until it took over the manuscript formerly known as Arisugawa Park.
This is the music project, Fabric — Avocado Sun. Original songs timestamped, to be properly recorded somedaze.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store