TBR [to be read] is a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe.
Give us your elevator pitch: what’s your book about in 2-3 sentences?
My book is about being biracial, adopted and Japanese American, seeking my birth family but discovering even more about identity, family and belonging.
What boundaries did you break in the writing of this memoir? Where does that sort of courage come from?
I broke a decades-long boundary of secrecy, of being held to the idea that I had no right to tell this story. I wrote a poem at the age of 20, called “Living In Someone Else’s Closet,” about the being my birth mother’s most deeply held secret. That feeling has pervaded my life for over 40 years and I finally felt that I needed to break out.
The courage, if it can be called that, came in large part from feeling that enough was enough. I am now in my sixties. I’m a grandmother. And to be tethered to someone else’s historic shame from the 1950s – I just couldn’t do it anymore. At the same time, I respect my birth mother’s need for privacy, and I did my best to maintain her anonymity in telling this story.
Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.
It took so much longer (30 years!) than I had ever imagined. When I first began it, in 1992, my MFA thesis advisor suggested that I was too much in the middle of it, and it might need some time to marinate before I was ready to share it with the world. My husband tried to reassure me by reminding me that Frank McCourt was 65 when he published Angela’s Ashes, and I had an absolute tantrum. There was no WAY I wanted that to happen to me. But in hindsight, it’s better for me, and I truly believe it’s a better book. I wrote so many different versions of it over the years. I wrote it as a novel, but in trying to disguise it, my own voice and story were muffled. I’ve written memoir versions in many formats. Thousands and thousands of pages, and many years.
One of the highs has been my publisher’s immense patience and belief in me. We started a conversation around this book about ten years ago and they never pushed me, only encouraged and supported me. It took much longer than I ever expected to get to this final draft, but they never gave up on me or told me it was taking too long. I feel like this was a tremendous gift.
What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?
“Write what scares you.” I kind of love and hate and also fully believe this. This is the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done.
My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?
How long it took, and that the arc of the story kept moving further and further. But when it was finally finished, I knew it.
How did you find the title of your book?
I had a number of really terrible or confusing titles, and none of them felt right to me. But the title comes from the opening chapter, from the moment before I met my birth mother. I started thinking a rhyme, kind of along the lines of Green Eggs & Ham: “I would meet you in a box. I would meet you with a fox. I would meet you.. anywhere.”
My writing group suggested it to me after I’d submitted the final manuscript, and the publisher agreed that it was the best one. I love it because it starts out in reference to my birth mother, but throughout the book, the “I” and the “you” shift in meaning. Sometimes it’s about myself and how I come to understand my sense of identity. Sometimes it’s about my adoptive family, or my paternal birth family. It’s about my newborn grandchild. It’s so many things, and I feel like it encompasses the whole story.
Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book? (Any recipes I might share?)
Haha, there’s a lot of ice cream references in this book, specifically coffee chip ice cream (Haagen-Dasz!) and hot fudge sundaes. This story once existed as a solo performance show called The Ice Cream Gene, and I used to serve coffee chip ice cream after the show! Sushi and sashimi also appear more than once. Here’s a recipe for my favorite salmon: (which we caught on a family fishing trip the day before my wedding)
Ito Family Salmon
Large salmon filet
Teriyaki sauce (either bottled or homemade)
Furikake, any flavor
Slather filet generously with teriyaki sauce (our favorite is Soy Vey’s Very Very Teriyaki, but any can be used, or a combination of soy sauce and sugar, to taste).
Sprinkle liberally with furikake
Roast in 425 oven for 20 minutes or until thickest part of salmon is done. Can also be wrapped in tin foil and broiled on a gas or barbecue grill.
Serve with white sushi-grade medium grain rice.
READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: https://www.thesusanito.com
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