Get to Know…Keith Yatsuhashi

Joining us this week is fantasy author and former figure skater Keith Yatsuhashi. Welcome, Keith!

Tell us about your book.

Kojiki is the story of Keiko Yamada, a young woman who tries to fulfill her father’s dying by going to Japan and complete a mysterious task in his place. Unfortunately for Keiko, he doesn’t give much in the way of specifics. Only that ‘her camera will show her the way.’ Once in Tokyo, she comes face to face with ancient Japanese Spirits who are on guard for the return of the most powerful of their kind—an insane Spirit of limitless power. The rest of the story is Keiko’s journey from orphan to finding a new family and a new place in a world on the edge of destruction. In grand anime fashion, I fill the story with gigantic beast-like Guardians, everything from dragons to sea serpents, thunderbirds, bat-like creatures, etc. Essentially I thought, hey! Earth’s myths had to come from somewhere, so I made sure I represented a few choice mythic creatures. I tweaked them for Kojiki, figuring man couldn’t have gotten it right, and worked them into the story.

Where did the idea come from?

I’m a longtime anime fan, so it was only natural for the story to take the shape it did. I toyed with the idea of writing a thriller, and way back when I was a teenager I started to write what will become Kojiki’s follow-up. The real inspiration came with the death of an eccentric aunt. At her funeral, my father’s sister-in-law started to relate some of our family history—things I never knew. She said our family was once part of the Imperial Court, back before the capital moved from Kyoto to Tokyo. That family history was enough to fire my imagination. My grandfather worked as an antiques dealer in Boston and came to the US as part of the Yamanaka Trading Company.  My aunt became the inspiration for Keiko, who in the early drafts was actually 75 years old but with a whimsical child-like innocence. She really did have the camera and took it with her wherever she went.

What’s the book’s opening line?

Keiko Yamada lifted her battered thirty-five millimeter camera and held her breath. Its metal casing was cool against her feverish cheeks and smooth enough to slip precariously in her sweaty fingers.

Which actress would you cast as your main character?

Well, she has to be Japanese-American. I’m curious to see Rinko Kikuchi in Pacific Rim. She might make a good Keiko. The thing about Keiko is that she looks Japanese, but she doesn’t act it. She seems American to the core. At least at first.

What do you most enjoy about writing?

I love creating something, building a story that never existed and giving it life. I saw a meme floating around the Internet that says something like, ‘all stories come from the same 26 letters’. Isn’t that amazing? That’s part of the fun, choosing words, moving them around. When it’s done, I can point to it and say, “See that? I did that.”

Please share a writing tip you’ve found helpful.

I’ll give you two, one for writing, one for saving your writing. First, get over that first draft. With Kojiki I obsessed over every draft. It added so much unnecessary time to completing it. Only now–after multiple revisions, edits with Musa, and publication–can I see how little of the original prose remains. That was a great lesson. Just get the story down. It will change; don’t worry about it. The philosophy helped with my WIP. I picked up Dragon Software and dictated the first draft. I finished it in ½ the time. The second draft is slower, though, because I’m rewriting so much. Still, the ideas and scenes are there. It’s just a matter of fleshing them out and polishing. The second tip is to get an independent editor, especially if you’re just starting out. Unless you’re uniquely gifted, a summa cum laude English graduate, or other writing professional, you’ll need that keen eye and experience. I was fortunate enough to locate Lorin Oberweger of Free-Expressions.com. Kojiki wouldn’t exist if not for her. She took a very rough piece of rock and turned it into a diamond, all the while teaching me how to write, tell a story, edit, submit, etc. It’s an investment, true, but it will make you a better writer AND improve your chances of getting published.

What type of fantasy fiction appeals to you? Doesn’t appeal to you?

I like big, epic fantasy, with lots of magical elements, magical creatures, etc. Wheel of Time is pretty much my standard. Funny that Kojiki’s nothing like it. No medieval world, no horses, a couple of swords, but only because of the samurai—yes I DID say samurai. I tend to shy away from gritty realistic fantasy. Not sure why. I wasn’t much of a fan of A Game of Thrones—as a book. For some bizarre reason, I can’t get enough of the show. I want my books to take me to impossible places. I can get gritty intrigue from historical fiction. Why make it a fantasy if it doesn’t have fantasy elements? Admittedly, it looks like A Song of Ice and Fire has those as it moves along, but I like them to be more front and center.

Tell us about your figure skating days, please.

I could write a whole book about this one and probably will someday. I skated for ten years, starting at age nine and going through my freshman year in college. It was an incredible experience, and athletes aren’t kidding when they say nothing compares to athletic competition. Nothing. Bruce Springsteen sings about Glory Days, and that’s exactly what it’s like. You have to be good to reach the top, and I can’t even describe how it feels to have everything come together. To perform at your best, physically and mentally against a handful of peers who are just as good as you are. The competitions themselves—at the higher levels–are as much pageantry as competitive sport. You’re on display throughout, at practice, at the hotel, everywhere. Heady, heady stuff, especially for a bunch of teens. Private buses, press conferences, performances, tours, travel. By eighteen, I’d been all over the U.S. In the span of a year, I went to Sarajevo, Zurich, Tokyo, Bavaria, a month in Budapest, and then the Netherlands. Those last three from August-October of the same year. And keep in mind, for me this was at the junior level. The senior level takes it up a couple of notches. I went on to see a competitor win Olympic Gold. Incredible.

What’s your favorite book?

Well, as I said, the Wheel of Time series is high on my list. As is Harry Potter, and—talk about a radical shift—John Sandford’s thrillers. I think Shogun might be the best book I’ve ever read, and it still inspires me.

Who is your favorite fictional character? (Any medium)

That changes depending on my mood, but I’d have to say Doctor Who. He’s noble and irreverent, old and young, happy and sad, and seemingly omnipotent, if flawed. So many contradictions rolled into one character. I love him because he is hope personified. He’s incredibly compassionate, and he believes in the best in everyone, regardless of species, and tries to resolve disputes and issues without violence. Not that I’m opposed to violence in my stories, far from it. It’s just that the Doctor is unique in his ability to disarm and resolve without it. As if he’s greater than everyone else. God-like.

If you could have one super-power, what would it be and why?

Would omnipotence count? I have a tough time with the question because it reminds me of the Twilight Zone episode with Burgess Meredith and the glasses. Careful what you wish for, right?

What’s next for you?

I’m working on a follow up to Kojiki called Kokoro. It’s not a true sequel in that it will have different characters with a different story. Almost as if you went off to see what happened at another Wizarding School in Harry Potter. It will feel familiar, though. A couple of Kojiki’s characters play a major part, even if they don’t appear that much. Oh, and it will have the tried-and-true-anime trope: god-warrior mecha.

Where can people learn more about your work?

Several places. I have an author page on Goodreads, I’m on Facebook (facebook.com/author.keith.yatsuhashi), Twitter (@keithyatsuhashi), and my blog (kmyatsuhashi.wordpress.com)

Tell us one fun fact about yourself.

Supposedly, my grandmother is a direct descendant of a samurai who fought Kublai Khan’s invading navy when what was to be known as the Kami Kaze, or Divine Wind, destroyed the Khan’s fleet. Is it true? I have no idea, but I REALLY like to think it is.

Thank you, Keith!