Bram Stoker Award® Finalist for Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection
"Beautiful, haunting, and grotesque, The Carp-Faced Boy and Other Tales offers stories reminiscent of traditional Japanese folktales alongside contemporary horror fiction. Matsuura’s unique voice, in its poignancy and lightheartedness, is unforgettable."—Gene O'Neill
Even a small surgery makes me nervous and introspective.
The last time I was in surgery (2016) my vein had just blown and I woke up on the operating table, early. I remember hearing people talking in loud voices over one another, before opening my eyes and seeing the blurry, busy scene. Someone shouted, “She’s awake!” and the poor male nurse leaning over me was really panicking, furiously massaging and searching my arm, trying to find somewhere to stick the IV. My infamous thin veins along with the Heparin I was being given weren’t helping at all. That face. He looked truly afraid. I think that was the first and only time I’ve ever seen that kind of fear in a nurse. It doesn’t sit well with a patient. But I get it. Poor kid.
My surgeon, though, she was calm. She was down by my knee and I had to lift my head a little to see her. She told him to try something. He said it wasn’t working. Then she spoke again (for the life of me I can’t remember exactly what was said) sternly and confidently, and marched around the table. The male nurse vanished, and she did something (again, both sternly and confidently) and I was out. Asleep.
Tomorrow I’m going in for arthroscopic surgery on my elbow, a cracked bone spur that won’t allow me to extend my arm all the way, along with some other stuff I’m a tad unclear on. The doctor wanted me to go in for a week, general anesthesia, so he could ‘really clean up the joint’. He said he wouldn’t ‘imagine such a bad elbow on a 70-year old construction worker’. But my fear of general anesthesia and possible blood clots again, together with the fact I don’t get sick days at my job *, has me going in for an outpatient surgery. It’s not a big deal.
But like I said up there: Even a small surgery makes me nervous and introspective.
The good news is that for the past week I’ve been thinking about all the different hats I’ve been wearing – or not wearing, as the case may be – and I really miss that writing cap. Not the podcast kind of writing, but making up a new fiction story from scratch and exploring that world and those characters. I had something in the drawer for years and was recently able to dust it off when the Asahi Weekly Newspaper approached me to do a serialized horror piece. It’s a good story and I think it could be something really good given more time and some fleshing out. So I’ve been playing with the idea of turning it into something longer, possibly a YA (young adult) novel, and submitting it to my agent. Not being able to sleep well has it’s advantages. I now have all kinds of notes about how to work on this story. I’m giving myself the deadline of the end of this year to have a decent first draft.
I hope everyone is well and I plan to write the occasional short post here to keep me honest.
P.S. Aren’t dragonflies lovely?
* More accurately, I get the kind of sick days where I have to make up all the hours a week later on my own time, which I don’t want to do in a sling.
I’ve got quite a few subscribers to my blog who aren’t following me on other social media thingies, so I wanted to post a little update.
Aside from my podcast (Uncanny Japan), I have this other side hustle I’m very passionate about. That is, digging up obscure Japanese folktales, translating, retelling/reimagining them, and then recording them with cool background music. They are offered as one of the rewards for my 5$ and up Patrons.
It occurred to me, though, recently that if you weren’t a Patron, you’d have no idea what a Bedtime Story sounded like. So my Tech Guy and I decided to do one for free. This is the PG-rated version of “The Melon Princess”. The R-rated version (much more flay-y) will be available to my Patrons.
My job is the stories. I do all that mentioned above. But the audio editing, the super nitty gritty stuff that makes it sound so cool is my Tech Guy, Rich Pav. Then there is the background music, haunting and beautiful. That would be courtesy of my son, Julyan Matsuura.
If you have a few moments and some earbuds or headphones, pop those puppies in and lie down on a sofa or nearby bed, get comfortable and listen to me tell you the story of “The Melon Princess and the Heavenly Demon”.
The podcast episode that explains what the heavenly demon (amanojaku) is, is right here.
I first met Patrick back in 2011. I was new to Twitter and there was this really neat group of cool expat kids in Japan called #youguys. They liked to talk, tell jokes, and share stories (advice, information, what-have-you) via Tweets. Those were some seriously fun times.
And then the Tohoku Earthquake hit.
Now, Patrick wasn’t Patrick back then. At least not to me. He went by the pseudonym “Our Man in Abiko” and his avatar was a very 007 silhouette. All I knew was that (apart from being mysterious AF) he was the one who jumpstarted this idea to pull together a group of writers and artists to donate works (stories, essays, art) and compile them into a book. This book would then be sold and all the proceeds would be given to the Japanese Red Cross to help with earthquake and tsunami relief. Our Man spearheaded, organized, edited, and accomplished all of this in a little over a week. And we’re talking also about getting pieces from Yoko Ono, William Gibson, Barry Eisler and Jake Adelstein. We called it The Quake Book, but it’s real title is 2:46: Aftershocks: Stories from the Japan Earthquake and it’s still a phenomenal thing.
Here’s what Patrick had to say about that when I asked:
“Ah, Quakebook. Yeah, probably that will go down as my crowning publishing achievement (although I did it all anonymously at the time), getting 100 contributors, including celebs like Yoko Ono, to contribute pieces about the Tohoku earthquake for free to raise money for the Red Cross. To this day, I don’t know how we pulled it off other than to say it was the right thing to do at the right time. A lot of people helped because of this. And that’s the lesson I take from the experience: do the right thing at the right time and you’ll be amazed at what you can do. Although the converse is probably more common. It’s only after the event that you realise what a fortuitous opportunity it was. Grasp the nettle, Terrie!”
That was 2011. I pulled away from Twitter, more or less, and life-things happened. But I kept bumping into Our Man (whom I learned was Patrick Sherriff) on Facebook, Instagram, and the Twitter I’m still trying to wean myself off. And what I’ve discovered over the years is that this guy does all variety of things and he puts his whole heart into each and every pursuit he pursues. He’s a whole like who I wanna be.
Something I think Patrick and I have in common is there are so many things we want to do in this life, and so many things we want to do well. We also like trying new stuff we’ve never done before and that might be a little bit (or a lot) out of our comfort zones. The ideas just don’t stop. The difference between Patrick and I, however, is that he seems to have the secret sauce as to how to go about getting shit done. I have no such sauce recipe, as yet.
See, the thing is, I’m used to having great stretches of uninterrupted time. That’s how I got all my stories researched and written and how I scoured the markets and they ended up in print. Well, that was then and this is now, and now I’ve got to be grown up (like most people) and figure out how to chase all my dreamy dreams as best as I can with what bits of free time I can snag during a day, because life ain’t that long, ya’ll, and every second we do have is valuable, dammit.
So, I was dealing with all this (having too much to do, too much I wanted to do) when the Japan Writers’ Conference snuck up on me. Because often times my dreamy dreams involve something difficult that I’m afraid of, I raised my hand and pitched an idea for a talk. Lo and behold, they gave me the green light, and I went to the conference. Patrick (whom I’d never met before in real life) said he was going as well.
I was both stoked and nervous to meet this person I’ve known online for so many years. I think he still had some of the mysterious Our Man in Abiko vibes about him in my head. I had no idea how super nice he was IRL. Now, add to those nerves the fact that I’d never given a talk before in my life, so I had that rattling around in my bloodstream as well. The day of the talk, I walk into the room and there are all these people and my little heart is like, “Yep, I’m outta here.”
But before I could turn around and bolt, I looked out at the crowd and I see a couple familiar faces and one of them is Patrick. He just smiled at me and I totally relaxed. Later we talked and had lunch with a group of writers, and it was like chatting with an dear old friend. He was smart and friendly and despite being so hard working and accomplished, he was so very mellow.
I’m sure I asked him then and I think I’ve asked him a dozen times since, “How do you do it? How do you get so much done and done well? You read loads of books, you write, you paint, you play instruments, you run a school, you write your own textbooks, you write reviews, you support other artists and writers and friends, and you have a monthly newsletter with really cool stuff in it!?”
(Look at this! I still think this is one of my favorite self portraits.)
Alongside quite a bit of encouragement, Patrick has given me advice about how to assign small blocks of time for the things that are important. He’s talked about how he’ll give himself 30 minutes every day to read a book. Thirty minutes reading, uninterrupted. Stop. Then on to the next thing. He’s organized and careful and passionate. And he also know how to relax and have fun. It makes very good sense to me and I’m trying to implement his approach into my hectic days.
Fast Forward to a little while ago, when he came to me via email and threw out the idea of us interviewing each other for our own personal blogs. I’ve never interviewed anyone, much less written a blog post about a person I admired. I don’t have the first clue what to do, what to ask, how to consolidate the answers I get, so easily my answer was, “Hell, yeah!”
It took awhile because like I said in those first two sentences up there: all worlds-of-busy are on me, and I have such a difficult time getting to things that matter. But I took a proverbial page out of Patrick’s book, and I set aside the time to do something important and I got it done. Today. Cue happy dance.
See, it’s not that I don’t hustle. I think I do hustle. I’m just not necessarily doing it as well as I could be. I get stressed out and panicked. But then I look over and I see Patrick and I nod and think: That’s what I need to be doing. So my plan is after I get good at divvying up blocks of time and concentrating on the tasks at hand, I’m totally going for a more chill attitude.
My goal is to grasp that darned nettle, all the nettles(!), and then, eventually, to do it will a mellow demeanor, just like my humble guru, Patrick Sherriff.
Well, hello there, 2018! You really snuck up on me.
I just sat down and re-read last year’s New Year’s blog post and had a hearty chuckle. I might have grimaced and winced a couple times, probably wiped away a few tears. There I was sure that the previous year (2016) was so insanely tumultuous and difficult that the coming year (this past one) could only get better. I jumped in ready to batten down the proverbial hatches and wait until some some much needed (dare I say, deserved?) calm seas appeared. Yeah. That didn’t happen. And I kid you not when I say the cray-cray that went down this past year to me personally was completely separate from all political news and state-of-the-world absurdness going on.
So, 2017 wasn’t all bad, actually. Some truly amazing things happened and I’ll get to those in a second. But first…
A super quick rundown: It’s January first and I’m sitting here in a two-room apartment in front of a nice monitor (finally!), a mechanical keyboard (never knew such magic existed!) and staring at a small tank full of minnows (They love me and I’m training them. Shut up.) and I’m thinking I’m doing okay, despite it all, I’m a *special* kind of happy. Last year, I had to make what was probably the toughest decision of my life. I can’t really get into the details here, just know it was many, many years brewing and all that time while I was turning over my options, there was never any this-is-the-right-choice moments. Or there were and I just kept missing them. Think: boiling frog analogy, I guess. It’s hard to listen to your heart when you’re sure you’re going mad and nothing sounds or feels sane.
For a very long time, it was easy *not* to make a choice. But I realized that ‘not making a choice’ *is* making a choice (someone very wise told me that *nods at C.M.*). And that ‘not making a choice’ (in my case) was lazy, dangerous, and just plain weak.
So I made the decision. There were consequences. Big ones. Payoffs. I lost (for the time being) virtually all of my writing time, for one. I’m in a two-bedroom apartment, for two. There are other things, but let’s skip all the dramatic and gory details and let me tell you about what good occurred because I did the difficult thing.
1) Sanity is returning, slowly albeit. It feels like I’m learning how to be a real person all over again. And that’s a positive thing.
2) I am no longer dependent on anyone financially. This is a deep down feel-good that I never expected would, well, feel so good. Yay, me!
3) I have monitor, keyboard, and also affectionate minnows(*), my own space, and that *special* kind of happy.
In April I did a reading from my new book in Kobe.
A few other biggies that happened as a result of me taking action when so long I’d remained paralyzed and wishy-washy and afraid:
In February my second collection of stories was published by Independent Legions Press. It’s called The Carp-Faced Boy and Other Tales, and this time I went complete horror, which was fun and challenging and something I want to explore more.
Paperbacksandpugs Tweeted the most adorable Tweet about The Carp-Faced Boy.
I also started a monthly podcast that has just celebrated its one-year anniversary. This was an entirely new endeavor and scary in its own right. Take into consideration that up until very recently I didn’t speak English, except maybe once a week to my parents, for years and years, like almost twenty. I could feel my synapses fizzling out and my brain shrinking. I was able to write, but my verbal story-telling ability was fast disappearing. It’s still not back, but I think I’m getting better. The podcast was a way to try and nip that cerebral decline in the bud as well as a way to introduce people to the Japan I love via a different medium. There are people who read books. There are people who listen to podcasts. Sometimes they’re the same people. Sometimes, they’re not. So I did a bit of hustling and with the help of a friend who knows a whole lot more than I do, I started Uncanny Japan. I even trended for awhile on an app for Trending Podcasts. Which basically means I got a heap of subscribers and answer lots of emails.
I made myself a home studio.
Around that time, I discovered Patreon and made a page there where, again, I could possibly reach like-minded people and tell them a story and teach them something odd and/or creepy about Japan that they didn’t know before. Over the past year, 26 people have become Patrons of mine, and I adore each and every one of them. I want to have a house party and invite them all over, feed them exotic Japanese foods, ply them with expensive sake and introduce them to my minnows…only a I’m a little short on room right now. One of these days! For the time being, these wonderful people make me want to work harder. Do better.
One super tough thing that happened in 2017 was that I needed to procure a full-time job. I don’t know about stars aligning and the Magic 8-Ball declaring ‘Signs point to yes!’, but dagnubbit (!) I was taken on at an adorable and wonderful English school where I couldn’t be happier. Think Totoro and magical cabin in the woods. The time thing I gotta work out myself. But the atmosphere, the students, and my bosses are all fantastic. I really couldn’t have landed in a better place.
In some ways it feels like I survived 2017 by the skin of my teeth, that I’m clumsily juggling too many things, and that I’m always not doing enough. In other ways, it feels like I hustled my ass off and got busy and stayed creative and hopeful when I could easily have shut down and turned off.
Life is by no means perfect. There are still dragons in dem 2018 waters (Oh, how I love mixing my metaphors!).
Time management is a must. Now that I don’t have big blocks of time to write, I need to be able to switch on and off from project to project at will. This has been proving extremely difficult for me. This is one of my top three dragons that must be slayed. Or caged. Or tamed. Or, crap, just get him to organize my hours and days and weeks for me.
Second dragon is health and fitness. I lost a good deal of weight and was walking an hour or more a day two years ago. This year with my new schedule and (again) my less-than-capable skills of planning spiffy routines, I’ve put a good deal of weight back on, and no walking. That beast needs to go down this year. Down, I tell you. And maybe I’ll burn some calories while I wrestle him. With time as valuable as it is and me really wanting to start (again) and finish (for real) my novel, I need to figure this one out.
Dragon Three is writing. Gotta ride this puppy. I’ve got a novel started, and an agent asking where they hell is it? To the depths of my very soul I want to finish this novel. 2018, I’m looking at you.
So that’s me. I’m not about New Year’s resolutions so much. I’m more about winged monsters with scales and fiery breath trying to take me out (Or help me out. Seriously. I’m all over the place up here.) and what I can do to overcome them or work with them, or…you get the picture.
How about you? What are your goals, dreams, thoughts for/about 2018?
Whatever they are, I hope the dreams come true, the goals are achieved, and the thoughts are, well, thunk.
This is me wishing you all a wonderful and Happy New Year!
(*) Affectionate Minnows is the name of my new band.
My November Uncanny Japan podcast was about goro awase (語呂合わせ), a kind of Japanese, number word play. I give a few examples there and thought I was done with the topic when yesterday during every single one of my classes I heard the elementary school students ask kids from other schools if they had been given a free package of katsuo bushi – (kastuo bushi is dried and smoked tuna flakes. My town is kinda famous for producing them).
Anyway, I finally asked what was up with that. Why would they be given a package of dried tuna flakes? And why would ALL the elementary schools be giving them out?
The answer I got was brilliant.
The kids told me that it was November 24 (11. 24) or “ii fushi” Day. “Ii” meaning good and “fushi” sounding somewhat like katsuo bushi.
That got me thinking about the post I did on Facebook about how November 22 (11. 22) is considered “ii fufu” Day, which is “Happy Married Douples’ Day”, I guess. Since November is 11, and 11 is one one or ii in Japanese, meaning good, I figured there have got to be a whole bunch of other interesting play-on-words days this month.
Here are a few of the keepers:
11.8 Good Teeth Day – ii ha いい歯
11.9 Good Ventilation Day – ii ku (ki) いい空気 (kuki meaning air)
11.10 Good Toilet Day – ii to (ire) いいトイレ
11.12 Good Skin Day – ii hi fu いい皮膚
11.26 Good Bath Day – ii fu ro いい風呂
11.27 Good Carp Day – ii fu na いい鮒
11.29 Good Meat Day – ii ni ku いい肉
I know it’s the end of the month so we’ve missed a lot of these. There are only a couple more days left, but I notice I’m writing this on Good Bath Day. So go one, take yourself a nice, long and good bath. Tomorrow you may thoroughly enjoy some carp and then two days after that appreciate meat on the 29th.