Q&A With Gail Tsukiyama

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Q&A With Gail Tsukiyama 

To end the summer off, I have the pleasure of doing my latest Q&A with author Gail Tsukiyama. Gail is the author of many books some of which are The Samurai’s Garden, Women Of The Silk, The Language of Threads, The Street of A Thousand Blossoms, The Color of Air & her recent release The Brightest Star. 


Q: Gail would you like to tell the readers of the blog and I a little bit about your current release The Brightest Star

A:  The Brightest Star was inspired by Anna May Wong, the first Asian-American movie star during the early days of Hollywood. She boldly struggled against the anti-miscegenation laws and racism of the time, watching white actresses in yellow-face get all the coveted movie roles while she was relegated to playing servants, damsels in distress, and dragon ladies. Still, Anna May made close to sixty films in her forty-year career that crossed over from silent films to the talkies, and included The Toll of the Sea, The Thief of Bagdad, and Shanghai Express.  Her talents went beyond films, having starred in numerous theater productions in the U.S. and Europe where she sang and danced.  She was also a great reader who wrote articles and essays, spoke several languages, and filmed and documented her own trip to China, which was later shown on the television series, Bold JourneyThe Brightest Star chronicles Anna May Wong’s survival through not only the injustices of being an Asian-American woman in Hollywood, but also her constant struggle for approval from her father and her ancestral country of China who opposed her acting career and saw it as a form of prostitution.  Anna May never felt Chinese enough in China and never American enough in America, a burden she carried throughout her life.  The Brightest Star is the intimate story of not only Anna May Wong and early Hollywood, but the complexities of family and ambition and survival within a culture of racism

Q: When did you realize being an author was what you wanted to do with your life? Who were your biggest supporters of your talent and goal?

A:  My mother was an avid reader and she greatly influenced my love of art and books. I spent much of my childhood both reading and watching films, hoping that one day I could tell my stories up on the big screen.  It wasn’t until I started taking film courses at San Francisco State University that I realized what I really loved were the stories, and not the technical aspects of filmmaking.  I quickly moved over to the writing department.  In a class called, “Writers on Writing,” a poet named Kathleen Fraser came to speak of her poetry and I immediately fell in love with poetry and the power of words on the page.  I’m still in awe of how the use of so few words can say so much.  I was fortunate enough to work with Kathleen Fraser, William Dickey, Stan Rice, and Frances Mayes during my early days of writing poetry.  After graduating with my Master’s in English, I began teaching and writing short stories.  It all led to writing novels.  I’ll always be grateful to have had a mother who understood my desire to write, and who always inspired and supported me, especially in an Asian household.  Her support was instrumental in my perseverance.  Early on in my career, I was also very lucky to join a writers’ group who I’m still with to this day.  

Q: Out of all the genres out there, what made you choose to write historical fiction?

A:  I never really chose to write historical fiction.  My first book, Women of the Silk came about because I was thinking a great deal about my heritage. (I’m half-Chinese and half-Japanese, and was raised in Chinese culture.)  I began looking into the history behind what brought me to the life I was living in the San Francisco Bay Area.  It was finding my roots from a distance.  I didn’t exactly want to write about my family but I did want to write about my culture, which meant stepping back in time.  One story has just led to another, with research playing a big role in my writing process.  I almost always discover a new and fascinating idea while researching, which often can lead to the next book. There’s also something very comforting to me about looking back in time and writing about a more idealistic, less commercial, tech-filled time.

Q: What advice would you give to anyone wanting to be an author?

A:  In simplest terms, if you want to write, you have to read.  I love this quote by writer Annie Proulx:

You should write because you love the shape of stories and sentences and the creation of different words on a page.  Writing comes from reading, and reading is the best teacher of how to write.

Q: Where is your favorite spot to sit down and plot, write, research and edit your work?

A: I have two writing workspaces in different locations, one that’s closer to water, and the other in the mountains surrounded by trees.  One is more open and less cluttered than the other, but both have books and photos of family and friends all around me for comfort and company.  

Q: How do you choose the topic of each novel you choose to write, and what is the research process like? 

A:  So much of what I write about comes at times when I least expect to discover them.  My research usually begins with reading and focusing on a place or subject matter I have in mind for a story.  If a character lives in a certain place, it defines who they are.  I’m often writing about countries that I haven’t lived in, so my initial reading and research is vital to setting up the world I want to create.  It’s often followed up by travel research, where I go to the place I’ve been writing about to make sure I’m getting everything right.  Research has become my security blanket.  I begin each book researching, even if it’s just reading up on a place, trying to understand their geography and customs and what was happening politically and economically at the time.  It all provides sustenance for building the characters and plot of your story.

Q: If you are currently writing your current novel, can you reveal any details? 

A:  I’m just beginning to think of a new novel.  I can tell you that I’ve started reading up on places in Japan.  Beyond that, I’m hoping to discover some wonderful things along the way!

Q: Does the entertainment industry have any interest or rights to your work? I would love to see the entertainment industry have real original content again instead of remakes, reboots, sequels, spin-offs and prequels.

A:  Both Women of the Silk and The Samurai’s Garden have been optioned at different times.  The Samurai’s Garden has come the closest.  I never thought it would be the kind of book that would reach across wide divides, but I’m constantly asked if it will be made into a movie.  I’ll have to leave that up to the movie gods!  And who knows, The Samurai’s Garden is a quiet, Zen-like story that just might be the kind of movie we need in these difficult times.