An Interview with Keith Yatsuhashi, Author of the Epic Fantasy Novel – Kojiki

Kojiki Keith Yatsuhashi

For those of you who have yet to read Kojiki, can I just say…
Buy it now! It is worth the read, and even a re-read!

After reading and reviewing Kojiki, author Keith Yatsuhashi contacted me to thank me for my review. While we emailed, I found I couldn’t stop asking him questions about Kojiki and his experience writing it. So I asked if I could interview him. To my great delight, he consented.

Read on for the chance to get to know Keith Yatsuhashi! And learn more about his amazing debut novel, KOJIKI !

1. Where about do you live?

I’m a Massachusetts native.

2. What’s your favorite place to go in the entire world? (Or where do you most want to visit?)

I love Disney World in Orlando. Perfect weather (most of the time) and endless entertainment. And golf. I LOVE golf.

3. Is writing currently your full time job? What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?

I work for the U.S. Commercial Service. We help US companies export their products. The worst job? I did an internship for the City of Boston, tracking down people who didn’t pay property taxes. I really hated it.

4. Who are some of your favorite authors? What is one of your most favorite books?

Robert Jordan! The Wheel of Time is one of my all time favorite series. I adore Harry Potter too. Other favorite authors include Patrick Rothfuss, Tolkien, (of course), and Brandon Sanderson. Outside of fantasy, I never miss a John Sandford thriller. I’ll put any book aside for one of his. I think James Clavell’s Shogun may well sit above these others.

5. I believe Kojiki is your debut novel (& what a fantastic first novel it is)! What was the biggest challenge you faced as a new author? And what advice would you give aspiring authors?

Hmm. I’d have to say learning curve. I had to learn how to write, how to tell a story, how to edit, submit to agents and publishers, about the industry, promote etc. SO much to learn. The best advice I can give any author is to find a great independent editor. It’s an investment, but well worth it. Beta readers are good, but there’s no substitute for a professional editor.

6. Can you describe your writing routine? Does it involve a particular time of day, place, music, etc.?

With smartphones, you can jot down anything pretty much any time you have a minute. For the most part, though, I mull when I’m commuting. I picked up dragon voice recognition software and dictate then too. I explain how I go about editing in the next section. Basically, instead of reading someone else’s book, I load mine onto the Kindle. My reading time then doubles as editing time.

7. To me, typos and grammatical errors can destroy a really great story. I’m happy to say I noticed a refreshing LACK of typos while reading Kojiki! Do you attribute this to your publisher, Musa Publishing? What was the editing process like?

I was thrilled that you didn’t find mistakes. It’s so tough to find all of them, especially in a book as long as Kojiki. My publisher and I went through five rounds of edits – three with a content editor, two with a line editor. Truth be told, I found a couple in the last rounds of edits that they missed 🙂

I also came up with a system that worked pretty well for me. First off, I had a full line edit by the independent editor I mentioned earlier, Lorin Oberweger of Free-Expressions.com. Lorin also edits for Veronica Rossi. She’s indispensable. For me, I put the book on Kindle and had the Kindle read the manuscript to me. You’d be surprised how easily your ear picks up problems. The next step, for more polish, I read the manuscript on Kindle. I find more errors that way than I do when reading from a computer screen. Something about the e-ink, maybe. Or the fact that an e-reader approximates the reading experience so much better. BTW, I hope you don’t find too many typos in here. I type fast and don’t have the benefit of an editor for my answers!

8. Kojiki is not what some would call a light book to pick up and skim through. You really have to pay attention to every written word. There is so much detail, multiple points of views, flashbacks, mythology, action, drama and more. How long from conception of Kojiki to publication did the entire process take? And from where did the idea of Kojiki originally stem?

It took two years to write, though remember, it was my first go at writing. It was also double the size. I had to learn how to say things concisely. When I thought it was ready, I sent it out, got the rejections, and decided to hire Lorin. She spent a few years going over the MS, helping me revise and submit. All told, it was a very long haul—almost 9 years from when I started. To be fair, each submission period took 6 months to get enough rejections to realize the MS needed more work—6 months I wasn’t working on it.

As for the idea – that came from a couple different places. One night after watching the movie Tremors, I had a dream about those damn giant worms, only instead of what they did in the movie they were shooting through the subway. That became the first big set piece in Kojiki, but with a dragon. More of the meat of the story unfolded as I wrote it. I had the basic concepts down before then. These were the result of a conversation I had with an Aunt about my family history. She claims my grandfather’s family were part of the Imperial court. Yatsuhashi is a unique name in Japan. It means ‘eight bridges’, which—I’m told—represent the eight bridges around Japan’s former Imperial capital of Kyoto. There are families with names that represent ‘seven bridges’, ‘six’, and on down to one. I imagine the closer to one, the more important the family. According to this aunt, my grandmother had an ancestor who fought against Kublai Khan’s invasion force in the 1200’s. THAT was during the great typhoon, the Kami Kaze.

A final piece of inspiration came from a National Geographic documentary. I only saw the commercial, but in it researchers posed the theory that ancient Greeks and other cultures probably dug up dinosaur bones. Those finds became the root of their myths. I thought, well, what if the Greeks were right and the scientists were wrong? What if there were no dinosaurs? What if the mythical creatures were the true?

9. What research did you conduct while writing Kojiki?

A lot less than you’d imagine. Mostly I used Google maps and Google searches to get the geography right. A tourism website can be a writer’s best friend! Ditto Google street view. Some of Keiko’s steps in the Ginza follow an actual route  Incidentally, this is how I came up with the idea that Vissyus lived in what is now Japan. A satellite shot of Tokyo Bay makes it look an awful lot like a volcano’s caldera. A HUGE one. I also needed to get the mountain heights right, topography, climate, etc. I spent a good amount of time on a site called timeanddate.com to make sure I had the time zone right. If something happened in Japan, I wanted to know the approximate time it happened in other parts of the world. I used Google to find Japanese English dictionaries. I also checked some historical dates, though I knew roughly when they happened—the date the internment of Japanese-Americans in WWII, the year of the Meiji Restoration in Japan (I kinda knew that one, I have a minor in history), that sort of thing. The last thing I really studied were the elements—how weather worked, types of clouds, geology, etc.

10. I mentioned mythology above. In Chapter 8 – Simmering, Keiko asks Yui what Kojiki is. Yui responds “Ostensibly Japan’s great creation myth.” Wikipedia says Kojiki is a collection of myths concerning the origin of the four home islands of Japan, and the Kami (Japanese for Spirit or God). I for one loved the dragons, sea serpent, thunderbird, and stone giant! So, was this collection of myths one of the things that inspired you most in creating Kojiki? What other things inspired you while writing Kojiki?

I loved ALL myths as a kid. I had books and books on sea monsters and dragons and all sorts of mystical creatures—actually not the mystical ones, but those cryptozoology ones. For me it was all about the monster . Those were my real inspiration. I thought I’d take some of the most recognizable creatures and blend them into the book. The idea is that the creatures were real, and at some level, Earth’s civilization remembered them.

That line is on of my favorites in the book. Probably because of Keiko’s reaction to it.

11. You don’t really see many Japanese mythology fantasy novels out there. I’ve noticed other reviewers say this book read like an anime or manga, though I’m not really familiar with either. Would you say that classification is part of what sets Kojiki apart from all the other fantasy novels on the market today?

I think that’s a big part of it. Anime and Manga often take a “if it’s cool we’ll do it, physics and realism be damned” approach. I think it helps that I don’t have a writing background—no one to tell me how I’m supposed to structure a story or where to set it. It’s changing now, thanks in large part to YA and all the creativity that genre is showing, but until the YA explosion, fantasy was really all about medieval settings. Dragons, monsters, samurai, and gods in a modern setting doesn’t compute for many—or didn’t until recently. As much as I love Harry Potter, the Wizarding World looks more like King Arthur’s England than Elizabeth II’s. Anime’s been ahead of us in this. Samurai routinely show up in modern Tokyo, dragons level it, and so on.

For me, the biggest difference between Kojiki and other fantasy novels is its tone. Today’s books are all about dark, brooding people with dark, complicated problems. Kojiki’s the opposite. I intentionally set out to write a story about the greatness we have within us, even in the face of horrific circumstances. How we pick ourselves up, harden our will, and set out to do what right. Only a handful of Kojiki’s characters are actually evil—even Vissyus, Kojiki’s villain isn’t evil. Crazy, yes—dangerously so – but not evil. I really hope the idea of great individuals doing great, heroic things resonates. It’s all well and good to have flawed characters we can relate to. Once in a while, it’s nice to have some we can aspire to. I miss that in today’s storytelling – the true hero, the Sam Gamgees of the world.

12. What part of Kojiki was the most fun to develop and/or write?

The characters. I tried to make each one different. They had to be, so they could play off each other. I particularly like the interplay between Keiko and Yui. They have such a good dynamic. I have a very soft spot for Aeryk and Seirin, too. They go through so much. You see various stages of their love for each other. The new, exciting stage and the deeper more mature stage. Seirin’s fight with Lon-Shan was a blast to write. It was the first time we get to see how these Spirits use their power, how devastating it is, and how cleverly they wield it.

13. If you could pick one scene in Kojiki that is the most vital, which scene would it be?

I’d have to say Vissyus’s backstory. You have to know why he did what he did and how that affects everything that followed, including the tremendous guilt the other Kami felt because of it.

14. Which was your most challenging scene, your “Everest”, to write?

The library was a very hard scene to write. It took me a while to figure out why it wasn’t working. In a nutshell, it was because, originally, the characters were just standing around talking. I don’t know where the idea came from, but I came up with having the room reflect Keiko’s emotions.

That was nothing compared to the opening. No matter how hard I revised it, I just couldn’t get the opening few pages to work. Finally, after so many failed attempts, I contacted my editor to tell her I’d done the best I could and that was that. At this point, she suggested that the problem was Keiko’s motivation. I needed to give her a reason to go to Japan. Until this point, I hadn’t. The best I came up with was that she went because her father died, and she wanted to see where he came from, check into her roots, and maybe meet some family she didn’t know she had. That was too bland for my editor. She pushed me hard on the idea that going was Keiko’s father’s dying wish. I worked that for a while until I came up with the jisei. I wish I could tell you where that came from, but I honestly don’t know. It’s one of the mysteries of writing. Sometimes, inspiration does strike. For Kojiki, it came on my final draft. It was the final piece that pulled the rest of the revision together.

15. What scenes, if any, didn’t make it into the book?

Quite a few, actually. You and I had a conversation earlier that I won’t include here because it heads into spoiler territory. I CAN say I had the whole backstory written, not just the flashbacks in the book, but the entire battle between the Kami told from Seirin’s POV. I really liked it too. Again, I took the idea that all Earth’s continents were one. Instead of what scientists say about continental drift and all, I pretty much lead the reader to believe this war is what broke Pangaea apart. Ditto the massive deaths of the creatures scientists call dinosaurs 

I also had a very detailed chapter that showed how Lon-Shan, Lord of Shadow, plucked Paitr from a Royal Guard in medieval Romania. It’s a pretty cool piece. Very gothic. I was playing on the whole vampire origin myth here. It’s no coincidence that Lon-Shan’s Guardian looks like a giant bat/demon, and that he’s imprisoned where the Dracula legend originated.

16. Which character was the most difficult to come up with?

I had a very good idea about each of them, though Seirin, Vissyus, and Keiko changed the most from earlier drafts. Seirin was WAY more self-righteous. Moral purity motivated her. You can see how far she came from that! Vissyus changed too, though not as much. I always wanted him to be the mad-scientist type, whose experiments go wrong. Like a 1950’s science fiction movie—or the Hulk for that matter. He really came together when I decided he had an unrequited love for Seirin. One he kept hidden. That proved to be a powerful catalyst for his character. In the end, he’s really the only character in the book who acts selflessly. Which makes it even more tragic.

As for Keiko—now don’t laugh—for a very long time, Keiko was a 75-year-old woman. I modeled her after an eccentric Aunt I had. My Aunt was fun and loony, and what made her interesting was that she had a child-like innocence about her. I held onto that as long as I could, until agent after agent said a 75-year-old protagonist would never fly. Not wanting to change all the times and dates I already had in the book once I decided to make Keiko 18, I had to come up with a reason for her to stay young AND not remember. I always intended for her to use the camera as a means to make her power work—my Aunt had that camera and damn if it didn’t annoy us. So, the whole time-manipulation idea wasn’t much of a stretch. I’d be remiss not to mention it was my 14-year-old daughter who finally came up with the idea. It was perfect. It made Keiko old and young and infinitely more interesting. I could keep some of the older person tendencies and add younger ones too. Pretty neat, and pretty complex. All from a mistake 🙂

17. So, who’s the bald dude in red robes with the white aura who, at the beginning of the story, leads Keiko to the Boundary?

That’s Takeshi. Crimson is his color, his robes, his armor. I put a subtle clue when Keiko meets him for the first time. She thinks she recognizes him, but when she tries to concentrate, her mind goes fuzzy. That’s him interfering 🙂 Always remember, Takeshi pulls ALL the strings in this story.

18. I mention in my review of Kojiki that I really enjoyed the banter between Aeryk (Lord of Air) and Ventyre (Guardian of Air). Which Spirit/Guardian relationship do you like the most?

I like that one too. Keiko and Yui’s stands out because you see their friendship and trust grow. Yui goes from tolerating Keiko to respecting her. And Keiko goes from dismissing Yui as a spoiled, impulsive brat to someone who’s been hurting for a long time. By the end of the book, they’re very close friends.

As I said earlier, I like the dynamic between Seirin and Aeryk. Kojiki was supposed to be their story, but Keiko was just such a darned good character that she hijacked the book from them. That said; I’m very proud of the dynamic between Seirin and Vissyus at the end of the book. It’s creepy, tense, frightening and VERY sad.

19. I LOVED Fiyorok & Akuan, the Guardian dragons of the insane Fire Spirit Vissyus, and I LOVE the cover of Kojiki. Can you tell us more about the cover?

Yes, I thought the dragons were pretty awesome too. And WINGLESS. No wings.

Thanks for your words about the cover. I found it online while looking for images. The artist won an award for it. I contacted him, and he was good enough to let me use it. My publisher agreed, and that was that. We completed the contract in a matter of days. The artist lives in Vietnam, but you can see his work on this website: http://gia-nguyen.com

20. The imagery in Kojiki was amazing! Has anyone created artwork influenced by Kojiki? And if so, where can your fans find it?

No, but if anyone would like to, I’d love to see it. I DO need to do a website eventually 🙂

21. While reading Kojiki, there are a few Japanese phrases you use throughout. I think those phrases really provide an authentic feel to the overall story. Can you tell me what each means? Or have you considered adding an index at the end of the book with translations?

LOL—this is where I’ll probably get into trouble. Some words and phrases I recalled from watching anime and/or reading Shogun. I double and triple checked them with online translation tools, but Japanese is a tricky language. Anyway, here how I used them.

Nan desu ka?–What? (Nani? Is a shortened form)
Wakarimasen.–I don’t understand
Wakarimasu-ka? –Do you understand?
Watashi wa…Kami desu –I am a God
Honto desu-ka?—Really?
Kamaimasen – It doesn’t matter (more or less)
So desu. – Expression used to show understanding. Akin to ‘I see’ or ‘I get it.’
Honto desu. –True
Honto desu ka?—Is that right?
Haiyaku. –Hurry
Gomen nasai.—I’m sorry
Onegai shimasu, Takeshi-sama. –another version of I’m sorry. The ‘sama’ is an honorific, signifying lordship.

Subarashi—Great, Awesome
Arigato – good-bye
Nani? –What?
Daijoubu – I’m all right
So desu, oni! Ikimashoo! –All right demon! Let’s go!
Ohaiyo, Kami Kaze. Daijoubu desu-ka? –Hello Divine Wind. How are you?
Hasshin! –Launch

22. Another thing I really loved about Kojiki were the jisei (Japanese death poems). I’m not a poetry expert, but were these haiku? Are they also Yatsuhashi originals? If so, can we expect to see more poetry in your future novels?

The jisei isn’t a haiku. I’m not even sure I got it right in terms of form. I had to research death poems just to make sure I was right in the usage. The most famous jisei were written by samurai. More recently the crazy artist/poet Mishima wrote one.

I do use haiku to delineate each hard flashback, though. Those are at the beginning of the backstory chapters. I put them there to give the reader the idea that he/she was reading from a section of the Kojiki. I hoped that would be enough of a separation from the real events. Oh, and yeah, I made them up.

23. Will there be a sequel to Kojiki? And if so, what juicy tidbits can you offer your fans at this time?

Not a true sequel. Only one character didn’t get closure. I’m focusing there for book two. The whole concept of the Boundary opens up so many possibilities–all those worlds with lesser Spirits. I’ll stay away from Kojiki’s principal characters. They faced the worst, and trying to come up with something more dire feels false to me. Like those Hollywood sequels where each successive movie gets more action and tougher villains. I made Vissyus the most dangerous. Where do you go from there without cheapening Kojiki? Right? Oh, and—blush—the next book has an angst-ridden protagonist.

24. Speaking of future novels, what’s next for you? What new project is on the horizon? Do you have any upcoming appearances (in person or virtual) where your fans can find you?

I’m planning to do my first book group talk locally this fall. I signed up for a signing at the NYC Comic Con, but I think that’s a long shot. The selection process is very tough. I also want to reach out to local anime clubs. I’ll do that in the fall. Boston’s a college town, with many clubs at the universities.

25. If you had a chance to hang out with any character (Spirit or Guardian) in your novel for a day, which one would you choose, where would you go, and what would be the first thing you’d say to him/her?

The guy in me is tempted to say Seirin. 🙂 Keiko would be the most fun, but I’d go with Takeshi. He’s the wisest and he is always one step ahead of everyone else. I’d ask why we keep making so many mistakes. Where would he take me? Hmm. Can I say ‘everywhere’?

26. If Kojiki were to be made into a movie, which actor do you think best fits each character in Kojiki?

Tough—Very tough.

Keiko—Nozomi Sasaki, Japanese Actress (looks the part, but she’d need to be American)
Yui—Misa Kuroki, Japanese Actress
Takeshi—Ken Watanabe
Aeryk—Richard Armitage (Thorin from the Hobbit), though I DO like Henry Cavill in Man of Steel. He might work too.
Seirin—Delta Goodrem, Australian actress/singer
Vissyus—I always thought Russell Crowe for Vissyus.
Paitr Norwoska—David Tennant
Lon-Shan—Kenneth Branagh
I have now idea who’d voice the Guardians. 🙂 How about Peter Dinklage for Ventyre?

27. Right now, it looks like fans can snatch up an eBook of Kojiki from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Musapublishing.com. I know some readers prefer a physical book in their hands, whether it’s because they like the feel, the smell, or some other aspect. Are there any future plans to make Kojiki available in print format?

Not at this time. My publisher is digital only. They hope to eventually do print, but not for a while. Kojiki’s also available on iTunes, and the Sony and Kobo stores. It’s only $5.99! What are you waiting for?

28. Okay, last question – where can your fans read more about you and Kojiki?

I have a blog at kmyatsuhashi.wordpress.com and I’m on Twitter @keithyatsuhashi. I don’t just post about Kojiki, but whatever interests me. I’ve just started to work on my social media presence. I didn’t really join the revolution until I signed with Musa. I didn’t have the time, or think I did, to devote to it. I’m working to correct that. Slowly. 🙂 Indie authors depend on word of mouth and bloggers to promote our books. We don’t have a big publisher’s resources behind us. So, if you like Kojiki, by all means, tell your friends about it, blog, Tweet, enjoy!

Thanks, Shannon for asking these questions. I had a lot of fun answering them.

Keith

For more information about Keith Yatsuhashi, check out his blog!

KOJIKI IS AVAILABLE FOR ONLY $5.99 FROM THESE STORES:

Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Musapublishing.com
iTunes
Sony
Kobo

My two cents – $5.99 is a steal of a deal for an epic fantasy!!!

Happy ready all!

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4 responses to “An Interview with Keith Yatsuhashi, Author of the Epic Fantasy Novel – Kojiki

    • The pleasure was all mine! It was a joy and a treat to get to know you better and to learn more about Kojiki! I wish you all the best and great success!

  1. Pingback: Indie Summer Tour!!! Keith Yatsuhashi + Kindle Giveaway! | Contagious Reads·

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