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IR Approved Author Michael Pronko: “Being indie…quashes the romanticized notion of becoming a…bestselling author. It’s hard to give up that notion, but once it’s gone, it’s OK.”

The Moving Blade received a 4+ star review, making it an IndieReader Approved title.

Following find an interview with author Michael Pronko.

What is the name of the book and when was it published?

The Moving Blade. September 30, 2018

What’s the book’s first line? 

“Hideyasu Sato rarely took jobs involving foreigners. They usually lived in tall apartment buildings, kept little cash and had bad taste in valuables.”

What’s the book about? Give us the “pitch”. 

Detective Hiroshi gets yanked away from his white-collar crime investigations to help find the killer of an American diplomat. Hiroshi speaks English and is obligated to sumo wrestler-turned-detective Sakaguchi. The American diplomat left behind a missing manuscript, a lost speech and an estranged daughter. With the alluring daughter dragging him in different directions, Hiroshi searches Tokyo’s back alley bars, government offices, anti-nuke protests and American military bases to find out why the past still hovers over the present in deadly ways.

What inspired you to write the book? A particular person? An event? 

I’d been reading every morning in the newspaper about current problems extending from the SOFA agreements, which allow American bases to remain on Japanese soil, especially in Okinawa. That got me thinking how in Japan, and in Asia in general, history never disappears. It’s always present somehow. As for the characters, I’ve known several who were old Asia hands (the original title of the novel was: Japan Hand). They were fascinating characters who lived in Japan, and in China, when that really meant being far away from their native country. They were much older than me, but talked to me a lot when I first went to Beijing, and later to Tokyo.

What’s the main reason someone should really read this book? 

Fun and facts and people. I think the mystery follows a little different pattern from most. It goes into Tokyo’s places and people, to see and meet them. Both are fascinating and a bit hidden. The book also contains some of the history of the American presence in Japan. But for me, it’s really the characters that make the book. Reading, to me, is always about people making choices, good and bad.

What’s the most distinctive thing about the main character?  Who-real or fictional-would you say the character reminds you of? 

In Japan, where conformity to social norms is expected, and respected, Hiroshi is a bit outside those norms. He speaks English, after studying in America, and has a different perspective on Japanese customs from his colleagues. He reminds me a bit of some of my students, many of whom lived outside Japan and never again fit perfectly back inside Japanese thinking. In this novel, Hiroshi meets another person, the daughter of the murdered American diplomat, who is also trapped between cultures. Hiroshi is a very logical investigator when tracking down investment scams and embezzlements inside his office, but he has to follow his gut when he hits the streets.

What do you do for work when you’re not writing?

I’m a professor of American literature and culture at Meiji Gakuin University in Tokyo. My students, who are working in their second language, and second culture, keep teaching me about literature. Working with them outlining novels and films, reading and responding to poetry, discussing and arguing over characters and symbols and meanings gives me constant insights into how stories and language work. I love hearing what they have to say, and despite the tedious committee work and long, tiresome meetings at the university, the job keeps me reading and re-reading strong, affecting works of literature, art, music and film.

What’s the best and the hardest part of being an indie?   

Being indie certainly quashes the romanticized notion of becoming a famed bestselling author. It’s hard to give up that notion, but once it’s gone, it’s OK. One of the hardest things is the lingering prejudice about indie. I tried to apply for membership in one writer’s association, but they only wanted writers with a certain type of publisher. I had one, in Japan, in Japanese, but that didn’t “count.” That kind of thing can be disturbing and distracting. People like to be assured by credentials. Fair enough, I suppose. I teach a class on American indie film and at first students believe famous films are the best, and the best are famous. But I nudge them towards thinking whether many famous films are famous because they really are good, or whether they just have been pushed through the promotional efforts of large corporations. Indie films, and much indie writing, retains a human touch, without special effects or lavish production values. Any work is both creative art and economic product, but I feel there’s more of a firewall, a dividing line, between the creating and promoting sides of the process with indie writing. I like that.

What’s a great piece of advice that you can share with fellow indie authors?

Don’t be indie from what can help you. As an indie author, you really have to be open to as much input as you can stand, from editors, designers, readers, everyone. You have to be active in seeking out input. All of that help should be directed not just towards publishing and promotion, but towards writing. I read a lot about how to write better, how-to books, theory, creativity studies, whatever helps even a little bit. Being indie means having to learn every step of the process, but without putting writing as the central focus, there’s no point in learning the rest.

Is there something in particular that motivates you?

There are multiple motivations, but mostly, I relish the process of writing. For me, diving in to writing is like diving into a swimming pool on a hot summer day. Ka-plow! The pleasant pressure of the water, the cool prickle on my skin, the inhale of air at the surface. I feel a deep pleasure to be swimming around inside words, characters, symbols, ironies, all the currents and undertow of the story. I am also motivated by the effect writing has on me. Writing makes me more aware of others, of the world and of myself. I want to find conduits between my interior world, which has been shaped by language and experience, and the outer world with all these other people. The sheer pleasure of working with language and the possibility of connecting keep me going.