Characters outlive their creators
In Who's who, characters will precede their authors, simply because they are more important. Most people who have heard of Charlie Chan probably would not recognize the name Earl Derr Biggers. Even if Biggers were a Hemingway, Chan would be more important to us than his creator.
So first will come Solo characters who work alone, then Dual characters who work together and are often lovers. Each character will be followed by the writer(s) who created them. Then will come Other writers of interest apart from their characters.
Most of the characters are associated with series -- hence their interest if not importance. A few, like Suzy Wong, have made names for themselves despite their appearance in only one story.
Information will include (1) biographical data about the characters and writers, (2) bibliographical data about novels and movies that feature the characters, (3) annotated introductions to studies of the characters in literature and film, and to biographies and studies of the writers, and (4) annotated links to selected websites related to the characters and/or writers. However, commercial websites of active authors, and sites that sell products related to specific characters, are not reviewed or otherwise listed here.
Links and searches
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John Ball John Dudley Ball (1911-1988)
Creator of Virgil Tibbs
John Ball is best known as the creator of Pasadena Police Department homicide detective Virgil Tibbs in In the Heat of the Night (1965), which won an Edgar Award. His wife was Nan Hamilton, the creator of Sam Ohara in The Shape of Fear (1986).
Virgil Tibbs novels
Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger played detective Virgil Tibbs and police chief Bill Gillespie in the 1967 film adaptation of In the Heat of the Night. The movie won five oscars and cinced both Tibbs' and Ball's fame.
Tibbs starred in seven of Ball's novels, two set in Asia and a third involving Asia and Asians.
1965 In the Heat of the Night [Wells, small town in deep south] 1966 The Cool Cottontail [Pasadena, San Bernardino Mountains] 1969 Johnny Get Your Gun [Pasadena, Disneyland] aka Death For a Playmate 1972 Five Pieces of Jade [Pasadena, Chinese] 1976 The Eyes of Buddha [Pasadena, Nepal, Katmandu] 1980 Then Came Violence [Pasadena, Africa] 1986 Singapore [Singapore]
Other novels and non-fiction
John Ball wrote about a dozen other novels, most of them crime mysteries. He spent some time in Japan, Taiwan, and other parts of Asia, the setting of a couple of Tibbs' stories but also of two other novels and a non-fiction work.
Other novels set in Asia
1968 Miss One Thousand Spring Blossoms [Japan] 1989 Kiwi Target [New Zealand, Hong Kong]
Non-fiction book about Taiwan
Earl Derr Biggers (1884-1933)
Creator of Charlie Chan
With a BA in literature from Harvard in 1907, Biggers turned to writing popular fiction. His first novel, published in 1913, gained him a reputation as a writer of humorous mysteries, most of them forgettable in the wake of his Charlie Chan stories.
Biggers wrote the following novels and novellas in addition to his Charlie Chan stories.
1913 Seven Keys to Baldpate 1914 Love Insurance 1915 Inside the Lines (with Robert Welles Ritchie) 1916 The Agony Column (aka Second Floor Mystery) 1926 Fifty Candles (later published with The Agony Column)
Thomas Burke (1886-1945)
Best known for Limehouse Nights
Life of Thomas Burke
Works by Thomas Burke
1911 Pavement and Pastures: A Book of Songs London and Norwich Press, 47 pages One-hundred copies are said to have been printed by Burke himself and distributed to friends and the press. He is rumored to have withdrawn the book and destroyed remaining copies. (Peter Ellis, Bookseller, London, Abebooks.com) 1915 Nights in Town: A London Autobiography London: George Allen & Unwin, 1915, 410 pages London: George Allen & Unwin, 1917, 287 pages Published in US as "Nights in London" New York: Henry Holt & Company, 1916, 270 pages New York: Henry Holt & Company, 1918, 270 pages 1916 Limehouse Nights: Chinatown Tales Published in US as "Limehouse Nights" 1917 London Lamps: A Book of Songs London: Grant Richards, 1917, 48 pages New York: Robert M. McBride, 1919, 48 pages 1917 Twinkletoes: A Tale of Chinatown London: Grant Richards, 1917, 214 pages London: Readers Library, 1920s US edition "Twinkletoes: A Tale of Limehouse" New York: Robert M. McBride, 1918, 259 pages New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1924, 259 pages With b/w photos from the movie. Photoplay edition with scenes from the First National picture starring Colleen Moore. 1919 Out and About: A Note-Book of London in War-Time London: George Allen & Unwin, 1919, 142 pages Published in US as "Out and About London" New York: Henry Holt & Company, 1919, 190 pages 1921 Whispering Windows: Tales of the Waterside London: Grant Richards, 1921, 309 pages Published in US as "More Limehouse Nights" New York: George H. Doran Company, 1921, 282 pages Republished in UK as "Whispering Windows: More Limehouse Nights" London: Cassell and Company, 1928, 309 pages 1921 The Outer Circle: Rambles in Remote London London: George Allen & Unwin, 1921, 221 pages New York: George H. Doran Company, 1921, 221 pages New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1921, 221 pages 1922 The London Spy: A Book of Town Travels London: Thornton Butterworth, 1922, 318 pages New York: George H. Doran, 1922, 324 pages 1924 The Wind and the Rain: A Book of Confessions London: Thornton Butterworth Limited, 1924, 288 pages New York: George H. Doran Company, 1924, 309 pages 1920 Song Book of Quong Lee of Limehouse [Transcribed by Thomas Burke] London: George Allen & Unwin, London, 1920, 40 pages New York: Henry Holt & Co, 1920, 67 pages "Poems with a Chinese persona living in Limehouse, in the East End of London by the Thames" (Brews 'n Browse, Raumati South, New Zealand) "Sixty-six poems, not in dialect, supposedly written by a Chinese resident of London's Limehouse District" (McBlain Books, Hamden, Abebooks.com) In Chinatown 1926 East of Mansion House New York: Doran, 1926 London: Cassell and Company, 1928, 270 pages Red cloth, first edition London: Cassell and Company, 1930, 270 pages Green cloth, popular edition Note: This collection of 12 stories did not appear in the UK until two years after the US edition. According to an undated letter written for Burke by his secretary, G.M.Y, in response to a query from a U.S. collector named P. L., dated "Sept. 23rd", "There is no English edition and will not be. Mr. Burke does not care very much for it, and will not allow it to be published on this side." [Copy of letter retained by Henry A. Schwab, with his letter to P. L. dated "February 11th, 1932" in green cloth Cassell edition of "East of Mansion House"] 1929 The Bloomsbury Wonder [novella] London: The Mandrake Press, 1929, 103 pages 1931 The Pleasantries of Old Quong London: Constable, 1931, 279 pages Published in US as "A Tea-Shop in Limehouse" Boston: Little Brown, 1931, 263 pages 1932 City of Encounters: A London Divertissement London: Constable, 1932 Boston: Little Brown, 1932 1935 Night Pieces: Eighteen Tales London: Constable, 1935 New York: Appleton, 1936 1935 Billy and Beryl in Chinatown Illustrated by Will Fyfe London: George C. Harrap & Co., 1935 "Billy and Beryl are taken round London's Chinatown by their friend Old George, a cab driver. Colour frontispiece of the children talking to George in his 1930s cab; numerous full-page and smaller b&w illustrations." (Ripping Yarns, London, Abebooks.com) 1944 Dark Nights London: Jenkins, 1944
E.V. Cunningham Howard Fast (1914-2003)
Creator of Masao Masuto
Creator of Jessica and Ki
Creator of April Woo and Mike Sanchez
Leslie Glass writes very fashionable police procedural, featuring two NYPD cops in the throes of multiethnic relationship, and a psychiatrist who sheds light on criminal motivation. She herself confesses to being a criminal investigation buff who also takes American multiculturalism very seriously.
Most of Glass's novels have featured April Woo and Mike Sanchez, but April Woo is clearly the lead.
April Woo series
1. 1993 Burning Time 2. 1995 Hanging Time 3. 1996 Loving Time 4. 1998 Judging Time 5. 1999 Stealing Time 6. 2000 Tracking Time 7. 2002 The Silent Bride 8. 2003 A Killing Gift 9. 2005 A Clean Kill
Why Glass writes Chinese
Leslie Glass belongs to the majority of authors who feel they need to explain why they write what they write (her website).
People often ask how Leslie Glass, a non-Chinese who grew up in the Bronx, Martha's Vineyard and New York City, came to write about a Asian American female cop from Queens, but it seems perfectly natural to Glass: "A Chinese couple lived with my family, and I grew up in a Chinese kitchen. It was like having two sets of parents," she says. "And my Chinese parents definitely ruled the roost."
If April Woo and Mike Shanchez reflect Glass's "passions for law enforcement, the diversity of American culture, and the Asian-American experience", the psychiatrist Dr. Jason Frank expresses her interest in "people's motivations for their actions, and the effect therapy has on their lives". She created Frank "to show how a psychiatrist would approach suspects, and crime, as a counterpoint to the law enforcement strategies used by the police" (website).
Characters like April Woo seem to be useful in English fiction only as "ethnic" entities. They cannot be simply "Americans" or "British" or pray tell "human" -- but have to be "Chinese" as well.
Glass has clearly contrived April Woo as a foil for expounding on "Chinese" this and "Chinatown" that. Glass squeezes April Woo for all the "Chineseness" that an ethnic determinist author expects from a character with a "heritage" like Woo's (website).
An ABC -- American Born Chinese -- April is quick to set straight anyone who underestimates her. And like millions of first generation Americans, she is torn between two powerful cultures: the old world of China that her parents left long before she was born, and the new world of America where she was born and raised, and whose values and culture are deeply her own.
Why not a third, fifth, tenth generation ACA -- an American who just happens to have some Chinese ancestry in their family tree? Apparently such Americans would not be exotic enough for "diversity" enthusiasts like Glass.
Glass devotes an entire section of her website to "Cooking with April Woo". The section has several seasonal pages. "April and Mike's Fourth of July Feast" features recipes for Chinese Spare Ribs, Twice Cook Chicken Wings, and Emperor Shrimp Noodles -- Three Way.
Mike's favorite foods get almost equal time. "Mexican Fiesta Birthday Dinner for April Woo" includes recipes for Guacamole, Sopa Seco De Fideos (Dry Noodle Soup), Queso and Refried Bean Quesadilla (Mexican Pizza), Camarones con Limon (Lime Shrimp), Skirt Steak Fajitas (with soy sauce, Chinese-style), and Flan (Traditional style, the way Maria likes it).
TV and movie options
No series today has so many made-for-tv features: two NYPD cops, a female detective and a male captain, both oozing ethnicity, sexuality, and attitude up to their Asian the Hispanic eyes, who cooperate, compete, and get it on, in the pursuit of justice in the Big Apple. And according to Glass, the April Woo series is under option for something.
See Glass's website for more.
Nan Hamilton Nanoni Patricia Maude Hamilton Ball
Creator of Sam Ohara
Nan Hamilton created Japanese American police lieutenant Sam Ohara in The Shape of Fear (1986). Ohara inspired the short-lived ABC series Ohara, starring Noriyuki "Pat" Morita (1932-2005) as Lieutenant Ohara.
In 1942, Hamilton married John Ball (1911-1988), the creator of Virgil Tibbs (In the Heat of the Night) and the author of a number of novels set in Asia, where the couple lived for a while. She wrote several short stories, many of them set in Japan or featuring things Japanese, including the following from EQMM (Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine) and AHMM (Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine).
The Masks of Noh, EQMM, February 1983, 81(2)475
Naomi Hirahara (b1962)
Creator of Mas Arai
Naomi Hirahara was born and raised in Pasadena, California, home of John Ball's homicide detective Virgil Tibbs.
Hirahara's father, Isamu "Sam" Hirahara, was born in Watsonville, California but was taken to Hiroshima when a child. He was a teenager, in the basement of Hiroshima train station, when the city was atomized on 6 August 1945.
Hirahara's mother, Mayumi "May", was born in Hiroshima, and was a child when the city was bombed. She had been sent away to a Buddhist temple, though, but her father was near the epicenter and his body was never found.
After the war, Sam returned to California and became a gardner. He married May in Hiroshima in 1960. Hirahara and her younger brother Jimmy were born and raised in California, in Altadena and South Pasadena, the settings of the Mas Arai mysteries. Arai, like Hirahara's father, is a Hiroshima survivor and gardener.
Hirahara worked as an editor for The Rafu Shimpo, a Los Angeles newspaper published in both English and Japanese. She has also edited, co-authored, and written a number of biographies and other non-fiction works for various organizations.
Mas Arai mysteries
Hirahara has written three Mas Arai mysteries to date.
2004 Summer of the Big Bachi 2005 Gasa-Gasa Girl 2006 Snakeskin Shamisen
Hirahara came to writing fiction from a background as an editor and author of biographies of Asian Americans and books about gardeners and gardening. The following titles are a sampling of her non-fiction work.
2000 Editor Greenmakers (Japanese American Gardeners in Southern California) Southern California gardeners' Federation 2001 An American Son (The Story of George Aratani, Founder of Mikasa and Kenwood) American Profiles, Japanese American National Museum 2003 By Manabi Hirasaki, with Naomi Hirahara A Taste for Strawberries (The Independent Journey of Nisei Farmer Manabi Hirasaki) American Profiles, Japanese American National Museum 2003 Distinguished Asian American business leaders Distinguished Asian American series 2004 With Gwenn M. Jensen Silent Scars of Healing Hands (Oral Histories of Japanese American Doctors in World War II Detention Camps) Michi Nishiura and Walter Weglyn Multicultural Publications Center for Oral and Public History California
See Hirahara's website for more.
See also Mark Schreiber's interview with Hirahara, It would be a crime to underestimate the gardener (The Japan Times, 22 October 2006).
Early short stories
"A Strange and Sometimes Madness"
All three of these stories can be found in:
1982 A Pale View of Hills 1986 An Artist of the Floating World 1989 The Remains of the Day 1995 The Unconsoled 2000 When We Were Orphans 2005 Never Let Me Go
Ishiguro's language and literature are English
I have a certain aversion to regarding fiction as a vehicle for understanding minorities as opposed to understanding human beings. I am also deeply suspicious of critics who impute the credibility of a minority character to the race or ethnicity of the writer.
Many years ago I coined the term "ethnic clinging" to describe the phenomenon of identifying with another person simply because one imputes some sort of ethnic connection with the person. The sentiment is perfectly natural. A dog sees or smells what seems like another dog. A man or woman two heads taller than a crowd sees another head rising from the masses and feels a rush of empathy, curiosity, and maybe even rivalry.
Japanese scholars and journalists sometimes write about Americans of Japanese ancestry as though they were somehow Japanese and not really Americans. References to their "Japanese blood" are common. Japanese Americans coming to Japan might be described as having "returned" even though it was their first visit to the country.
People who are likely to be objects of ethnic clinging also tend to objects of "ethnic awe" and "ethnic expectation" -- terms I have coined to describe the treating of people like fruit. If you see an apple, and you like apples, you are awed by the sight of the apple. And if it looks like an apple, then you expect it to taste like one.
Kazuo Ishiguro has a "Japanese" name and he "looks" like his name. So he was first awed for writing about things he was expected to write about -- "Japan" and "the Japanese".
The problem is, people are nothing like fruit. What you see is not what you get.
The remains of a childhood
Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki on 8 November 1954 and moved with his family to the United Kingdom in 1960. So it is not entirely improper to think of him as "returning" to Japan when he comes here. Yet Japan is no longer his home. And he is no longer Japanese.
His first two novels, A Pale View of Hills (1982) and An Artist of the Floating World (1986), suggest that Ishiguro was clinging to a Japan he barely remembered from his childhood, a Japan which had become little more than an illusion and even a delusion. In interviews, he has said that he looks back on these two works as something he had to write in order to get Japan out of his system, so he could write stories about things he actually knew and understood.
The Remains of the Day
Ishiguro's first two novels were appreciated for the wrong reason -- his Japanese ancestry at the height of a wave of interest in exotic English fiction by exotic writers.
His third novel, The Remains of the Day (1989), was praised for precisely the right reason: It was a superb story, superbly told, having nothing to do with his name or appearance, but only to do with who he really was.
Ishiguro is British, and his literature is English
Not everyone has been willing to accept Ishiguro as just a British writer of fine English fiction. Here is my an unpublished letter I sent to The Japan Times on 27 December 1989 concerning one critic's attempt to turn him into something else.
An "Anglo-Japanese" author?
David Williams' interesting review of an English adaptation of a detective novel by Matsumoto Seicho invites comment ("There's a tuna on the tracks", Dec. 16, 1989).
Williams contends that "Japanese conversation translates rather badly into English." He adds that "This is an English, not a Japanese, problem." Does this mean that an English translation can be accurate but not good? If so, how is this possible?
Then Williams claims: "It is a rare writer, such as Kazuo Ishiguro, the Anglo-Japanese author of the Whitbread Prize-winning 'An Artist of the Floating World,' who can exploit the stilted effect of Japanese speech rendered into English to marvelous literary effect."
This reeks of Orientalism. It also rings a bell.
In many Ishiguro articles that I have collected over the years, I have seen the wording "Anglo-Japanese" in only two others, both Japan Times editorials. The first editorial, on Ishiguro's winning of the Whitbread Book of the Year award in 1986 for An Artist of the Floating World, stated that with Ishiguro "Anglo-Japanese literature" had arrived (Jan 24, 1987). The second editorial, which followed the late October 1989 announcement that Ishiguro had won the Booker Prize for The Remains of the Day, described Ishiguro as a "bilingual" writer who "is helping to create a new genre: the Anglo-Japanese novel" (Nov. 1, 1989).
How would Matsumoto's Detective Imanishi interpret these clues? He might conclude that David Williams wrote his book review after he wrote the first editorial on the Whitbread award but before the Booker Prize announcement that led him to write the second editorial.
In many published interviews, Ishiguro has made two points clear: his language and literature are English, and he is British. He denies that he is bilingual, and he admits that his knowledge about Japan is very limited. The label "Japanese writer" bothers him, he demurs at the idea that his fiction is an extension of "Japanese literature", and he dismisses reviews that otherwise strain their margins to exotically link either him or his literature with Japan. He acknowledges his social status as an ethnic minority British writer, but he seems reluctant to label himself even "Japanese British" much less "Anglo-Japanese".
I cannot see any relationship between the English words that Ishiguro has put into the mouths of his "Japanese" characters and the problems, if any, of translating bona fide Japanese dialog into English. It would, however, be interesting to know whether Ishiguro's translators have found the "stilted effect" of his English conversation difficult to exploit into good Japanese, and whether Japanese readers have found the "literary effect" of the rendered speech to be marvelous.
Sheng-mei Ma's racialization of Ishiguro
Michigan State University professor of English Sheng-mei Ma has accused Ishiguro of writing "whiteface" fiction in his attempt to escape his "Anglo-Japanese ethnicity". For more details, see my Steamy East review of Ma's The Deathly Embrace (Orientalism and Asian American Identity), Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000.
H.R.F. Keating (b1926)
Creator of Inspector Ghote
Henry Reymond Fitzwalter Keating, best known as HRF Keating, has also written three novels under the name Evelyn Hervey. Born at St Leonards-on-Sea in Sussex, he was educated in England and Ireland.
Keating was working as a newspaper subeditor when he published his first and second novels, Death and the Visiting Fireman and Zen There Was Murder, in 1959 and 1960. At this point he quit his job and resolved to write a book a year. (Meera Tamaya, H.R.F. Keating: Post-Colonial Detection (A Critical Study, 1993, page 21).
Meera Tamaya, educated at universities in India and the United States, teaches Shakespeare and critical theory at a college in Massachusetts. Despite the fashionability of obscure writing in literature departments today, Tamaya's prose is not only clear and concise but colorful. This jewel from her introduction to this very readable account of the life and work of one of mystery fiction's better craftsman.
How would one categorize the work of H.R.F. Keating, who has written a total of 39 novels, assorted radio plays, and books on detective fiction, but whose claim to fame rests on the 17 award-winning Ghote novels? Perhaps we can find a clue in the reasons he chose to write mysteries. In his autobiographical notes and interviews Keating talks about how he had nursed a secret desire to become a writer for years without actually doing anything to fulfill his dreams because he felt he had nothing to say. When his wife learned of his ambition, she pointed out that he could write detective novels because "they don't say anything."
Tamaya's assessment of Keating's relationship to Ghote is reasonable, as is her desire to question Ghote's Indianness (page 3).
In every mystery that Ghote investigates, Ghote, every inch an Indian in cultural trappings, serves as a mouthpiece for Keating's own consciousness. / This "doubleness" of Ghote -- an Indian functioning as a British author's alter ego -- has consequences for Keating's experimentation in the form of the detective novel as well as his innovations in the character of the detective. It also raises the question of how Indian Ghote really is and what place the novels occupy in the broad spectrum of British writing in India."
Tamaya argues that Ghote is "recognizably Indian" but is actually "a mask , the Yeatsian sense, for Keating". Hence Keating's Ghote novels are "deeply subjective in a way that traditional mystery novels are not" (page 4).
She discovered the Ghote novels in the early 1970s soon after she arrived in the United States and "was drawn to them mainly because of their felt authenticity of detail" (page 9). Why she liked Keating's fictional India gets to heart of why a lot of Steamy East fiction is dishonest (pages 9-10).
Here was an author who did not talk about a generic Indian, as many do, but understood the immense cultural and linguistic gulf that exists between Indians from different states and different castes. The differences are invariably manifested in the details of dress, manners, speech and nomenclature. Keating gets these details right, thus avoiding the mistake many seasoned India observers like Ruth Prawar Jhabvallah make, of writing about India as if it were a homogenized whole, as if there is such a thing as an Indian psyche, a subject of much ethnocentric generalization by the West.
Tamaya cites this anecdote by way of relating the circumstances that led Keating to start writing the Ghote series (page 7).
When asked in an interview about how and why he hit upon India as the locale for his fiction, Keating has said that a major factor in his decision was his perception that his [early, non-Ghote mystery] novels did not do well in America because they were too British and "if you are not sold in America you cannot possibly make a living out of writing crime stories." Casting about for an exotic locale that would make his mysteries more marketable, he says he thought of India because "India was in that year [in the early 1960s]."
In addition to the Introduction, which I have cited here, this very accessible study and commentary has chapters on Keating's life (Genealogy) and literature (The Ghote Novels, Non-Ghote Fiction), transcriptions of two long interviews (Interview 1, Interview 2), a brief Conclusion, and a comprehensive list of Works Cited. (WW)
|Harry Stephen Keeler (1890-1967)|
Harry Stephen Keeler
Harry Stephen Keeler is a long, entertaining overview, by William Poundstone, of the life and writing of one of most idiosyncratic pulp fiction writers of his day. May of Keeler's were of the Steamy East variety.
Ramble House, though a commercial publisher, is exceptionally linked here -- not because the website offers inexpensive reprints of practically all of Keeler's works -- but because the Harry Stephen Keeler section has a list of Keeler's stories and plot summaries.
Keeler's Steamy East titles
Harry Stephen Keeler wrote many novels of the Steamy East variety. Here is a very selective list of titles and brief plot summaries.
The Green Jade Hand, 1930
The Box from Japan, 1932
The Riddle of the Traveling Skull, 1934
The Five Silver Buddhas, 1935
The Case of the Crazy Corpse
To be continued.
John Marquand John Phillips Marquand (1893-1960)
Creator of Mr. Moto
John Marquand, very popular in his time, is no longer read except by historians of mid-20th-century American fiction -- and by Mr. Moto fans. He might rather be remembered for The Late George Apley (1937), which sold hundreds of thousands of copies and won him the Pulitzer Prize in 1938. Or even for follow-up bestsellers like Wickford Point (1939) and H. M. Pullham, Esquire (1941). But social historians will observe that Mr. Moto has had a greater on the human condition than George William Apley.
Martha Spaulding calls John Marquand an "Martini-Age Victorian" and sums up his rise to fame as follows (The Atlantic Monthly, May 2004, 293(4), pages 139-141).
For almost twenty years the forty-four-year-old John Marquand had been churning out formulaic stories and serials for mass-circulation magazines. (He had also created Mr. Moto, a scrupulously polite Japanese secret agent, wildly popular in six books and on the screen, where he was played by Peter Lorre in eight movies from 1937 to 1939.) But Apley, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1938, marked the beginning of his career as a novelist. His next three novels sold so well that in 1944 Life magazine called Marquand "the most successful novelist in the United States." In 1949, after two more, he was featured on the covers of both Time and Newsweek.
This is the only mention Spaulding makes of Mr. Moto, and she is not concerned about his other pulp fiction, including Ming Yellow, which came out in 1935 before the first Mr. Moto story.
Richard Mason (1919-1997)
Creator of Suzie Wong
Richard Mason, best known as the creator of Suzie Wong, was born and raised in England but he lived for nearly four decades in Rome, where he passed away. He seems to have written only four novels -- the last about the time he moved to Rome.
1947 The Wind Cannot Read -- novel and 1958 film
1949 The Shadow and the Peak -- novel
1957 The World of Suzie Wong -- novel and 1960 film
1962 The Fever Tree -- novel
Creator of Rei Shimura
Sujata Massey describes herself as born in Sussex, England to "a father from India and a mother from Germany" (her website). Her family emigrated to the United States when she was five. However, she is still "a passport-bearing citizen of the United Kingdom who has held an American green card since the age of two" (website). She married a Navy medical officer with whom she came to Japan in 1991. She and her husband returned to the United States in 1993.
Massey is the creator of Rei Shimura, an antique dealer with a master's degree in Japanese art history and a penchant for getting involved amateur sleuthing. The Rei Shimura novels began coming out at the rate of nearly one a year since 1997.
Rei Shimura novels
1. 1997 The Salaryman's Wife 2. 1998 Zen Attitude 3. 1999 The Flower Master 4. 2000 The Floating Girl 5. 2001 The Bride's Kimono 6. 2003 The Samurai's Daughter 7 .2004 The Pearl Diver 8. 2005 The Typhoon Lover 9. 2006 Girl in a Box
Massey and Shimura
Massey asks herself, where does Sujata stop and Rei Shimura begin? (Website)
I purposely chose to write about a foreigner who can almost pass for Japanese because that was my experience, and I thought it would be helpful for an amateur sleuth to be able to mask her identity when she needs to. Rei Shimura is multicultural; born in California, she has a Japanese father and an American mother. . . . The most important similarity I share with my sleuth is confusion over ethnic identity. Rei would like to be treated like a Japanese native, but her manners aren't quite right, and she speaks her mind too freely. At the same time, she battles a longing for Western luxuries and wonders whether it would be appropriate to consider romance with a Western man, given the number of foreigners who have used and abandoned women in Japan.
See Massey's website for more.
James Melville Roy Peter Martin (b1931), aka Hampton Charles
Creator of Tetsuo Otani
Melville, a former official of the British Council in Tokyo, is best known as the author of thirteen short and sweet mysteries featuring the life and work of police superintendent Tetsuo Otani of Hyogo prefecture.
1. 1979 The Wages of Zen 2. 1980 The Chrysanthemum Chain 3. 1981 A Sort Of Samurai 4. 1982 The Ninth Netsuke 5. 1983 Sayonara, Sweet Amaryllis 6. 1984 Death Of A Daimyo 7. 1985 The Death Ceremony 8. 1986 Go Gently, Gaijin 9. 1987 Kimono For A Corpse 10. 1988 The Reluctant Ronin 11. 1989 A Haiku For Hanae 12. 1990 The Bogus Buddha 13. 1992 The Body Wore Brocade
Melville wrote two other novels about Japan, The Imperial Way (1986) and A Tarnished Phoenix (1990). He is also the author of two diplomatic and spy thrillers featuring Ben Lazenby, an official with the British Council. As Hampton Charles he has written three Miss Seeton mysteries.
Christopher G. Moore
Creator of Vincent Calvino
Peter May (b1951)
Creator of Li Yan and Margaret Campbell
Peter May, born in Glasgow, is now a resident of France. He has said he doesn't like to be put in a box, and so his novels blur the distinction between thriller and police procedural.
To make them more authentic, he claims on his website that he "has gained unprecedented access to the homicide and forensic science sections of Beijing and Shanghai police forces and has made a painstaking study of the methodology of Chinese detectives and pathologists."
May says his novels are not political but only about people. However, he also feels that stories set in China cannot ignore the political issues that beset the country.
"Crime is a great way of examining the human condition because it is looking for flaws under stress effectively and crime is always stressful, both for the perpetrator and the victim," May said in an interview. "So a crime story of any kind is putting the human condition under a microscope in a very stressful situation and that's great, because that's where we get under people's skins and into people's heads and the stories."
Earl Norman Norman Thomson (1915-2000)
Creator of Burns Bannion and Rick Shaw (see below)
Earl Norman was actually Norman Thomson, a radio, stage and film actor. As an actor, Thomson performed in Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds" broadcast, and along with Welles himself on stage in "Julius Caesar". He was also a founding member of the Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre. He appeared in 23 films, including Orson Welles' "The Lady from Shanghai" (1948) and John Houston's "The Barbarian and the Geisha" (1958).
For more than three decades after World War II, he worked as Department of Defense entertainment supervisor for U.S military bases throughout the Far East, booking entertainment for U.S. servicemen. He also wrote about ten novels, most of them in the "Kill me" series featuring the PI Burns Bannion.
In 1978, after living in Tokyo for over thirty years, he resettled in Los Angeles. He passed away in Pasadena on 3 February 2000, and is survived by a wife and four children.
Corky Alexander on Norman Thomson
Here is what Corky Alexander (1929-2002) wrote about Norman Thomson in his "This Week at Weekender" column in the 3 March 2000 issue of Tokyo Weekender.
I was sad when Joe Diele called to tell me that Norman Thompson [sic] had died in California. I have no idea how old Norm was, but we've been chums for at least 35 years. An old Hollywood veteran (he frequently served as John Wayne's stand-in, being about the same height and configuration; he and the Duke spilt a whole bunch of booze over the years), he served in the entertainment sections at Camp Zama for decades and, later, at Yokota.
But he was best known as the fastest novelist in the writing game. Many Korean War and Vietnam vets will remember his books, written under the nom-de-plume of "Earl Norman." He could turn 'em out like a machine. His hero was a Tokyo-based private eye named Burns Bannion, a guy so adept at martial arts that he could reach in and remove your liver with one fierce karate chop. Not only could, but frequently did.
Burns was a tough guy, OK, and his exploits kept many a GI diverted from the dangers and boredom of battleground peril. As bad as Bannion was with the riffraff of Japan, he was just as successful with the little ladies, all of whom Norman would call "Baby Doll." He wrote such books in his Japan-based "Kill Me" series as Kill Me in Shinjuku, Kill Me on the Ginza, Kill Me in Atami and Kill Me in Tokyo. His final in that series was Kill Me in Roppongi in which he featured Stars & Stripes columnist Addis Racquets (an obvious Al Ricketts) and his sidekick, Alex Corkenzander (guess who?).
Norm called me one day to say he hoped I didn't mind, but he'd used me as a character in his latest book. I said that was fine, I'd go along with the gag. It turned out that my character in the book was revealed to be a Nazi abortionist. Among other things. Some fun.
Norman gave up on Burns and the "Kill Me" series and moved the locale of his books to Hong Kong for yet another series with a new hero, Rick Shaw. His first book with Rick was the alliterative Hang Me in Hong Kong, followed by Bang Me in Bangkok, Maul Me in Malaysia and Club Me in Cambodia. Next time I saw him, we were discussing his literary efforts, I told him, "Hey, Norm: good job you never got Rick to Fukuoka!"
He was really a nice guy, though he suffered a plethora of ailments in his last years. I suppose we should be glad he's out of misery, but recalling the good times, I wish we could do it over again. So long, old buddy.
As for the hang me, bang me, maul me, and club me titles -- featuring the celebrated pull-cart cab coolie Rick Shaw -- it is my humble opinion that Alexander's tongue was deep in his cheek. Fans and collectors, including yours truly, would hope such titles existed. After fruitless searching, however, I am inclined to believe that the closing anecdote was Alexander's tribute to the sort of humor that probably passed between him and Thomson -- ending, as it did, with a punch line alluding to yet another phantom title, which could not have been printed in the Weekender. Boys having fun. (WW)
John Apostolou kindly informed me by email (21 June 2008) that Hang Me in Hong Kong exists. His mail included the following text from a 2003 auction offering with the image (which I have copped and cropped) to the right. I have supplemented the publishing particulars with information from a listing on Amazon.co.uk.
Hang Me in Hong Kong by Earl Norman, who has had the gall to name his hero Rick Shaw and female lead, Rococo Baroque. Printed Tokyo: Jade Norman, 1976. And signed by the author, too! Author photo on rear dustjacket flap explains much. Prose of such hilarious awfulness that no way will you be able to resist torturing your hapless spouse with it. And the cover! Eurasian cutie in sky-high minidress and come-hither pose, heedless of guy swinging from noose about a foot away from her. Yay! In really near-perfect condition. This author's books very scarce in hardcover.
Milton K. Ozaki (1913-1989) aka Robert O. Saber
Prolific creator of several Chicago private eyes, some who worked in Holmes/Watson-like teams, others who soloed.
Ozaki was in his early thirties when he turned to fiction after World War II. Before that he had been a newspaperman, a tax accountant, and an artist. He was also the proprietor of the Monsieur Meltoine beauty salon in the Gold Coast section of Chicago.
The beauty salon inspired the setting for Ozaki's first mystery, The Cuckoo Clock (1946). The story was recently revamped by his daughter, Gaila Ozaki Perran, as Ticked Off! (2003).
Two footnotes in Pronzini et al, 2006 (see links below) provide the most complete overview I have been able to find about Ozaki's family history.
Footnote 1 -- He [Milton K. Ozaki] was the son of Frank J. and Augusta Ozaki, his father having emigrated to the US from Japan in 1899, found his way to Kenosha, Wisconsin, and married Augusta, a native of the state. His father adopted the name Frank, but his Japanese name was Jingaro [sic] (preserved in his middle initial J. Even though he was the product of a mixed marriage, we [Pronzini et al.] believe that Milton K. Ozaki is among the earliest mystery writers of Japanese heritage writing in English as his (or her) primary language.
Footnote 2 -- Fourteen years after her father's death in 1989, Gaila Ozaki Perran, took the plot of The Cuckoo Clock and rewrote the story as Ticked Off! (Authorhouse, 2003, trade paperback), modernizing it and changing the locale from Chicago to upscale Westport, Connecticut. The downtown beauty salon is still present, as is Lt. Phelan, but the two amateur sleuths are now Professor Sanford, of Fairfield University, and his assistant, David Trent.
From crime writer to scam artist
Between 1946 and 1960 Ozaki wrote 24 novels. Then suddenly he gave up writing and proceeded to get in trouble with the state of New York (Pronzini et al., 2006).
In 1973 the former president of the Chicago chapter of the MWA [Mystery Writers of America] made small headlines in the Washington Post and the New York Times in quite a different way. Having moved to Colorado, Milton K. Ozaki became the self-named president of all but non-existent Colorado State Christian College of the Church of the Inner Power, Inc. Headquartered in a small cabin on an isolated mountain road, the school offered doctorates in many specializations in exchange for donations of $100 or more. The New York State Supreme Court took exception to this scheme.
Ozaki's first two mysteries, the only two to be published in hardcover, by Ziff-Davis, featured the Holmesesque Professor Androcles Caldwell, head of the psychology department at North University in Chicago, and his Watson sidekick Bendy Brinks. In both novels, the equivalent of a Scotland Yard inspector was Lt. Percy Phelan of the Chicago Police Department.
After these two novels, all of Ozaki's books were printed in paperback only, some as double books with titles of other writers. Most of his stories to published in various editions, sometimes with title changes.
From 1949 to 1956, Ozaki used the name Robert O. Saber in addition to Milton K. Ozaki. Of his 23 different novels, he first published 11 under his own name and 12 as by Robert O. Saber. Two of the Saber novels -- Murder Doll (1952, 1959) and City of Sin (1952, 1962) -- first published in the early 1950s, were reissued under his own name in the late 1950s and early 1960s, after he had stopped using the penname.
Writing as Milton K. Ozaki
1952 The Deadly Pick-Up 1957 Case of the Deadly Kiss 1958 Case of the Cop's Wife 1959 Wake Up and Scream 1960 Inquest
Caldwell, Brinks, and Phelan
1946 The Cuckoo Clock [set in beauty salon] aka Too Many Women (abridgment) 1947 A Fiend in Need 1951 A Dummy Murder Case
1954 Dressed To Kill
1955 Maid for Murder
1956 Never Say Die
Writing as Robert O. Saber
1951 The Dove aka Chicago Woman (1953)
Phil Keene and Hal Cooper
1949 The Black Dark Murders 1954 Out of the Night
1950 The Affair of the Frigid Blonde
1951 The Deadly Lover 1951 The Scented Flesh 1952 No Way Out
1952 Murder Doll [Robert O. Saber] also by Milton K. Ozaki (1959) 1954 Too Young to Die 1955 Sucker Bait
1952 City of Sin [Robert O. Saber] also by Milton K. Ozaki (1962)
1955 A Dame Called Murder 1956 A Time For Murder
There is preciously little well-organized material about Ozaki's work and even less about his life. The two best web sources are both on Steve Lewis's Mystery File site.
Detailed overview of Ozaki's fiction
Details about Ozaki's family and life
Bill Pronzini, Victor Berch, and Steve Lewis
Creator of Sugawara no Akitada
I.J. Paker, aka as Ingrid J. Parker, has written a series of novels and several short stories set in 11th-century Japan and featuring a Justice of Ministry bureaucrat who now and then does some off-the-record sleuthing -- at a time when there were as yet no official detectives.
Sugawara no Akitada novels
1. 2005 The Dragon Scroll 2. 2002 Rashomon Gate 3. 2003 The Hell Screen 4. 2006 Black Arrow
Sugawara no Akitada short stories
Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine 1. "Instruments of Murder" (October 1997) 2. "The Curio Dealer's Wife" (November 1997) 3. "A Master of Go" (December 1998) 4. "Akitada's First Case" (July/August 1999) 5. "Rain At Rashomon" (January 2000) 6. "The New Year's Gift" (April 2001) 7. "Welcoming the Paddy God" (December 2001) 8. "Death and Cherry Blossoms" (June 2002) 9. "The O-Bon Cat" (February 2003) 10. "The Kamo Horse" (October 2003) 11. "The Tanabata Magpie" (September 2005)
Interest in Japan
Ingrid J. Parker was born in Munich, and her native tongue is German. After graduating from the University of Munich, she went to the United States and earned an MA from Texas Technological University and a PhD from the University of Mexico. She retired from a teaching post in english and foreign languages at Norfolk State University in Virginia, where she continues to live and write.
Parker was a student of English literature and her academic work was on the poet Shelley. She did not begin studying Japan, at first through its classical literature, until later in her career.
Most writers of historical fiction seriously try to achieve a high level of authenticity. Parker is no exception. She reads a lot and is not afraid to ask questions as an "outsider" (as she calls herself) on "learned" listservs like pmjs (founded in 1999 as "premodern Japanese studies mailing list" but now known by its acronym).
Parker's laudable efforts to be authentic are limited by the usual difficulties of describing 11th-century Japanese society in English that makes sense to uninitiated readers. The biggest barriers to authenticity, though, may be some of the blurbs and cover art.
The covers of Parker's Akitada novels bear the statement "A Mystery of Ancient Japan" -- although the Heian period is in no sense "ancient" in the framework of Japanese history. The covers of German and other European editions depict men and women mostly as they appear in kabukiesque uikyoe prints of the Tokugawa period -- half a millennium later.
Chosen by publisher
Though The Dragon Scroll was the third Akitada novel to be published, it was the first one Parker wrote, and its story is also the earliest. The sequence got straighted out after Parker switched publishers from St. Martin's Press to Penguin in 2004.
According to Parker, "For some reason, my previous publisher wanted to start with Rashomon Gate" (website). As though this were not enough, the title "Rashomon Gate" was also, Parker declares, "chosen by the publisher!" (pmjs).
Practically all writers have similar horror stories, which testify to the power publishers have, especially over writers who are desperate to break into print.
Belated first novels
Many writers who have had difficulty publishing their first novels get later novels in print before a publisher agrees to put out earlier unpublished efforts. This also happened to Jay McInerney, who wrote Ransom (1985) first but did not get it published until after he had made a huge name for himself with Bright Lights, Big City (1984).
John Grisham's A Time To Kill (1989), brought out by a minor publisher, had all but been forgotten until The Firm (1991) and The Pelican Brief (1992) had made him the hottest selling author at the time.
While A Time To Kill may well be Grisham's best novel, Ransom is probably McInerney's worst, set in Japan and partly inspired by his own life in Tokyo while working there as a textbook editor for Time-Life in Japan. As for I.J. Parker's The Dragon Scroll, it certainly should have been published first, if only because Akitada is younger and not yet married.
Despite the political battles, Parker seems to be having fun exploiting the "mysteries" of a faraway period in a faraway country for readers who want to be far away. And fiction like Parker's should be about having fun -- even when the stories are serious.
See Parker's website for more.
Creator of Chen Cao
Laura Joh Rowland
Creator of Sano Ichiro and Reiko
Laura Joh Rowland, according to her website, has a background in microbiology and public health. She had worked as a sanitary inspector and quality engineer, then studied to be children's book illustrator, but discovered she like writing better.
"heritage, love, circumstance"
She writes mysteries, she says, because of "heritage, love, and circumstance" (website). The "heritage" comes from her father, who was an avid reader of mysteries. The "love" is her own love of books. The "circumstance" exists where these come together (website).
By a stroke of luck, heritage and love intersected with fortunate circumstance. This circumstance was the radical change that the mystery novel underwent during the late 20th century. The field opened up to include a diverse array of detectives, settings, and time periods. Lucky for me, there was even room for a samurai detective in 17th century Japan.
As for why a samurai detective in 17th century Japan -- the first century of the Edo or Tokugawa period (circa 1600-1868) -- you can read her own rather convoluted account on her website. Suffice it to say that, regardless of what motivates her to write, no current author has been cranking out fiction related to Japan, past or present, as regularly and for as long as Rowland.
The Sano Ichiro mystery series
1. 1994 Shinju 2. 1996 Bundori 3. 1997 The Way of the Traitor 4. 1998 The Concubine's Tattoo 5. 2000 The Samurai's Wife 6. 2001 Black Lotus 7. 2002 The Pillow Book of Lady Wisteria 8. 2003 The Dragon King's Palace 9. 2004 The Perfumed Sleeve 10. 2005 The Assassin's Touch 11. 2006 Red Chrysanthemum
Five pages a day
Rowland is productive because she is a creature of habit (website).
Every weekday morning I take a 2 mile walk and plan what I'm going to write. Then I come home and write for 5 or 6 hours. I work from a synopsis, because it's easier when I don't have to figure out what to say and how to say it both at once.
This, she says, results in five pages a day. Still she has time for cats, email, books, writer group meetings, a husband, and painting. Her website features examples of her work, including a couple of self-portraits, and some photographs.
See Rowland's website for more.
|Sax Rohmer Arthur Henry Ward (1883-1959)|
Sax Rohmer was born Arthur Henry Ward in 1883 in Birmingham, England, to Irish parents who had recently settled there. About the time of his mother's death in 1901, he adopted the name Sarsfield as another middle name, thinking he might be related to Patrick Sarsfield, a 17th-century Irish general his mother imagined had been an ancestor. As late as 1931 his "real name" was sometimes given as Arthur Henry Sarsfield Ward. (Van Ash and Rohmer 1972:19).
By 1912 he was writing under the byline Sax Rohmer, and though formally he sometimes went by Ward, he signed even his will as Rohmer, so completely did he eventually become the persona of his exotic penname. According to his own account, "sax" meant "blade" and "rohmer" was phonetic for "roamer". (Ibid. 39)
In 1950, Rohmer published "Wulfheim", a mystical play he had written in the 1920s and dusted off and rewritten as a novel, to show that he could write something more artistic. But he published it as Michael Furey, using his mother's maiden name. (Ibid. 278-279)
To be continued.
See Dr. Petrie falls in love with Karamenah for a detailed look at "Yellow Peril" and "Karamenah" in The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu.
Cay Van Ash and Elizabeth Sax Rohmer
After World War II, during the last years of his life, while cranking out a few Sumuru stories, Sax Rohmer continued to exploit the theme of Oriental despotism, but found it less receptive in both Britain and the United States. In Britain, he teamed with a man named Michael Martin-Harvey to create a musical based on Hans Christian Andersen's "The Chinese Nightingale". With the help of Van Ash, he incorporated a Japan peril ploy into the story. (Ibid. 272-273).
So far as the plot went, not a great deal was required. As with all musicals, the songs were the main cocnern, and these were excellent. For the rest, Sax devised a historical story of ancient China, very tenuously linked with the theme of the fairytale, in which -- obviously enough, just then -- Japan was to be the villain.
Here I was privillege to actd as the authority. Having been engaged on a close study of Japanese affairs ever since leaving high school, I liked to feel that if I was in any way useful to Sax, it was as his "Far East consultant." We ascribed some thoroughly libellous behavior to Fujiwara Kamatari, Japan's last envoy to the Chinese court in the seventh century, and finished up with waht was, I think a story sound enough to support the notably fine lyrics and music.
However, the theatrical people who commissioned the musical rewrote everything to the point that not much of what Martin-Harvey and Rohmer had written remained. Rohmer went to see it on the first night and adivsed Van Ash not skip it. Van Ash took Rohmer's advice, and six weeks later the production folded.
America not interested
The following episode illustrates the nature of the obstacles Sax Rohmer faced when he tried to make a go of it in postwar America (Van Ash and Rohmer 1972:281-282).
Just as in England, the rising generation of those who had been born too late to suffer directly from the war years failed to cultivate a taste for reading because their attention was captivated by the new alternative of television. It became obvious to Sax that, if his efforts were to be a widely appreciated as they had been hitherto, he must now attempt to give them expression in this medium.
Here he thought again, first, of Fu Manchu. With the active collaboration of Elizabeth, he wrote a script which, after some considerable negotiation, appeared on television screens in the form of a "pilot film." In line with all Sax's theatrical endeavors, there was no lack of famous names in the cast . . . Nevertheless, no backers came forward to sponsor a series. The position of the United States vis/a/vis Chinese villainy remained somewhat equivocal. On the one hand, they disapproved of Red China; on the other, they supported Chiang Kai-shek in Formosa.
Sax's attempts to make headway, not only with Fu Manchu but with other projects, seemed during this period to be met with an undefined yet unmistakable opposition. Time and again, plans would be carried through every preliminary stage with glowing prospects of success, onlyi to be vetoed at the last moment.
Given the relationship between its authors and subject, this bibliography cannot be other that sympathetic. Yet it very readably captures Rohmer's strengths and weaknesses as one of the more interesting writers of his generation. (WW)
Creator of Bill Smith and Lydia Chin
On her own website, S.J. Rozan bills herself as "a native New Yorker" and "former architect in a practice that focussed on police stations, firehouses, and zoos". Practically all of her novels feature Lydia Chin and Bill Smith.
Bill Smith - Lydia Chin mysteries
1. 1994 China Trade 2. 1995 Concourse 3. 1996 Mandarin Plaid 4. 1997 No Colder Place 5. 1999 A Bitter Feast 6. 1999 Stone Quarry 7. 2001 Reflecting the Sky 8. 2002 Winter and Night
Absent Friends (2004) is a break in the series. According to Rozan (website):
After 9/11, moving right into the next Lydia Chin book, set in downtown New York, was impossible for me. I needed Smith and Chin to get some time and distance from 9/11; I needed to see what New York would become before I wrote about their New York again.
She promises that Bill and Lydia will be back -- they're just on vacation -- and will appear in short stories while she's working on their next book.
See Rozan's website for more.
Creator of Liu Hulan and David Stark
Lisa See did not turn to fiction until after she had published On Gold Mountain (1995), a biography of her own extended family. Subtitled "The one-hundred-year odyssey of a Chinese-American family", the book became a minor bestseller.
Since then, See has published a series of novels featuring the twosome Liu Hulan, a Beijing detective, and David Stark, an California public prosector.
Liu and Stark series
1997 Flower Net 1999 Interior 2003 Dragon Bones
Why Lisa writes about China
Lisa See's website has an FAQ section, and one question she is frequently asked is why she writes about China (See's website).
I'm part Chinese. My great-great-grandfather came here to work on the building of the transcontinental railroad. My great-grandfather was the godfather/patriarch of Los Angeles Chinatown. I don't look at all Chinese, but I grew up in a very large Chinese-American family. I have hundreds of relatives in Los Angeles, of which there are only about a dozen that look like me.
See claims she writes about what she knows, and what she knows is her family. She feels she straddles "two cultures" -- by which she means her "American side" and her "Chinese side" -- though she does not say why she regards either side as singular.
See claims she tries to bring what she knows from "both cultures" into her work. And to help her achieve this are two tour guides, one on either of her putative sides, each with a different objective (website).
The American side of me tries to open a window into China and things Chinese for non-Chinese, while the Chinese side of me makes sure that what I'm writing is true to the Chinese culture without making it seem too "exotic" or "foreign." What I want people to get from my books is that all people on the planet share common life experiences -- falling in love, getting married, having children, dying -- and share common emotions -- love, hate, greed, jealousy. These are the universals; the differences are in the particulars of customs and culture.
Two halves don't make a whole
None of See's fashionable talk about having "two sides" rings true in the light of what she has said about her family background in other publications. As a contributor to Half and Half, subtitled "Writers on Growing Up Biracial + Bicultural" (Claudine Chiawei O'Hearn, editor, New York: Pantheon Books, 1998), she says this toward the end (page 138).
You may have noticed that I have labeled everyone in this piece. My white grandmother. My Japanese aunt. My African American stepmother. My family is strong because of its many races and cultures."
What happened to See's many other sides? Or is she mostly interested in her "Chinese side" because that most intrigues her? And because it is easier to market a simplistic "American" and "Chinese" dichotomy in a market that has a huge appetite for books on China, Chinese, American Chinese, and Chinese Americans?
Don't get me wrong. See's family history is very interesting. And her novels are thrilling reads. I just can't understand the fuss she makes about her "sides" in relation to her fiction -- as though she wants readers to think her Chinese settings and characters are authentic simply because of her family ties.
What is Chinese "cash"?
Another FAQ concerns the meaning of "cash" in Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (2005), a novel set in 19th-century China (website).
Cash was a type of money used in China. It was round and usually had a square cutout in the middle.
The word "cash" or the redundant "cash coins" refers to the low-denomination metal coins, typically with square holes in them, that came to be used throughout East Asia, the East Indies, and parts of India. They were common not only in China but in Korea, Japan, and Vietnam.
The word "cash" in reference to such coins apparently comes from Portuguese caixa, via Tamil kâcu, which means "a small coin", circa late 16th century.
The word "cash" was part of the port lingo used among traders. Ordinary people would not have used such an exotic word to refer to such coinage, but would have said just "coins" -- or "coppers" or "money" or whatever the closest English equivalent would have been to what they would have said in Chinese.
What more, though, can China-mystified American readers expect from a novel that one reviewer ranked with "the best fiction of Amy Tan and Maxine Hong Kingston, the modern luminaries of Chinese storytelling" (See's website)? Neither Kingston nor Tan are known for the accuracy of their writing about China.
See See's website for more.
|Sui Sin Far Edith Maude Eaton (1865-1914)|
The publisher of these two biographies also put out an anthology of Sui Sin Far's writings edited by Amy Ling and Annette White-Parks, the author of the first biography. The introduction and some of the essays in the anthology also shed considerable light on Edith Eaton's life. See Mrs. Spring Fragrance and Other Writings in the Review section for further details.
Cay Van Ash (1918-1994)
See Fu Manchu
Cay Van Ash was born in Sussex and lived in London and Wales before moving to Asia, where he took up residence in Japan and taught at Waseda University.
See also Mark Schreiber's 1988 article, Cay Van Ash: A Footnote on the Yellow Peril, based on an interview with Van Ash.
Janwillem van de Wetering (b1931)
Creator of Inspector Saito
Born in Rotterdam in 1931, Van de Wetering started his writing carreer as a bit of a vagabond. He has traveled, engaged in business, studied at a Zen Monastery in Japan (1958-1959), and was a policeman in Amsterdam. In 1975, he settled on the coast of Maine in the United States.
As he describes part of his life on a commercial website (1997):
For ten years (1965-1975) van de Wetering knew prosperity while building an export network for his wife's family's company's textile product. Philosophical curiosity was aroused again when he met Trungpa Rimpoche at a Tibetan Buddhist retreat in Scotland. Studies at "The Tail of the Tiger" led to visits to another metaphysical hot spot. "Moon Spring Hermitage", led by a fellow, much senior disciple of the, now dead, Japanese abbot, on the Maine coast, U.S.A. Meanwhile, back in Holland, van de Wetering had joined the Amsterdam Reserve Constabulary. Having traveled as a young man in territories beyond Dutch jurisdiction without keeping in touch with Dutch authorities brought a charge of dodging the draft. Military Police suggested that, in order to avoid arrest, it would be appropriate to serve the queen in voluntary law enforcement. The period was to be for four years (two years training, two years patroling Amsterdam evenings and weekends) but got extended to seven years as subject passed sergeant and inspector exams. The idea of being an anarchist in police uniform seemed surreally interesting. The textile trade was "getting old" by then and, looking for a way to change his career he had his Zen journals, referring to both the Japanese and American monastic periods, published.
Janwillem van de Wetering
Robert Hans van Gulik (1910-1967)
Creator of Judge Dee
Dutch diplomat and authority on China who spent most of his life in Asia. He is best known as the creator of Judge Dee, based on the real life Di Renjie or Ti Jen-chieh (630-700).
Robert van Gulik & Judge Dee
Robert van Gulik & Judge Dee is the portal of a "webring" which describes itself as "just a small network of pages on the two characters, designed by some enthusiasts. The pages are located on different sites."
Janwillem van de Wetering
|Onoto Watanna Winnifred Eaton (1879-1954) (1875-1952)|
Winnifred Eaton was born in Montreal to parents of Chinese and English descent who had come to Canada from Great Britain. She is better known as Onoto Watanna, a persona she created and sustained, with the help of many others, while writing mostly in the United States.
Eaton's corporal and literary mongrelness
Linda Trinh Moser, in her Afterword to Winnifred Eaton's Me (see review below), describes Eaton as "a Chinese Eurasian [who] assumed a Japanese-sounding penname [and] invented an appropriate biography, providing herself with a Japanese noblewoman for a mother and Nagasaki as her birthplace" (Eaton 1997:357).
Judy Shoaf, remarking on Watanna in The "Jap Doll" -- Ningyo on the Western Toyshelf 1850-1940 (2003), refers to Watanna as a "a half-Chinese Canadian woman" who presents "Japanese (or half-Japanese, or culturally Japanese) girls as morally superior, able to take charge of their own romantic lives, cut against the usual American perspective according to which the Japanese woman's conflict of duty and love seemed trivial or tragic."
Shoaf continues in this "half" this or that "blood" vein (Ibid.).
It [Watanna's Sunny-San (1922)] also forms an interesting contrast with the American stereotype of the tragic mulatto woman, who is isolated from both the negro and the white communities by mixed race. Sunny-San, the last "Japanese" novel, published some 10 years after the previous one (and after Watanna had pretty much discarded her Japanese image and subject matter), takes place mostly in New York City; its heroine, only one quarter Japanese, is typical of Watanna's vigorous women. However, Sunny's mother does qualify as a "tragic mulatto" and also as a Madame Butterfly type, and Watanna uses the "Japanese doll" image to emphasize this. She seems aware of its history and power, and she analyzes it with striking clarity . . .
Making room for Eaton in "Asian American" fiction
No racial or ethnic "group" exists except to the extent that it is an accessory to its own definition. "Whites" are not the only "group" that resists embracing as "whites" anyone who has a drop of "non-white" blood in their veins. "Asian Americans" are no different with respect to their impulse to with-hold the label "Asian" from anyone who has a drop of "non-Asian" blood in their veins.
Given such concern and even obsession with purity, how does Eaton's real and fictive mixture fit into the scheme of "Asian American" literature? Eve Oishi partly answers this question in her 1999 introduction to Onoto Watanna's Miss Nume (1899) (Watanna 1999:xi).
Baldly stated, critics of Asian American literature simply do not know what to do with a Eurasian writer of Chinese and Anglo-descent who assumed a Japanese identity and a Japanese-sounding pseudonym -- Onoto Watanna -- in order to write romance novels about Japanese and Eurasian women.
The most interesting contribution to the developing picture of how Winnifred Eaton and the publishing world exploited the demand in North America and the rest of the English-reading world, for Asian and Eurasian exotica, is "Onoto Watanna's Japanese Collaborators and Commentators" by Yuki Matsukawa in The Japanese Journal of American Studies (No. 16, 2005, pages 31-53). A professor of English and American Literature at Seijo Gakuen in Tokyo with a doctorate from Brown University who specializes in 19th- and 20th-century American literature, Matsukawa is especially interested in Asian American fiction and the "cross-dressing and cross-naming" of Winnifred Eaton as Onoto Watanna.
Observing that Winnifred Eaton's "writerly identity and novels are not as easily categorize under more conventional Asian American rubrics" (page 31), and that because of her "unconventional authorial persona . . . More often "scholars choose to focus on Edith Eaton / Sui Fin Far, whose life and writings followed more conventional narratives of Asian American literature" (page 32). All of which constitutes a challenge for students of Asian American literature, or as Matsukawa puts it (page 32):
It would take a shift in the climate of literary studies and a recognition of the heterogeneity of Asian American experiences and literary expression for scholars to start to pay attention to the subversive strategies of Onoto Watanna.
Scholars and publishers make hay
Matsukawa writes that "the past few years have proven bontiful in Onoto Watanna studies" and indeed they have. Matsukawa describes the boom in republishing and commentary in great detail but does not comment on the subversiveness of present-day strategies to revive sales of Watanna's fiction.
On the supply-side, Watanna's novels are now in public domain, and so anyone with a hankering to sell them in e-book or print-on-demand editions can do so -- so long as there is demand, which is where academia comes in. Thanks to the development of ethnic studies, multiculturalist scholars are mining the past for victims of discrimination that are marketable as ethnic heroes.
In this sense, the "strategies" behind the Onoto Watanna revival are no less "subversive" than were those deployed by Winnifred and her publishers to sell the stories now being recycled to feed the frenzy of interest in reincarnated minorities. The product is still race. And the publicists are still pandering to racialsm.
Onoto Watanna studies in Japan
Matsukawa's main contribution is to rescue "Onoto Watanna studies" from the impression that Watanna was first rediscovered in North America (pages 33-34).
Onoto Watanna had attracted the attention and interest of at least two Japanese writers during her lifetime and many Japanese scholars posthumously. In fact, articles written by two Japanese scholars, Katsuhiko Takeda and Yoshiro Ando, predate by over a decade what most Asian American literature scholars consider the first influential scholarly essays on Watanna by S. E. Solberg and Amy Ling.
In an English article published in 1964, Katsuhiko Takeda was under the impression that "Watanna was born in Nagasaki and lived there as a child. . . . he introduces her as a Canadian writer and does not allude to her biracial background; he attributes her ease with writing about Japan to her childhood experiences" (page 34).
Writing in Japanese in 1970, Ando Yoshiro, who had been corresponding with Doris Rooney, Winnifred Eaton's daughter, who had met both Takeda and Ando that year, corrected Takeda's biographical impressions. Like Takeda, though, he tried to read a lot of literary significance into Watanna's fiction (pages 34-45).
Both Takeda and Ando delight in Onoto Watanna not only because she wrote of Japan but also because they, like later scholars, were elated to rediscover a writer who had been popular during her lifetime but then fell into oblivion. Their assessments of Onoto Watanna's prose, unlike current readings of her made through the lens of ethnic studies, focus on her style and possible connections to other traditions such as romanticism and Japanese literature.
Yone Noguchi's indignation
Matsukawa then describes the connections between Watanna and Nagai Kafu (1879-1959), who read one of her novels while on a visit to America, and her personal association with the writer Noguchi Yonejiro (1875-1947), who settled in the United States, where he is better known as Yone Noguchi. Noguchi, one of the first Japanese to write poetry and fiction in English, was the father of sculptor Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988).
Noguchi, first enamored with Watanna's personality, and believing her to be "a half caste woman" who had Japanese mother and English father (page 36), had met her in Chicago and used her address there no later than 1900. By 1907, however, he had decided that she was merely a fraud (page 49; bracketed comments are Matsukawa's].
Later, when I began to read the Japaneses stories written by American writers (?) [sic] I felt the same indignation [I did as when I saw The Mikado]! I refer to the works of John Luther Long and Onoto Watanna. The saddest part about Miss Watanna is that she is still posing as a Japanese, a half caste at the least.
Onoto Watanna's "Japanese" autograph
Matsukawa explores several clues as to how Eaton came upon the name "Onoto Watanna" and just how "Japanese" it is. She leans toward the view that "Onoto" may have come from a name in a story by Lafcadio Hearn and that "Watanna" may be anglicization of "Watanabe".
Winnifred Eaton resources
Donna M. Campbell, at the Department of English, Washington State University, hosts a plethora of easily accesible literary sources. Keywording "Watanna" will yield several links to bibliographies internal to Campbell's site, that in turn lead to enormous amounts of information about Watanna. There are also links to free downloads of e-text editions of some of her novels, and of many shorter works by her and by others writing about her.
Diana Birchall is the daughter of Paul Eaton, Winnifred Eaton's poet son, but her parents separated and she grew up in New York with her mother's family, "a universe away" from her Canadian relatives. Consequently she knew little about her "bad grandmother" until she was an adult.
Birchall had checked the "W" sections in libraries but found that her grandmother's novels were collecting dust. Not until scholars began contacting descendants of the Eaton family, writing biographical and bibliographical papers, introducing the works of Sui Sin Far and Otono Watanna in their college courses, anthologizing some of their stories, and even republishing some of their novels, did Birchall herself become sufficiently interested to write her own account of her grandmother's life and rediscovery in the 1970s.
Birchall's biography of her grandmother is also a personal account of how she discovered the side of her family she never got to know while growing up, unaware that she was, as she puts it now, "part Chinese" (page 206). "Imagine the effect of finding out that the plucky, self-involved, natural writer who was the heroine of Me was my grandmother!" (page 209).
Not only that, she was Chinese! To be exact, half -- just as racially Chinese as I was Jewish. It had never occurred to me that even if the story about her being Chinese was true, there could be any proof of it; but Tim showed me a photograph of Winnifred's mother. There was the proof; my great-grandmother, Grace Trefusius Eaton, was, beyond a doubt, a true-enough Chinese lady -- wearing a proper high-necked Victorian dress and having quite a strong family resemblance to me.
"Tim" was Birchall's first cousin, Paul Rooney, son of Doris Babcock, Winnifred's daughter. Doris had possession of her mother's belongings, and when she died, Rooney donated most of Winnifred's papers to the Glenbow Archives because he knew "the academic world would get around to Winnie one day" (page xxi). Later her papers were moved to the University of Calgary Library's Department of Special Collections.
In the center of this very readable biography are fourteen pages of family photographs spanning a century of incredible change in men's and women's fashions.
Creator of Inspector Wang Anzhuang and Rosina Lin
Christopher West traveled and lived in China, and wrote Journey to the Middle Kingdom in 1991, before turning to fiction in the mid 1990s. His purpose, according to his own post on Amazon.co.uk, is to entertain with a traditional whodunnit, and to introduce the culture of China. He refers to the novels of Tony Hillerman, and "all the marvellous writing coming out of India", as models of such fiction.