Interview with author Wendy Tokunaga

Today, author Wendy Tokunaga is visiting my blog and talking about her new book, Love in Translation. Woot!

About Wendy

Wendy Nelson Tokunaga is the author of the novels, MIDORI BY MOONLIGHT (St. Martin’s, Available Now) and the forthcoming LOVE IN TRANSLATION (St. Martin’s, November 2009). Her novel, NO KIDDING, won the Literary/Mainstream Fiction category in Writer’s Digest’s Best Self-Published Book Awards in 2002. She is also the author of two children’s non-fiction books, and has had short stories published in various literary journals. Wendy signed her two-book deal with St. Martin’s just as she was beginning the MFA in Writing program at the University of San Francisco in 2006. Along with her MFA, she also holds a BA in Psychology from San Francisco State University. In her spare time Wendy sings bossa nova, cool pop, jazz standards and Japanese songs accompanied by her surfer dude husband Manabu on electronic keyboards. They live with their cat Meow in the San Francisco Bay Area, a short walk from the Pacific Ocean.

Find more information at Wendy’s website. Look for her on Facebook and Twitter

About The Book

The San Francisco Chronicle called Wendy Nelson Tokunaga’s debut novel, Midori by Moonlight, a “terrific first novel.” Now she’s back with her second book, Love in Translation, which again explores the themes of Japan and Japanese culture and being a stranger in a strange land, which have played a major role in her life and writing.

Love in Translation
by Wendy Nelson Tokunaga
Trade Paperback $13.99 ($17.99 Canada)
240 pages St. Martin’s Griffin
Available: Now (Published November 24, 2009)
Web Site:

For anyone who’s ever dreamt of finding love and family in an unexpected place…

After receiving a puzzling phone call and a box full of mysterious family heirlooms, 33-year-old fledgling singer Celeste Duncan is off to Japan to search for a long, lost relative who could hold the key to the identity of the father she never knew. Once there she stumbles head first into a weird, wonderful world where nothing is quite as it seems—a land with an inexplicable fascination with foreigners, karaoke boxes, and unbearably perky TV stars.

With little knowledge of Japanese, Celeste finds a friend in her English-speaking homestay brother, Takuya, and comes to depend on him for all variety of translation, travel and investigatory needs. As they cross the country following a trail after Celeste’s relatives, she discovers she’s developing “more-than-sisterly” feelings for him, although his mother seems to have other plans for her son. But it is when Celeste learns a Japanese song called “The Wishing Star” that things begin to change for her in ways she never expected, leading her to ask, what is the true meaning of family? And what does it mean to discover your own voice?

Buy from Amazon

Praise for Love In Translation

A delightful novel about love, identity, and what it means to be adrift in a strange land. This story of a search has an Alice in Wonderland vibe; when Celeste climbs down the rabbit hole, one can’t help but follow along.
–Michelle Richmond, New York Times bestselling author of The Year of Fog

An amusing story of one woman’s quest for her father and the improbable path of love.
–Meg Waite Clayton, author of The Wednesday Sisters

Tokunaga… describe[s] Japanese culture in absorbing detail.
–Publishers Weekly

Witty, lighthearted and charming story of finding love in an unexpected place.
–Fresh Fiction

A delightful plot with wonderful characterizations.
–Affair de Coeur Magazine

Four stars!
–RT Book Reviews Magazine

Love in Translation Video Book Trailer

Video created and produced by Wendy Nelson Tokunaga
Music written and performed by Manabu Tokunaga

Love in Translation Theme Song

The fictional song becomes a reality! Listen to the Love in Translation original theme song, “The Wishing Star (Nozomi no Hoshi)” Music by Manabu Tokunaga, Lyrics by Hiro Akashi and Wendy Nelson Tokunaga, Vocal by Wendy Nelson Tokunaga.
Download at Wendy’s website
Download on iTunes
Love in Translation Audio Drama Podcast Hear the dramatic excerpt


Q: What inspired Love in Translation?

Many things. LOVE IN TRANSLATION is my cockeyed valentine to Japan, which is a place I’ve both loved and loathed, a place that has fueled both fascination and frustration. And it is also a place that has had a huge impact on my life and writing. I also wanted to explore what it means to be a gaijin (foreigner) in Japan and the benefits and downsides of that status and what happens when a gaijin sings in Japanese. I also am fascinated by the concept of the homestay, (something I never experienced), and how that would impact someone as an adult who grew up in foster homes and who never experienced a real family.

Q: If you weren’t writing, what would you be doing instead?

I’d be singing. Before I started writing fiction I wrote songs, sang lead and played bass guitar in my own bands. Later on I got into singing Japanese karaoke. And further down the road I took voice lessons from a great Japanese jazz singer. I learned so much from her and was able to take my singing to a whole new level. I began to sing jazz standards with my husband accompanying me on keyboards. We play low-key venues once in a while but usually we just practice for fun at home.

Q: What were some of your favorite books as a kid?

I loved Edward Eager’s “magic” books: “Half Magic,” “Magic by the Lake,” “Seven Day Magic,” “The Well Wishers,” etc. I also was a voracious reader of all of A.A. Milne’s “Winnie-the-Pooh” books. And another of my favorites was “The Summer Birds” by Penelope Farmer, about a group of children who teach themselves how to fly. A few years ago I went on a hunt on the Internet for some of these books since I didn’t have my own copies any longer and now have added them to the bookcase in our family room.

Q: Which craft books have inspired or helped you throughout your writing career?

There are many and some are not technically “craft” books such as “The Resilient Writer: Tales of Rejection and Triumph from 23 Top Authors” by Catherine Wald. Others include “bird by bird” by Anne Lamott, “The First Five Pages” by Noah Lukeman and “The Art & Craft of Novel Writing” by Oakley Hall.

Q: What do you consider the heart of your story?

My stories seem to have several “hearts,” or at least I see them that way. In LOVE IN TRANSLATION it’s how Celeste Duncan, a woman without a family, finds one in a foreign culture. It’s also about the power of music on the soul and heart and the meaning of finding your own voice, both in the singing sense and the identity sense.

Q: What comes most naturally for you to write, dialogue? plot? character? What’s the hardest?

Easiest for me is plot and that’s what I try to spend time sorting that out on the first draft. I also like to “talk out” my plot to friends and keep refining it that way. The most difficult is slowing down and spending time on description. I don’t care for long passages of description, but you must have some. So I try and strike a happy medium, but it isn’t easy for me.

Q: What has brought the greatest joy since you were published? The greatest angst?

I’d say the greatest joy is having readers who appreciate your writing. And the greatest angst is in working hard to keep those readers and gain more.

Q: What do you love about being an author?

There’s so much that I enjoy. First, it’s great to be paid for something you love to do. But I also find it inspiring to help other writers. I enjoy telling my story of woe on my road to publication and let others know that they don’t need any special connections to the publishing world in order to get published. I like to promote the message that you should never give up. And if you work hard, keep at it and be flexible, your publishing dream may come true. I also like helping other writers make their work the best it can be.

Q: What’s one piece of writing advice you’ve found valuable on your journey to publication?

That often you won’t discover the real story you’re trying to tell until the revision process.

Q: What is your favorite food or cuisine?

I guess it won’t surprise anyone that I love Japanese food. And, while I do like sushi, I particularly enjoy ramen (the Japanese take on Chinese noodle soup), niku jaga (beef and potato stew), Japanese-style pasta, and yaki ika (fried squid), among many other dishes.

Q: How do you promote your books? Are you going on tour for this book? Any upcoming signings?

I do a lot of my own promotion for my books, much of it online. I’m on MySpace, Twitter, Facebook, have blogs, a website, etc., etc. It’s fun, but it can be overwhelming sometimes. I actually was dreaming in Tweets the other night and I often spend way too much time thinking about what my Facebook status should be. I generally do readings and signings in the San Francisco Bay Area. I have events coming up for promotion of LOVE IN TRANSLATION in early December in San Francisco, Half Moon Bay and Corte Madera, which are all listed on my website. And I may be doing some more in January. At some of the events I’ll be performing “The Wishing Star (Nozomi no Hoshi)” the “theme song” from LOVE IN TRANSLATION, which is the fictional song portrayed in the book brought to real life. I also really like appearing at writers conferences and I’ll be at the San Francisco Writers Conference in mid-February. I’ll also be teaching a class called Your Novel: The Road to Publication at Books Inc. Opera Plaza in San Francisco in January.

Q: What’s next for you?

I’m working on a novel that is a different departure for me: it has very little to do with Japan!


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