Secondhand Memories and Cell Phone Novels: An Interview with Takatsu

Secondhand Memories by Takatsu

Technological advances, the invention of the internet, and the so-called “Digital Revolution” have undoubtedly impacted our daily lives. The ways in which we communicate with one another have drastically changed since my birth in the 1980s. The internet has especially helped to bring about the global “democratization of knowledge” and information, which has lead to both positive and negative effects on society. One of these effects has been a change in how we create and consume media. The emergence of new technologies and new forms of media seem almost commonplace today. For instance, about two weeks ago, Apple released information on its new Macbooks and Apple Watch.

One form of new media that has not yet become common in the wider English-speaking world, but is very popular in Japan, are cell phone novels. Cell phone novels (CPNs) or keitai shousetsu (ケータイ小説) are novels that are written on cell phones or mobile phones and are delivered to readers via text messaging or SMS. CPNs have been popular in Japan since 2003, when the first official CPN, Deep Love by Yoshi, was released and eventually published in printed format. CPNs are especially popular among commuters and women in Japan, and although the first CPN Deep Love was written by a man, many of the novels that have been written since have been by young women. Brianna Erban from the University of Alberta has a great website on CPNs if you want to read more about this social phenomenon. And also, be sure to check out Takatsu’s documentary/interview Intro to Cell Phone Novels produced with COMEX Media.

I first encountered CPNs after watching the film adaptation of Sky of Love or Koizora (恋空) (2007) at the recommendation of a friend. Koizora is a bestselling CPN written by Mika that tells the story of two high school students, Mika and Hiro, and their tumultuous love affair. It was originally released in chapters in 2005 on Mahou no Island (魔法のiらんど), one of the most popular Japanese CPN publishing platforms, but owing to its popularity, it was released in print by Starts Publications in 2006. The story was also adapted into a six episode television series and aired on TBS in Japan as well as an eight volume manga series written by Ibuki Haneda and published by Futabasha in Comic Mahou no Island (COMIC魔法のiらんど).

I watched Koizora in 2008, so it has been a long time since I’ve seen it, and although I remember not really relating well to a story about high school students (if you watch Koizora, be forewarned that it contains scenes of rape and kidnapping), I was instantly intrigued by the social phenomenon that is the CPN market in Japan.

Unfortunately, when I went looking for an English translation of Koizora or any other CPN, I was disappointed to discover that they didn’t exist, and they continue to be unavailable today. Fortunately, somehow, perhaps through a NaNoWriMo community, I stumbled upon the website TextNovel. TextNovel, and their respective app eMobo, is an English language CPN publishing website, much like Mahou no Island, that makes it possible for authors to write and share their CPNs on their computers or cell phones.

I will shyly admit that I attempted to write a CPN, but was very unsuccessful at keeping it up, and I probably only wrote about one short chapter. Given the nature of writing on a cell phone, which is very similar to writing on Twitter (in fact, novels have also been written by authors on Twitter or other social media platforms; these are called microblogging novels), I thought that writing a short CPN chapter, which are often only about 70 to 100 words in length, would be easy. I was definitely wrong! And in the end, I’ve been more of a CPN reader than a CPN writer.

TextNovel introduced me to many new writers, but especially to Takatsu, the author of Secondhand Memories, the first CPN to be written in English. It tells the story of Seiji and Aoi and their love, loss, and struggles growing up together and is written in an almost poetic style. It is now available in print since this past Valentine’s Day.

I really wanted to attend Takatsu’s Secondhand Memories book launch event in Toronto a couple of weeks ago and hear about CPNs right from the source, but since I was unable to, I decided to get in touch with Takatsu and see if he could tell me more about his experiences writing both CPNs and “traditional” novels.

He took the time to answer some questions via an email interview, particularly on his approach to writing, what inspires him, and what advice he might give to others who wish to write and publish. Since I read Secondhand Memories via TextNovel back in 2008 or 2009, and I read, more recently, his “traditional” novel Espresso Love via Wattpad, we also discussed Espresso Love in our interview.

I want to thank him again for his time and for answering my questions so thoughtfully and profoundly.

Every writer has a story to tell regarding how and why they began writing. How did you start writing fiction, and more specifically, how did you start writing CPNs? What got you interested in this particular storytelling style?

I’m sure many writers say they’ve always been writing since they were young, and I am no exception. As a child, I definitely had ADD and some form of autism; I think that contributed to my tendency for the arts. I immersed myself in imaginary worlds for most of “reality” and began to seek to create such worlds in more permanent forms. Outside of roleplaying and make belief, I drew pictures, created comics, eventually writing fan fiction, and then original fiction. This was all before high school, so perhaps between the ages of eight and thirteen. When I look back, it’s interesting to note that my fan fiction writing, as cringe-worthy as they were, always dealt with human nature and psychology to some extent. Instead of writing battle scenes or relationships, I would greatly emphasize dialogue and atmosphere in quiet or contemplative moments, like Tifa’s 7th Heaven bar in Final Fantasy VII, or focus on tiny details, like the hum of a lightsaber, which seemed to contain so much meaning. Even the idea of reality in my young mind was not rigid, and these are in some way part of the foundations of my thoughts and writing now.

Sky of Love or Koizora (恋空), 2007CPNs were my first foray into writing seriously. Before then, I had never posted my work online or let anyone else read it. I was about 18, deeply into Japanese entertainment: music, anime, manga, drama, and movies. I came across Koizora, which was an adaptation of a Japanese CPN. So naturally, I searched up CPNs and found the very first and only English site to recognize and encourage the style. I realized that they had a lot of potential when I looked up a few Japanese ones and also found English translations of them on the site. They were beautifully sparse and minimalist, extremely immersive, like a macro lens for photography. Each word was suddenly so profound and artistic, the entire novel charged with intense moments, private emotion, omission, and white space, and moments of contemplation and interpretation between the lines, without ever forcing on the reader or stating things outright. In terms of young adult fiction, they were on a transcendental level. They did not feed the mind with a story or characters; they cultivated the mind and allowed us to connect with it on a deeper level and come to our own realizations. They were truly powerful.

I read one at night on my phone without sleeping unable stop my tears throughout (many of the stories tend to be tragic or deals with hardship). So I quickly realized the impact of such a form, optimizing a blend between poetry and prose, and decided to start my own in 2008. I never thought about the fact that this was going to be the first English CPN in the Western world. Nor did I think about picking up a following or inspiring young writers to take up the mantle. I didn’t think at all. I just felt I had to try it myself and wanted to imitate the Japanese movement with my own cliched ideas. With much doubt, and to my surprise, Secondhand Memories became quite popular, and I received comments that largely expressed the same things as I had believed: the beauty and simplicity of the poetic style and its incredible addictive ability to engage on an intimate and deeply resonating level.

What is your writing process like for both your “traditional” novels and your CPNs? Do you take a “spontaneous prose” approach to your writing? Or do you plan out each chapter and follow an outline? Secondhand Memories is almost poetic while Espresso Love is prose fiction. What made you decide to write them this way?

Secondhand Memories by Takatsu, CoverI had been writing CPNs and working with its community since 2008 for five years. I barely wrote anything else then, aside from a few blog posts or essays for school. In a sense, CPNs, because of its unique style and way of thinking, trained me to reach a much higher level of writing than I had been aware of then. Sort of like if you were to play electric guitar solos on an acoustic guitar with its much tighter, tougher, harder strings. When you return to the electric, your fingers soar and you feel weightless—suddenly you are capable of so much more. CPNs require much precision, and on the page—each word and each line break, each white space—every element counts and impacts the piece and the reader profoundly. Therefore, not only does it train the eye (or ear) for such construction and rhythm and balance and its layers and moves and counter-moves, but it becomes second nature after a while. A keen and precise intuition, maybe a sixth sense, is honed and eventually even those decisions flow naturally. Beyond technical training, once technique and skill is innate and a part of us, it makes room and opens the door for the soul or the heart so to speak, to pour freely without inhibition. Deeper philosophies, ideas, insight, messages, and resonances can surface when we don’t have to worry so much about form. To put it more simply, a singer who masters his or her techniques and reaches as full of a potential as possible, allows for more room to truly feel the music, improvise, and respond, to express emotion and its soul.

CPN writing is also much about improvisation and spontaneity. Of course, first, in its nature as literature or media on the go, capitalizing on commuting culture, modern scatter-brained antics, and fast paced urban lifestyles, it calls for a quick summoning of inspiration and immediate response with only minutes to spare. It is also characterized with short fragmented writing, which means it is actually difficult to effectively plan a story in its entirety—it’s almost not possible. When you immerse yourself in the reading experience or the writing experience, it is as if you are adapting to tunnel vision or a macro lens as mentioned before: a new approach and a unique experience for sure. With such incredible closeness to the text or the subject, characters and moments truly come alive and there is less conscious control over it. Each page is like a crystallized fragment in time, each leaving off with cliffhangers and an open-endedness. It becomes art, and art does breathe on its own—you’re taken along by a current that is somewhat beyond you. The form manipulates subjective perception and the narrative will distort its world, which allows for much interesting implications.

CPNs, written on a serialized basis, encourages a lack of planning, as it would be the most real, personal, and raw for the writer, and his or her readers. Fictional life develops in real time filling reality with its presence. The subconscious and intuition becomes what drives the writing. However, the poetic fusion form does present difficulties in expressing full ideas. While it is strong in implications, omission, suggestion, and things like atmosphere or unsaid emotion, personally, I don’t think it is very efficient at delivering conscious material. Of course, you can still narrate and describe and write exposition as you could in any form of storytelling, but it isn’t what makes CPNs the most unique or the most powerful.

As my ideas developed and I matured as a person, I realized the themes, the worldview, and messages I wanted to present could no longer be contained within a sparse fragmentary form. Things were becoming a lot more wordier and complicated. They were hard to break up into fragments with line breaks and white spaces. There were things that I could not just leave out and imply. If I wanted to include social criticism and philosophy, psychology, spirituality and anagogical symbolism, intellectual discourse, and many other multiple layers, it is difficult to insert into CPN form without it feeling forced, contrived or too confusing. My last CPN, in 2013, became so symbolic, magical-realistic, surreal, abstract, out of body, and philosophical that it felt too out of place and I could no longer continue.

As such, I had to move into full prose. At first, I had no intention or recognition that it was what I needed. But under the requirements of a creative writing major and under the tutelage of a wise professor, I had to embark on my journey of literary fiction and realized the power beyond the CPN form. With my foundation in the more intuitive, poetic, and subconscious CPN literary technique, integrating the multiple layers of conscious material into it became greatly empowering and liberating. I felt I had a complete handle of all of it without losing anything.

With my full prose work, I plan and research more because there is simply much more conscious material to work with and it feels much longer—a longer battle of endurance and clear mindedness. I had to research all kinds of things for Espresso Love, whether it was geography, politics, theoretical psychology, dream reading, bullet calibers, economy, war history, coffee bean growing and roasting, trauma scenes, philosophies, literature, classical and jazz music—you name it. The conscious work that had to go into it was overwhelming in hindsight. Other than that, I created a brief outline with the overlying concept, and made sure I was clear of my vision and the message or themes I wanted to communicate, decided several important turning points or major events in the novel, and then just like the CPN approach, wrote intuitively. When I mentor writers, I often will say the conscious work is done outside of writing—learning and honing actual writing skill and literary technique, research, planning, thinking from the frame and the lens of your vision, fleshing out any necessary details to build a sure foundation. But when writing, it needs to come from within, naturally, intuitively, instinctively, and fully inspired from the subconscious. Often, the words on the page bled out is a journey of self discovery and we realize things that we had never thought of before. Our inner spirit speaks to us. It is almost a meditative state. If all the elements in the writing process are at its optimum, we will be amazed at what we find.

Espresso Love was very much like that. It was both conscious effort and divinely inspired. When I wrote, I wrote at least a thousand words a day, often reaching five thousand on good days, and finished 160,000 within six months precisely just before the World Cup started! In retrospect, I had no idea how it was possible. When I, or my readers, look and discuss the almost infinite amount of layers of meaning and possible interpretations, we are all astonished. There are a few superficial layers of plot and world building, its ideas and poetics, even its philosophies and discourse and so on, but the converging of the literal, the conscious, the material with the subconscious, the intuition, the soul, and the things I cannot describe, reaches a pinnacle and erupts into something vertically spiritual and visionary. I can almost make no claim to its immense finished vision—it was the convergence of everything all at the same time. And much of that, which comes from within and from beyond in the cosmos somewhere, is not under my conscious control. It draws from so much and is part of so much more. Now, when I think about it, I can’t help but wonder how it’s possible and also if I can ever live up to the same kind of level in my next project.

All that said, I confess that I have grown beyond the CPN form and am greatly more comfortable and empowered by the full prose form. I think the CPN form or rather, whatever it represents or implies, are vital for me, and for writers as a foundation. Mastering that level will unlock even greater possibilities in literature or in the universe.

Some of the first CPNs in Japan, like Deep Love by Yoshi, were written for a primarily young adult audience. Do you write your CPNs and “traditional” novels with a particular audience in mind? And since author-reader interaction is often part of the creative process of writing CPNs, is this how you’ve written some of your work?

I guess my audience grows with my own age. At first, my work was very emotional as a teenager, and my readers were, or were intended to be, preteens to young adults. I found that surprisingly, the older audience was also interested in the unique style.

Through the years, my work grew up as I did. My latest CPN, as I mentioned, was a lot more philosophical about a struggling aspiring musician for identity and against an oppressive capitalist system (philosophical elements of which can be found in Espresso Love too). That one had a university student as its narrator, at the age I was. Now, Espresso Love and current work definitely is more complex and intended for the university level and beyond. However, it is always delightful to find how many younger (or older) readers surpass my expectations. Older readers of Secondhand Memories are enthralled with the poetic style of the minimalist CPN form and see some sort of magic with it. On the other hand, there are many thirteen or fourteen year old readers of Espresso Love who enjoy it very much. I don’t doubt their ability, but how many of the layers of the novel they can see, will be up to them! It is encouraging and I’m sure if readers ever go back to read for another time years down the road, they may perceive different things.

Reader interaction is a very important thing to me, whether CPN, poetry, or prose. I believe the author stands at the same level as the reader. We often don’t know what we’re really writing, and again, it’s a journey of self discovery. Even the things we do know about are only just the tip of the iceberg. My greatest blessing are my readers coming into my novels, particularly Espresso Love, and jumping into long discussions on society, politics, the world, their own lives, the themes, and ideas in the book, interpreting and reading so deeply, coming up with new insight that I never thought were possible.

One reader told me my three most main characters in Espresso Love symbolized Freud’s Super Ego, Ego, and Id for them and I realized how true that was. While I had studied Freud, I wasn’t particularly thinking about that, though I had written it. Another saw deeply into the idea of subjective perception of the novel and how it distorts the world, and the undercurrent that there is no objective truth or reality. They told me they realized the entire novel and its characters could simply be skewed delusional projections of the narrator so convincingly thinking or dreaming it all into existence, just like the writer writing the novel into existence. Though I had written with this all at the back of my mind, no one had put it into words, and I had forgotten that essence at times. If you look at the comments on Espresso Love sometimes you run across essay-length analyses, and that is probably the greatest part of writing online. My reply would often be how they are absolutely right, and I hadn’t thought of it that way before. Other times, we would have lengthy conversations.

Whenever we write or create something and put it out into the world, it is for interpretation. Art is communication, but we have no control over the perceiver. The perceiver is what gives the art life. In fact, as the author, I am also a subject of interpretation as no one will truly know how I consider my own self, and even I do not truly know who I am through and through. All our lives, we listen to our own voices, singing or speaking, but we hear the vibrations of our bones too. We look in the mirror and see mirror images all our lives. Until we can hear recordings or pictures (which are also inaccurate) we won’t know how we sound or how we look like, beyond our own subjectivity. The world is made up of perception, and that is valuable to me and gives everything meaning and life.

The things readers may reveal to me through their insight and comments, often do help me realize what I’ve written, what I’ve been writing, and what I may flesh out and refine as I write on, especially since it is a serialized ongoing first draft posted “real time” until it is complete. But that said, I find my experience almost like seeing myself reflected in different places—what I write is still me, instead of taking directions or ideas or instructions from others. Sort of looking into a clear mirror to make out what I am about.

I really enjoyed reading your latest novel Espresso Love on Wattpad. It’s seems to have taken some inspiration from Haruki Murakami’s novels. IndieReader said that it “offers acute, almost painful observations of the minutiae of life, if life took place in a Murakami snow-globe.” There are even various musical references in the book, something Murakami always includes in his stories. I’m always interested in what inspires writers, including the influence of other authors, but also how experiences from your own life have influenced your work. So, can you talk a little bit about who and what inspires your writing?

Espresso Love by Takatsu, CoverHaruki Murakami is a huge inspiration for me. The many levels he writes on, many deeply surreal, abstract, subconscious, spiritual and so on, are so powerful and there are unlimited implications of the text. Just like the idea of the Collective in Espresso Love, I believe we are each a part of the cosmos or a collective human consciousness (or collective unconsciousness). More literally, all data of the Internet is like one big pool, or whatever we have ever learned, heard, read, studied, and so on, becomes a part of us in some way, positive or negative, consciously or not. That means, all arts in particular, communicate with one another. Writers and poets draw from one another, philosophy inspires politics, politics inspire art, art inspires music, vice versa, back and forth. Dante changed all of western consciousness with his work. Shakespeare influenced all literature. Hemingway and David Foster Wallace changed almost everybody’s writing styles. There’s no stop to the web of influence—and the Oceanic we are all part of.

My novel was definitely meant to be a conversation, connecting with so many writers, poets, musicians, artists I’ve come in contact with or beyond those who I had come in contact with through association. In particular, I personally think it is a response to Orwell’s 1984, Kafka’s The Trial, Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, and Murakami’s various novels—including the cats! In terms of literature or thinkers, I often will quote these: Haruki Murakami, Ernest Hemingway, Banana Yoshimoto, George Orwell, Don DeLillo, Franz Kafka, Raymond Carver, Cormac McCarthy, Kobo Abe, Rumi, Rimbaud, Whitman, T.S. Eliot, Kerouac, Thoreau, Emerson, Mumford, Baudrillard, Jung, Freud, Hegel, Berkeley, and Marx. But there’s really no end to the list.

Music has also always been a large part of my life. Beyond just musically, there are certain artists that inspire me in their struggles, worldviews, passion, lifestyle, philosophies, and so on such as YUI, G.E.M., ONE OK ROCK. Anime, manga, television dramas and movies, particularly Japanese or Korean productions, all play a great part. For example, the recurring theme of striving for dreams or living to the fullest no matter what opposition or dark hours we face will be fundamental in Japanese or Korean productions. I can’t forget my foundations in the Christian faith either, so though I do not identify with the legalistic and capitalist constructs of historical or modern day Christianity, my foundation is in the original essence of the Bible, of Christ, the early Church, and my own spiritual experiences and so on. I hold to the verse about being in the world but not being of the world. This is quite clear in Espresso Love as a philosophy.

In terms of personal experiences, I think I’ve always been a dreamer and an idealist. So throughout my life, it has been about struggling for passions and dreams despite the odds, the desire to transcend or exist beyond the worldly and earthly way of living, and my experiences against the capitalist system and its 9-5s and philosophies, social expectations, familial obligations, illness, education, and so on. I’ve travelled extensively all over the world in a very down-to-earth or local way; that’s always a huge source of growth and inspiration. I won’t go into my life stories as that would take quite a while to describe. Seriously, to ask influences is like asking about the universe

Secondhand Memories is told from Seiji’s point of view, and Espresso Love is told from Naoki’s point of view. We get to know both of these characters as if we’ve been reading their journals or listening to their thoughts throughout the day. How do you come up with your characters’ personalities and thoughts? Are they based on anyone you know in real life? You said in one of your blog posts, “I tried to live out this novel and think about the world, experience life, and so on during the months of writing, through the lens and frame of Espresso Love, as Naoki himself – and in return it helped me grow and mature even more than before, as a person, as a thinker, and as a budding philosopher in a sense.” So, is there a little bit of Takatsu in Seiji and Naoki or any of the other characters in your stories?

The characters (and most of the characters that are in the story) can be seen as a part of me, manifested. Maybe manifestations of views, of ideas, of people I know, parts of my consciousness, parts of my heart and soul. The narrators are usually the closest to my conscious being. Naoki questions the world around him, unsure of what reality is, if there is one at all, and struggles against an oppressive system and the “current” of the universe that pitches him around with its waves, beyond his ability of understanding or control. He was also emotionless at first having lost touch with his heart and his memories—too much of a thinker, than a feeler—which was where I was when I wrote Espresso Love.

In Secondhand Memories, Seiji questions his dreams, God, his worth on his own without those that he had relied on, how to live through emotional pain and guilt, and shows human weakness and failure in the face of temptation. He was fluctuating and volatile emotionally and had no sure footing, which was how I felt at the time. The ideas and thoughts they have usually are my own, though romanticized or emphasized. Other characters, for example, the guiding figures or catalysts for these narrators (often young women) are manifestations of my conclusions or philosophies, trying to provide (possibly wrong) answers and to push the narrator onward. That would be a particular way to look at it. I guess there are many other ways they represent parts of me!

I’m a huge anime fan, and I would love to read some of the original Japanese light novels that have anime spin-offs; however, Japanese light novels only started to be translated into English and published in America by Yen Press very recently. Luckily, they seem to be doing well enough that Yen Press plans to continue publishing them here. I would also be interested in reading Japanese CPNs translated into English. Do you think that Japanese language CPNs will have to go through similar growing pains so to speak in order to finally get translated and published outside of Japan? Is it your hope that your pioneer English CPN Secondhand Memories will help make this a reality? Or are you more interested in creating a completely new English-language based CPN industry?

I think it would be good if it can even go through the growing pains. There simply isn’t a demand for CPNs outside of Japan really. This is an issue we have been struggling with for years now. Either people often think they already know what a CPN is because of the sometimes misleading term, or they aren’t aware of the term “cell phone novel” and that a lot of Japanese media adapted CPNs. For example, people who have watched the Koizora drama might never realize it was a CPN originally. First, we would have to educate the industry and the general public about CPNs before there might be a growing demand for it.

Currently, Secondhand Memories was and is the forerunner and the spearhead for this. Its publication may be able to open more formally shut doors, though I’ve found it still a tad difficult to speak to people about the form. Some are receptive or interested, and others don’t really catch on to its appeal. So I think it all goes hand in hand. We would have to forge the English CPN movement, which will then increase possible interest in translated work. The online community for English CPNs and novelists has grown to the thousands, but members who come on board are the select few who have learned about CPNs through Japanese media and actually researched more on the subject. Most of them are scattered all across the world and they are a very rare few in their cities. And the culture behind CPNs is especially secretive and about pseudonyms and masked identities; it is hard to anchor CPNs to real life and the industry.

Secondhand Memories and the presentations, events, multimedia productions, and future plans will try to make this a reality, as difficult as it might be. I would say it is still very much a niche right now.

What advice would you give to writers who are interested in writing CPNs or who wish to see their writing, in whatever form it may be, published in the future?

Well, whenever we open a book, we are entering someone’s consciousness (or subconsciousness)—they’ve poured their mind onto the page. And when we enter this new realm of theirs, we are coming with our own unique upbringing, background, ideas, struggles, feelings, instincts, memories, education: our own subjective perception. It is a collaborative process, the convergence of two: the reader and the writer.

As writers—or artists of any kind—we really aspire to a noble duty. We are in the business of communication and subsequently inspiration. To writers out there, be proud, stand bold with dignity because you do matter. As soon as you begin to put words on a page, we have the ability to influence and change lives, touch hearts, and uplift souls. Ultimately, art is the life stream, the soul of this mundane world and can change the world.

In the same way we enter the author’s world in reading, we are entering our own self when writing—it is a journey of self-discovery. Art is never purely conscious—you may think all you want, but there are faucets and parts of us that will project and slip into whatever we produce. The work is a part of us; therefore, make use of your subconscious. During the writing process, let it bleed, tap into the flow, the current, tap into your instinct. Write what floats to mind. Immerse yourself, let the characters and settings come alive. Create an environment where that is possible—whatever you need, whether it be music, a quiet room, maybe a favourite book, a coffee shop or a ride on a bus. “Green,” which means, nurture, your creative intuition. Do not think too hard during the actual writing. Be in the moment, in a state of Zen meditation, like the art of the samurai.

As I mentioned, your conscious work should primarily occur outside of your actual writing. Discover yourself. The better we know ourselves, the better the writing. What are your passions, convictions, values, beliefs? What would be the One Message you would convey to the world, if you can’t be here tomorrow? Our thoughts, identity and so on, will change as we grow, as will our art, but for now, what we have to say now, will be what’s important. Then, practice, hone your skills until you are confident in your writing—good days or bad days. Read widely and into every aspect of humanity, research, plan, and design.

Oscar Wilde once asked his teacher why he had economy texts on his table. Literature truly is a reflection of life and of humanity. To me, the most beautiful thing about literature is that it is humanity. I study it as my major, because, as mentioned, it reflects everything in life from history, politics, philosophy, psychology, economy, social issues, archetypes, identity, spirituality, myths, the cosmos—all of it, all at once. And we are connected to this collective pool of all human consciousness and wisdom and art. Not only in absorption and receptivity, but we contribute to it ourselves. Harness this immense energy. All of these things become a part of us, part of our development, a part of our instinct. It will flow and we will draw from this when we write.

Letting your message come through isn’t by writing an essay thesis and beating the reader over the head with a bat. It is most powerful through the undercurrents, the subtext, the unsaid. This is the very essence of the CPN form. Master writers throughout literary history are also masters of omission—some of my favourite authors like Murakami, Kawabata, Hemingway, DeLillo, Raymond Carver, Kafka. If we discuss description, it is actually uncomfortable for the reader to receive too many heightened sensory details without necessity or reason. Human beings do not realistically notice or process that much information at a time. In the heat of a battle, everything may be blurry visually, maybe they can only make out tactile feelings of sweat on their face—soldiers in some war situations might actually not even notice they’re injured in the moment. Perhaps it feels like a disembodied dialogue because only sound is coming to the character during a focused conversation at a coffee shop—he wants to give her words all his attention. Perhaps at a rock concert, there is almost no sound because it is so loud, and all the person can process are the visuals. Perhaps in grief after the death of a loved one, the narrator may be in a state of shock, and everything resonates dull, muted, empty, hollow, haunting—the description should convincingly match that.

But also omit to create enigma and ambiguity in meaning and multidimensionality. Punch holes through your work so you can leave room for readers to interpret from different angles and fill in the gaps. Kafka’s novel The Trial has a whole plot based on ambiguity—what exact crime was he convicted of? No one knows. It could’ve been anyone. It is a collaborative process with the reader. As they read, they recreate the story in their minds—they experience it. This will encourage personal engagement, and provoke thought and realizations. Readers will see themselves in the story, rather than being told something or observing somebody else. A trick that many great writers will use is to omit the significant aspects or context (most of the time, it’s too obvious and predictable anyway) and call to attention seemingly originally insignificant details, hopefully something unique, and discreetly repeat it throughout the work to create unity and symbolism.

Think like haiku especially for CPNs. Like William Carlos Williams’ famous Imagist poem “The Red Wheelbarrow,”

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

Readers immediately wonder, what does this mean? Why was the wheelbarrow important? Why didn’t I notice this before? Such possibly mundane details, whatever the writer fixes his or her unique perception on, come to life, heightened and crystallized, taking on character and context itself without needing to explained further. Even a setting, for example, can seem intimidating and oppressive or liberating and pleasant. Use atmosphere, personify it, slightly. Add suggestions that, maybe, there’s more than meets the eye. If it’s an empty chair, maybe it’s longing for someone to fill it, reflecting the character’s mindset without needing to state it, or maybe it triggers a distant memory—leave a little hint somewhere in your writing, just a slight something. The way you suggest and imply will make a huge impact. Provide a painting for the readers to ponder over; don’t hit them with a full propaganda commercial. It will carry depth because there’s a gap of possibility, but also will help people notice things they don’t usually. It gives meaning and a new perspective to things around us in life, and to the reader’s life too. It creates a meditative moment of contemplation. It can inspire. This will draw the reader into the experience, into your consciousness and into their own. Readers are not dumb; if given room, people will think for themselves, and love the process and your work.

Of course, there is much more to writing, the soul of writing, the purpose of writing, the process, and the techniques. Onwards to the publishing journey, in our era of technology and social media, we must make use of it as well. My entire writing career is founded on online writing communities. This is the direction of the publishing and writing industry, because technology has dictated the evolution of thinking and art. Years ago, certain literary styles appeared due to the use of the very tactile and audio-rhythmic typewriter. Handwritten work in history also created different ways of thought and style. Further back, literature was oral traditions. In our world now, we even think consciously in images and video. Can you imagine a long time ago how we might think if we were based on oral traditions and lived in a world lacking electric lighting?

As a result, see yourself as an entrepreneur or as a Youtuber. We are not just artists, but also involved in the business of the art. In our age now, you cannot separate the two. Writing something brilliant will only stop there on the page. To get it published, we still must market ourselves whether its to the literary agent, publishers, or our readers and the industry. Its a saturated world out there, how do we stand out? How do we appeal to the masses? Make use of online writing communities, and find other writers who you enjoy and connect. Build your own fanbase, network and connections, become a part of the world.

Don’t wait for someone to discover you, because there are millions of other talented people out there and we swim in a sea of fellow writers. First ask yourself what can you do personally? What do you have to offer the world? Then ask and find those who can help you. That said, I am not a believer in self-publishing to start because everyone does it and there is no quality standard. You don’t want to step into the industry as a self-published author. Many will not take self-published authors seriously, unless they have massive and serious momentum and recognition already. Innovation, creativity, the number game and the community engagement always comes first. There will be a gate out there that will likely open for you if you have something interesting going.

I’m also a big believer of multimedia since I am involved in all the arts myself. These days, writing does not stand on its own. A book needs its well-designed book cover, posters, advertisements, newsletters, logos, author banners, video trailers, music, and onwards. Not only do we exist in the collective of artistic influence, but we also exist in the collective of the arts. No one art can stand on its own in modern society. Graphic designers are needed just as much as the writer is needed. The script writer and the composer come together, the illustrator and the game programmer form one team, publicists work with authors on marketing campaigns. I have many different kinds of merchandise, like t-shirts, coffee mugs, clocks, and animated videos, for fans beyond my books. We are in a community and we engage the community as people on all fronts. So I think it is important to keep an open mind and think creatively beyond the borders of the page and words. Even if you cannot create certain types of content yourself, there are many talented people who will be able to help. All the arts reflects the soul—it reflects us and we are putting forth our beings into the world.

The writing journey is a lifetime one. Learn lots, think lots, and find new routes in the world!

I don’t want to pry too much, since Espresso Love was just released last year and Secondhand Memories only recently launched its print edition this past Valentine’s Day, but are you working on any new novels or projects that your fans can look forward to reading soon?

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been growing as a writer, as a philosopher, and as a person in general, as we all do. So I’ve hit the point where Espresso Love was almost the complete outpouring of all that I know and believe in. The past year has been difficult, because I must find new ways to perceive and express and write. I must find new ideas and philosophies and rework my personal stances in the world. It’s been a long process of soul-searching. I’ve been keeping up with writing poetry, short stories, creative non-fiction, essays, and starting longer works like my travel memoir. However, those have also been drying out. My collection The Elephant Girl and Other Short Stories has probably around a dozen pieces, but even that has been depleting.

At the moment, I’m resting and trying to gather up enough material for a new project. I started writing the “sequel” to Espresso Love recently, but so far it’s only about two thousand words. I feel that my consciousness has expanded or been connected to that “collective” way of thinking to the point where I can no longer create anything concrete and tethered to reality. My current writing seems too abstract, spiritual, metaphysical, hermetic, symbolic, surreal and dream-like – too subconscious, like stormy seas to put out as writing. I think people would not respond too well to it. I did test the waters with my latest short story. Though some readers did enjoy it, I’m not sure it’s something that everyone could enjoy or understand. At the moment, I’m trying to find something that can exist and remain accessible on all the levels, like Espresso Love did, physical and metaphysical, reality and beyond.

On the other hand, with the publication of Secondhand Memories, many are asking for book two, which I have yet to complete! It would be nice to be able to finish that, though admittedly, it is tremendously difficult to return to the CPN form and to my very beginnings.

I’m sure every writer needs time in between projects, so I ask for patience from my readers as I do some soul-searching and rise to new ideas. I’m hoping something will come this year!

Secondhand Memories Valentine's Day 2.14.15 Release

Rine Karr

Rine Karr

Rine Karr is the former Chief Copy Editor and an occasional contributor at Women Write About Comics. Rine is a writer and aspiring novelist by moonlight and a copy editor by daylight. Rine loves good food, travel, and lots of fiction, especially novels, anime, manga, video games, and films. Rine is also an Anime Writer at Girls in Capes.