with Barry Lancet
We are delighted to welcome crime novelist Barry Lancet to Omnimystery News today.
Barry's new mystery, Japantown (Simon & Schuster; September 2013 hardcover, audiobook and ebook formats) is the first in a series and has been optioned by J. J. Abrams' Bad Robot Productions studio.
We recently had the chance to catch up with Barry to discuss Japantown.
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Omnimystery News: Introduce us to Japantown.
Photo provided courtesy of
Barry Lancet; Photo credit Ben Simmons
Barry Lancet: Japantown is a mystery/thriller. It begins with the perfect murder in San Francisco's Japantown. The killer has vanished without a trace, leaving behind a solitary clue — that no one can read. The clue? An obscure Japanese character on a scrap of Japanese paper. Jim Brodie, a Japan expert, is called in to consult with the SFPD, and the story quickly escalates.
The initial murder constitutes the "mystery" part, the escalation where Brodie soon finds himself running for his life as he must solve the puzzle to stay alive brings the "thriller" element into play. To this, I've added another mystery — Japan itself. So there are three layers working at once.
OMN: We've spent quite a bit of time in Japan, and do understand when you refer to the "mystery" element of the country and its people. Is that why you chose this setting?
BL: Yes, because even today, the country remains a puzzle for most people — though an intriguing one. This lends an extra layer of suspense. The culture becomes a part of the action, and I get a chance to write about the high and the low.
OMN: What are some of the highs and lows of the story?
BL: All mysteries and thrillers display a dark side by definition. The underbelly of a society, a group, a person. But since my main character is not only street smart but also a Japanese antique dealer, I can use his occupation to shine a light on the culture and history of Japan. Elevated topics are woven into the plot in a suspenseful fashion. It's the culture and its deeper elements that fascinate many people, myself included.
OMN: Tell us something about your main character.
BL: Jim Brodie was born in Tokyo to American parents. He is Caucasian. His father was an MP in the American army. His mother was an art curator by trade. So Brodie gets the rough-and-tumble from his paternal side, and the appreciation of the more subtle things in life from his mother. He attended public schools in Tokyo, so he's fluent in Japanese and learned the culture and history.
As the story opens, Brodie is a thirty-one-year-old widower living in San Francisco with a young daughter. His Japanese wife died in an accidental fire several years earlier. He is juggling his fledgling art business, single-parent chores, and half-ownership of his father's PI firm in Tokyo, which he inherited and hasn't figured out quite what to do with.
He's also a known Japan expert, and when the SFPD call him in to consult on the Japantown murder the unexpected begins to take over his life almost immediately.
OMN: What can you tell us about your book that isn't mentioned in the publisher's synopsis?
BL: For years I wanted to write a novel but couldn't pin down a subject. When I went to Tokyo, it occurred to me I could write something about Japan. Still too broad. Then I was hauled in for a three-hour "voluntary interrogation" by the Tokyo police and participated in what turned out to be a fascinating game of cat-and-mouse. I'd found my direction!
OMN: What is the best advice you've received as an author?
BL: A Japanese editor-in-chief who had a genius for creating bestsellers out of thin air once told me that the authors of hit books didn't give eighty, ninety, or even a hundred percent but one hundred and twenty percent. That's what I did with Japantown.
OMN: As you were also an editor for over twenty years, what advice would you give to aspiring authors?
BL: If I were to offer just one pointer, it would be to do something every day. While the common notion is to write daily, if you are holding down a day job, raising a family, or otherwise overwhelmed, finding a long stretch of time to write each day may not be practical. But you can start out by doing some writing-related chores at least once a day.
If you can't set aside an hour or two, set aside thirty minutes, or even fifteen. And on days when even that is impossible, squeeze in five minutes. Each of us can do that.
Then in whatever sliver of time you can manage to salvage, make new notes, block out a chapter, sketch a scene, write a character's back story, try your hand at some dialogue. Do something, no matter how small. Every single day without fail. This accomplishes two things. First, it keeps the project at the forefront of your thoughts, and so even if you are not writing the subconscious is working on your material. Second, as your material and confidence grow, you'll find yourself making more time for writing in your life.
Since I get asked about writing and publishing quite often, I've added a slowly growing section on my website called Writers' Corner.
OMN: Describe your writing process.
BL: When I start a new book, I have in mind a subject, the crime, some of the new characters, and the first four or five chapters. And since I am developing a series with the same protagonist, I have an overarching theme and moral compass already in place. My immediate goals are to write a unique and suspenseful story, weave a dose of Japanese culture into the plot, and have fun along the way. If I'm enjoying myself, I know the reader will too.
The rest is like a long drive into the night from, say, Tokyo to Kyoto. I know my destination but I can only see as far as the headlights will allow. When I cover that bit ground, the next bit comes into view. This keeps the story fresh, and surprises me as much as the reader.
OMN: Tell us how the book came to be titled.
BL: As I wrote Japantown, a number of titles presented themselves in succession, but each fell by the wayside. When "Japantown" presented itself I had mixed feelings at first, but slowly it grew on me. Other title ideas sprang up, but none of them were as strong. By the end of the book, even though the action had moved to Tokyo and beyond, San Francisco's Japantown took on a symbolic meaning, so the title's position was solidified.
OMN: In our introduction we mentioned that Japantown has been optioned by J. J. Abrams' Bad Robot Productions. Who do you see playing the parts?
BL: It's beyond me, but some of my friends began casting Japantown almost immediately. For the lead role of Jim Brodie, my Tokyo friends have nominated Christian Bale or Ryan Gosling. The northern California contingent mentioned John Cusak or Keanu Reeves, among others. It's a nice range.
OMN: What kinds of questions/feedback do you most enjoy receiving from readers?
BL: I've received quite a few wonderful emails from readers, for which I'm grateful. Many can't believe Japantown is my first book, and most of them are looking forward to the next one. Several have said something along the lines of "Japantown is a real page-turner — and I learned something too!" This last part is particularly satisfying because I want people to take away something extra.
Several readers have written in a humorous mode or mock anger that I was responsible for them arriving at work sleepy and ineffective for several days running. This, too, is a great compliment — as long as their late-night reading doesn't get them fired!
OMN: What is next for you?
BL: I wrapped up the final draft of Jim Brodie's second book this week, and Book 3 is banging on the door, so it won't be long before it drags me back to the keyboard. But before that happens I hope to take a trip deep into the mountains of Western Japan to one of my secret getaways.
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Barry Lancet has lived in Japan for more than twenty-five years. His inside access to the inner circles in traditional and business circles most outsiders are never granted informs his writing. He is working on the next two Jim Brodie novels. Japantown is being developed for a television series by J. J. Abrams' Bad Robot Productions, in association with Warner Bros.
For more information about the author and his work, please visit his website at BarryLancet.com or you can also find Barry on Twitter or Facebook.
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A Jim Brodie Mystery
Five bodies. One clue. Not a trace of the killer.