Author Spotlight: Keith Yatsuhashi

kojiki-200Today’s author happens to be one of my favourite people at Musa, and I’m thrilled to have Keith Yatsuhashi here to discuss his work. I haven’t actually read his novel, Kojiki, yet, but I’m definitely looking forward to it.

Please give Keith a warm welcome.

1. Can you tell us a bit about your novel, Kojiki?

Sure. Kojiki is the story of an eighteen-year-old Japanese girl named Keiko Yamada. Keiko lives in the US, but when her father dies unexpectedly, he leaves her with a mysterious note, telling her to go to Japan in his place and find ‘the Gate’. He gives no other explanation—just that her camera will show her the way. Not knowing what else to do, Keiko follows her father’s last wish and soon finds herself in the middle of a war between ancient gods and gigantic monsters. Even her own history isn’t what she believed it to be, and she soon learns her father kept a fairly significant secret from her. Battles ensue, the world stands on the edge of a knife, and a once noble god, now insane threatens to burn the world to cinders.

2. When did you first realize you wanted to pursue writing as more than a hobby?

I’ve always enjoyed story-telling. The first inkling came in high school. I hated doing term papers, so whenever I had to write one, I entertained myself by writing as fluidly and vividly as I could. I continued that in college, and that’s where I started to gain confidence. My professors said I had a real flair with words. A few suggested I pursue a career as a journalist or editorial writer. It wasn’t until about ten years ago that I actually started to write what would be Kojiki. The reason was ridiculously simple. I had the story rattling around in my head, and I wanted to see if I could turn it into a book. At the time, I was daydreaming about how I wanted Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series to end. I remember picturing the final scened in my head and , knowing it wouldn’t play out like I was imagining, thought, “hey, I might have a book here.” Not long after that, my father’s last remaining sibling died. She was a fun-loving if eccentric woman. At her funeral, her sister-in-law told me a wonderful story about my family’s history—the origin of the name Yatsuhashi, what it meant, and how my grandmother’s ancestors actually fought to repel the Mongols when the famous kamikaze typhoon wiped out their navy. That was enough to fire my imagination. From then on, I committed to writing my first book.

3. What modern author do you admire most and why? (Modern = still alive in this context)

I have tremendous respect for fantasy author Brandon Sanderson. Tor Books tasked him with the herculean task of completing Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time Series, which he did. Spectacularly. Just before the release of his first book in that series, (I think it was book 12), he agreed to meet with me at Book Expo America and offered tips and encouragement. I was as yet unpublished. He was gracious and insightful. I asked for 15 minutes of his time. He gave me 45! Apart from being an author who likes to help other authors, he’s fantastic with his fans, and it just so happens he writes really good books. I’m amazed at how many worlds he’s created, and how they’re each unique. The POV voices too. His characters really pop from the page. You’ll never confuse one with another. What a gifted writer/storyteller and a very nice person.

4. Can you give us a brief rundown of your writing process?

I’m a big fan of Dragon Dictation software. We’re all stretched to the limit these days, and this software is a great help. I use it to get ideas down. I know this sounds like a commercial, but I like that the software transcribes recordings from about any source. I can dictate on my phone while driving, for instance, and Dragon will import it and convert it to text. Using it, halved the time it took me to write a first draft. I don’t use it for editing, though. There, you need to be precise. For me, the best way to do that is to upload my book to an e-reader and read a chapter as if it was any other book. No editing software, no opportunity to change anything. It’s just you and the book. You’d be amazed at how many errors you’ll find and how easy it is to see them. And not just the typos either. You’ll notice right away when the prose breaks down, when the flow stops, and when the story doesn’t make sense. I’ll highlight the rough spots then go back to my computer to dig into the edits. The beauty here is that you’ve highlighted what you need to work on. Once I’m done, I repeat the process until I can get through a chapter without feeling the urge to fix it.

5. What’s the hardest part of the writing process for you and how do you make it easier for yourself?

Waiting for the epiphany! I have this knee-jerk reaction to writing that “it’ll come to me” when I know that’s not true. You might get that flash of inspiration, but it’s never consistent. Sometimes, I have to force myself to sit at the keyboard and work through some really horrific writing until I get anything I can use. At first, it feels like a waste of time, but I always seem to get there.

6. What’s your take on writer’s block? Does it exist, and if it does, how can you cure it?

Because writer’s believe it exists then it does, right? My independent editor gave me the best take on this. She said writer’s block is your subconscious’s way of telling you something’s wrong with that part of the story. I think she’s right. Whenever I get stuck, it’s usually because something’s not working with that section. Her advice to me was to REALLY look at the preceding paragraphs. Once, she had me change an entire chapter to a different character’s POV. It was a good deal of work, but it broke the block and made the chapter so much stronger. So, when stuck, maybe you need to reconsider what’s on the page and overhaul it.

7. Why did you choose an ebook publisher over a print publisher?

I wish I could say I did a good deal of research, but the truth is Musa was the first publisher to make an offer. I didn’t sign right away, though. I weighed the pros and cons of going with an ebook publisher over continuing the agent search process. I was getting many agent requests for the full manuscript and was torn. In the end, I made my decision after reading about authors who signed with agents, but still couldn’t land a publisher. Just because you have n agent doesn’t mean you’ll land that deal. I figured, well, a publisher already wants me. Better to go with that then take the risk. I’m glad I did that too. I’ve found a lot to like about Musa. As a new publisher, I knew I wouldn’t get lost. That’s certainly been true. Musa’s been fantastic. They treat their authors like family and do what ever they can to help. They are also exceptionally well managed, which was one of the things I noticed right away. With the industry in flux, you want to be with a publisher that doesn’t over extend or try to do to much too soon. 

8. What was it like to work with an editor for the first time?

I was really nervous. After more rejections than I’d like to admit, I read an interview with author Steve Alten, who said hiring an independent editor was the difference that hooked an agent. I took that to heart and after attending a writers conference, I was lucky enough to find an incredible editor named Lorin Oberweger of Lorin went above and beyond our contract. She didn’t just edit my manuscript; she taught and mentored me. I give Lorin all the credit in the world. She took me from being a real amateur to where Musa took a chance on me.

Working with her was fantastic. She was always positive. Lorin has a way of looking at a very bad piece of prose and telling you its bad without hurting your feelings or shaking your confidence. I guess the best way of describing it is to call it a gentle touch. It’s like she was teaching me to walk one step at a time. Now, considering she has many clients, some pretty high profile, the fact that she took that much time with me was amazing.

My streak of good luck continued with Musa. My editors with Musa have a similar touch–that ability to say ‘this needs a little more work’ without being too…um…blunt about it.

9. If you could give an aspiring writer any one piece of advice, what would it be?

Hire an independent editor. Seeing errors in a work you’re so invested in is very hard. Family and friends will couch their comments and not be entirely honest. An independent editor is skilled at finding deficiencies in your work. It’s an invaluable investment. A VERY good editor will also teach you and give advice on how to become a better writer. I was lucky to find Lorin, and I’m indebted to her. She took a very rough manuscript and helped me get it publication ready.

10. What are you working on now that readers can look forward to?

I just finished a short story prequel to Kojiki called Torii. It came from some of the large backstory I had to delete. In Kojiki, those scenes slowed the book’s overall pace. I still liked them, because I saw them as intense battle scenes that really shows how the events in Kojiki came about. I’m also about 2/3 of the way through a follow-up to Kojiki. It’ll be a very different story. Kojiki’s character’s finished their arc. This is all new. After that, I have a YA apocalyptic romance/thriller in the works. I’ve been planning a murder thriller for some time now. It’s just a matter of getting to it.

Keith Yatsuhashi was born in 1965 in Boston, MA. He graduated from Northeastern University in 1989 and is currently the Director of the U.S. Department of Commerce Export Assistance Center in Providence, Rhode Island.Keith was a competitive figure skater for ten years, winning the U.S. National Junior Dance Championships in 1984, a bronze medal in the 1983 World Junior Figure Skating Championships, and a silver medal in 1984.

In addition to his love of writing, Keith enjoys many hobbies such as golf, reading, and playing football and hockey with his sons. Keith currently lives in Norfolk, MA with his wife, Kathleen and three children.

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