Born in Denver, Colorado at the end of 1943. Raised in Hartford, Connecticut. Moved to Canada in 1971. Married in 1972, had 4 kids, divorced in 1982. Single Dad for 15 years. Met Shiori TSUCHIYA in Vancouver in 1993. Moved to Japan in 1997, married Shiori in 1998. Working life includes commercial fishing from 1969 (in Hawaii) and 1972-1991 in Canada (+ one season in California), journalist/columnist, university lecturer, literary publisher and editor,(Tongue-in-cheek Productions, Printed Matter Press), novelist & ficcionista.
David F. Hoenigman: What projects are you currently working on?
Hillel Wright: I’m currently working on a sequel to my 2nd novel, Border Town, which was published in 2006 by Printed Matter Press (Tokyo & New York).
The working title is “River Road”.
At the end of Border Town, the heroine, manga artist Fumie Akahoshi disappears, trying to elude a hit-man sent by the Yakuza to kill her. The Yakuza are contracted by a Right-wing group who object to her manga which holds Emperor Hirohito accountable for the sexual enslavement of “comfort women” during WW II.
At the beginning of “River Road”, her daughter Angelica Akahoshi, a prize-winning graphic novelist who was only 2 years old when her mother vanished, continues her search for some sign of/from her mother, after following an elusive round-the-world legend begun in the dying pages of Border Town.
If this sounds like genre fiction – it is – or rather a tongue-in-cheek take on genre fiction – what is sometimes described as “literary fiction” – just as Border Town is a tongue-in-cheek comic book or manga. Border Town is a comic book with no pictures – or very few, in fact 7 chapter heading illustrations by Taeko ONITSUKA – and a grab from a very early Marvel Silver Surfer comic book as the opening quote…along with a quote by a fictitious author of a book that doesn’t exist, and of course Tae-chan’s tongue-in-cheek manga cover of the heroine’s heroine, Chibi-Hanako-chan.
Two extracts from the still-in-progress “River Road” (“Motel of Lost Companions” and “Bodhisattva of the River Road”) have been published in The Japan Times as short fiction and are available in the on-line version of The Japan Times (links attached).
I’m also working part-time as Japan Correspondent for Fishing News International – non-fiction & photos on Japan’s commercial fisheries & fishing industry. I’ve also done articles on fisheries in Hawaii & British Columbia. FNI’s a monthly newspaper based in London, England (not Ontario), owned by a Norwegian Internet News Service called IntraFish. I imagine Thomas Pynchon would love this stuff. I was a commercial fisherman in Hawaii, California (very briefly) and B.C., Canada for 23 years.
DH: When & Why did you begin writing?
HW: When? Maybe 2nd Grade at Rawson Elementary School in Hartford, Connecticut (not England). I wrote a class play called “The Backward Circus”. I remember there was a Strong Man who lifted a bar-bell made of a wooden yardstick with black plastic balloons tied to the ends.
Why? When I was a little kid I used to look at magazines like The Saturday Evening Post or Colliers at my grandmother’s house…they always had short stories in them (that was in the late ’40s-early ’50s) and I used to look at a picture or illustration for the story and try to write a story – I thought more in terms of a novel as a 6-year-old.
I remember seeing a hammer & sickle image on one of those magazine story pages and trying to write a story called “Don’t Go” about an American who wants to visit his Grandmother’s hometown in Russia.
When I was 11 or 12, my Uncle Mel, my father’s youngest brother, brought home (he lived with his mother) the famous first edition of Playboy with the nude photos of Marilyn Monroe.
DH: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
HW: When I was in Grad School, the Chairman of the English Department, in which I was a lowly Graduate Assistant, told us aspiring writers -in a memo – that “a creative writer is someone who’s published some creative writing”. I had several poems published in the “little (literary) magazines” in 1967 – I was 23 – so at that point – rightly or wrongly – I considered myself a writer.
DH: What inspired you to write your first book?
HW: My first book was a poetry chapbook – 36 pages & one cartoon (by Steve Woods) – called Single Dad (Vancouver, 1991). It was inspired by my 10 years as a single parent of with four kids.
DH: Who or What has influenced your writing?
HW: Who: Jorge Luis Borges, Albert Camus, Anais Nin, Joseph Conrad, Thomas Pynchon, the Beats – Corso, Ferlinghetti, Kerouac, Ginsberg, Snyder – not necessarily in that order – comedians George Carlin, Richard Prior and Lenny Bruce, underground comix artist S. Clay Wilson, RanXerox, J.D. Salinger, film-maker Jim Jarmusch, to name a few.
What: Truth, Justice and the Kozmik Way.
DH: Has your environment/upbringing colored your writing?
HW: In many ways I’m a “local colorist” like Bret Harte or Ambrose Bierce. My first novel, All Worldly Pursuits (2001) was influenced by my 23 years as a commercial fisherman in Hawaii, California (briefly) and British Columbia… the protagonist – Wiley Moon – is a commercial fisherman in Hawaii & BC. Border Town, and now “River Road”, are influenced by my 12 years in Japan, the last 10 in Kawasaki, near Tokyo. In fact, the Tamagawa River, which separates Tokyo from Kawasaki, is a major setting in both works and the worlds of Japanese manga and other sub-cultures provide most of the characters.
DH: Do you have a specific writing style?
HW: One reviewer said I wasn’t a stylist “in the big solemn sense of the word”. If anything, I’m a minimalist. My personal writing motto is “shortest, best.” My voice mail message is: “When it beeps, speak.” I’ve written several stories of 100 words or less.
DH: What genre are you most comfortable writing?
HW: Short stories. My 2 novels and novel-in-progress are all really sequences of related stories.
DH: Is there a message in your work that you want readers to grasp?
HW: Think for yourself, or as Bob Marley once wrote: “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery….”
DH: What book are you reading now?
HW: Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon.
DH: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
HW: Chabon, E. Annie Proulx, Paul Auster, Evelyn Lau.
DH: What is the most misunderstood aspect of your work?
HW: Its tongue-in-cheek aspect. Virtually all my literary writing is tongue-in-cheek to a greater or lesser degree. A lot of people don’t get tongue-in-cheek satire/humor…they take things too seriously & too literally and get offended. Tongue-in-cheek humor is intended to offend the self-righteous & pretentious, to wake them up, like the Zen master whacking the unfocused monk with a stick.
DH: Any memories of particular works: the writing of, feedback, the thought behind…etc.?
HW: Border Town came from a plot idea by my wife and Muse, Shiori TSUCHIYA. I worked on it for 2 or 3 years, but couldn’t get the story to go anywhere. Finally, I chucked everything & began again with a new set of characters and a new location – Kawasaki & Tokyo instead of Vancouver & Oregon. In the 2nd attempt, the characters “came to life” which is kind of a cliché that writers use in interviews, but is actually, in many ways, true. As the characters develop, you begin to think of them in the same way you think of living people – friends, relatives, colleagues….
Best short story of the 20th Century – “The Laughing Man”, J.D. Salinger, Nine Stories.
Best adaptations from book to film – Hagakure: the Book of the Samurai by YAMAMOTO Tsunetomo to Ghost Dog: the Way of the Samurai, written & directed by Jim Jarmusch. The Tin Drum, by Gunter Grass to The Tin Drum, co-written & directed by Volker Schlondorf.
Best erotic story of the 20th Century – “The Veiled Woman” by Anais Nin, Delta of Venus.
About the author:
David F. Hoenigman is the author of Burn Your Belongings.