Breakfast with Suzanne
Get your passport out, because this week we’re meeting in Japan for Breakfast. Meet Suzanne Kamata: mother, writer, editor, blogger, expat, and wife of a baseball coach. Oh, and she’s been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Five times. Batter up!
CC: Please give us an intro to who you are, what you do, and your family headcount.
SK: I’m an American writer, sometime editor, and stay-at-home mom living in rural Japan with my Japanese husband and our nine-year old twins.
CC: Tell us about your writing life. Any other creative pursuits?
SK: I have been writing and publishing short stories in literary journals since my early twenties. Not long after I arrived in Japan, I started an English-language literary journal of my own called Yomimono, which enabled me to connect with other expatriate writers. This gave me the confidence to edit and publish an anthology of expatriate fiction: The Broken Bridge: Fiction from Expatriates in Literary Japan. During this time, I’ve always been at work on one novel or another. I finally published a literary novel — my third attempt — this past January. It’s called Losing Kei and it’s about an expat mother in Japan who loses custody of her son then does what she has to do to get him back.
Having children inspired me to start writing children’s stories, and over the past year I’ve published fiction for kids in Ladybug, Cicada, Skipping Stones, and an anthology called Summer Shorts. My first picture book for kids, Playing for Papa, will be published in a bilingual edition (English and Spanish) by Topka Books in November.
I’ve also developed a deep interest in literature about individuals with disabilities. (My daughter is deaf and has cerebral palsy). I recently collected literature on parenting disabled children. The resulting book is Love You to Pieces: Creative Writers on Raising a Child with Special Needs.
CC: What got you started blogging, and what keeps you going?
SK: Originally I was hoping for free books, but now I have a sense of audience. I write for my readers, for the people who keep coming back.
CC: Where do you do your creative work?
SK: At the computer, in my car, at the kitchen table, in restaurants and coffee shops, and occasionally while sprawled across my bed.
CC: Do you have a schedule for your creative work? Is this different when you’re working under a contract?
SK: I don’t really have a schedule. I usually have a couple of days a week when I am free between dropping my kids off at school and picking them up in the afternoon. If I am working under a contract, I use that time to get my work done. If I don’t have an assignment, I try to use that time for creative work.
CC: What do you struggle with most?
SK: Time, of course. There is never enough of it. And I always feel like I should be cleaning the house or exercising or writing letters to my 92-year-old grandfather or something, instead of writing. I also feel that I should be out making money.
CC: How has motherhood changed you creatively?
SK: It has changed the focus of my writing and it has made me less precious about my writing time. It has made me more productive! I used to have hours and hours — entire days to myself, where I accomplished so very little. My novel and my second anthology, as well as half a dozen short stories, essays, and a bunch of newspaper articles, were published after I became the mother of twins, one of whom has special needs.
CC: Where do you find inspiration?
SK: From my children, of course, and also from newspaper and magazine articles. When I was teaching English, I was often inspired by stories that my students told me. I’m also inspired by Japanese culture. And I dig back into my memories.
CC: What are your top 5 favorite blogs — the ones you read every day?
SK: The blogs at LiteraryMama and MotherVerse; Mothers Who Write [see Breakfast with Kate], Disabilities Studies Blog, and various blogs by expat moms, such as Here in Korea, and mothers of kids with special needs, such as Vicki Forman’s blog Speak Softly [we join Suzanne in extending our mother hearts to Vicki and her family on the recent and unexpected passing of her son, Evan] and Pinwheels.
CC: What is your greatest indulgence?
SK: Books. I buy lots of lots of books and I’m always getting in trouble with my husband when the Visa bill comes. That, and green tea lattes at Tully’s Coffee shop, where I often go to write.
CC: What are you reading right now?
SK: I’m reading Opa Nobody by Sonya Huber, which is an interesting hybrid of fact and fiction; Mama PhD, edited by Caroline Grant, which is a collection of very accessible essays on motherhood and academia that anyone trying to juggle meaningful work (and/or creativity) and motherhood would be able to relate to; and finally, a short story collection, Apologies Forthcoming by Xujun Eberlein, a Chinese writer whose work I first discovered in MotherVerse.
CC: What advice would you offer to other mothers struggling to be more creative?
SK: Don’t feel guilty about getting a babysitter once in a while and going off to a cafe or a locked room to be creative. Also, I think it’s important for us to share creative work with our children. When asked, my son once said that his dad was a teacher, and his mother did nothing. After that, I made sure that my son knew I was writing and producing. Now he’s very proud of the fact that his mom is a writer.
CC:Thank you, Suzanne!
hurray for correcting your son’s perception! i’m lucky that mine have always ‘known’ me as a writer, educator and mom.
i am reading ‘love you to pieces’ now. i think i found out about it thru lisa leonard’s blog. a fascinating read, even if i weren’t a special needs mom, tho i am. i esp love the stories with the true, less than perfect thoughts we moms have re: our children or life with them. it is reassuring to see we are normal to have them.
and, of course, my empathy and sympathy go out to vicki foreman.
So great to see such fun pictures of Suzanne and to hear her wonderful thoughts on writing and motherhood.
I especially appreciate Suzanne’s observation that motherhood throws the concept of “time management” into an entirely new dimension. I think there’s something about the unavoidable structure that actually stimulates productivity. When I was a single mother and my three older kids spent every other weekend with their dad, I’d look forward to having ALL THAT TIME to do a million things. Those weekends always shimmered in the distance, full of promise. But the reality was that when my kids weren’t around, I was never half as productive as I’d intended. Somehow the complete lack of structure always did me in. Conversely, when the kids WERE around and I had a free hour squeezed in somewhere, I always made the most of it. And now that I have five kids, including two little ones, I am a veritable productivity machine. Always seemed odd to me, but apparently I’m not alone!
necessity is the mother of time management, too, i guess!
For me, having the boys around encourages output because I can literally watch them grow (age) before my eyes. I know that if they’re just standing there aging, it means I am too and I need to get crackin’ because time’s a wastin’!
(apparently my mantra of late has taken on a southern accent :-P)
Suzanne, I am amazed at all that you are able to accomplish. It’s truly remarkable and very inspiring. And all your ideas! I’m lucky if I have one or two simmering on the back burner. And lately, my brain is such a sieve that I’ll think of something and the next moment it’s gone. How do you keep track of all your to-dos and want-tos?
Although it sounds as if I’m super productive, keep in mind that it took me about five years from getting the idea for Love You to Pieces to getting the book published. And it took me three years to write that slim novel. I actually work very slowly, but I’m steady.
slow and steady wins the race.
Very nice to meet you Suzanne! I also understand the time management issue. I, too, am a mom of twins (my 5-year-old girls start kindergarten Monday!) and I work full time outside the home in addition to my creative endeavors. It’s interesting what you guys have said about being more productive when the kids are around. That’ definitely not the case for me. I relish the rare moments at home alone when I can actually get something done. I’ve taken two days off this week just to get some of those things done! Particularly the next two entries for the FatBook art swap I’m currently participating in. Otherwise, I’d never get them done! 🙂
Suzanne, you always inspire me to get back to work. You may work slowly, but it certainly doesn’t seem that way.
If you want to read another interview with Suzanne, you can read one here: http://motherswhowrite.blogspot.com/2008/01/losing-kei.html
She simply rocks!
Great to read your interview of Suzanne, Kate! I love reading about people who are self-disciplined; I always coming away feeling like I can be that way too. Or at least, try, try again!
Interesting to read that Suzanne writes in a patchwork, non-linear fashion. I do too. Although with my nonfiction ms, I’m getting into some hot water with that technique. I have an outline and about 180 pages, but jumping around and writing the bits that I “feel like” writing at the time have left me with a swiss-cheese draft. Plus I have reams of interview material to incorporate where it most resonates. Now I’m trying to go back and work through in a straight line, filling in the gaps, but it’s really hard. I wonder if anyone else has had a similar experience?