by Walt Mussell
I’d like to thank Sandy and the rest of Petit Fours and Hot Tamales for having me today. I appreciate the chance to talk about my writing journey and the area that has become my passion.
The item above is called a Daruma doll. It is a Japanese doll used for goal setting. The dolls are sold with no eyes. The person who buys it sets a goal, blackens one eye, and keeps it as a reminder of his/her goal. Politicians often use huge ones, beginning their campaigns by blacking one eye, and then blacking the other eye at a celebratory party after they win. The above doll is mine. I set a goal of publishing a novel, blackened one eye, and will blacken the other one when I achieve it.
The doll is an apt talisman for me. I write inspirational novels set in medieval Japan, specifically the late 16th century. If you have seen or read Shogun, you will have an apt understanding of the time period. My stories are set roughly 10 years prior to that novel. I didn’t start out writing Japan-based novels. When I began writing several years ago, I focused on humorous personal essays on marriage and parenting. I wrote a manuscript on marriage from the male POV, targeted to women. I also sold several essays to parenting and education magazines.
That all changed in the summer of 2008.
In the summer of 2008, my family and I traveled to Japan to visit friends and family. I lived there for four years in the early ’90s. My wife is from Japan and our kids have dual citizenship. We try to go as often as we can.
On that 2008 trip, we visited Himeji Castle. Himeji Castle is a six-story structure built to resemble a white heron in flight. It served as the backdrop to such movies as You Only Live Twice, The Last Samurai, and Shogun. It is one of the few original castles left in the country.
One feature of many Japanese castles is the circular tiles along the roof edge. The tiles, called “devil’s tiles,” are there to ward against tsunamis, fires, typhoons, etc. Himeji Castle, though, has one special tile: One that bears the impression of a cross. ( Himeji Castle Guide to World Cultural Heritage Site)
The reason it’s special is it shouldn’t be there. Christianity arrived in Japan in 1549, brought by Portuguese Jesuit missionaries. It grew to over 200,000 converts at its zenith. However, the Japanese government, fearful of the religion’s foreign influence, sought to eradicate it, driving it underground by 1638 in ways that would make The Inquisition seem beneficent. There’s no reason this cross should have survived the persecution. However, it actually appeared at its outset. And though the blogosphere offers a solution as to how the cross got there, the official word is that the cross’s origin is unknown. That mystery sparked several threads in my head. Somehow, I knew, I wanted to introduce readers to this cross and to the uncertainty that Christians faced in that time period.
My first Japan-based manuscript, The Samurai’s Heart, is set in Himeji and one of its subplots is providing a story to how the cross got to the castle. The story has experienced a number of rejections. However, it has several contest finals and won the 2011 Unpublished Maggie in the Inspirational category. I also have two other Japan-based manuscripts in process, one of which won the 2012 inspirational category for Lone Star. I’m also working on two other manuscripts (non-Japanese), with plans to finish these two drafts by midyear. I have a long way to go, but I believe in the stories I’m telling.
I hope you enjoyed the history. As for the prize for today’s post, my wife has made an origami Kissing Ball for one lucky commenter. A Kissing Ball is like a Christmas ornament, though it can be used for other occasions. It’s not innately Japanese, but the origami part is. Again, thanks inviting me to join you today.
About the author: Walt Mussell is represented by Terry Burns of Hartline Literary. In addition to the magazine credits mentioned above, he has one published novella in a Christmas anthology titled, Hot Cocoa for the Heart . He maintains a blog called Daddy Needs Decaf ( www.waltmussell.blogspot.com ) where he talks about parenting challenges once a week. If you have a chance, please check out his book and/or visit his blog.