Last week, we discussed why cultural representation (some manner of it, not necessarily a horse of many colors) is important to include in your writing.
We even discussed four techniques to help you get started on your merry way.
So this week, you get to hear from a phenomenal author (Lauren A.R. Masterson A.K.A. Alice Liddell) who has used her extensive understanding of Japanese culture to elevate her historical fiction novel Geisha Hands.
Author Interview with Lauren A.R. Masterson
Scroll further for the written transcript
Who is Lauren A.R. Masterson?
Lauren A.R. Masterson is a versatile author. She has published books that span from historical fiction to poetry to erotica to children’s literature.
She graduated from Columbia College of Chicago with a degree in Fiction Writing and has worked as a professional model, which allowed her to travel the world (lucky ducky).
Masterson’s latest works:
Find a list of her further publications here.
Find Lauren A.R. Masterson on social media
Transcript: Author Interview with Lauren A.R. Masterson
After the initial hellos and welcomes were through, we jumped right into the questions.
I first asked Lauren to share with us a little bit about her writing process: specifically, how she created verisimilitude (the appearance of being true or real) in her historical fiction novel Geisha Hands.
Geisha Hands was definitely one of my most involved projects as of today. It’s a historical fiction about geisha and maiko during the Meiji period in Japan. (For people who might not know what that means, it’s basically the dynasty of the emperor Meiji which was around the time of WWII).
I chose that time period because Japan was still very much centralized around the traditional aspects that we recognize today while also being modern enough for readers to relate to the characters. Talking about a more ancient era might be a little more difficult for readers to grasp.
It also allowed me to have a lot more material to research. There is a lot more information out there about that time period in Japan then previous dynasties.
A lot of research went into doing this book. I actually spent a full, dedicated, 3 years to the specific research and writing of this book. Prior to that, I’ve spent decades learning about Japanese history and culture because it is a pet interest of mine.
But I definitely buckled down and was very specific in the research that I did for Geisha Hands in order to give the reader the most interactive and immersive experience.
With extensive research in mind, I brought up how Masterson formatted Geisha Hands to have a running footnote at the bottom of every page to explain culturally specific lingo, traditions, titles, and direct translations.
While I prefer the running footnote to a glossary or lexicon, I was curious about Masterson’s stylistic decision to use so much cultural verbiage in the story as opposed to simply using the English translation.
A big part of this project is that I intended for it to be a learning experience while still being entertaining. I felt that the most accurate way to present the story and present the information was to use the proper terminology and a lot of the proper dialogue (which means using a lot of Japanese words and terms and phrases in order to best describe those things).
In any language, there are things that do not translate (or when you translate them they do not hold the same meaning) which is why I chose to use those words and add the footnotes.
After learning how much time and effort Masterson put into researching Japanese culture, I marveled at the restraint which she expressed while imparting bits of her knowledge to the reader.
I was curious how, with such a wealth of knowledge, she had decided what information was important for the reader to know to understand the story and the culture, and what information she could leave out.
That was a large part of the editing experience for me in creating this book. It is definitely a rabbit hole that you can go down with tons and tons of information.
At one point in my research, I had realized that I had spent an entire week just researching what tools they used for tea ceremonies. I had to take a step back and decide if I needed to talk about all of that information to impart the importance of tea ceremony to the reader.
I did not.
I definitely had to do a lot of editing with that to decide which information would be important to the reader and which would be overkill.
However, I did get away with sneaking in a lot more information via the characters. For example, Minoru owns a sake business, so I was able to sneak in more information about the history and business of sake.
I was also able to add a lot more information in the glossary in the back of the book: an “if you want to know more about this stuff here is where you can look,” but I was careful not to bash the readers over the head with too many facts. I really wanted the reader to relate to the characters while learning about this side of the culture and that period in Japan.
Honestly, I was still hyper-focused on the amount of research that went into this project. Masterson shared that she had an interest in Japanese culture before she started the book. I was interested in how she organized her research and what guided her once she decided to write the novel.
That evolved over the process. I originally started the novel in college, and it was actually for a class assignment. I shelved it for a few years and didn’t really do anything with it. Then I became interested in doing something with it again several years later, and that’s when the real intense research began.
I organized everything in Google Docs. I had a file with the actual story and one with the random facts that became the glossary, and then I had a resources document.
Frequently, I would be writing a part of the story, and I would realize that I was unsure about something. And that’s how I got myself into these research rabbit holes sometimes. I would go to look up one specific thing, and then suddenly, five hours later, I’m like, “I’m researching ancient Japanese furniture. Where am I?”
After hearing about the extent of her dedication, I asked Masterson what tips she would give young or new writers that may want to embark on a similar, historically centered writing journey.
I don’t think anyone should throw away their first draft because you never know where that idea could take you. Sure, there are a few ideas that may never see the light of day (I mean I have a folder on my computer that is full of those documents), but they are good ways to go back and get good ideas or just to see where you’ve come from.
When you go back to look at your work and see your improvement, it can make all the difference in boosting your mood and re-motivating you. So I definitely think that it is good to hold on to old works.
I am a part of several writing groups as well, and they are a great resource for published authors and aspiring authors. The bite-sized piece of information that I can impart about that is that you should do research before you start blindly submitting your work. Make sure that you are submitting to the right markets. Check on the publisher. See if they are publishing regularly and marketing the books. Submit to a publisher that will help you get your story out there.
Getting published is not the end of the line. You have to have a marketing plan. You have to learn how to advertise your book yourself. Even though your publisher is helping you, you have to go out and get your book in people’s faces.
I was just taken aback by the amount of work Masterson did and not just in service to Geisha Hands (have you seen her publications list?!). She is the epitome of passion.
But all the same, her success can seem a long way away when you are just starting out.
Don’t worry; there is a simple way that you can go about starting your journey.
You want to write a historical fiction novel?
Start reading various historical fiction authors.
See what they do (and what they don’t).
But make sure that you have fun.
Anything that is a burden to write will be a burden to read.