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A Cockeyed Valentine to Japan: An Interview with Wendy Nelson Tokunaga

In Wendy Nelson Tokunaga’s first novel, Midori by Moonlight (2007), the protagonist immigrates from Japan to California and tries to make a life in an unwelcoming country. Tokunaga’s second novel reverses the story; Love in Translation (November, 2009) features a Californian who moves to Japan and struggles to find herself (and a long-lost relative) in an unfamiliar, overwhelming culture.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that these two works form mirror images. With these novels, Tokunaga fulfilled a two-book deal that she signed with St. Martin’s in 2006, right as she began the University of San Francisco’s MFA in Writing program.

Her previous works include the novel No Kidding (a winner in the 2002 Writer’s Digest National Self-Published Book Awards) and two children’s nonfiction books (Famous People: Christina Aguilera and Wonders of the World: Niagara Falls).

Tokunaga lives south of San Francisco with her Osaka-born husband, Manabu Tokunaga. They often perform music together, with Wendy on vocals (like the protagonist of Love in Translation) and Manabu on electronic keyboard. The video trailer of Love in Translation includes impressive music that Manabu composed and performed. Wendy and Manabu collaborated with Hiro Akashi in writing “Nozomi no Hoshi” (“The Wishing Star”), a song that plays a key role in the book. Wendy and Manabu then created a music video for it. You can visit Wendy’s website here.

Eve Kushner: How long did it take you to write Love in Translation?

Wendy Nelson Tokunaga: That’s hard to say. Parts of the novel came from an unpublished manuscript about two characters who “trade lives”—a young, Japanese idol singer who comes to the U.S. after her career goes down the tubes, and an American woman who has been drifting and ends up finding herself by going to Japan. Eventually, each character got her own book. But the short answer is approximately two years.

EK: Did you have something you were trying to work out, work through, or achieve as you planned and wrote Love in Translation? For instance, did you have a particular image or feeling to which you kept returning, especially if your motivation or inspiration flagged?

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