Fan-letters and haiku

This post isn’t strictly about writing Dreaming Spies, but is one of the things that happened afterward….

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Some years ago, I got a gorgeous, and literal, fan-letter from a woman who liked my books.

Evelyn's fan-letterI always like letters from readers, and I always answer them—but this woman had a degree in Japanese history of the Twenties, and she offered to lend a hand if ever I needed help. So, into a safe place went her letter, filed against the day I would actually write the Japan book.

Four years passed. I did my research (ie, I went to Japan) and wrote a first draft, then dug out her letter and wrote her a hopeful note to say, remember how you offered…? And the letter was returned, unforwardable.

But this is the day of the web search, and although there were probably eighty bajillion “Evelyn Thompson”s out there, when I narrowed the search down by adding “San Francisco” and “Japan” eventually up popped a person listed as a butler at the Japanese consulate in San Francisco. Butler?

So I wrote to the Consulate, and they very kindly, instead of dumping it into junk mail, forwarded my email to Evelyn. She had moved to Japan. Rural Japan. And yes, she would be happy to lend a hand.

I sent her certain passages of Dreaming Spies, she made gentle corrections to various idiocies, suggested phrases (although alas, I fear one or two typos snuck in), and proved a friend across the Pacific.

And when the Dreaming Haiku project (mentioned in yesterday’s blog post) came along, well, she was willing to tackle that as well.

With the true spirit of the academic, she went on to note the stricter rules of the proper Japanese haiku, and asked if I wanted the poems changed to agree with them:

I can do that [she wrote] but what concerns me is that if they are very different from your originals, someone who knows enough Japanese to read them but not all the tricksy conventions of haiku will think you got a bad translation and might send you indignant letters.

So my question to you is, would you like more “authentic” poems that are less related to your originals, which might invite criticism (a little knowledge is a dangerous thing), or more literal versions that might make a few haiku connoisseurs roll their eyes? It’s entirely up to you; neither my professional/scholarly nor my personal ego will be affected by your choice.

My reply? Her choice. And I believe she went with academic purity.

My original poem:

A spy dreams of clouds

Glimpsed through a drift of petals:

Two pilgrims in white.

Foreign boots hit hard

Moss paths of the Rising Sun;

A land wakes from sleep.

Her Japanese:

スパイ夢

落花のぞき

遍路見る

苔に踏む

外来のブーツ

朝日起きる

 

Which literally translated back into English would be:

Spy dreams

Peeking through the falling petals

To see pilgrims.

Treading on the moss

Foreign boots in the rising

sun, awakening.

She then sent me her ink brush calligraphy:

Foreign boots hit hard  A spy dreams of clouds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fun, huh? In the meantime, I had been working with my artist friend Jean Lukens on a frame for the haiku. In September, she came up with a magnificent piece of art to frame this absolutely mundane bit of poetry:

Haiku frame low res

So, these are the parts of the poster:

The delicately colored frame by Jean Lukens

A haiku couplet about Dreaming Spies by Laurie R. King

Translation and calligraphy by Evelyn Thompson

Photoshop magic by Robert Difley

And it all came out like this:

Dreaming Haiku

Dreaming Haiku

If you like this poster, and would like a full-sized copy of it, try entering one of the two contests I’m running: visual and verbal, Russellscape or haiku.

I talked about the Russellscape the other day, here. And just as I demonstrated there that I am no artist, so I will freely proclaim here that I am no poet, yet I’ve produced dozens of haiku for Dreaming Spies. Mediocre haiku–but surely for the chance of a hardback book and this drop-dead gorgeous poster, you can do better?

Click here for details about the Russellscape contest or the haiku contest. Entries close February 10, to give me a week before publication to judge. I look forward to seeing your inspiration!

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25 days until Dreaming Spies! Other posts about writing and researching the book can be seen here, or you can read a long excerpt here.

You can pre-order a signed copy from Poisoned Pen Books or Bookshop Santa Cruz, and unsigned or e-books from IndiebooksAmazon/Kindle, or Barnes & Noble/Nook.

My upcoming events are here.

Comments

  1. Merrily Taylor says:

    Such a fascinating process, with a gorgeous result! (And how clever of you to have saved that fan letter…)

  2. Good heavens, Laurie, this is such a wonderful story. As I scrolled down reading, I had no idea where it was going, and then at the last up slid the poster — all the elements blended together into one seamless and evocative whole. I had a bit of trouble seeing through the wetness in my eyes. Just lovely. Thank you.

  3. Mary Achor says:

    How lovely to have friends in high places. And how lovely the result.

  4. sandy schrag says:

    wow – whatta story. sounds as though it were from a Holmes novel…

  5. What a beautiful collaboration! Lovely results!

  6. zoe gawlik says:

    I think that to get authentic haiku from Japen is awsome! I have tired to write haiku w/no success! Ilove reading haiku @ I really enjoyed her intrepretation of the haiku you wrote. I am soooo glad she also wrote it in Japenese! I think putting it in a frame like that was a wonderful way to preserve it! Yes,please keep on showing me authentic bits of whatever comes up in your writing of Holmes @ Russell. It makes me feel like I am improving my brain instead of it turning to pablum! It makes me enjoy your books that much more!

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