Ghostman in Japan, Part Two! More Questions from Bungei Shunju
GHOSTMAN is filled with small trivia about criminal life, and that is what makes the novel convincing. Are these small “facts” really true? Or did you make them by your brainwork? If they are true, how did you get such knowledge?
First, I should say that not all of the "facts" presented in GHOSTMAN are true. I made many of them up so the story would be more exciting. Only a fool would believe everything in GHOSTMAN. That being said, though, I tried to make the book's details as convincing as possible. There are a lot of true facts in the book which are there to conceal the stuff I lied about. I did a lot of research working directly with criminals. Often I'd go to a bar with four or five packs of cigarettes and give away smokes in exchange for stories. I wasn't concerned with whether the stories were true or not. Instead I wanted to study how criminals told stories to one another, and emulate that.
In Japan, some critics say, “Hard-boiled/noir novels cannot be written by authors younger than 40 years old, because this kind of novels need certain mature understanding of our lives.” How would you respond to this opinion? Did you face any difficulty in writing as a man who are older than you?
I don't think age is a good measure of relevant life experience. One year in prison can provide a writer with more hardboiled/noir life experience than fifty years living in the suburbs. I've never been to prison, but I've explored the criminal underworld extensively. Growing up in downtown Philadelphia, even for just a few years, gave me a great understanding of how criminals think. Age is no guarantee of maturity, either. I've read plenty of novels written by older writers whose writing struck me as childish and immature. Writing should be judged entirely in its own merits, not the qualifications or biography of the writer. Actually, that's one of the reasons I started writing in the first place-- it was one of very few creative professions I could teach myself how to do with no formal training, expensive supplies, or family connections. Anyone can learn to write. There are no gatekeepers, no degrees, no boss you have to suck up to, and no company to inherit. It's open to anyone. I don't find it hard to write characters who are older than me-- I find it much harder to write characters whose culture is different from my own.
A Japanese female critic had read the galley of GHOSTMAN and she told me, “I got really impressed by this book. It is not only because this is one of the coolest crime noir, but also it is because I could not find anything that annoyed me in terms of gender issue. It is extremely rare, for hard-boiled/noir fiction has its root in traditional American machismo. GHOSTMAN is an exception, being free from such tradition, but at the same time it retains the very essence of coolness of the genre. I’d like to call this novel as ‘A cool noir fiction of 21st Century." I totally agree with her. How would you react to her opinion?
I agree with the critic. A lot of American crime fiction has peculiarly retrograde gender politics. In many American thrillers, women are either cops or corpses-- and no matter what their role in the story, they are defined by their physical appearance only. I didn't want GHOSTMAN to be like that. I wanted GHOSTMAN to have a wide variety fully realized characters of many different genders and cultural backgrounds. Criminals come in every shape and size, and they are defined by what they do, not what they look like. If a woman is a rocket scientist or a police officer, it shouldn't matter if she's beautiful or not. Her gender and physical appearance are secondary. Characters, just like people, should be judged by what they do, not where they're from or what they look like. The most important female character in GHOSTMAN is Angela, Jack's mentor. She is a tough and mysterious career criminal who taught Jack everything he knows about robbing banks. She wants to be rich, so she steals everything she can get her hands on. I think readers will like her.