If You Follow Me

Hoping to outpace her grief in the wake of her father’s suicide, Marina has come to the small, rural Japanese town of Shika to teach English for a year. But in Japan, as she soon discovers, you can never really throw away your past . . . or anything else, for that matter.

If You Follow Me is at once a fish-out-of-water tale, a dark comedy of manners, and a strange kind of love story. Alive with vibrant and unforgettable characters—from an ambitious town matchmaker to a high school student-cum-rap artist wannabe with an addiction to self-tanning lotion—it guides readers over cultural bridges even as it celebrates the awkward, unlikely triumph of the human spirit.

This is one of the most delightful books I have ever read. I found it on the shelf at the library and could hardly put it down. Malena Watrous weaves a tale that we can all relate to. I was extremely touched by Marina’s journey after the death of her father, and her attempts to deal with her grief.

Divine messages come from the most unlikely of places. I often find that when I am dealing with something particularly trying, I happen upon a book that leaves me speechless and helps me to deal with whatever I am going through. If You Follow Me was one such book.

This past February, my father died. I am much too young to have lost my father. Although Marina lost her father to suicide, the death of one’s parent is still traumatic . . . especially since I only had three years to get to know my father. In many ways, Marina’s journey was my own. I am still dealing with the grief, and there are times when I break down.

I know my dad is here, watching out for me. In If You Follow Me, Marina sees her father in the strangest of places:

I don’t know how long I’ve been staring at the swarm of blue and white dots on the TV screen before they rearrange themselves into my father’s face, only that I’m not surprised when it happens. It’s like I’ve been waiting for this. “How did you find me?” I whisper, and the image flickers, disappears, then reappears.

Malena Watrous writes with a beautiful simplicity. Her writing found its way easily into my heart, reminding me of my own struggles. It’s funny how things come to us when we need them the most. In this case, it was this book. As a fiction writer, I know that I often wonder if anyone really “gets” anything meaningful out of my books. The thing is, you never really know when the words you write will be the words that someone else needs to hear. Thank you, Malena, for writing such a lovely book.

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Writers: What’s the most annoying question you’ve ever been asked about your work?

For me, the most annoying question is, “How much of your novel is autobiographical?”

If Taking 1960 were autobiographical, I would be a tormented artist with psychotic relatives, and an apparent talent for solving decade-old serial murder cases.

If Check Out Time were autobiographical, I would be a somewhat homely girl with admirably large biceps, grease stains under her fingernails, steel-toed boots, and a dog named Diesel.

I am not either of these characters, and it grows tiresome when people continually confuse my life with my fiction. I know this happens to other authors. I attended a book talk once where the author was discussing her stories, which were loosely based on events in her childhood. In the book, the character’s father was a negligent drunkard (or something to that effect) and people in the author’s family were wondering if she was slyly revealing long-kept family secrets.

In a way, the confusion can be a compliment. Perhaps I have created such a believable world that people can’t help but think it’s an expression of my own life.

It does cause problems, though. When my mother first read the book, she was very upset, and wanted to know why I had killed her off. It took a lot of explaining to make her realize that Naomi is not me, and Naomi’s mother is not my mother. I pointed out some very large differences: Naomi’s mother is curvaceous, short-haired, and enjoys baking cookies. My mother is none of these things.

How much of Check Out Time is real?

Well, mostly just my experiences. Initially, I came up with the concept when I was working overnight in a grocery store, and when I had just met my dad again in 2008. I made up Naomi, gave her some of my interests, and gave her a few situations that I was familiar with.

To me, “write what you know” means “write the sorts of things that you’re familiar with.” I think some people take the phrase too seriously. Especially with fiction, people wonder if the author experienced the same things as the main character, or if the main character is based on them.

For example, the latest gossip centers around E.L. James and Fifty Shades of Grey. Everyone keeps whispering, “You’d have to know a lot about that stuff in order to write it.”

So, does E.L. James have a BDSM dungeon in her basement? Maybe.

Did anything in Check Out Time really happen? Most of it didn’t.

Writers: What’s the most annoying question you’ve ever been asked about your work? 

Have you ever written anything with a particular goal in mind, only to have readers interpret it completely differently? How did this affect you? 

Leave a comment: I would love to hear your thoughts!

How my father inspired Check Out Time

As I sit here, still sick, still grieving from the loss of my father, I am thinking about how this loss was the devastating force behind so much of what I have done over the last year or so. Since yesterday was Father’s Day, I write this in his honor, just as I created the character of Roy Vogler, in Check Out Time, for my dad.

If I remember correctly, Dad’s accident was on January 23, 2010. I was determined to believe that he would recover, despite the stroke, and that things would continue as they had. I pictured myself moving back to Pennsylvania, driving over to his house and visiting Dad and my sisters, having dinner with him, all of us echoing the same sentiment: “Dear God, we came so close to losing you.”

This fantasy didn’t come to fruition. I lost Dad, for the second time in my life. I had three years to get to know my father all over again. I cannot even begin to describe how grateful I am for those three years. I try not to think about the what-ifs and the maybes. There have been a lot of moments where I have thought to myself, “If only I had contacted him sooner.” But the fact is, we reconnected when we did, and I have to accept that fact. In reality, things were the way they had to be.

But, oh! To be sitting across from him and realize how much we had in common. It was a mind-boggling experience. I tried to make Roy Vogler as close to the character of my father as possible, but I probably didn’t succeed %100. After all, the circumstances in my book are different, and Roy’s daughter isn’t completely me. There are aspects of Naomi Vogler that match my personality, but there are many things about the two of us that are different. Fact versus fiction– a novel doesn’t have to be accurate, it just has to entertain. But in my case, Check Out Time is not just a piece of entertainment fiction; it is an expression of how much I miss and love my father, the real Roy Vogler– Dennis Godshall, Sr.

Those of you who know me well enough will ask me if I’ve seen him. Yes, I have. I can get ready for bed at night and firmly ask, “Dad, I would like to see you in my dream tonight. Please visit me.” He will be there.

I know that I am not alone. He is far away, and it’s not easy for him to visit, but he manages it. It usually happens when I’m driving. I get the distinct impression that I am not alone. Very shortly after his death, on February 17, 2012, I was in school and I kept hearing people say things that sounded like something Dad would say. The feeling grew stronger when I heard someone whistling the theme to the Andy Griffith Show; that was something that Dad did well. When I went outside that night, there was no one behind me in the dark parking lot, and I felt a distinct tug on my sweatshirt. I knew it was Dad.

Our loved ones never really leave us. I know that Dad watches over me. The last time I saw him in the nursing home, I held his hand. When I cried, his forehead crinkled, and he stared fixedly at me the whole time. His lips parted as if he wanted to speak, but he couldn’t. I told him, “Dad, if you come to visit me, I will know it’s you. I will see you. We’ll never be all that far from each other.”

I am not well. As I try to recover from my physical sickness, I feel the hurt in my heart. The only photograph that I have of Dad and I, taken months or a year before his accident, is sitting by my laptop. I see his face every day. And I consider how this heartbreak drove me to change my life in some very large ways.

I remember standing in Dad’s house and saying excitedly, “Dad, I’m writing a book with you in it! You’re going to be one of the characters.”

Now, I want to say to my father, “Dad, I wish you could be here to see this book with you in it. I miss you more than I can say.”

I solved my own personal Mystery when I was reunited with my father. I saw how alike we were, and it was an eye-opener for me. In Check Out Time, Roy says to Naomi, “Like father, like daughter.” It’s the same in real life. After Dad’s accident, I made a concrete decision to go to school for Automotive, and decided that, one day, I would open my own automotive repair shop. Dad has influenced my life so much. I am always thinking, “I wish he were here to see it.”

But then I remember– He is here. And he always will be.

Spring in south Florida

I got confused last week and couldn’t remember whether it was spring, summer, or winter.  But it is springtime, and even springtime in Florida has its noticeable differences from the rest of the year.  I begin to hear different bird calls around this month, the time of Ostara, and there are other sounds in the air that don’t seem common to other times of the year.

I open my window.  “It’s gettin’ warm outside!” the year-rounders croon, shedding the sweaters that they wore during a previous week, when it was a bone-chilling seventy degrees.

At night, I realize that I’m using less and less blankets, and the breeze is more refreshing than it is chilly.

The American White Ibis are breeding.  They run around in the lawns, pecking at the grass, craning their long white necks as they search for food.  Their babies are darker in color, brown and sometimes spotted.  They are so beautiful to watch! They scatter when I drive past in my car.

I ride my bike to work, and I’m actually sweating.  There’s something in the air– something not entirely discernible– and it feels good.

After work, I ride my bike to the park, and I sit on the dock overlooking the water of the Intracoastal.  The palm trees waver in the warm wind, and boaters drift by, some playing loud music, and others wielding fishing poles.

Yes, I’m in a location that is mostly warm year-round.  Yet, there are definite changes that mark the approach of spring, and I can feel it.  I revel in the smells, the way the sunlight plays on the water, and the way I feel as I glide down the street on my bicycle.

Spring has arrived!

The Lustre by Kate Policani


Kate Policani has just released her second book, The Lustre! I am proud to take part in her virtual Launch Party.  Today is the last day! I will be posting the review very soon.  In the meantime, visit Kate’s website and read more about her latest book.

The Lustre

Hidden within Human society is an entrancing race of beings who look just like us. They are the Akataromai. Originating on Earth, they conceal themselves, blending within the Human population. Though they appear to be Human, mature Akataromai live for centuries and feed upon negative Human emotions. Angelina Quorra is an Akataromai, a Human-looking girl who might never die. But Angelina is unique among her people, absorbing pain as well as emotion and giving anyone who feeds her overwhelming pleasure. This is her story, told by the men who adore her. Her talent is called The Lustre, bringing her great fame, and great trouble.

The inspiration behind The Lustre

“The Lustre actually started out as a vampire story. The way it was written was too salacious for my tastes with the vampire genre, so I shelved it for a long time while I tried to figure out what to do to make it less obscene. One evening my husband and I were discussing it and he came up with the idea for drinking emotions rather than blood.

“Somewhere in the discussion, we also were talking about how a character’s attributes are often enhanced by the opinions of other characters rather than just a straight description. I was fascinated by this concept and so I changed the voice of the book to reflect the points of view of the male characters. You’ll notice that Angelina never speaks for herself in the story.

“I originally was going to release it unedited as a free e-book, but I got scolded so much by my friend Cynthia, who loved the story, that I decided to expand it, edit it, and publish it.”

About the Author

Kate Policani is a homemaker and compulsive writer from Seattle. She has a wild imagination and an addiction to reading and writing. Her hobby is exploring and analyzing all kinds of stories. She uses them like a literary chemistry set to examine a variety ideas and concepts and to fuel her own writing. The Science Fiction and Fantasy genres are her favorites because the exciting flights of fancy make a thrilling plot. Every day is filled with the stories of those around us, especially in this information age. It is her passion to find what stories inspire her and others, and why they inspire. There are more than 80 stories waiting on her hard drive, incubating and developing for future reading! What will she come up with next?

Advice to aspiring authors

This is from an interview that I took part in six years ago, when my first short story, “For I Have Sinned”, was published by Wild River Review.  Looking back on it, I really liked what I had to say.  Feeling discouraged about your own writing? Read on.

Don’t give up. Learn how to take a lot of criticism. You won’t become a better writer unless you’re willing to have your work ripped to shreds. I also have a good technique for writing stories and novels and I’ll try to explain it the best I can. Remember that everything progresses in big circles. Experiences that change you will continue to do so for many years. The same thing goes with a story. When I write a novel, I try to visualize the story as a giant circle. Eventually, the main character thinks about something that occurred many pages back because they’ve been affected by it. Your writing has to flow. A river never stops for the rocks; it just tumbles right over them. I don’t know how better to explain it. That everything circulates and goes back to the beginning, I think, is the most important aspect of writing a story. Otherwise, you’ve just got this endless yarn wiggling around and looking for a place to ground itself.

Help?

I work in a library.  Before I started working there, I had a very limited spectrum that I stuck to.  I read the same authors (usually).  We are a small library, so all the employees get a chance to learn different tasks.  We all check in books and check them out for patrons.  That means that my hands touch more books than I will ever actually read.  In this manner, my reading spectrum has expanded to include authors that I never thought I would read.  I even tried Danielle Steel once, but I couldn’t get through the first seven pages.  Admittedly, it was one of her new ones, Legacy, and I am thinking that she was probably a much better writer when she first started out.  At least, I hope so.

Some of my favorite books that I have randomly come across at the library are books that I probably never thought I would read under other circumstances.  The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, and the Birth of the Modern World was a really neat book, but I couldn’t get through the whole thing.  Once it went into all the math, I couldn’t continue.

When I picked up Love Affair by Leslie Kenton, I knew it was a book I would have never read under normal circumstances.  Not because I didn’t want to, but just because I wouldn’t have come across it had it not been for the library.

My favorite find recently was a book called Night Train, set in 1963 in North Carolina.  It is about a two young musicians who forge a friendship across the boundaries of race.  The author’s writing style is just fantastic; I thought it was quite unique.

And now, I am reading a book that I never thought I would ever pick up: The Help.  I am generally not the type of person who enjoys anything that the mainstream media promotes.  Not because I’m necessarily against the mainstream media (that discussion is for another time) but simply because my tastes are usually a little odd and “off the beaten path.”

I am surprised that I am enjoying this book.  I couldn’t stop reading it last night, and I stayed up much too late trying to get to the next chapter.  Thanks to the author’s talent for engrossing story telling, I woke up late this morning, feeling excessively groggy.  But it was worth it!

I started reading the book because I am going to see the movie with my friend Tina on Tuesday.  I thought it would be more of a chore than anything else.  Once again, thanks to the library, my horizon has been broadened.

What is everyone else reading?