'I think short fiction is a genre for our times: people are more time-pressed, easily distracted and have shorter attention spans they used to.'
Simon Rowe writes and teaches in the samurai castle town of Himeji, in western Honshu. His stories have appeared in TIME Asia, The New York Times, Weekend Australian, South China Morning Post and The Paris Review.
In this interview Simon discusses his short story collection Good Night Papa which you can sample on Tablo and purchase on Simon's website www.mightytales.net.
I’ve spent most of my life writing, travelling and listening to people tell stories, and I’ve noticed that the really good storytellers are the ones who convey a sense of being-there with a strong sense of story. Good Night Papa: Short Stories from Japan and Elsewhere is my shot at this.
I’m originally from Melbourne but I have been living in western Japan, in a samurai castle town called Himeji, for the past twenty years. I started writing a novella called Sanso (Oxygen), about an Australian fugitive who tries to redeem himself by returning a lost WWII sword in Japan, but after five years and 30,000 words, I put it on ice; I got lost, bored and fed up. So I turned to short fiction and finished my first story in a week! Ray Bradbury was right, ‘Write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row’.
I think short fiction is a genre for our times: people are more time-pressed, easily distracted and have shorter attention spans they used to. I think that finishing anything is a small victory for most people these days.
Good Night Papa is fiction for the time-poor; four of the stories are set in Japan, the others take place in countries around the world. Triumphing over adversity is a central theme: a fugitive disguised as a pilgrim discovers his fate rests in the hands of a novice Buddhist monk in Japan (The Pilgrim); a recovering alcoholic mail pilot crashes his plane in the Australian desert with a bottle of gin on board (The Finke River Mail); a snobbish widow must ask the help of local cannery workers to carry a grand piano uphill to her home in Fiji (Baby Grand), are examples.
To create a sense of being there, I drew on my tomes of curry-stained, coffee-ringed, mango-splattered travel journals in which I have recorded the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, moods and funny anecdotes. Although most of my adventuring is inside my head these days, writing Good Night Papa has been a great chance to relive these old adventures and to explore aspects of the human psyche, such as fear, compassion and friendship, through my hapless characters and their problems.
I started all my stories with a country and a conundrum. I used Google docs to hammer out the tale, developing plot and characters side by side until I reached a satisfying ending, and preferably one with irony. Then, I left the whole mess to settle and returned a week later with fresh eyes to slice and dice, and finally polish.
The biggest challenge? Cramming big ideas into a fifteen small packages. I wrote Good Night Papa (the lead story) in under three thousand words because I was writing to a competition’s guidelines at the time. It was very tough to tell the story of a retired, debt-ridden Japanese taxi driver who takes a job driving high-class call girls, only to find that his sassy passenger is not who she says she is, in so few words. But it set a benchmark, however, and this has helped me become a more disciplined writer and, to throttle that old line, ‘say more with less’.