Sunday, August 21, 2016

Guest Post: Researching Other Cultures for Historical Fiction by J.J. White

 Imagine a knock on your door in the middle of the day to find military police outside with orders to take you and your family to a concentration camp, immediately. They have arrested your spouse, removed your children from school, and told you the only possessions you can take with you are a suitcase and the clothes on your back. It sounds like Nazi Germany but it isn’t. This story and hundreds of thousands of similar stories are what happened to Japanese-Americans soon after the Pearl Harbor attack when President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, essentially incarcerating Americans of Japanese heritage.
Now also imagine it’s 1944 and you are a Japanese-American soldier in the US Army in WWII France and you are ordered on a suicide mission, along with 3000 other Japanese-American soldiers of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, to attack 10,000 crack German troops to save the lives of 211 white GIs. You would obey the order because you know the newspapers back home will say you’re a traitor for refusing because you are a Japanese-American.
These were stories I found while doing research for my Historical Fiction book, Nisei, and it was during this research that I discovered in order to get the facts and atmosphere correct, I had to learn both a new language and different culture to understand why these Japanese-American Nisei, though citizens of the United States, reacted to these struggles the way they did.
My novel, Nisei, is the story of Hideo Bobby Takahashi, a Hawaiian-born Japanese-American who must overcome prejudice, internment, and the policies of his own government to prove his loyalty to his country. Narrated by Bobby Takahashi and read by his son, Robert, 46 years after Bobby’s death, the story details the young Nisei’s determination to fight honorably for his country and return to the young love he was forced to leave, a girl he cannot have because she is white.
The notebook of research material I gathered to write the book was almost twice as large as the book itself. Had I been writing a book about a white, Irish-American I could have used my own life and experience for material, but when writing about a different culture, it was necessary to research so deeply that I literally became the character with my words and actions. It was very much like method acting, where you get into the head of the protagonist.
In order to write realistic dialogue, I learned to speak Pidgin, a mixture of Japanese, Portuguese, Hawaiian, and English that the Nisei of Hawaii speak. I think I drove my wife crazy as I spent most of my time speaking in the short, choppy Pidgin, mixed with Hawaiian colloquialisms, on a daily basis. I also had to dig deep into Asian culture in order to understand the Japanese-American’s preference for honor and bravery over self-survival.
This may have seemed like a lot to go through to write a book, but readers of Historical Fiction obsessively scrutinize an author’s work more than fans of other genres, and they expect those facts to agree with historical events.
I hope my importance to detail comes out in the book and I also hope the reader will identify and empathize with Bobby Takahshi as he deals with the obstacles and struggles that all Japanese-Americans had to deal with in those volatile times of American history.

Author Bio
J. J. White is an award winning novelist and short story writer who has been published in several anthologies and magazines including, Wordsmith, The Homestead Review, The Seven Hills Review, Bacopa Review, and The Grey Sparrow Journal. His story, The Adventures of the Nine Hole League, was recently published in The Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, #13. He has won awards and honors from the Alabama Writers Conclave, Writers-Editors International, Maryland Writers Association, The Royal Palm Literary Awards, Professional Writers of Prescott, and Writer’s Digest.

His crime fiction book, Deviant Acts, was released by Black Opal books in November, and was followed by his Historical Fiction book, Nisei, in 2016. He was recently nominated for the Pushcart Prize for his short piece, Tour Bus. He lives in Merritt Island, Florida with his understanding wife and editor, Pamela.


Nisei on Amazon

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