Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A chat with George Polley

George Polley

Today I’d like you to meet George Polley, an author living in Japan.

Welcome, George. How long have you been writing?

I’ve been writing since the mid-1960s, beginning with a novel about living in a village in Central Illinois after moving there from the San Francisco bay area. It was quite a change for me, rather like living on the opposite side of the moon. Did I publish that novel? No; it wasn’t that good, but it did get me going. My first published short story was “Jonah’s Birth,” which was published in the Autumn 1971 edition of “The South Dakota Review.” I have also written and published poetry since the early 1970s, and have a poetry collection scheduled for publication sometime this year.

Tell us about the genesis of your three novels.

The Old Man and the Monkey (a fable) came from a dream I had about a big Japanese “snow” monkey in 2006. Writing it was a matter of asking the monkey to tell me his story. Grandfather and the Raven (a novel written in a story cycle) came from a big raven flying right over my head when I was out walking in our neighborhood. When I got home, I sat down at my computer and began to write. Twenty-one chapters later, it was finished. It basically wrote itself. Bear, a story about a boy named Andy and his unusual dog named Bear, came about because I wanted to write a novel about a character in Grandfather and the Raven. I lifted the character (Bear) out, transferred him to a Seattle neighborhood where I grew up, and wrote his story. “Bear” is a big dog that looks (and sometimes acts) like a bear. He and Andy are quite a pair.

You’re from the United States, and grew up in Seattle.  What drew you to Japan?

My wife is from Hokkaido (Kushiro) and wanted to return home, so when I retired from the mental health field at the end of 2007, we sold our house, flew to Japan, found a condominium in Sapporo, bought it, and moved here at the end of March 2008. It’s been quite a move, and I couldn’t be happier with it.

Talk about your character development. How much of yourself do you put into your books?

Probably a lot, though I don’t really think about it, which is probably common with writers and other creative people. The characters in my three novels are about caring  people. They are people who show affection, humor, treat people (and monkeys, ravens and dogs) with compassion. I try to be this kind of person, and I like being around people like the characters I write about. More about that later, when I mention what’s on my “to be written” list.

What’s next on your “to be written” list?

I’ve just finished the first draft of a novel about Mexico City in the early-mid 1970s, titled “The City Has Many Faces”. I lived in Mexico City for a time in late 1973-early 1974, fell in love with it, and have been collecting stories, mining memories, and taking notes for years. When I finished Bear, I pulled everything together, and now have the book ready to revise, edit, and send to my publisher, Taylor Street Publishing. Then comes “Seiji”, a novel about a Tokyo artist who as a child survived the firebombings. That story is an expansion of a short story that I wrote in 2009 that’s included in “A Rainbow Feast: New Asian Short Stories”, edited by Mohammad A. Quayum. Once that is finished, I plan on writing a psychological thriller about a female serial killer named Arla (also the title of the  novel). The story is set in Seattle. Then, if Bear is successful enough, I’ll turn it into a series.

How much research do you need to do? 

For The Old Man and the Monkey, my research was basically finding a place to locate the story. I chose a tiny (fictional) village halfway between the cities of Fukugawa and Asahikawa in Hokkaido Prefecture, even though I knew that monkeys aren’t native there. Why did I do it in spite of that fact? Because the story is a fable about the power of friendships. And because that’s where Yukitaro (the monkey) wanted to be. For Grandfather and the Raven I did no research other than a lot of walking around our neighborhood. For Bear I updated my knowledge of the neighborhood online. Same thing for my Mexico City novel. For “Seiji” I’ve done extensive research on the location, the relevant history, the era and the culture, covering a period from 1945 to 2003.

What (or who) are the major influences on your writing?

This question always makes me smile. After all these years, the major influences are too  many to mention. When I read, I keep my eyes and mind open for new ways of doing things, new techniques that interest me.

Are you active in any writer’s groups in Sapporo?

I meet once a month with a small group of expat writers, and have coffee with a couple others. I belong to the Taylor Street Writers' Association, where there’s a lot of support and ideas flowing on a daily basis. These activities keep me focused and connected, which I find very important.

Thank you for your time, George.

My pleasure, Bob. Thank you for having me.  

George's books are available by visiting his Amazon author page.