20-year gestation

May 11, 2015 § 39 Comments

In 1995 I started writing a novel about a Japanese family. I was living in the city of Utsunomiya at the time and had tired of all the zen-like, mystical, and reverent books about the inscrutability of life in Japan.

The polite, sophisticated, ambiguous, homogeneous Japanese apparently lived somewhere else, because my daily reality smacked up against people who were as rude, crude, obnoxious, funny, compassionate, hilarious, outrageous, subtle, overt, lying, thieving, honest, honorable, humble, prideful, and contradictory as people I’d seen in every other part of the earth I’d ever been.

For ten years I worked on the novel, then put it aside. A few years ago a good friend who had seen the very first draft asked me how it was going. “I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t have it anymore.”

“I think I have the copy you gave me,” she said, and a couple of weeks later she had scanned it and sent it over. I looked around on the Internet for a copy editor, but balked at the $2k price tag, so I began the laborious process of editing my own work, something akin to hearing your own voice on a recording for the first time, only much more repulsive. Each edit was slower than the one before, but after a dozen careful reads I was finished. The final proofing step on Amazon’s publishing platform picked up two more typos — not bad for 100,000 words — and I hit the “publish” button and was done.

The novel is called “Blossoms on the Family Tree,” and I hope you will buy a copy. My good friend Jack Daugherty has posted the kindest and most flattering review imaginable on Amazon, and if he’s even 1/1000 on the mark, then this is a book I can be proud of. And even if he’s not on the mark, I can say this: This is the best thing I’m capable of writing, and it’s got nothing to do with bikes!

Though the novel is hardly autobiographical, every single thing in it is true except for the parts I made up. And one of the parts I didn’t make up is that the Japan of the late 1980’s is gone. I still remember arriving on January 15, 1987, heading out into the provinces two weeks later for my first job, and getting mobbed by elementary schoolkids who had never seen an American and wanted to touch my hair.

I remember the hundreds of bicycles stacked up and around the Utsunomiya JNR station, a time when bikes were everywhere and used by everyone, all the time. Most of all, I remember the young people and what a young country it was, and how, in only that way perhaps, I blended right in.

My relationship with Japan began then and has continued unbroken for almost thirty years, and if I had to say that there is one thing above all others that has molded me in my adult life it has been the Japanese women around me. My wife of course but also the women in her family: Mother, grandmother, aunts, sisters in law, cousins, nieces … women who in a myriad of ways taught me firsthand about strength, resilience, determination, frailty, humanity, and love, and who gave me a Japanese cultural lesson every single day for each of the ten years that I lived there. It’s not a lesson that you’ll find in mainstream writing about Japan and the Japanese.

This novel, after twenty years’ gestation, is as fully formed as anything I’ve ever written or hope to write. The era it encompasses is gone forever, but the women who populated it are still here, some still present in the flesh, all still here with me in spirit.



For $2.99 per month you can subscribe to this blog, and for a few more bucks you can buy “Blossoms on the Family Tree” in Kindle or paperback through Amazon’s Evil Empire. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!

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§ 39 Responses to 20-year gestation

  • Sandy says:

    It’s on the way. Amazon promises by Wednesday afternoon. I have your other book on Kindle and it ain’t the same as the real thing.

  • 900aero says:

    Congratulations, that is a true labour of love. Well done to not just let it fade away. Lucky for thoughtful friends too.

  • Brian in VA says:

    Going to buy it right now.Thanks Seth!

  • Jeff M says:

    A story brewing that long in a lucid, imaginative mind like yours, has to be great!
    Congrats Seth!

  • dangerstu says:

    Cunning plan, I like it!

  • Brian says:

    Congratulations publishing your work Seth,I’ll look for it. Enjoyed a great mother’s day with my extended family of Asian women, Vietnamese and Japanese. Can certainly relate to your praise, I have really appreciated the community they have given me over the past 15 years.

  • Geoffrey says:

    Must feel great to have this done! Book: done. Sober: yes. Weight: leaving. You: smiling. All true, I trust?

  • Mark Holt says:

    Bought it. While I freeload off your blog (because I’m a cheap wheelsucking cyclist) I’ve bought both your books with this purchase. I worked for Sanyo for 13 years and spent a lot of time in Japan and look forward to getting your view of that mostly very fine country.

  • cgnewgirl says:

    Bought it. Read it. Loved it. It is beautiful and touching and real (and a hoot to boot!) Recommending to my book club. Thank you for writing ~

  • AARONIRISH says:

    Done – my (american) wife lived in Kyoto for a year. I am looking forward to her reading it as much as I am looking forward to reading it for myself.

  • sibex9591 says:

    It’s almost a no-brainer. After reading your work for a couple of years now, I feel there shouldn’t be any question regarding the entertainment value this book could provide.


  • Sandy says:

    Just spent a half hour with “Blossoms”. It sure as hell ain’t Basho’s Japan. Such disillusion I feel, but I am laughing my ass off at every page.

    • fsethd says:


      (It probably was Basho’s Japan, but he was too embarrassed to admit it!)

  • nealhe says:

    Hello fsethd-san and All,

    Got the Kindle version … like it …. a lot.

    Would still like to see you publish a book collection of your blogs.

    Brought back memories of living in Japan and Asia off and on for 30 years with the US Marine Corps and Northwest Orient Airlines.

    With the USMC …. lived in various bases in Japan and the Philippines …. and with Northwest ….. spent most layovers in Ginza Tokyu Hotel near the Kabuki theater until the move from Haneda Airport to Narita Airport … then lived in the Northwest Hotel at Narita ….. hkept a bike at the hotel and rode regularly in the countryside around Narita.

    Of course my interaction with the Japanese people was more superficial than living with a family as you did. I had a business partner (many years ago) that I am planning to send a copy of your book. He lived in Japan for a time and married a Japanese girl. They live in Washington state now.

    Our Northwest station personnel were friendly and spoke good English.
    They would show us around town and coach us on the local customs.

    Some had served in the Japanese military during WWII. One of the weathermen had been trained as a Kamikaze pilot …. had the going away party ….. and the women …… was scheduled to fly his suicide bomb the next week ….. and the war ended. He would joke that he was a pilot and knew how to fly ….. just like us …. except he had never been trained on how to land …. and walk away.



    +1 mph Faster

    • fsethd says:

      Very cool! Do you have any photos from that time period? Narita was so rural. Great, flat riding among endless rice fields.

  • um. says:

    I read this and wonder about your 2015 BWR and the “I was on Sandy Bandy behind some wanker who was in turn stuck behind a woman who had gapped us out” comment. A WOMAN?? WTF? What was a woman doing on sandy bandy in the first place? How dare she get in your way? Didn’t she have a house to clean or dinner to prepare for her husband? Goddam bitch!

    That said, I’ve had a lifelong interest in Japan. I wrote to their embassy as a kid and they sent me a gorgeous book with gorgeous photos. I did grade-school reports on everythingJapan. Maybe it was because my dad was a Datsun dealer and everyone else still kept talking about WWII and the evil Japanese. I studied martial arts, sat for hours in zen centers. And I’ve never been there and probably will never go. I’d punch the first guy who pinches my ass (though I’m probably too old for that worry).

    I’m gonna buy your book. Can’t wait.

    • fsethd says:

      Very cool. Thank you!

      • um says:

        Enjoyed the book, even as the slowest reader on the planet. OK, so it burst my Japan bubble but so funny. Love the idea of female self exam with chopsticks – hilarious. I also got more of a clue about yellow fever and lemme tell ya I want an asian wife too!

  • darelldd says:

    Buying the book now…
    You and I are the same age. And we’re both immersed in the Asian culture through our wives. Japanese for you, Chinese for me. Many similarities, and… I can’t wait for the differences.

  • George says:

    This book just made it’s way to Vancouver, BC, Canada

  • JF says:

    Just hit the buy button. Looking forward to the read Wanker.

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