Take 5 with Sharon Suzuki-Martinez

The Books section is debuting a new series, “Take 5,” that features five questions with Asian American authors whose books will be published in 2022. If you have a book that you would like to be considered for the series, you can submit it here.
January 25, 2022

What was your favorite book as a child and why?

My favorite childhood book was The Rabbit Who Lost His Fur. I loved its candy-colored drawings. I didn’t know it was a picture-book retelling of a myth from the Kojiki, the oldest book of Japanese history — in Japanese history. It is about a lonely rabbit who lives on a pretty island but yearned to see the mainland to meet other rabbits. It tricks sharks into forming a bridge with their bodies so it can cross the sea to the mainland. After the rabbit laughingly discloses it fooled them, the sharks bite off its fur. A kind man heals the injured, naked rabbit with a bed of cattails. The rabbit finds its mate and happiness and never tricks anyone again. Perhaps early on I sensed I was that rabbit who had to find some way to leave Hawaii for the mainland to find the right life path, despite the dangers.

Where or how did your most recent book begin? 

After my first book, I wanted to write a book of poems about cryptids: unsubstantiated creatures like Sasquatch, the Yeti and Nessie. As an Okinawan Japanese American poet in the Phoenix literary desert of the time, I felt as chimerical as these cryptids. They still lurk in my latest book but became subsumed in a deeper exploration of what it means to be a monster. I ended up also writing about domestic terrorists, scapegoats, cancer, kaiju, ghosts and mollusks — all manner of beings who dwell in the shadowy margins. The central monster in The Loneliest Whale Blues became the now-famous, mystery whale with the 52-hertz call that other whales refuse to answer. Trying to understand this whale helped me understand how this book needed to develop. 

What was something that surprised you as you were writing this book?

It surprised me that it took 10 years to write, edit and publish my latest book. Looking back, I can see how it fell into place as it evolved, albeit at a snail’s pace. The manuscript was rejected 36 times, accepted 2 times and went through 52 permutations before it reached Nancy White, the president of The Word Works. I am still astonished by the whole process but most of all by the coincidence of the whale with the 52-hertz voice requiring 52 manuscript versions. 

What is/would be your ideal setting to write?

Before the pandemic, I took DIY solo writing retreats to places where I’d see the sights in the daytime and write in my hotel room at night. My ideal writing setting is Monterey, California. Delicious sand dabs. Life-sized model whales at the massive aquarium. Real whales spouting in the bay. My idea of inspiring. In my everyday life before the pandemic, my ideal writing spot was my neighborhood coffee shop, Gold Bar Espresso. The coffee shop offered an escape from my endless household demands. It also provided soothing stimulation: good coffee and a little bit of motion and noise around me. Now to recreate the coffee shop in the safety of my home, I make my own coffee and write at my dining table, where I can see the desert birds come and go. I listen to rainycafe.com, which replicates the sounds of a bustling café during a rainstorm. Perfect.

Describe your writing style in 3 words or 1 phrase

Rabbit wears a moustache and wields a Ph.D.


Sharon Suzuki-Martinez

Sharon Suzuki-Martinez is a Kundiman fellow, Pushcart nominee and a Best of the Net 2018 finalist. She grew up in Kaneohe, Hawaii, earned a Ph.D. in English from the University of Arizona, and now lives with her husband David in Tempe, Arizona — on the traditional homeland of the Akimel O’odham.