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#WOTSTalks: Toronto Book Award Nominee Kerri Sakamoto

September 21, 2018

The Word On The Street is coming up on September 23, with WOTS Plus+ the day before on September 22nd! We sat down with Toronto Book Award nominee Kerri Sakamoto, author of Floating City, who will be joining us at the festival this year!


WOTS: The idea for Floating City came from the designs of architect Buckminster Fuller. What made you want to explore the development of those designs? What is it about this type of architecture that inspired you to write about Frankie Hanesaka?

Kerri Sakamoto: The character of Frankie came first. As the son of immigrants from the island nation of Japan who settle on Vancouver Island, he is drawn to water and the sea. Because of the displacements the family endures, Frankie grows up determined to enough amass wealth, power and land so as to never be displaced again.

Bucky, on the other hand, believed that no one should own land or water, and that everyone is entitled to a decent quality of life and living space. He believed we could all comfortably live on land, water or up in the air by harnessing the power of technology and making intelligent use of  our resources.


WOTS: Floating City is a bit of an unusual book, it’s both historical fiction and fabulism! What drew you to play between genres, and what do you love about exploring different pasts?

KS: My wonderful editor, Craig Pyette, called it an unorthodox and imaginative book — which I take as a great compliment. There was a kind of spirituality that I wanted to explore in Frankie and Bucky, in the ways they looked backward into the past, and forward into the future. That was where the magic in the book lay for me. The past can lay down paths forward, to follow or to forge the uncharted. Bucky teaches Frankie to step into his future with optimism and magnanimity.


WOTS: What are your favourite places to write? Any quirky must-haves when it comes to sitting down and building out a story?

KS: I write a lot in cafes where the decaf coffee is good, particularly when I’m in an exploratory phase of just getting down what comes to mind. I used to write in a lovely place called Wagamama in downtown Toronto where I was friends with the wonderful owners, Miwa and John.

Sadly, it had to close when Miwa passed away. Whenever I pass that corner, I feel wistful. These days, I’m often writing at my dining room table with my dog Harmony at my side, urging me on. She’s an incredible muse and editor—not to take anything away from Craig!


WOTS: Tell us a bit more about your process. How did you start writing? Do you have any favourite stories about when you were just starting out?

KS: I always loved to write, going back to my school days. My mom kept my grade 3 stories and I can see I still have the same penchant for metaphor as I did back then! I started really writing when my dear old dad gave me an electric typewriter. I was living in a rickety house in Cabbagetown, and every time I hit a key, the floors would vibrate and the landlord would complain.


WOTS: In Floating City, you shine a light on the experience of Japanese-Canadians following the second World War, from internment camps to assimilation. What was it like to explore with these experiences in the context of alternate history?

KS: It was very freeing. I’d already dealt with the experience of internment and its psychological effects in my first book, The Electrical Field. I wanted to write a book with a more expansive story beyond the experience of a specific community.

Floating City became a kind of fable that gave me some wish-fulfillment. I was interested in a greater sense of agency on the part of the characters, endowed with a tinge of magic: how a person’s heartless ambition, born of racist oppression and bitterness, might be transformed so as to do something extraordinary and good in the world. Bucky’s true-life narrative of depression, despair and renewal is a great inspiration for Frankie.


WOTS: What would you say to a writer who’s just starting out? What one thing do you think it’s crucial to know?

KS: Be patient with yourself. Writing can be a therapeutic process: write things down without a plan and see where that leads you. Allow space between these ‘excavations’ and then see where the strands of a narrative emerge. It can’t be forced. Join a writers’ group – to help you ‘externalize’ the writing and see it as a story that stands apart from you. (That’s more than one thing…)


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