Interview with author Charles Whipple
Charles was born and raised in Show Low, Arizona. He worked on the family ranch/farm until he went to University. He came to work in Japan soon after graduation and spent eight years in marketing and advertising in Japan, Hong Kong, and Hawaii. As a writer, Whipple worked first at Waikiki Beach Press in Honolulu as a reporter. Then moved to Japan to work as a copywriter.
Charles has published four non-fiction books, including Seeing Japan from Kodansha International. Eight Western novels in the Black Horse Westerns line-up are either published or accepted for publication. The Snake Den, a western novel, from Solstice Publishing was published in February 2011.
All the proceeds from A Matter of Tea, the winner of the 2010 Oaxaca International Literature Compeition, will go to help the victims of Japan's March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
What inspired you to write A Matter of Tea?
I gained an interest in Japanese ceramics soon after I arrived in Japan in 1961. Then, after spending time in Japan, I returned to the States to take up Asian Studies and Japanese History at university. I had read of the tea tournaments of Japan’s Heian Era where the nobility wagered on tea-tasting competitions and often lost a fortune or two. While the era of the priceless tea bowl and the tea ceremony as we know it now didn’t come until two or three centuries after the Heian Era, I transposed that thinking and mixed it with the tea tournaments and a little paranormal essence to bring emphasis to my story.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
A Matter of Tea is the short story that won the 2010 Oaxaca International Literature Competition. It’s message is “greed can be deadly.” But more than that, when eastern Japan was devastated by an earthquake that rippled up and down the edge of the Pacific plate for 200 kilometers, moving Japan more than 10 meters closer to the United States and triggering tsunamis that sometimes reached 15 meters high and took the lives of more than 25,000 people, I felt the need to do something for them. Going to the disaster site personally and helping clean up the rubble is one thing, but I felt that using A Matter of Tea and other stories I had written about Japan to make a little book to sell and give the proceeds to help the recovery, if only a little bit, was something I could do. I contacted friend and publisher, Rebecca Vickery, who agreed to produce the little book, and to donate her income from the project to the victims as well. The message is, buying A Matter of Tea not only affords the purchaser with interesting stories, it also lets them participate in assisting people who have been deprived of everything but their lives.
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Most of the book is made up of things I wrote for me. Mostly I write by assignment. These pieces were written from experience and desire. To me, they show parts of Japan that only I could have seen or imagined. They are part of me, part of my soul, part of my life, fiction though they are.
Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
All of my writing about Japan teaches me there is so much about this country and this culture that I don’t understand, that I can’t begin to interpret, and that I may find impossible to write about. The things I have written are only glimmers of truth seen through a glass darkly. I will write more in this vein. In the book, readers will have a chance to see a little of a saga I am writing that is set in an alternative of ancient Japan where all the mythical people and creatures are real.
When did you first start writing and when did you finish your first book?
Good question. I’ve kind of always written. You know, for school papers and such. But I had a midlife crisis in my early thirties. I threw away the old and started anew. I decided I wanted to write for a living, and went about learning how via correspondence courses. I sold my first magazine article shortly thereafter, then got hired as a part-time reporter for a tourist newspaper in Hawaii. A year later, an offer came from Japan (I speak fluent Japanese) to head up an English language creative team at a company in Japan. We moved here in January 1977. Shortly thereafter, I learned from the newspaper that a direct mail campaign I’d written and produced for the paper won first prize in the Editor and Publisher Magazine’s DM category for 1976. I wrote my first book in 1979 and entered it in a Louis L’Amour writealike contest. I didn’t win, and the MS went into the bottom drawer while I wrote prize-winning ad campaigns, newsletters, corporate brochures, and annual reports. I also wrote a ton of magazine articles.
Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?
Let me try to remember which was my first book. It might have been English for Travel Divers, which was published by Japan’s biggest diving magazine, but I don’t remember exactly when. Or it might have been Effective Business Letters, which I wrote for PHP Publishing at the publisher’s request. At any rate, non-fiction came long before I ever sold that novel I wrote in 1979. But I did sell it . . . a quarter of a century after I wrote it. It was published by Robert Hale Ltd. of London in 2005, some 18 months after it was accepted. Living in Japan and writing western novels has its drawbacks. But if I can write them in Japan, they can certainly be published in London. In fact, publishing westerns in London at Hale gives me better worldwide distribution than I’d get from Leisure or Berkley, because almost every library in the British Commonwealth stocks at least one copy of every novel I write for Black Horse Westerns, Hale’s imprint. So how do you get that first novel published? Keep sending it out. Keep revising it to remedy the defects publisher’s editors say you have. Keep on keeping on. Of course, these days anyone can publish at any time. Just be sure, be absolutely sure, that your novel is the very best you can do. Then, if you have an exceptional story to tell, readers will find you, I believe.
How do you market your work? What avenues have you found to work best for your genre?
Whew. I’m probably the world’s worst marketer. Not only do I live half a world away from my main market, I’m an introvert, a terrible pick-up conversationalist, not much of a techie, and woefully behind the trends of the times in terms of Internet skills. As I mentioned, my Hale books are intended for the British Commonwealth Library Market, and while they are available on Amazon and at Book Depository (free shipping worldwide), retail is not the main thrust. Hale has gone e-book on selected titles, none of them mine, and has done quite well with them. Surely they will expand that effort, according to Managing Director, Gill Jackson.
Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process?
At present, my e-books are Vulture Gold, The Snake Den, The Prodigal, and A Matter of Tea. The process is no problem. Much much easier than legacy publishing (as Barry Eisler calls traditional publishing). That said, I’m not getting rich. That also said, authors have a lot more responsibility for promoting their e-books than was traditionally the case with print books. Ergo, I have not been promoting well enough, and my books apparently aren’t good enough to go viral. Nuff said.
Tell us about your novels and where readers can purchase a copy.
Vulture Gold, The Prodigal, The Snake Den, and A Matter of Tea can all be purchased on Amazon, SmashWords, CreateSpace, Solstice Publishing, and Rebecca Vickery Publishing.
What are you working on right now? Tell us a little about it.
Wow. Right now I’ve been cajoled into writing a novel about someone else’s character. The character, Cash Laramie, was raised by Arapaho until age 15. My story picks him up at 19 almost 20 when he is appointed under-sheriff in Wyoming. The story is about a wagontrain of Chinese workers sent from Cheyenne, Wyoming, to Rock Springs, where Union Pacific will use them to break a strike by Irish miners, who want more wages and better working conditions. The bringing in of Chinese workers by the Union Pacific in 1875 is factual. The story is fiction. I’m only on chapter two, so I can’t tell you much more about the story. Expect to see it out from BTAP Publishing before the year is out.
Where can readers find you?
Thanks, Charles for stopping by to chat about your work. You're a very prolific writer and I wish you well on your altruistic endeavor with A Matter of Tea.