Monday, January 7, 2013

Book Review and Author Interview: Big in Japan


From the publisher: SYNOPSIS

Buck Cooper is Texan, obese, and invisible to his colleagues. And to the voluptuous Allison Turner, the girl of his dreams, he is way below par. Buck's entire life is about fitting in, a feat he's been struggling to achieve but has never succeeded. Until serendipity lands him in Japan. Right in the middle of a sumo match.

As his life takes a new turn in a country where being big can mean fame and fortune, Buck must embark on the most dangerous, yet adventurous ride of his life—to find the ultimate meaning of love and acceptance. Even if it means risking his life and giving up everything he has.

Big in Japan, a novel by Jennifer Griffith, was released  on July 21, 2012. It is a novel that takes the reader into the heart of sumo in Japan. Using humor in her narrative, Griffith seamlessly juxtaposes the human drama behind Japan's national sport with one man's pursuit of love and acceptance.

My comments: 

American Buck Cooper’s accidental journey into the sport of Sumo wrestling is fascinating and laugh-out-loud funny. The reader gains an inside view into the world of Sumo wrestling, which we quickly learn is not for the faint of heart. The fast-paced plot has plenty of surprising twists as well as engaging moments of hilarity and poignancy. Soft-hearted Buck emerges as a gritty, tough and memorable hero. I highly recommend Big in Japan by Jennifer Stewart Griffith. Two thumbs up!

Interview with author Jennifer Stewart Griffith

Give us a one-sentence synopsis of your book:

Buck Cooper is a big fat Texan nobody who goes to Japan and accidentally becomes the first blond sumo wrestler.

What inspired the idea for your book, Big in Japan?

My husband—he’s always my muse. One lunch hour he was home and we were sitting around brainstorming what my next story should be about. I mentioned knowing of an American guy when I was in Japan who’d come to train as a sumo wrestler. My husband said, “That’s it! You have to write about that!” I said, “But I write love stories.” He said, “So, why not have the sumo wrestler be the hero of it?” At first I just guffawed, but then the idea wouldn’t leave me alone.

What inspired the title?

There was a song in the 80s with that title, but there’s that common phrase among Hollywood people who claim to be relatively unknown in the U.S., “But I’m big in Japan.” Well, in Big in Japan Buck Cooper is a nobody in the U.S. due to his obesity, and he goes to Japan and is suddenly noticed for his size instead of being invisible because of it—and his size works in his favor.

What is the genre?

Big in Japan is straight-up commercial fiction. It’s written for adults, with the main characters all being in their mid-twenties. But it’s appropriate for younger readers as well. There’s action, but it’s not an action novel. Sports (namely, sumo) are the venue, but it’s not strictly a sports novel. There’s love, but it’s not a romance. Buck has to let go of the guy-next-door that he’s always been and become the warrior he was always meant to be.

Who would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Oh, I don’t know. Buck would need to be a heavy, very tall guy in his 20s, with blond hair—someone who can do comedy and who can handle the physical demands of doing sumo (which is pretty intense as a workout, which you’d probably never guess.) I sort of wish Chris Farley were still alive. Since he’s not, I’m guessing the actor would sort of need to be an unknown. For a while I was thinking of a cute Disney teen actor I’d seen, Doug Brochu, but I’m glad all that would get left up to casting agents anyway.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I’m not sure how long the first draft took. There were about seven rewrites in the three-year total process.

How did you conduct your research in the sport of sumo wrestling?

It was tough, actually! There’s not much about sumo in English online. I ordered a book (which turned out to be a printout of what I’d read on Wikipedia.) Trolling blogs and going to the JSA (Japan Sumo Association) website frequently, as well as some fan sites—those were my best sources.

What surprises did you discover in your research?

Well, that sumo is really simple, for one. The way a wrestler wins is to either make his opponent step outside the ring or else touch the ground with any part of his body other than the bottom of his foot. That’s it. I also discovered that sumo has a darker side. News articles over the past few years showed that there have been some pretty brutal hazing incidents that have marred the sport’s image and brought it lower in the estimation of the Japanese people, for whom it is their national sport (much like baseball is America’s.) I tried to incorporate some of that seedier stuff in the novel, but I tried not to dwell on it too heavily. I wanted Big in Japan to be frothy fun.

How did you develop the main character, Buck Cooper? And why is he from Texas?

My main goal with creating Buck was to make a truly likable guy. I wanted him to deserve everything good, and give the audience a real reason to root for him, to want him to rise above his challenges. So, I gave him as many heroic qualities as I could while keeping him a real guy.

And as for Texas, I wanted him to be from somewhere that was the antithesis of Japan. Everything’s big in Texas (including Buck’s 6’6” height, as well as his 400 lb~ weight). In Japan everything’s small. I’m 5’1” and I loved it! When I lived there for that year and a half, I could go to the grocery store and reach everything on the shelves. (It was fantastic!)

What is one message you want readers to learn from your book?My main purpose in writing it was to entertain, and if readers come away inspired by something, great! I always love the idea that there’s someone out there for each person, someone who will really appreciate the “real person inside.” But that’s the romantic in me. Some people have told me they loved Buck because he overcame great odds, and he learned to stop letting his body image hold him back. Others have said they loved that he found “the thing” that let him break out of his old self and become his real self—and they wished their own children could find that for themselves, the thing that creates confidence in them. I think the message I hope a reader finds is the one meant for him/her to find.

Big in Japan was recently named as one of the top reads of 2012. ( How did you feel when you learned about this? Oh, my heck! I was just floored. I couldn’t believe that it could possibly figure in among those other wonderfully written books! But it was a thrill to be able to call my dad and tell him about that and hear him laugh—that my book about a sumo wrestler that falls in love could be so well received. That was the best. I bet my grandpa would love it, too, if he were still with us. He loved Japan and was my biggest supporter when I was over there.

What responses have you gotten from Japanese readers?

I have a friend from high school who married a Japanese woman, and he has circulated the book among their Japanese friends. For a while I kind of worried that the villains in the book might not come across well to a Japanese reader, but he said no, they realized jerks are jerks in any country! Haha. So, yeah. I guess it turned out fine. He also said they were suckers for a love story like that, and that they’re waiting for my next book. Pretty good response, then. ??

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Well, Japan is a little off the beaten path for most of us, so I wanted to portray a lot of the feeling of Japan in the novel so readers could take a virtual trip there. When I lived there I lived in Japanese apartments and ate the food and slept on the floor on a futon mattress and rode a bicycle and lived the life, so I did my best to convey all of those details to the reader. I wanted reading it to be like a very inexpensive vacation to the Land of the Rising Sun.

Where can readers learn more about you and your books?

My website is I’m on Facebook at AuthorJenniferGriffith, and my Twitter handle is @griffithjen. I love to hear from readers. Big in Japan is available at bookstores and through online booksellers.

Thank you so much for the interview, Janet. I really appreciate you!

Big in Japan
Jennifer Stewart Griffith

ISBN: 0984880119

ISBN-13: 978-0-9848801-1-9

Format: Harcover, Paperback

Pages: 320
Publication Date: July 28, 2012
Publisher: Jolly Fish Press, LLC

1 comment:

Shaunda said...

Hi Janet, Thank you so much for sharing this new book! Japan seems like such a far away exotic place to go. I've given you the Liebster Blog Award so come on over to my blog to get the details!