WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO TAKE ON THE DIFFICULT TOPIC OF COMFORT WOMEN, BRINGING AWARENESS TO JAPAN’S WAR CRIMES AND A TRAGIC TIME IN HISTORY?
I initially began to form the concept of my novel, The Comfort Bearer after seeing a television news story about a lawsuit brought by Japanese citizens over a monument acknowledging “comfort women” that was placed in a park in Glendale, Los Angeles County, where I had worked as a lawyer for many years. They wanted the monument removed. I was both shocked and ashamed when I first learned of the existence of comfort women—enforced sex slaves for the Imperial Japanese Army. I was shocked upon hearing that such atrocities took place before and during WWII, and I was
ashamed because I had absolutely no clue that such crimes against humanity had actually occurred. Being an army brat born in Fukuoka, Japan, where my father was stationed after the Korean War, I grew up with a fascination of that country and its people. I found it unimaginable that women and girls unwillingly placed into such dire circumstances were given such a ridiculous title of comfort women. Their plight was anything but comfortable. That’s when I began extensive research of the subject, discovering that somewhere in the area of 200,000 girls and women were taken from the Japanese occupied areas of Asia over the course of the war, many by coercion and trickery. I knew I had to write a story about it. My goal was to put a human face to this injustice using a fictional character, Soon Ja, who represents a blend of all of those who suffered at the hands of the Japanese.
DID YOUR EXPERIENCES IN MEDICINE AND TRAVELING AFFECT THE STORY?
My traveling experiences did not contribute to this story; however, my recently completed next novel The Silk Road Score (crime/adventure) is based widely on my overland travels through the Middle East, minus the criminal elements, of course. But with respect to The Comfort Bearer, my background in nursing allowed me to use my knowledge and experience to accurately… I hope… incorporate details about the totality of injuries suffered by Soon Ja as well as particulars involving her training as a nurse and treatment of the Japanese soldiers.
WHAT WAS THE WRITING PROCESS LIKE FOR YOU IN CRAFTING THIS STORY?
One of the more difficult scenes for me to write involved Soon Ja’s first night at the comfort station, the first time she was raped. After many rewrites, I settled on stream of consciousness writing, which more fully brought out the physical and emotional trauma and the horror of her situation. But as I continued to research and write, I came to realize that I needed to branch out or deviate from the underlying concept, which of course involved daily abuse and brutality. I didn’t want to write a book that dwelled on constant rape and exploitation although it was a huge part of the book that could
not be ignored or restrained. But I needed the story to go in other directions and so I began developing other facets—other layers to the piece by incorporating survival skills, coping methods, and situations dealing with the war and time period. Truth be told, I did not know how my story would come together before I started it. I have never been one to figure out exactly where I’m going.
I don’t write detailed outlines to guide me before I start writing. With this book, I invented the story as I went along, based on ideas from my constant reading and research. Concepts were regularly modified and revised. The first draft was written in third person but the final version ended up in first person with Soon Ja telling her story. On many days I came up with the next scene while at the gym, exercising. Of course, I would have to hurry home to write down my ideas before they forever vanished from my mind. It was a labor of love and I truly enjoyed creating The Comfort Bearer.
YOU MENTIONED TAKING THE STORY IN DIRECTIONS OTHER THAN FOCUSING ON THE DAILY ABUSE AT THE HANDS OF THE JAPANESE SOLDIERS. IN WHAT WAYS DID YOU DEVELOP THE BOOK FROM ITS MAIN CONCEPT?
In many ways. Not only does the book deal with the horrendous trafficking of girls and women for sex, but it also addresses how a girl who is thrown into that situation might be able to cope with it, or tragically succumb to it. In the beginning of the book, the subject of suicide is tackled, an issue that no doubt would enter the minds of each of these girls at one time or another. And of course, some victims were stronger than others, making them more vulnerable and susceptible to wanting to end their lives. Another topic, which is also a current-day issue related to abused women, revolves around strategies used to cope with constant mental and physical injury. Some might normalize and accept the situation and some might turn to drugs in order to dull or deaden their minds. Soon Ja’s way of coping was a means of dissociation—transporting her mind out of her body to another place, something she had learned during meditation with an old Buddhist monk back home in Korea, a way to avoid pain, fear, and memories. Some readers may view this as true out-of-body experiences, others will conclude that it was all in her mind. Without giving away too much, other directions in which I took the story deal with spying on behalf of the anti-Japanese resistance, homosexuality, and
historical events related to WWII.