Monday, August 24, 2015

Naomi J. Williams

Naomi J. Williams was born in Japan and spoke no English until she was six years old. Her debut novel, Landfalls, is a fictionalized account of the 18th-century Lapérouse expedition.

From her Q & A with Henri Lipton at ZYZZYVA:

ZYZZYVA: You dedicate the novel to your grandmother, “who also loved maps.” How did your love of maps inform the strong sense of place in your writing? How many of the “landfalls” did you visit, if any, and how does visiting a place, or not visiting it, affect the way you write about it?

Naomi J. Williams: I’m so delighted you’ve mentioned my grandmother. She was Japanese, and one of my early memories is of sitting on the tatami floor in her tiny apartment in Fukuoka, a city in southern Japan, and poring over a map of the city. I remember being fascinated by the notion that you could have this logical, colorful paper representation of where you lived.

I’ve loved maps ever since, and indeed, the whole idea for Landfalls came from a misidentified antique map my husband bought for me about fifteen years ago. I tell that story in some detail in a recent blog post, but briefly, it’s a map from the LapĂ©rouse expedition, of Lituya Bay, Alaska, the setting for two chapters in the novel.

Maps were very important in the research and writing for this book. I was able to visit only a few of the places that appear in the novel—Monterey, California; Paris; Albi in the south of France—that’s about it. So I relied heavily on maps, both paper maps and online maps. The chapter that required the most in that regard was “Dispatches,” which describes a trip across Russia. I spent hours poring over Google Maps and wandering around in Street View to get a sense of the landscape.

I think it’s always better to visit a place in real life, if you can. One of the first people to read parts of this book was...[read on]
Visit Naomi J. Williams's website.

The Page 69 Test: Landfalls.

Writers Read: Naomi J. Williams.

--Marshal Zeringue