Earlier this month I had the pleasure of interviewing Robert H. Kono, author of Westward Lies The Sun. His life was filled with so many experiences that I could never even imagine, and I feel grateful that he decided to share those experiences with us today. It was great to get to know Kono on a more personal level and here about all of the experiences which influenced him while writing this Christian Fiction novel.
Jocelyn: Your book, Westward Lies the Sun, focuses on a man exploring a relationship with God. How did your own relationship with God influence you in your writing?
Robert: I’ve always been on a quest to know God and how he figures into my life. My inquiry into God’s presence is an ongoing adventure that has guided my choice of reading matter; to somehow flesh out my understanding of our relationship. I see God as the senior partner in this business of living life; I am the junior partner always seeking the wisdom of a higher order. God lives within and works through the thoughts of our Greater Self.
J: Your main character, Greg, is a Japanese-American who was in an internment camp during World War II, something which you also experienced as a child. How much of the book is based on your own experiences?
R: Growing up in the concentration camps during my formative years has colored everything I ever chose to do and influenced my attitude toward life. I did not become embittered but rather combative in terms of fighting endemic racism, both by attitude and through my writing. With every book I write, I try to share the story of the concentration camps and their aftermath and expose racism for what it is, a form of mental disorder, at the very least a spiritual malaise.
J: Greg’s family heirloom is a Samurai Sword. Do you have any of your own family heirlooms?
R: A relative used to have a samurai sword brought over from Japan by my grandfather when he emigrated to America at the turn of the 20th Century, but it was either lost or stolen. Whichever is the case, inquiries as to its whereabouts are still being made.
J: What parts of Greg do you relate to? Are there any parts you really don’t relate to?
R: I relate most closely to Greg’s search for an understanding of his relationship to God in that it follows my own spiritual journey with its questioning of all the basics. I approach the question of God like a physicist pursues a theorem, trying to fit in the smallest particle within an equation of comprehension. The trip to Europe to visit his wife’s relatives, one in which he meets a Japanese gardener who figures into the narrative, is the least important, I feel, although it remains an intrinsic part of the novel.
J: What inspired you to write Westward Lies the Sun specifically?
R: The inspiration for Westward Lies the Sun were my grandchildren. They are coming of age, and I wanted to provide them with some kind of guide that could serve as a point of departure for their future development as human beings. The future, such as it is, belongs to them, and I have tried to prepare them, in some way, to accommodate the vicissitudes to come. No matter what happens, however, one must cultivate a sense of gratitude for the existence of the Almighty, for after all is said and done, no matter how much of one’s success in life is due to one’s own good efforts, thanking oneself is limited to self-adulation and must give way to ultimately giving thanks to a higher source of power lest hubris take over the soul.
J: Who is the target audience for your writing?
R: The target audience for Westward Lies the Sun would be young adults and adults. Hopefully, the reader of whatever age will come away with some notion of how gratitude figures into one’s overall life. Without gratitude, life would be empty, devoid of empathy and compassion, for to be grateful one must open one’s mind and heart to the dictates of the Greater Self which prompts a connection with the numinous.
J: This isn’t the first book that you published. What makes Westward Lies the Sun different from your past books?
R: Westward Lies the Sun is different from the other books I have published in that it follows the trajectory of my own spiritual inquiry in the search for God. I have had many fundamental questions that I had to bounce off of others and mainly myself. And the answers had to be consonant with satisfying my questions and skepticism. In the process of questioning, I became a Christian humanist, one who sees Christ as his older brother, a divine human being who was endowed with special spiritual powers to guide and heal people. The fact that he died on the cross to save me as my older brother humanizes him to the extent of making him more than out-of-reach divine: it brings him into my home to share a beer with.
J: You spent over a decade in Japan after World War II. What was that experience like?
R: My experience of growing up in postwar Japan from being a young teenager to an adult of twenty-six was lonely and unsettling. Try as I might, I could not assimilate. The prevailing sentiment, even today, is that if you’re not born Japanese, you cannot be Japanese. Besides, I was like a fish out of water: even my strides, let alone my accented speech, gave me away as an American. And I clung to my American identity which I was in danger of losing. I used to watch American movies rather than Japanese movies and read American literature instead of Japanese except for five years of Japanese school. My loneliness was accentuated by the CIA, which recruited me straight out of high school, when they ordered me to refrain from “fraternizing with the indigenous personnel.” It was a time of “feeling so lonely I could die.”
J: How did you first get into writing?
R: I caught the writing bug at an early age. I had two poems published by my Caucasian teacher–Mary Campbell Scott–and was hooked. In postwar Japan, I had occasion to read through the entire library when they got a shipment of literature in English. I was so starved for the English language and spent an entire summer vacation reading through the collection of books twenty hours a day. I read everything they had: novels, short stories, history, social studies, philosophy, political science. Many of the words I didn’t know but just plowed ahead anyway. It was then, in my early teens, that I wanted to express myself in the form of writing. But I didn’t start writing in earnest until I went to college at the age of twenty-eight.
J: What is your favorite part about writing?
R: My favorite part about writing is, I think, describing nature and dialogue. Nature always stimulated and inspired me. To describe the beauty of God’s kingdom is an honor, and I consider writing about the inner and outer landscape to be sacrosanct. Dialogue between two speakers engages my imagination and puts me in their minds to express their different personalities. It is part of the process of characterization that appeals to me.
J: Do you have a writing routine? What does it look like?
R: I used to write four to six hours during my younger days, but now at ninety-years-old, I usually write about two to three hours–whenever the spirit moves me. I don’t feel compelled to write each day as I used to. I was always writing something each day; I used to write in my journal on a daily basis. In my idle time, I spend the day cogitating on the next scene, the next few pages, the next chapter to manage the flow of the narrative–which will often flow of its own accord. But one has to prime the pump to begin with.
J: What authors have influenced your writing style? Which do you look up to?
R: I would say the authors who influenced my writing style the most are Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck. I use Hemingway as a point of departure to establish a cadence or rhythm of writing all my own. Fydor Dostoevsky has influenced what I write about.
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