James Roth

Writer of Fiction

and

Nonfiction

James Roth grew up in southeastern Alabama during the sixties. His father worked for the Army, investigating helicopter accidents. His mother was a homemaker who had studied voice at Julliard. Because his father's job led him to Heidelberg, Germany, he graduated from high school there. In Germany, he made the mistake of taking up golf, an addiction that has stayed with him to this day. It brings him much satisfaction and much pain, as most addictions do. After graduating from high school, he returned to the U.S. and attended what was then called Western State College in Gunnison, Colorado, graduating with a master's in English. A life of skiing, golf, hunting, fly fishing, and riding his motorcycle to Aspen and Telluride were joys. Then along came the reality of having to make a living. He thought his best chance of achieving this was to become a copywriter at an advertising agency. He moved from Colorado to Manhattan, where he attended The School of Visual Arts. To pay the bills, he worked as a bicycle messenger. His plan to become a copywriter didn't work out, though, which he now realizes served him well. He decided to leave the U.S. to teach English in Japan at a private language school, which was the most significant event of his life up to that time. He stayed in Japan for more than fifteen years, first living in Akita, then Sendai. During this time, he now and then wrote nonfiction articles about Japanese culture that were published on the now-defunct--but fun to write for websites--flakmag.com and theblacktable.com. When the school he worked for cut teachers' pay, he reluctantly left Japan. He found a job teaching at Shenzhen University in China and then The Chinese University of Hong Kong/Shenzhen, but he spent most of his free time hiking the mountains of neighboring Hong Kong. When he returned to the U.S., he visited his family and spent time sailing and fishing the shallow bays of western Florida. After more than fifteen years in China, he became weary of life there and applied to, and was accepted into, the U.S. State Department's English Language Fellow Program. He accepted a posting at Africa University in Mutare, Zimbabwe, and considers Zimbabwe a second home, though his heart remains Japanese. His parents lived in American-occupied Japan in the months before he was born, so he likes to say he was “Made in Japan.” To his lasting regret, he was born in a military hospital in Georgia.

Publications

Fiction and Memoirs

"Cultural Revolution." Whisky Blot. A short story without dialogue, in paragraph length chapters, which tells the story of an independent-minded, attractive Chinese woman who rebels against the restrictions of traditional Chinese cultural and finds her own way in the world.

"Bue-haired Girl." Close to the Bone. Flash fiction that is a prologue to a novel, mystery/literary, "My Daughter Tomomi," set in modern Japan. A police detective's runaway daughter ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time. 2022.

"The Manga Artist." Fleas on the Dog. A short story about a manga artist who aspires to be taken seriously as an artist is suckered by the wrong (or is it the right?) woman. Read it and decide for yourself. 2022.

"The Golf Swing." An analysis of what Michael Jordan said in an interview with Stephen Curry was the most difficult thing he had ever attempted, golf. Sweetycat Press. Forthcoming.

"On the Run." Mystery Tribune Online. A down-and-out ex-con agrees to be a fishing guide for a man who knows nothing about fishing and gets involved in something which will send him back to prison. 2022.

"Black Market MPs." Crimeucompia: It's Always Raining in Noir City. Set in post-war Tokyo, a naive MP becomes involved in the black market and a Japanese woman who knows how to get what others want from him. 2021.

"Any Port in a Storm." "Round Lake." Florida Roots Press Anthology about coming of age in Florida. Memoirs and a short story of a Chinese girl, adoptee, who goes sailing with her grandfather; he instills her self-reliance and confidence. Forthcoming.

"Manta Rays, a Massage Lady, and Love." The Bombay Review. Two backpackers in Indonesia have different ideas about what they're seeking on their travels. 2019.

"A Career Murder." Crimeucompia: Careless Love. A Japanese man fears that his wife will divorce him, making it difficult for him to receive a promotion in the life insurance company he is devoted to. His plans to prevent the divorce go awry. 2019.

"The Hat." Short Story. The Alaska Quarterly. A man and his wife visit Japan and he fantasizes about Japanese women. 1994.

Nonfiction

"Zimbabwe's Illegal Gold Miners." A Thin Slice of Anxiety. A visit to an illegal gold mine, which are plentiful in impoverished Zimbabwe. 2019.

"Mr. G. the Diamond Peddler." Ariel Chart. While in a queue to buy petrol, along comes a man selling uncut diamonds. 2019.

James was the Japanese correspondent for the, regrettably, now-defunct e-zine flakmag.com. His articles included "MOS Burger," bettering an American icon; "The Sento," Japan's public bathhouses; "The 100 Yen Shop," Japan's version of the one dollar shop; "Cycling in Japan"; "Japan, land of the Technotoilet"; "The Honda Cub," the 50cc step-through motorcycle that made Honda Motors what it is today; and "Dining in Singapore," an epicurean's paradise.

Other nonfiction articles appeared in the Univesity of Oregon's, also now-defunct CNF magazine, Etude, "Red Lights, Big City," about legalized prostitution in Singapore, Hack Writers, "Cock Fighting in Port Barton," about cock fighting in a remote beach village on the island of Palawan in the Philippines, and "The Art of Japanese Striptease" in, yes, the now-defunct e-zine The Black Table.

Essays

"Black Lives Don't Matter in Zimbabwe." Finalist in the Missouri Review's Jeffery E. Smith Editors' Prize for 2020.

"The Pineapple Girl." Verdad. A young Indonesian girl who sells pineapples makes me think about my failures and successes. 2011.

Novel(s)

The Opium Addict. A novel of treachery, deceit, and murder. In 1873, Nelson Van Dorn, a former New York City police detective, sails for Yokohama, Japan, expecting to go into the silk exporting business with his prodigal son younger brother, whom he plans to meet there. Yokohama, one of only six Japanese cities open to Westerners at that time, is bustling with activity, as the country rapidly modernizes after more than two hundred and fifty years of self-imposed isolation. What Nelson learns upon his arrival, however, is that his brother is dead, that he was an opium addict, a womanizer, and that he has left Nelson in debt. To pay off this debt, Nelson reluctantly takes on an investigation to find the grandson, a merchant marine, of an elderly and mysterious Jewish man, Ari Markel, an ivory importer. As Nelson follows leads to track down Mr. Markel's grandson, he learns the secrets of other expatriates, that Mr. Markel has deceived him, the intricacies of Japanese society, and the truth about his brother's death.

Chapter One

(Beginning)

The anchor set, and the Shenandoah swung around in the stiff April wind, her starboard side facing Yokohama. Nelson Van Dorn, standing on deck, grasped the gunnel, bracing himself against the heaving of the ship, as white caps bucked up against the bow. His beaver skin hat was a warm comfort. From his deerskin duster flowed rivulets of water, and in his thick brown beard the water lay like a dew.

"You ought to go below," the captain said, "until the seas settle down." The captain, standing beside Nelson, was also looking across the white-capped bay at Yokohama. He was Scottish, nearing sixty, walked with a limp, and had a white beard. His face was pale, save for crowns of red on his cheekbones. He had spent most of his life at sea, and his weather-worn face showed it. Tucked into a corner of his mouth was a meerschaum pipe.

"I'll stay," Nelson said.

"Not such an unusual blow for this time of year," the captain said. "It will be unfortunate if a wind like this comes up during hanami."

Nelson turned, expecting the captain to provide an explanation.

"Cherry blossom viewing," the captain said.

Nelson nodded. But he wasn't thinking about cherry blossoms. He was eager to go ashore. Moreover, these waves were mere ripples compared to those the Shenandoah had plunged through on its way around the Cape of Good Hope. It had been a long voyage, more than two months, and had begun, unceremoniously, in Brooklyn. The Shenandoah was a steamer, carrying cargo, mostly coal, but also several hundred barrels of that newly discovered resource in Pennsylvania, oil, a necessary commodity for Japan's industrialization after three hundred years of isolation during the Edo period. The Meiji emperor had other ideas about his country's future, that it should modernize quickly, catch up with the West, and perhaps even surpass it.

His younger brother, Warren, had been waiting months for his arrival. Warren, once a harpooner on a whaler, had been to places that Nelson had only read about. On one of their rare meetings in a tavern in Brooklyn, he had convinced Nelson that by going into the business of exporting Japanese silk together they could make a fortune. They had to take advantage of the opportunity before someone else did. Already there was a demand for Japanese wood prints and lacquer-ware, and a demand for silk was sure to follow.


Prologue

My Daughter Tomomi (in progress). "Blue-haired Girl," flash fiction, the prologue to the novel, is forthcoming in Close to the Bone.

(Sample)

Yuji was easy enough to seduce. But things didn't go as I'd expected after that. My lucky day! I picked him up at a video arcade next to a sex shop in Kabukicho, just where Nobuyuki had told me he'd be. He went there after work to catch an Odakyu train to Setagaya. When he'd finished playing the game a wide grin spread across his face, like he'd had an orgasm, before he looked up at me. I said, "Final Fantasy is my favorite too."

He continued on staring at me the way an otaku does, a bit nervous and unable to speak. I was wearing my heart-shaped eyeglasses with the red frame, no lenses, and I'd gotten my lips as shiny a red as the frame of the glasses. I was one of those characters in Final Fantasy that had come to life, just as I'd planned. He was so dumbstruck that I was the one who had to say, "Maybe we should go to a hotel?"

The Amour was just down the street, in that area where the love hotels are lined up, one right after the other. I'd been in most. . .

# # #

Plot: Nobuyuki, a former yakuza member who was forced out of the clan because he botched the hit of a rival yakuza, is now a private detective, primarily doing family background searches on a bride or groom's family before their marriage. He is close to his sister because they grew up in a small fishing town in northeastern Japan, Kesennuma--a real place that was devastated by the 2011 tsunami. They escaped the restrictions of small-town life, and their alcoholic father, who worked at the local fish market, employing two different methods. Nobuyuki joined the yakuza; his sister, Ayako, married her way out, seducing and becoming pregnant by a sushi executive, Yuji, who is transferred to the company headquarters in Tokyo after their marriage. In Tokyo, Ayako comes to Nobuyuki several years to ask him to take photographs of her Yuji entering a love hotel with a girl, which would serve her in getting a quick divorce and marrying her lover.

The girl Nobuyuki uses to seduce Yuji, a bar hostess/prostitute/drug addict, who puts on a blue-haired wig to play into Yuji's video game fantasies, ends up dead in the love hotel. Enter Detective Kawayama. He is a proud Japanese who has some regrets about how his country has devolved from the bushido code that many Japanese once regarded as central to their identity to one of corporate greed and malfeasance, displays of conspicuous consumption, and the lack of moral codes. He reluctantly accepts that he's as much a bureaucrat in the maw of the Japanese bureaucratic machine as a detective. (He was inspired to become a police detective by watching too many "Dirty Harry" movies while a university student.) At the love hotel, he is shocked to learn the true identity of the blue-haired girl. (Privacy, as a result of Japan's fascist Pacific War past, is protected by law in Japan.) Detective Kawayama keeps the girl's identity to himself, suffering in silence, remaining stoic in the bushido tradition. This stoicism has an effect on his relationship with his wife, Mizuko. His stoicism and national pride become a central motif of the story. The murder/mystery develops into a love story between Detective Kawayama and his wife. Ayako's desire to find marital happiness results in the misfortune, and deaths, of others.

In the planning/progress stage: a short story collection set in post-WW II East Asia; a detective/literary novel set in contemporary Japan; a historical family drama set in the tea country of Rhodesia; a picaresque adventure story about a young Chinese-American's sailing adventures in southern Florida; a collection of stories set in present-day Zimbabwe about the struggles of women, religious hypocrisy, political corruption, economic collapse, the petty rivalries between people that keep the country near the bottom of economic ratings, but also the resilency of many who face their daily struggles silently and with dignity and persiverence. Perhaps his reach exceeds his grasp.

Contact information:

mail 4 jroth [at] gmail [dot] com

@Tweet_JRoth