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 about 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 enrollment at the school he worked for dropped, 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. After about ten 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.


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 and his mother's lasting regret, he was born in a military hospital in Georgia. He is married to a Shona Zimbabwean.

Publications

Fiction and Memoirs

"My Minute with Mao." Short-Story-Me. Hybrid nonfiction/fiction about my trip to Beijing to stay with a Chinese woman, romance and the absurdity of seeing Mao lying in state in his very own mausoleum, all very counter-revolutionary. August 2022.

"A Few Photos, Please." A Half Hour to Kill. Story of a former yakuza, now a PI, who is asked by his sister for some dirt on her husband. Overtones of incest. August 12, 2022.

"Outside Hoi An." The Wise Owl. Memoir/travel writing about meeting an elderly, impoverished woman outside Hoi An, Vietnam, while on a venture into the countryside on a motorbike.

"Watch Where You Walk." Zoo Anthology. Sweetycat Press. Memoir of the dangers of walking across the Shenzhen University campus. Due for release in October 2022.

"Cultural Revolution." Whisky Blot. A short story without dialogue, in paragraph-length chapters, that tells the story of an independent-minded, attractive Chinese woman who rebels against the restrictions of traditional Chinese culture 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, "A Prayer for my Daughter," 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, Fiction Issue 11. A short story about a manga artist who aspires to be taken seriously as an artist and is suckered by the wrong (or is it the right?) woman. Read it and decide for yourself. 2022.

"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. Memoir and a short story of a Chinese girl adoptee who goes sailing with her grandfather; he instills her self-reliance and confidence. Forthcoming. 2022.

"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

"Jewels in the Crown." "The Golf Swing," now in an anthology from Sweetycat Press.

"The Gangster from Hell." Litro. Travel writing, set in Banda Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia. My experience in a grubby bus station's street food stall with a few men of different sexual and political orientations after an overnight bus trip from Medan.

"The Golf Swing." The Body in Motion. Sweetycat Press. An analysis of what Michael Jordan said in an interview with Stephen Curry was the most difficult thing he had ever attempted, golf. Forthcoming 2022.

"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.

Novels

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.

The Opium Addict

Chapter One

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.

Continued. . .

_________________________________________________________________________________

"A Prayer for My Daughter," a mystery/literary novel, narrated by a Tokyo Metropolitan Police detective, Tomoyuki Kawayama, starts with a prologue that establishes the seedy underbelly of Tokyo. A woman seduces a company man in order to secure some photos for his wife that will help her divorce him and marry her lover. She was hired by a former yakuza, banished by the gang because he botched a hit ordered by his boss, and has become a private detective, engaged in, mostly, work like taking photos of people doing what they shouldn't in order to set up a blackmailing of the person or assisting in a woman divorcing him. (It's usually a man.) The girl in the prologue, though, decides to freelance and blackmail the company man she has seduced as well. That's the beginning. By way of good intentions, envy, jealousy, and yakuza involvement, a lot of people end up dead. And the narrator, strangely, ends up closer to his wife. It's a sort of love story, too, between a couple that has been married for over twenty-five years.

A Prayer for My Daughter

(In Progress)

Literary/Mystery Novel

Prologue

I picked Yuji up at a video arcade next to a sex shop in Kabukicho, just where Nobuyuki had told me he'd be. He often went there after work to catch a Seibu line train to Tachikawa. He had a home there. When Yuji finished playing the game a wide grin spread across his face before he looked up at me. That's how much he'd been concentrating on the game. He hadn't even noticed the cute girl who'd been watching him. To get his attention, 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. The only girls he felt comfortable with were the avatars in video games—you know the ones, unrealistically big breasts, every color hair but black, and willing to jump into bed with whoever asked them—and maybe those girls in his company who served tea and could be had for the asking. Poor Yuji. He just didn't know how to get on with the real thing—me.

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, as Nobuyuki had suggested I do. It didn't come as a surprise to me that I was the one who had to say, "Maybe you'd like go to a hotel? No more Final Fantasy. This time the real me."

The love hotel I had picked out was the Amour, in that area of Kabukicho where the love hotels are lined up side-by-side, all with beautiful neon signs that make lovers think they are going to a carnival, and I suppose they were, but one for adults behind closed doors. I'd been in quite a few of the hotels. But there was always another one that caught my attention. The Amour had been one I'd wanted to visit for quite a while, since way back when I was a high school student. A miniature of the Eiffel Tower was near the entrance, and the facade was made up like a building painters lived in. You know, a bit run down but charming.

Yuji was eager to please me. He booked the expensive Monet room that I wanted. It was like a room in one of those French painter's ateliers and had fake windows that looked down on a street, where there were bistros and sidewalk cafes and street gas lamps. Over it all was a starlit sky. How romantic it was. It made me feel really lonely, going there on business with Yuji. It would've been nice to have shared the room with someone I cared about a little more, I thought then. But my feelings changed.

On the ceiling over bed was a night sky of more lights flickering that swirled around. What a nice touch it all was, feeling like I was far away from this world of mine, on my way to another. Yuji? Well, he was too nervous to pay any attention to the way the room was decorated. His eyes were on me. That did make me feel good, of course, but so much in life was lost to this pitiful man. I started to feel sorry for him.

I unbuttoned the first two buttons of my frilly blouse to get him started, but even then he didn't know what to do, and so I took his hands and had him undo the other buttons. Then I slipped it off and tossed it over a painter's easel and turned around, for him to undo my bra. His fingers were cold. I shivered.

“I'm sorry,” he said. “I . . .”

“Don't think about it,” I told him. “Things will come naturally.”

I stood on my toes and kissed his neck. It was like kissing marble. No response. So I had to put his hands on the waist of my red dress and get him to pull it down. Then he finally caught on and did the same with my panties.

I reached out for his belt but he grabbed my hands. “No,” he said. But even so, I had time to feel that he wasn't going to be too much of a disappointment.

He turned the lights off and undressed. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised about him doing this either, after what Nobuyuki had told me about him. Him going to a love hotel with a girl young enough to be his daughter was a fantasy better than any video game. He'd missed out on life. And so had I, I realized then. But I tried not to think about that, just do what I'd been hired to do. I'd seen Nobuyuki across from the entrance of the Amour, his camera ready, just as we entered the Amour. So I suppose I'd already earned my money. All Nobuyuki had wanted was photos. But I couldn't walk out on Yuji. That would be cruel. He needed to learn something about girls while he was still young enough to enjoy them.

To my surprise, he was good for two rounds. That made me feel proud of myself. After the second round he told me my blue hair was what had turned him into a man. That just showed me how right I'd been about him. He was a child, really. I had been an avatar in a video game.

Lying on his back, he said, “I haven't been that strong since my honeymoon in Hawaii.”

Continued. . .


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