Sugaru Miaki's "Your Story" Hayakawa Books Interview
A short interview from the publisher Hayakawa Books about Sugaru Miaki's upcoming novel, Your Story.
— First of all, tell us how the idea of Your Story was born.
Miaki: When I received the request from Hayakawa Books to write a book, I was initially considering a completely different story. The protagonist was a boy who was attacked by someone and had LIS (Locked-In Syndrome), so he was asleep for years, living in darkness. But one day, he's given a BMI (Brain-Machine Interface) that allows him to control a computer. Through long training, he becomes capable of doing everything you can do on a computer, then creates a fictional world that perfectly recreates ten years of his childhood, and uses a kind of pseudo-time-travel to determine who attacked him. But as the investigation proceeds, he falls in love with a fictional girl - who's also the lead suspect, of all people. I imagined it as a sci-fi romance mystery.
Martin Pistorius's non-fiction book Ghost Boy describes his life as a boy who spent ten years in a form of vegetative state. For a long time, he was thought to not be conscious, but one day a caregiver realized he could use AAC (Augmentative & Alternate Communication) to express things to the outside world. After that, he became adept with a computer, and ultimately reached the point of doing web design work. Reading Ghost Boy made me realize I had a major interest in the concepts of LIS, BMIs, virtual reality that permeates society, and the pseudo-time-travel that can take place there.
And so I completed the plot, but looking at the finished product objectively, I felt like this story was taking on more than I could handle. I thought, someone other than me should be writing this story. If I wasn't coming from an intrinsic place, it would be a waste of the idea. As I went fishing through my sci-fi books looking for more suitable material, I suddenly remembered Philip K. Dick's "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" (also known as Total Recall). I had just been writing a story about time travel back to childhood, so I faintly thought, "If I lived in that world, I'd probably struggle with whether or not to buy memories of a beautiful childhood." With that, I had the revelation that there was no more fitting subject for me. The idea of taking Total Recall's "yearning for Mars" and replacing it with youthful sentiments like "the 100% perfect girl" from Haruki Murakami's "On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning" was a very attractive what-if.
In my original plot, there were medical nanobots called "emotion educators," and these were used to implant the protagonist with beautiful childhood memories to cure emotional numbness. But I felt that I should make the protagonist someone with a more urgent motive, and reworked it into something more direct: a wonder cure for an unfulfilling youth. And that's how Your Story came to be.
— This is your first release with Hayakawa Books, after previously working only with Media Works Bunko. Did you take on any new challenges with this story?
Miaki: I've lived a life of always trying to escape science and math, so I think answering a request from Hayakawa Books was a greater challenge than any. (laughs) Other than that, I suppose the female perspective. In the past, I've written parts of the story from a woman's perspective a few times, but this book was constructed such that it was told from both the man and the woman's perspective, with the latter being the focus. So that was a new experience.
In doing that, I noticed that with a female perspective, I could write about true feelings without getting embarrassed. If the narrator and the author are the same gender, many readers will perceive the character's thoughts to be the author's thoughts, so I can't avoid embarrassment. I can't expose any of my true weaknesses, so I have to excuse myself in places. But when writing a woman's perspective, I'm irresponsibly thinking "these aren't my thoughts, they're hers." So I discovered I could ultimately write my true feelings that way.
— The major themes of this book are "memory (remembering)" and "stories (and telling thereof)." How would you describe these two aspects?
Miaki: To use some fuzzy logic, memory is divided into two levels: concrete fragments of memory, and summarizing memory that gives meaning to those fragments. When the fragments are recombined incorrectly, this results in false memories - however, if you add in other people's memory fragments to intentionally cause a mistaken recombination, that's "creating a story." Humans are creatures that are always revising their own story. We're constantly doing trial and error to come up with the best interpretation for awkward memories. Part of saying "things used to be better" is that you've refined your past memories into a story moreso than recent ones.
In the process of these recombinations, sometimes people realize what pieces are crucially missing from their story, and they come to perceive what were previously "experiences I never got" as "things I'd lacked from the beginning," filling them with an undeserved sense of loss. I masochistically create this undeserved sense of loss on purpose to make it into material for my books.
— As an author, what do you think of the sci-fi genre?
Miaki: I think this topic has already been discussed at length, so I'll answer naively as an outsider: "It's a genre where foreign matter is injected into reality (or reality is injected into a foreign world), the simulation is advanced, and you get to see what comes from thoroughly thinking through this alternate world." Alternatively, it's a genre that uses charming gadgets that happened to originate from works like that. Your Story doesn't do thorough thought and instead dives into feelings, so I believe it belongs to the latter group.
— Earlier, you mentioned "On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning." I think it's an important part of the bibliography for understanding Your Story, which is also a love story.
Miaki: If I hadn't read "The 100% Perfect Girl," I don't think I would have written this book. To summarize it, it's a short story where the protagonist passes by a girl in town and feels she's "the 100% perfect girl," and as he ponders why that is, he arrives at the out-there conclusion of "maybe we've just lost our memories, and we used to be the 100% perfect couple." What's interesting about this story is how it looks back at the past, asking not "is there someone destined for me?" but "was there someone destined for me?", which is far more romantic. Hiroki Azuma said, "There are no fateful partners, just the feeling some have that there are fateful partners. The fantasy that is retrospectively found there is the essence of the sekai-kei genre." The infection referred to as "the fantasy that is retrospectively found there" began in part with "The 100% Perfect Girl," and I feel as if Makoto Shinkai is now spreading it all across Japan.
Your Story is a story written all about "the fantasy that is retrospectively found there." And not only that, but one of the main themes is facing the deception and contradictions that inevitably surround the notion of a "heroine." Someone who conveniently starts to like you, someone who loves you unconditionally, someone who will dedicate everything for their feelings - there's no reason to expect such a person to exist. But if by some mistake, such a "heroine" appeared before someone, what kind of story would you find there? That question was always in my head as I wrote. That's why the book's tentative title was "Heroine."
— How do you feel about your fervent support from readers in their teens and twenties?
Miaki: I'm just writing what I would've wanted to read when I was a teen. I'm responding to my own desires from back then to read a book that handled this sort of subject in this sort of way. Something that perfectly fulfills the needs of one will fulfill the needs of thousands... I think it's kind of like that.
— What kind of author do you want to be, and what do you want to write in the future? If there's a sci-fi-like theme or motif you want to attempt, by all means, tell us.
Miaki: I want to be an author who writes what I want to read. I've never once felt any obligations about writing, and I'd like it to stay that way. If I wrote for someone else, or wrote for society, my stories would probably immediately lose all color. I hope the stories I write 100% for myself will happen to be treasures for someone else. That's how I think.