Sugaru Miaki's "Your Story" Asahi Interview

An interview with Sugaru Miaki about his latest book, Your Story. It casually mentions some things that are fairly spoilery for the way the book goes, so don't read this unless you've read all or most of it.


Charging Despair, Then Writing Stories: Sugaru Miaki, Author of the Popular "Your Story"

Unblessed with my parents' love, with no friends worth calling friends, I lived a lonely childhood. So in the summer when I was 20, I decided to erase my memories of that lonesome past using memory-altering nanobots. Yet by some mistake, I instead received nanobots programmed to implant memories of a fictional childhood. Accidentally taking them revived memories of "a childhood friend I've never met," Touka Natsunagi. Day after day, I was tossed around by sweet memories with Touka. Then one day, she who shouldn't exist appeared before my eyes...

Your Story, a novel by Sugaru Miaki that gathered much attention and received a reprint on the day of its release. We spoke to the young 28-year-old author about his experience up to releasing it, and about his troubles.

The Interviewed:
Sugaru Miaki

Born in Iwate Prefecture in 1990. Gained popularity for posting stories online under the name "Genfuukei," then made his debut as an author with Starting Over in 2013. His main works include Three Days of Happiness, Pain, Pain, Go Away, and Parasite in Love (all published by Media Works Bunko).

I Want to Inflict My Sickness on Readers

— In just a month and a half since release, you've gone through 6 printings (as of August 29th). You certainly have the support of many readers.

Miaki: In some sense, I want to inflict the same sickness I have on my readers. Through Your Story, I want the boundary between real memories and fake memories, between reality and fiction to become unclear. I have those kinds of symptoms, so I want everyone to suffer the same way. That's what I had in mind when writing it.

— The plot point of encountering a childhood friend who should only exist in false memories (Mimories) clearly does mix reality and fiction. There's also the important occupation of "Mimory engineers" who create Mimories. What led you to these ideas for the story?

Miaki: The idea itself of implanting artificial memories in your brain has always been a standard element in sci-fi, I think. I got the idea of making that into a job and treating it as a service from Philip K. Dick's "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale," the story that the movie Total Recall was based on.

I'm personally very fond of We Can Remember It for You Wholesale. In fact, I thought the structure of the story could be very emotional... there are elements that could make it a romantic story. The protagonist in We Can Remember It For You Wholesale dreams of adventuring on Mars, so he purchases memories to that effect, but if the purchase of memories of going to Mars were replaced with something more emotional, or less healthy, I had a feeling that could be super romantic. That's when I thought about a fictional childhood friend. I was like, I bet replacing the "yearning for Mars" with "the 100% perfect childhood friend," as in Haruki Murakami's "South of the Border, West of the Sun," would make for a great romance, so that was my starting point.

Also, the idea of Mimory engineers in this book came from the occupation of "half-author" in Yuya Sato's 1000 Stories and Backbeard: someone who creates stories according to customer requests.

— Do you often get "hints" from other works?

Miaki: The number one thing that drives me to create are stories that are "so close" - they're close to a story I want, but they're not quite right. Often, I read a story like that and think "this isn't right," then I ask myself "well, how would I make it an ideal story for me?" and run a simulation; that's how many of my stories are born.

I completely agree with the notion that by now, "originality" is an illusion and everything is a collage of things you've seen or heard somewhere before. I've never had any desire from the start to make something fully original or completely one-of-a-kind.

A Yearning for Childhood Friends and Summer Festivals at the Shrine

— The lonely protagonist has a "childhood friend" who's the one person keeping him afloat, and he meets said girl at "a shrine during a summer festival." This notable motif is shared by another of your popular works, Three Days of Happiness; is this something you were conscious of?

Miaki: I don't know if I should say "conscious of it," as it's probably best to say that I just like that kind of thing. (laughs) The story features phrases like "unfulfilling youth" and "childhood-craving zombie," and I think those illnesses apply to me as well. I have visions like that every time summer comes around, so I kind of yearn for it, or am haunted by it... While consuming all sorts of fiction, I one day noticed it there inside me, is how I would best describe it.

— At first, Your Story is told from the male protagonist's perspective, then partway through, like changing a record from A-side to B-side, it switches to Touka Natsunagi's perspective. There, the "trick" of why the person in the Mimories exists begins to be explained.

Miaki: At first, I intended for Touka's chapters in the latter half, which you compare to a record's B-side, to just end in one chapter. However, the moment I started to write Touka's chapter, I realized that maybe this story shouldn't have just one protagonist, and in fact, maybe Touka should be the main axis. And so that part expanded and formed an A-side/B-side relationship.

It was the first time I'd focused this much and settled down on writing in first person from a female character's perspective, but when I reread it now, I feel like I could actually write much more carefree from her perspective than the male perspective in the first half. I suppose that's because I could write knowing the reader wouldn't view the protagonist and the author in the same light, that they would read it as someone else's story, that this is strictly her story and not mine; because of this, in some aspects I was able to write more honestly.

— When a male author writes from a male perspective, he projects on the character, I suppose.

Miaki: I'm cautious not to let that happen, but some things just can't be avoided. (laughs) So no matter what, I can get embarrassed while I'm writing, or feel self-conscious about it. It was refreshing not having those things intervene when writing a female perspective.

The front cover is an illustration by Mayumi Konno, personally requested by Miaki.

— Besides Your Story, I feel a lot of your stories have male protagonists who are isolated at school and outcast from society. In the afterword of Three Days of Happiness, you yourself revealed that your "unhappy self" is your identity.

Miaki: A friend of Franz Kafka once wrote in a letter to him, "You are happy in your unhappiness." That's basically the way it is, I think.

I wrote about this clearly in Parasite in Love, but gaining something comes with the risk of losing something, and to flip that, not having anything means no worry of losing something. Whether you should take that to be happy or unhappy is a really difficult question. I'm wondering about it to myself through my stories.

In Your Story, there's a scene where Touka, upon learning about her disease, wonders if she should enjoy her time left with nothing to lose, or loathe her life prior in which she never even got anything to lose. Myself, I'm still unable to decide which side is better overall. I think it's a theme I'd like to keep considering.

— The protagonist's parents rely on Mimories, and are depicted as being satisfied with it. While I read Your Story, I did wonder if people could become "happy" if only they received the ideal memories.

Miaki: You can't say anything unanimous about it. Filling in what you lack with fiction is like quenching your thirst with sea water: the more you drink, the drier your throat will get. But in the end, you can't avoid drinking it, and it can temporarily satisfy you. Though on the contrary, it keeps weakening your body...

Taking Interest in Stories from an Otsuichi Short Story

— You made your authorial debut with Starting Over in 2013. What pushed you to start writing novels?

Miaki: It's fairly ambiguous for me, but in middle school, I read a short story complilation containing Otsuichi's "Happiness Has the Form of a Kitten." It made me feel for the first time "this is a story written for me," and gave me an interest in stories as a means of expression. If I had to sum it up, I'd call it a dark story, but I really sympathized with the aspect of longing for beautiful things while not considering yourself in that category.

— You initially posted your works online. Why did you choose the web as a place to publish them?

Miaki: Most of my generation have had PCs connected to the internet since we were kids, so we don't see the web as a particularly special place. So to me, posting them online was a totally ordinary act, much more natural even than showing them to friends. I think it's a much more interesting question why you wouldn't post to the internet. I actually intended to try for a Rookie of the Year award once I'd built up experience online, but an editor contacted me before that, leading me to my debut.

— How would you describe the act of writing stories?

Miaki: Living lives you weren't able to live.

— Are you already writing your next story?

Miaki: I'm thinking about it, but I haven't started writing yet. It's not like I can start wiritng immediately once I have an idea; if I start to write before I have acute desires, about what I really want to read and really want to write, about what I want to escape from, then it's unavoidably going to feel like I'm writing someone else's story.

— What do you mean, escape from?

Miaki: One thing is "the fact that I'm myself." Or maybe it's a more vague motive, like purely wanting to think about someone else's life. But I think the desire to write and read stories has at the forefront the desire to live a life other than your own. When those desires are heightened, sometimes you want to escape from the despair of you being yourself, or other times you just have problems you don't want to think about. Or you may be disappointed with the way reality itself is - that can happen too.

— Once you've written a story, does it make you feel saved?

Miaki: Indeed. I feel saved, and at the same time, my motivation disappears. So in a way, I'm currently in the stage of charging up despair.

Posted September 19th, 2018

#fafoo, #your story (Source)

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