For those who aren’t aware, last week marked the 72nd anniversary of the order that authorized the relocation of Japanese Americans along the US West Coast into internment camps. More than 110,000 people of Japanese heritage were sent to these camps; most were US citizens. Actor George Takei is among the best-known former internees.
The internment figured into the backstory of one of the characters in Charley Descoteaux’s book Curious Sustenance. I’ve invited her here to talk more about that.
Thanks so much for having me, Shae! I appreciate the chance to talk about something serious every once in a while.
I grew up in California in the 1970s so a lot of things were commonplace that maybe weren’t in other areas of the country: we learned about conserving water and recycling, I had neighbors who were openly gay, and I knew people who had lived in internment camps.
The family of one of my best childhood friends had been “relocated” to one of those camps. She hadn’t been born yet but it still affected her life. By the time we were in the first grade together her family had just started to recover from losing everything because their ancestors were Japanese. At the time I didn’t think much of it—I loved Linda and hanging out with her and her family (and they were better off than my family), and that’s all I knew.
It wasn’t until I started college in my 30s that I fully realized what Linda’s parents and grandparents had gone through. Back then, it was a dirty little secret—when the adults talked about it they hid behind their hands and when I had questions they told me to go outside and play. Not anymore. At the same time Linda’s mom was teaching us to conjugate Japanese verbs my future history professor was driving all over rural Oregon to interview people who had been imprisoned in the camps. He did his master’s thesis on the subject, and after a few beers would talk about some of the horrific things he learned about our “free country” during that time. But not all of his experiences were painful. Many of the people he interviewed had found a way to be happy, to create the life they wanted despite the challenges of starting from scratch.
Some of what I learned about those conversations becamse touchstones in Miles’ backstory for Curious Sustenance. He’s dealing with the pressure to keep his family’s home—which the Shigiharas lost along with everything else in the World War II era. I didn’t want to delve too deeply into this difficult topic—both because CS is mainly Ross’s story, and because Miles himself only focused on it when forced. I wanted CS to be a hopeful story, one of readjusting boundaries to fit the life we want for ourselves.
If you’re interested in learning about this period of US history—maybe get a different view than the one you learned in school—I suggest starting with this site: the PBS Children of the Camps Project, initiated by Dr. Satsuki Ina.
I’ve read that some people write LGBT Romances to give people they’ve known the happy endings they didn’t get, and I understand how they feel. I didn’t set out to write a story about the Japanese Internment, but when it came up as a tangent I didn’t turn away. Writing Curious Sustenance made me happy, and I hope reading it will make you happy. If it makes you think a little, that’s cool too.
This is the first excerpt I’m sharing from Miles’ point of view. It takes place after his deposition and the other man in the scene is the one who filed the suit. It’s not sexy, but I hope you enjoy it anyway.
Before Miles could start the truck, the rap of knuckles on his window whipped his head around. For a split second, he wished he knew how to use tai chi as a martial art and not just a way to wake up in the morning, but then he saw it was Frank. Frank backhanded the window once more, and Miles slowly cranked it open. Maybe it would be a good idea to invest in some mace, or a Taser. Miles had a few inches on Frank, along with about thirty pounds, but the thought of touching him made Miles’s skin crawl.
Frank glared down at Miles for a long moment, and again Miles wondered what he’d ever seen in those blue eyes to make him believe a word out of that ugly mouth. Frank Williams had walked someone else’s dog past Miles’s home once a day for a month to try to catch him outside and start a conversation—he’d admitted that much the first time Miles smiled up from the floor between his feet. Miles shuddered at the memory, and pushed it away.
“What do you want?”
“Give me the house, and you can keep your business. I don’t want it anyway.”
Miles opened his mouth to ask why he should care what Frank wanted, but then remembered he’d asked and closed it without speaking.
“It’s my house—my family’s house. Do the right thing, and we both win.”
Frank turned and stalked away, leaving Miles trying not to literally spit and sputter. Instead, he threw the truck’s door open and in three long strides closed half the distance between it and Frank. He managed to keep from grabbing him and throwing him to the ground, but that took most of his last shreds of control.
“Fuck you, it’s your family’s house!”
Frank turned so the side of his body faced Miles. He realized it was bad that Frank seemed happy but couldn’t stop himself.
“My grandparents lived in that house in the thirties, and my father would’ve grown up there if they hadn’t been tossed into a concentration camp for being Japanese, asshole.”
“What happened to your Zen tranquility, Miles?”
Miles forced his voice out past his clenched jaw. “It’s keeping me from strangling you. You’ll get my home over my dead body.”
The way Frank grinned gave Miles a withering feeling that said he’d regret answering that particular question. A few moments later, Frank ambled away, hands in his pockets and a swing in his step. Whistling.
Ross Jenson is looking forward to a little midmorning delight to celebrate making Lifetime in Weight Watchers, but after he spent eight months losing ninety-eight pounds, what his lover gets him is a triple-layer chocolate cake. When Ross refuses to eat it, the newly minted ex leaves the country and dumps him via e-mail, with three sentences and a link to a chubby chasers web site. A few days later, Ross’s best friend and workout buddy takes him to her favorite club for drinks. Ross is shocked when he realizes it’s a sex club but warms to the idea in record time when a mysterious Japanese man and his silken ropes sweep him off his feet. Ross has never thought of himself as adventurous, but he can’t stop thinking about the man who makes his bones feel like gummy worms.
Warnings: This book features a corporate sensitivity trainer with an agenda, an awesome gal-pal, an unconventional sex club, a mysterious Japanese rope artist, and another taste of Portland, Oregon as seen through my twisted mind.
Charley Descoteaux has always heard voices. She was relieved to learn they were fictional characters, and started writing when they insisted daydreaming just wasn’t good enough. In exchange, they let her sleep once in a while. Every guy deserves a beautiful love story even, or maybe especially, the ones who would usually be in the supporting cast. Home is Portland, Oregon, where the weather is like your favorite hard-case writing buddy who won’t let you get away with taking too many days off, and in some places you can be as weird as you are without fear. As an out and proud bisexual and life-long weird-o, she thinks that last part is pretty cool.
Rattle my cages—I’d love to hear from you!
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