Fiction | May 10, 2012

Winner of the 2011 Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize for Fiction.

Shinji arrived at his cousin’s house early Monday afternoon after a four-hour train ride from Tokyo. His cousin’s wife, Yumi, was the only one home. Despite short notice, she immediately made Shiji feel welcome. Over some tea and homemade apple cake—she said she taught cooking classes at a local cultural center—they had their semi-introductory conversation. They had never had a chance to sit down and talk one-on-one before. And in the course of this initial chat, she told him about an incident involving her son Kazuo.

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Meet the Author:

As with my other stories, “Unintended” grew out of a small, quiet scene.  I saw the protagonist, Shinji, and his cousin’s son, Kazuo, sitting together on a riverbank and heard the sound of batting practice from across the river.  I knew it was spring, and I knew how the air smelled as they chatted.  I listened to them, trying to understand their relationship, who they were and why they were there (none of their initial conversation, incidentally, made it into the final draft).  I sensed that Kazuo was troubled, and I imagined his mother telling Shinji about a peculiar memory incident.  I then wondered what might have brought Shinji to this family.  Slowly, as though excavating, I widened the window opening onto their world, discovering each of their stories as I went.  Once I started to understand these characters, the story took its own course.

When I start writing a story, I usually don’t know what it is about, or where it will go.  It’s an uncertain process that requires patience and, at times, a leap of faith.  I inevitably get lost along the way and often I have to abandon various threads before picking up the right one to go forward.  But when I find that thread, there is nothing more enthralling than the process of following it to the end.

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