Jami Nakamura Lin is a Japanese Taiwanese Okinawan American writer, whose work has been featured in the New York Times, Catapult, and Electric Literature, among other publications.
She has received fellowships and support from the National Endowment for the Arts/Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission, Yaddo, Sustainable Arts Foundation, Sewanee Writers’ Conference, We Need Diverse Books, and the Illinois Arts Council Agency. She received her MFA in nonfiction from Pennsylvania State University and lives in the Chicago area. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.
In this post, Jami discusses the team effort behind her speculative memoir debut, The Night Parade, why leaning into the weird aspects of your writing is a good thing, and more!
Name: Jami Nakamura Lin; illustrated by Cori Nakamura Lin (my sister)
Literary agent: Stephanie Delman, Trellis Literary Management
Book title: The Night Parade
Publisher: Mariner Books / HarperCollins
Release date: November 7, 2023
Genre/category: Speculative memoir / Memoir
Elevator pitch for the book: In this genre-bending memoir, I explore the monsters, spirits, and creatures of Japanese, Taiwanese, and Okinawan folklore to better understand my bipolar disorder, my ancestry, the death of my father, and the birth of my child. The memoir also features incredible illustrations by my sister Cori.
What prompted you to write this book?
My father died and my daughter was born within two months of each other in late 2018. I spent about a year just recuperating. After that, I knew I wanted to write about these events—along with my experience with bipolar disorder as a teenager—and tethering the personal to the mythological was the only way I was able to access these difficult topics.
How long did it take to go from idea to publication? And did the idea change during the process?
I knew I wanted to write a book about my experience with mental illness since I was young; I wrote a tiny “book proposal” when I was 17. But the version that exists now truly began in 2020, when I started writing an essay column for Catapult that used these yо̄kai—monsters and spirits of legend—as a way to talk about my fears. My agent found me via the column, and I signed with her in December 2020. When we put together the book proposal, we included my sister’s illustrations—Cori and I have collaborated on lots of projects since childhood. We sold the book in February 2021, and spent all of 2021 and 2022 writing and revising with my editor. It came together relatively quickly because of how long I’d been thinking about it, and how much research I’d done earlier.
Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?
Because my sister illustrated the book, and because the art is so involved (there are full-color spreads before every section and chapter), I was included in so many nitty-gritty decisions that usually wouldn’t involve the author. I had no idea we would be able to have so much input. This made it really special, and allowed us to do things like have my ama (my father’s mother) do the brushwork for the section headers, and have our hanko (a stamp of our name) on the back cover.
Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?
The strengths of this book grew from all the failures and frustrations along the way. Between 2014-2018, I wrote and researched a YA fantasy novel based in mythical Japan. But I kept writing in circles, and hundreds of thousands of words went nowhere. And yet, much thinking and research I did for that book later ended up (in a very different form) in The Night Parade. Similarly, many of the chapters I like the best—the ones that play with form, with second and third person POV—happened because I tried and tried to write them the regular way and couldn’t.
What do you hope readers will get out of your book?
I hope that readers will be able to see grief and illness (their own and others’) as things we can learn to carry with us, rather than as things to be exorcised as quickly as possible. I also hope readers will be entertained—I felt a lot of joy writing parts of this, and I hope readers can feel that too.
If you could share one piece of advice with other writers, what would it be?
One of the most freeing parts of this process is when my editor told me to lean into the weird. I think this is a good lesson for everyone, if we think of weird as the things that make our work idiosyncratic and unique and wild. The part of our writing we might be unsure about, the part that’s a little rough and wild, the part that people in our workshop might think should be edited out of the story. And yeah, sometimes that’s true, but other times it’s the rest of the story that’s yearning to break out and join that part in the wildness.
Also: You don’t have to write every day. I go months without writing. Find a writing schedule that makes your body and your mind feel good. It might not look like everyone else’s.