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June 22, 2023

Though he’s written for the stage, Werewolf and Idol is Tait’s first novel. A work of magical realism, Tait, as BookLife Reviews says, “expands what could be a straightforward potboiler, complete with plot points involving a coma and a mysterious military operation, into a rich portrait of Hokkaido life… attentive to the textures of everyday life and the feeling of the folklore of a wild place pressing up against modern bars, bowling alleys, and fallout shelters.”  

What was the inspiration for Werewolf and Idol?

A couple of things: I wanted to get to the bottom of the werewolf myth, to see where it came from and what it means. The other is that I knew my novel was going to be a long haul, so I wanted to set the story in an area where my father spent time, before he married and had children. He grew up in the countryside—fields and streams—but there’s no trace of him there. He died when I was 16. I miss him even to this day. I knew he’d been drafted into the army, had fought in the Korean War, and was transferred, after combat duty, to Hokkaido, Japan. So I took a trip to Chitose, south of Sapporo, where he’d been stationed. After spending a week there, I could see an outline of the novel taking shape. This was a chance to reconnect with his spirit.

Your previous written work was all for theater. How was writing a novel different from writing for the stage?

Reading is a solitary endeavor. Theater is for a group, and it unfolds in real time. It took me six years to learn how to adjust my writing. I admire the novels of Hermann Hesse and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. I read them as much for their philosophy of life as for story and character. I find that with novel writing, I’m welcoming a reader into my innermost thoughts. With most successful works of theater, the playwright’s persona is downplayed. I’m attracted to epics in general and the tragic—the ancient Greek—in particular. Production-wise, epic stories are less expensive to write than to perform onstage. Tragedy is not a big seller in theater these days. Writing this novel gave me a new set of opportunities. 

What kind of research did you do to ensure cultural and historical accuracy? 

The libraries of various branches of the Japan Foundation were a big help to me, as was Japan’s NHK WORLD-JAPAN television channel, which is broadcast in English worldwide. Luckily, I was working as a digital nomad—that made it financially possible to spend extensive time in Japan and other Asian and Pacific Rim countries. I traveled four times to the Japanese town and surrounding region where my novel is set. I interviewed people. I bought local books. I visited museums. I took my own photos and studied old ones. I must say that my having adapted quite a few Edgar Allan Poe stories for the stage helped me to handle the unpleasant, shocking scenes in my book.

What do you think are the hallmarks of magical realism?

Well, because of the werewolf myth, I became fixated on the concept of metamorphosis and let the story become permeated with it. The transformations in my book aren’t scientific; they’re supernatural. At the same time, I followed peoples’ inner lives and world history. The elements of magical realism flowed spontaneously. I was using symbolism and was intrigued by the occurrence of coincidences. I was dealing with fantastical elements in an otherwise realistic universe.

Can readers expect more from you soon?

My next epic novel’s set in Paris. I’ve lived there more years than anywhere else. It’s where my theater troupe is. The terrorist attacks of a few years ago were at establishments that I know; one was my favorite bar, and patrons were murdered in cold blood. In my novel, I’ll be saying things about war, extremism, the CIA, and nations as different as the former Soviet-bloc countries and Iraq. Two novels that are standing out as influences on the book are Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot and the Chinese classic A Dream of Red Mansions—indeed, in my second novel, there is again some of Asia.