Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Mark Sakamoto on how writing requires digging

The author of the memoir Forgiveness comments on the challenges behind it in his answers to eight questions from his peers.
Mark Sakamoto is the author of the memoir Forgiveness. (Mark Sakamoto)

The true story of the author's grandparents, Forgiveness follows Mark Sakamoto's maternal grandfather through capture and imprisonment as a prisoner of war in Japan during the Second World War — all while his paternal grandmother and her Japanese-Canadian family are interned by their own government in Alberta. The memoir won the 2015 Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction.

Forgiveness, defended by Jeanne Beker, was the winner of Canada Reads 2018.

Below, Sakamoto takes the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A and answers eight questions from eight fellow writers.

1. Alison Hughes asks, "Which one experience, person or place has had the most influence on your writing?"

Soon after I signed my book deal for Forgiveness, I spent a few days with Michael Ignatieff. He has written a book or two. His finest piece of advice, which I have passed along on numerous occasions, is that you have to go as deep as you possibly can. Write, review, come back to it and dig deeper. 

2. Stephen Bown asks, "When do you do your best work?"

Daybreak. Everything and anything seems possible at daybreak. The world is quiet and has yet to set its impositions on me. I'm still in a dreamlike state. It is always a better day if I have seen the sun rise. 

3. Melanie Mah asks, "Who is a writer you love that you wish more people knew about? Why do you love them?"

Joy Kogawa. I love her. I know that she is extremely well known but I fear that many young Canadians have yet to discover her. Obasan is THE pre-eminent Japanese-Canadian novel. Did I mention that I love her? Oh — and the poetry of Leonard Cohen. 

4. Robyn Harding asks, "What is the hardest scene you have ever written? Why was it so difficult for you?"

In Forgiveness I recounted my Mom's untimely passing. I sat with that for hours on end, struggling to recall every detail. It is amazing how much pain a person can stuff away in a box. Opening it, blowing the dust off and giving it a hard examination is a very difficult exercise. I'm not sure that I have ever cried as much as I did during that writing period. 

5. Peggy Blair asks, "If your book became a movie, which actor would play your lead and why?"

I hope that this question is not hypothetical. We'd need a gentleman's gentleman for my Grandfather. Tom Hanks? For my Oba-Chan, we'd need a lady who is as beautiful as she is stoic. Mitsue Sakamoto was pretty bad ass in her own quiet way — perhaps Karen Fukuhara fits the bill. 

6. Katherine Lawrence asks, "What is the best time management advice you've learned?"

Turn off social media. You have to take your writing as deep as you can. There are no short cuts to that. You have to keep your butt in your chair. For hours on end. That is pretty much it. 

7. Madeleine Thien asks, "When does talking to oneself become a problem? Or, when does not talking to oneself become a problem?"

This question reveals why writing is so extremely lonely. Even when you are with someone, you are always, always, always in your head. Talking to yourself. Reliving, reviewing, editing every sentence. This is a necessary evil, I fear. 

8. Matti Friedman asks, "If you could go somewhere on earth right now, where would it be?"

Japan. It's always Japan for this guy. Kyoto is a place of ancient beauty and wisdom. Steve Jobs would make a point of travelling there once a year for inspiration. That sounds right to me.