Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Welcome to Jonelle Patrick

It is with great pleasure that I introduce Jonelle Patrick as my guest today. Jonelle is the author of five novels set in Japan. She also writes the Japanagram monthly newsletter, blogs at Only In Japan ( jonellepatrick.me) and posts more than anyone could possibly want to know at jonellepatrick.com. The Last Tea Bowl Thief came out October 20, 2020.
I read The Last Tea Bowl Thief and was completed bowled over (pun intended), so I decided for the first time to have a guest in my regular place on Seven Criminal Minds. So, take it away, Jonelle: 

 Thank you for inviting me, Terry. I’m so thrilled to meet readers who love the books written by you and your fellow Criminal Minds—they obviously know a well-written page-turner when they see one! 

 So, most people take one look at me and ask, how the heckin’ heck did a steak ‘n potatoes American whose parents grew up in North Dakota end up writing a book about shifty haiku poets and Japanese tea bowls? I wish I could say that it’s because I trained for years to become a black belt in tea ceremony. The embarrassing truth is that I’m actually super gifted at…shopping. When we first moved to Tokyo in 2003, we thought we’d only be there a year, so we rented everything—right down to the forks and chopsticks—and arrived with all our belongings in five boxes. Two years later, we left with seventy-four. That’s right. Seventy. Four. Because I fell in love with Japanese ceramics, in all shapes and sizes. 

I love Japanese dishes because they make food look really delicious, something I’d never thought about before. And the more I learned, the more I came to love them because Japanese potters are respected as artists—not just craftsmen—and the Japanese believe that making objects that are useful as well as beautiful is actually a higher art than creating stuff that’s only good for looking at. Tea ceremony bowls are a primo example of that—you can’t really judge a tea bowl’s worth until you drink from it. The experience is as much a part of its beauty as what it looks like. 

 Luckily for me, pottery is among the more affordable kinds of art, so as I traveled around the country, I bought some wherever I went. Unluckily for my husband (who somehow imagined all those boxes in the hall closet were empty), I traveled a lot. At first, I planned to buy just one teensy sake cup from each spot. Who knew there were so many great places to visit in one small country? And that there would be so many different kinds, each more beautiful than the last? By the end of two years…well, this is the tray I offer my dinner guests to pick their sake cups from:
Now that you’ve seen the tip of the iceberg (and sensed the scope of the mission creep), I bet you’re scratching your head because you’ve noticed something else: they don’t match. Japanese ceramics can be as different from each other as that mottled brown one is from the green one with the scratchy design. What kind of insane person would buy so many dishes that don’t even go together? But here’s the surprise: even though they come from totally different parts of the country and look nothing alike, they work together in ways that are far more interesting—and beautiful—than dishes that match. 

 And that’s something I think makes good mysteries too. The two women in The Last Tea Bowl Thief are as different as McDonald’s and sushi. One is American, with a stalled PhD dissertation, a less-than-affectionate pet goldfish, and eight years’ experience knowing that not one pair of pants in all of Japan will fit her. The other is a ninth-grade dropout, whose family has sold teacups and ramen bowls to Tokyo restaurants for generations, but whose shop will go under unless she manages to unload some of the things her grandmother hid upstairs and called their “insurance.” 

Not only do Robin and Nori have nothing in common, they’re racing against each other to find a tea bowl made by an artist whose work is so rare that possessing it will set them up for life. The only problem is, neither can get her hands on it without the other. And therein lies the tale. 

This isn’t just the story of a tea bowl that changes peoples’ lives as it’s passed from one fortune-seeker to the next for three centuries, it’s the story of two women from opposite sides of the globe who will both fail unless they find a way to work together. But if there’s one thing I’ve discovered while living in Japan, it’s that despite the fact we speak different languages, eat different food, and they bow instead of shaking hands, people are people, all over the world. We want the same things, dream the same dreams, and commit the same crimes (although we may commit them for different reasons, which is part of what makes international mysteries so intriguing). 

But sometimes our differences don’t push us apart—sometimes they’re like Japanese dishes that don’t seem like they’d go together at all, but in the right combination, they come together for a sublime experience that’s both surprising and satisfying. I hope that’s the kind of mystery you like to read too. If it is, come see me. I’ll let you choose your cup, then we’ve got a lot to talk about!


Brenda Chapman said...

Welcome Jonelle! A most fascinating post and I love the premise of your book.

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Thanks for a very interesting post, Jonelle, and best of luck with The Last Tea Bowl Thief.

Jonelle Patrick said...

Thank you both! I don't know about you, but I'm reading a LOT more since this pandemic started. And the more escapist, the better. How about you?

Brenda Chapman said...

I'm reading a lot more as well. Some mysteries, mostly escapist. Nice to take breaks from reality now and then :-)

Jonelle Patrick said...

So true. I've been hoovering up mysteries, historical fiction, and even some sci-fi—the further from our current reality, the better! I'm not usually a huge historical reader, but I've especially been bingeing books set in previous ages where societies survived painfully wrongheaded governments and unfit leaders, and lived to thrive again. Dunno why these might be so appealing to me right now...

Do you have a sense of what readers are finding compelling right now, and if it's different from the usual go-tos?

Frank Zafiro said...

Welcome, Jonelle!

Your book sounds like a fascinating read, and I love the contrast in it. Will have to check it out!