Inspiration for Japanese Steampunk novel, The Memory Thief


The ideas in the Memory Thief series were percolating in my head for years before I got around to writing the novel. I have always been fascinated by foreign cultures and was inspired by my Freshman science teacher, Mr. Tebor, who served in the Peace Corps. I wasn’t able to study abroad while in high school or college, and I knew I didn’t have any valuable skills to offer the Peace Corps since I graduated with a BFA in illustration, so I pursued the dream to go abroad by teaching English in South Korea and then later in Japan. Because I am originally from the Portland, Oregon area and Sapporo is Portland’s sister city, it was a logical location to apply for a teaching job. Plus, I had a friend already in the JET Program in a city nearby. It felt a little less scary to go to the island of Hokkaido where there was someone I knew. I didn’t know much about Japan, aside from pop culture, but I had heard of Sapporo’s snow festival years before when I had a teacher in college who had participated and gave a presentation on it. I soon learned that while Hokkaido was temperate like Oregon from May to September, the rest of the year it snowed. And snowed.

And snowed.

While other gaijin (foreign) English teachers were out buying manga, partying and singing karaoke, I was going to museums and attending tea ceremonies. (Okay, so I also was going to breakdance classes too, but that is a different story.) I loved learning about the ancient culture and history of Japan and the local people who predated the second wave of Japanese who immigrated to the islands. When I went to the Ainu village in Hokkaido as a tourist, I was fascinated by the idea of indigenous Japanese who were Japan’s version of Native Americans. The plight and cultural extinction of these people inspired and influenced my writing.

The Jomon people in our world immigrated to Japan 14,000 years ago, though some sources suggest they may have done so as far back as 30,000 years ago. The Jomon became the Ainu of Japan, spread to the Pacific Islands and became the indigenous peoples of North America. Today’s Ainu are known for unusual, non-Asian characteristics such as fair skin, being harrier, having bigger noses or other European characteristics—some even having blue eyes. Archeologic evidence of skeletal and facial characteristics have shown the earliest Americans also had more European characteristics, and more recently, genetic evidence has shown the first Americans may have been more European than Asian.

Anywhere from 2,000-5,000 years ago, the second wave of immigrants called the Yayoi, spread to Japan and the Americas, slowly assimilating and destroying the first wave of peoples, not so different from what the Europeans did to the Native Americas in my own culture.

Living in Japan has influenced my writing greatly and I often find I am writing about experiences of feeling like an alien in another culture. The Jomon of The Memory Thief series are a mixture of Jomon and Yayoi, a blend of modern Japanese and Korean cultures with the Ainu of Japan and the Inuit of America.