Kim Hooper traveled to Japan to research her new novel, “Cherry Blossoms,” and saw Kyoto’s Buddhist temples, Tokyo’s bright lights, Harajuku girls, Mount Fuji, and the evanescent flowers of the title—just as her protagonist, a depressed SoCal advertising copywriter does. She also delved into a less-prominent aspect of Japanese culture: attitudes about suicide. A busy new mother who works in advertising, Hooper discusses the book’s nearly decade-long evolution.
On her two novels
What’s interesting about my stories is that they seem to involve a character who travels. The character in my first book fakes her death after 9/11, moves from New York, and starts a new life in California. The character in this one goes to Japan. He’s dealing with a loss in his life, and he decides to kill himself—but before he does, he decides to go to Japan and have this one last trip, this mission.
I’ve had depression off and on since I was a teenager. In 2009, I was going through a dark time myself, and I just thought of this character. I had a line in my head: “I have eight months to live.” He was looking at his bank account and thinking, “I’m going to quit my job and when my money runs out, I’m going to kill myself.” I’ve never been suicidal, but I wanted to explore what is that darkness and how do you go from depressed to suicidal. What’s the line, and how do you come back from that line?
On writing from a male point of view
What’s interesting is that male authors write women all the time, and there have been jokes that they don’t do it well. I think women can write male characters, no problem. Arguably, I would say we’re very empathetic. As women, we’re used to putting ourselves in other people’s shoes. For me, it’s fun to write somebody who’s obviously very different from me. We’re all human. But I did ask my husband to make sure there wasn’t anything glaring, like a guy would never say that or wear that or do that.
On East vs. West
What was so interesting to me is how Japanese culture is very much about the collective and the group, and American culture is so individual. You go back to the Wild West and the lone cowboy coming and conquering. I think capitalism and the way people frame success here is still tied to that. There, it’s a lot more about the good of the group. It’s a very different mindset.
On publishing a personal novel
I think it’s needed. I feel like there are not enough books that are about going through dark times that also have a sense of humor. I feel like I’m a pretty light, funny person, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t gone through hard times. I feel anything that brings to light issues of mental health or depression or just going through hard times—whether it’s losing a girlfriend, losing a baby, losing yourself—all these things that are human, that people go through, are important stories to be told.