I share the same hairdresser with a little known, yet best-selling author named Aki Misaki (三崎亜記). His first novel, Tonari Machi Sensô, won the 17th Shôsetsu Subaru Shinnin Prize, and has been made into both a manga and featuer film of the same name. The novel apparently tells the story of a modern-day Japanese town which declares war on its neighboring town. It is apparently told from the perspective of a public servant working in the town hall. I say “apparently” because while I have the book, I have not read it.
My hairdresser, Tanimura, occasionally mentions Misaki when I’m at his salon as he knows that I am also trying to make a career out of writing. Tanimura will say something like, “Misaki said he does all of his writing at McDonald’s.”
“McDonald’s? You must be kidding! How on earth can an author write anything halfway decent with that McDonald’s stink swirling around him?”
“Well, he manages somehow: just published his fourth book.”
“Yeah. So, where do you write?”
“Me? Mos Burger, of course.”
“No, no, I’m kidding.”
“Where do you write, then?”
Shortly before I remarried, my fiancée would take me over to her parents’ house on Sundays and lock me up in their washitsu and force me to write. It was torturous, but effective. kneeling in front of my MacBook with nothing else to do but fill a page with words and sentences, I finally managed to complete the first quarter of what would eventually become No.6, my second and better-selling novel.
My writing habit has changed considerably over the years. Although I have been writing since I was a kid, it is only in the past three or four years or so that I have become methodical about it. Where I used to write in the evening or at night, often under the influence of alcohol, I now like to write in the morning from about eight or so to one or two in the afternoon, preferably on an empty stomach. (I find it easier to concentrate when I’m slightly hungry. Hemmingway did too.) I’ll drink one or two cafés au lait over the course of the morning. (Too much coffee and I’ll end up spending more time in front of the toilet than in front of my MacBook.) I may have a double shot of Ron Zacapa Centenario, some of which I’ll add to my coffee. And where I once took copious notes, I do so only sparingly now. As Gabriel Garcia Marquez said in an interview, “I know from experience that when you take notes you end up thinking about the notes and not about the book.”
I write almost every day, one chapter at a time and in sequence. It might seem easier to just let everything in my head spill out higgedly-piggedly onto the page—to not waste the inspiration when it comes—but, I’ve found that going back and cleaning up the text can be a major, time-consuming headache. Better to get it right the first time and make minor changes later.
As for where I write, ideally I would like to write at home where I am comfortable. Unfortunately, I have a young son who likes to climb up onto my lap and start banging on the keyboard. So, I make my rounds at various cafés in town where the staff knows me and puts up my spacing out.
“Where do I write?” I said to Tanimura. “Here and there.”
I am still searching for the perfect café, a place where the seats are comfortable and mood is conducive to creative work, there is good coffee and food on the menu and good spirits on the shelf; a café where the wi-fi is reliable, the music not distracting, and smokers are forced to do their smoking outside; a place to write where it’s neither too cold nor too hot, that has a clean toilet, and where the customers are regulars so that I don’t have to worry about leaving my Mac on the table when I go to take a leak. If you know of this place, I am all ears.
Tanimura told me that Misaki had been in to get his hair cut recently.
“He said something that surprised me.”
“What was that?”
“Misaki likes interior design,” Tanimura said. “So, I asked him if he had any plans to build a house someday and what do you think this guy says? ‘Yes . . . as soon as I’ve saved up a hundred million yen.’ A hundred million yen! Do writers make that much?”
“Not this writer sitting in front of you.”
“A few months ago when Misaki was in here, he said he had just bought a Mini Cooper—cash! And then a month later he said he had bought a condominium. Cash, again!”
I didn’t doubt what Tanimura was telling me, but the funny thing is when I got home I asked my wife if she had ever heard of Misaki.
“Have you ever heard of Tonari Machi Sensôˆ?”
She had, but hadn’t seen the movie. Like most Japanese films, it was a low budget, direct-to-video production.
All week, I went around asking everyone I could those two questions and not a single person admitted to having heard of Misaki. (Some had heard of the movie, though, but, like my wife, hadn’t seen it.)
And yet, this goofy-looking Misaki is selling enough books to retire from his job as a civil servant in a small town office (Write what you know!) and is now able to devote all his time to writing. (My dream!) Misaki is earning enough money to be able to buy a car and a condominium with cash and is saving up to build his dream house. (My wife’s dream.)
“I had no idea writers could make so much from royalties,” Tanimura said as I was leaving.
“Neither, did I.”
It was encouraging to learn that a little known author like Misaki could do so well financially after having written only four novels. And it got me to thinking: perhaps, I should start writing at McDonald’s, too.
 Misaki, Aki (三崎亜記), Tonari Machi Sensô (となり町戦争), Tôkyô: Shûeisha, 2005.
 The Shôsetsu Subaru Shinnin Prize (小説すばる新人賞) is a literary prize awarded to new authors by the publishing house Shûeisha. It is named after the company’s monthly literary journal, Shôsetsu Subaru.
 Mos Burger (モスバーガー) is a popular chain of hamburger restaurants in Japan. Widely considered to have the best burgers, it is somewhat expensive for fast food. It is the second largest fast food franchise in Japan after McDonald’s with about 1,300 shops nationwide.
 Washitsu (和室) is a Japanese-style room found in most Japanese homes with tatami mats often used as a guest room.
 Márquez, Gabriel García, El olor de la guayaba: Conversaciones con Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza, Buenos Aires: Editorial Sudamericana, 1993.
 ¥100,000,000 is equivalent to about $1.3 million.