"Pursuing Growth," an interview with Haruki Murakami by Hideo Furukawa, appears in the first issue of Monkey Business: New Voices from Japan.
Meeting Haruki Murakami in Tokyo the spring of 2002, and spending the better part of three days with him, discussing the minutiae of his writing process, was both the fulfillment of a cherished fan-boy dream (Haruki Murakami! in person! talking about Haruki Murakami!) and one of the riskiest pitfalls I've encountered in my development as a writer. I'd flown the twelve hours from New York for no other reason than to sit at the feet of the master, ostensibly to interview him, but in fact to discover whether any aspect of his M.O., from his precisely structured daily routine to his notions of concept and style, might somehow prove adaptable to my own. The answer was no, as it turns out.
Absolutely not in any way.
My work was in crisis when I made that trip, a not-so-unusual state for any writer; what was unusual, though, at least for me, was that I went looking for the answer outside of my own process, which is always tempting and almost never a good idea. My first book had been reviewed well, but I'd become convinced—neurotic that I am—that the praise I'd received was evidence that I'd played it too safe, tried too hard to please the gatekeepers (whatever that might mean). I'm proud of my first novel now, but at the time I had no doubt that it was garbage; Haruki Murakami's novels, on the other hand, weren't. Not only that, but the precise way in which they weren't garbage was different from other non-garbage I'd come across—emphatically, gratifyingly different. Quite possibly, I reasoned, if I were to meet Haruki Murakami, and to question him at length about how he went about making his books, I could correct the defects in my own approach.
At this point, Dear Reader, you may be beginning to see my mistake.
I asked Haruki how he mapped out the architecture of his narrative, and he told me he didn't. I asked how he knew, without preparation, what would happen on the next page, or even in the next sentence, and he told me, with admirable patience, that he didn't. He put himself in the reader's position while he was writing, he informed me: if he wanted to unsettle and astonish his readers, he himself must be unsettled and astonished, at least occasionally. It was really quite simple. Why did I seem so confused?
I wasn't confused—only dumbstruck. What struggling writer wouldn't go slack-jawed at the prospect of simply sitting down each morning, putting a favorite LP on the turntable, and letting oneself be agreeably surprised by what pours forth upon the crisp, white page? What could be simpler? What could be more seductive?
I won't go into the details here, but the results of said seduction weren't pretty, and cost me a year (perhaps more) of my professional life. What I wanted most from Murakami, of course, were those qualities that are impossible to borrow, let alone co-opt, and which have made him unique in contemporary literature. His style—in translation, at least—is oddly flat, and often flirts with both sentimentality and cliché; his plots, with a few noteworthy exceptions, tend to sidestep traditional notions of climax and resolution. There is not now, nor will there ever be, anything like a Murakami school of fiction, at least not in English; he belongs in the pantheon of freakish, sui generis originals, like Kafka or Burroughs or the great Nigerian “mad English” visionary Amos Tutuola, whose fiction—from the point of view of the orthodoxy—has no right succeeding but does. Ernest Hemingway's novels reward imitation, and so, in a different way, do Updike's and Bellow's and Elizabeth Bowen's; Murakami's, as I found out the hard way, repay all attempts at mimicry with tears.