The author of four novels, Ruth Ozeki is also a Buddhist priest and filmmaker. Her books have won the Kiriyama Prize, a South Asian literary prize, and an American Book Award, and in 2013 her latest novel, “A Tale for the Time Being,” was short-listed for Great Britain’s Man Booker Prize. (Ozeki lives part-time in Canada and part-time in the United States.)
“A Tale for the Time Being” is a two-track story, told partly through the diary of a teenage girl in Japan, and partly by a woman in British Columbia who finds the diary washed up on the shore after the tsunami. In its review, the New York Times called it “delightful and harrowing.” Ozeki will be at Common Good Books in St. Paul on Monday.
In this interview, Ozeki explains why wrist cuffs are crucial, and why her writing room is more interior than exterior.
Q: Describe your writing room.
A: It’s a small but spacious room in my mind, very quiet and far away, and often difficult to get to. There are certain keys that fit the many doorways between here and there, but I’m often unsure of which keys to use, and I often lose or misplace them. But once I’m inside the room, I feel like I’ve come home. The room is quiet and still, but it is not restful. It’s filled with a generative tension that animates the air, which is alive and shimmering with hope and possibility. I haven’t been back there for several years now. The last time I was there for any length of time was in the fall of 2011, when I was finishing “A Tale for the Time Being.” I miss it terribly.
Q: What is your writing strategy — do you have rituals that you maintain?
A: It depends on what I’m writing. When I’m writing a novel, which is what I like to write, I get up early, sit zazen, make a pot of green tea. I wear wrist cuffs to keep my wrists warm and minimize irritation from extended contact with the surface of my desk. I sit down and write.
Q: How do you get past writers’ block (or the distraction of the Internet)?
A: Disable the Internet. Put a vacation responder on my e-mail. Go into my writing room for a month or two and lock all the doors behind me.
Q: Do you have a favorite book from childhood?
A: “Charlotte’s Web.” It’s about a writer. Who happens to be a spider.
Q: What books do you re-read?
A: Shakespeare’s plays.
Q: What’s on your desk?
A: Notes from the research I’m doing. My tea and teapot. Several pairs of reading glasses. Post-it notes. An ink pot and my fountain pen. OK, pens. I have several pens.
Q: Where are you right now? Describe what you see.
A: I’m in New York, in the corner of my apartment, typing at a standing desk, which is an antique drafting table. There’s a monitor on a shelf on the exposed brick wall in front of me, and above it loom four terrifying Mexican masks that I bought in Pátzcuaro, about 20 years ago, when I was there for the Diá de los Muertos celebrations. They help me focus.
Q: What are you reading right now?
A: I’m reading the galleys for Edward St. Aubyn’s new novel, “Lost for Words.” It’s brilliant and hilarious.
Q: What’s been the best place so far to do a reading?
A: Any independent bookstore that has managed to survive is the best place to do a reading.
Q: What authors have inspired you?
A: All of them. The very fact of authors inspires me. To be more specific than that would require far more space and time than we have.