The Girl in the Photo, A Novel (September 2013 NEW BOOK Recommendation)


A few years ago, I did an interview with Wally Wood, author of Getting Oriented: A Novel About Japan. I’m pleased to announce that Mr. Wood has a second novel out now, called The Girl in the Photo. I’m pleased for two reasons. One, he’s a good friend, and it’s always such fun to have a friend be successful in publishing.  And the the second reason is that it is a damn good book. I wish I could write like him.

The subject matter is one close to my heart, having lost a mother some years ago and recently losing a mother-in-law, both of whom I adored. The book asks the question: do we really know our parents? They had lives before us and also after we move away to live on our own. Mr. Wood explores this in depth when a sister and brother discover after their father’s death a photo of an unknown Japanese woman.  Mourning for their father, they are surprised by the depths of their emotions when they begin uncovering his secrets from decades before they were even born.  While they are making this unexpected journey together, their already shaky relationship is stretched to the limit.

I’ll admit it, I teared up at the end of reading The Girl in the Photo. It’s one of those intimate reads that leaves you sad, happy and satisfied.  Which is why I’m giving it my September 2013 NEW BOOK Recommendation.

Check it out for the paperback at Barnes and Noble website or Amazon.Com ( for paperback and Kindle version)

A Writing Primate’s Interview with Wally Wood – 2011

Interview with Wally Wood – Author

Author of Getting Oriented

Wally Wood is a professional writer and a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, with 19 business books to his credit. He holds an M.A. in creative writing from City University of New York and a B.A. in philosophy from School of General Studies, Columbia University. Mr. Wood is a long-time volunteer in local prisons and he teaches creative writing in the local library.

His first novel is currently available on Amazon: Getting Oriented: A Novel About Japan. (see  A Writing Primate’s New Writer for July post for more details.)

Click HERE to read the first chapter of Getting Oriented. You can also check out his BLOG which talks both about writing and about Japan.


Tell us about your first contact with Japan, and what was it that interested in the country and culture?

After the Korean war, I was stationed in an infantry regiment just south of the DMZ. On my way to Korea, my troop ship stopped in Yokohama for 24 hours and I had an eight-hour pass to walk around the city. I was astounded by the contrast between suburban Cleveland, Ohio, where I grew up and Yokohama. The architecture was unfamiliar. I couldn’t read signs or posters. I couldn’t talk to anyone. Shops carried goods I didn’t recognize. I’ve been trying to understand the country and the culture ever since. 

You have an extensive editorial background. Can you tell us about this experience and how it has influenced your own writing?

I was a trade magazine editor for 25 years. I began as a reporter and eventually was promoted to editor of one magazine and hired to be the founding editor of another. As an editor, your function is clear: How does this article help the reader? You always have to think of the reader. For a trade magazine, the question is easy: Does this help the reader make money or save money? Then: Is it clear? Is it interesting? We spent a lot of time thinking about headlines, decks, leads, captions, callouts, sidebars—the whole package. The influence on my fiction is to do my best to make the characters, the situation, and the writing as engaging as possible.

Do you have a particular person/author who has inspired you as a writer?

No. Or no one comes immediately to mind. I discovered when I was 14 years old that I could entertain people—adults, no less—and I have been writing ever since.

What is your favorite place in Japan, and why?

I like Kanazawa, a small city on the west coast that was never bombed during WWII. I spent a little more than two weeks there in an immersion Japanese language program in the early 1990s and have been back several times. It has one of the three most famous gardens in Japan, several interesting museums, and a “ninja” temple—a Buddhist temple built (I guess) for a paranoid lord because it is filled with secret passages and hiding places. Kanazawa was the castle town of one of the richest fiefs during the Tokugawa era (1600-1868), and a surprising number of the artifacts remain.

Describe to us about your own writing habits (favorite place/time to write, tools, etc.)

I regard myself as a professional. I try to get to my desk by 9:00 and write until 5:00 with breaks to get tea, lunch, check e-mail (although I’ve learned to turn off “mail” so I am not tempted to distract myself every time something comes in; I now check it before lunch, and in the late afternoon unless I am waiting for something special), waste time on the internet. If I’m not in the mood to write, I write in my journal about why I’m not in the mood to write. Recently I’ve found it useful to think about the day’s writing while I am walking for half an hour after breakfast. It accomplishes two things; it gives me a head start on the day’s writing and makes me exercise.

Tell us something of your experience in getting this book published.

  I published the book on CreateSpace, a subsidiary (division?) of Amazon. The process is embarrassingly simple: Either let CreateSpace do everything (for $300), or—my choice—do it yourself (essentially free). I thought I’d finished Getting Oriented two years ago and spent time and money trying to interest an agent without a nibble. When I decided to publish the book myself, I began re-reading it and found it full of small embarrassments, repetitions, awkward sentences. My wife, Marian, who is also a writer, read the manuscript and pointed out infelicities I missed. I would urge anyone thinking of self-publishing to hire a good copy editor. Because of my background, I was able to design the interior of the book and a good friend, a graphic designer, created the cover. Once you have a formatted manuscript and a cover design, publishing the actual book is mouse click.

Since you teach writing, what do you feel would be the one piece of advice you would emphasize to a new writer?

Write every day. If you write just one page of fiction every single day, at the end of a year you have the draft of a novel. Read the best writers you can find, not only the classics but authors publishing today. Read on two levels: the surface, what the story is about; and the technique, how the author is doing it.

When you are writing fiction, what do you usually come up with first: the place (like Japan), the conflict/plot or the characters?

  I don’t know. I think I come up with a situation (a guide leading a tour in Japan), then populate it with characters and try to provoke lifelike conflicts among them.

Who are your favorite Japanese authors?

This is a two-hour discussion because I like different authors for different things. I just read Kensaburo Oe’s A Private Matter, which is fascinating. I liked—and mentioned in my book—Jun’ichi Watanabe’s A Lost Paradise. I’ve read everything Haruki Murakami has published in English. Others I like in no particular order include Nagai Kaifu, Ryu Murakami, Amy Yamada, Shusaku Endo, Morio Kita. I’m still discovering wonderful Japanese writers.

Please give us an eight word description of your life. 

Boundlessly curious, avid to learn, eager to share.

New Writer’s Corner for JULY 2011

Today we travel in our search for new writers. Now, when I say new, it doesn’t necessarily mean new as in inexperienced, but new as in a delight to the brain, a treat we’ve never had before, a book we want to read while riding the “A” train, the ferry to Long Island, or the Shuttle-That-Is-No-More (except in our dreams) or maybe, just maybe, the bullet train in Japan.

Getting Oriented: A Novel about Japan is by Wally Wood. Mr. Wood is a professional writer and a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, with 19 business books to his credit. This is his first published novel and it is about one of his passions: Japan.  The main character of the book, Phil Fletcher, also shares Mr. Wood’s infatuation with a country steeped in tradition and yet, rushing to embrace the modern age. A nation of contradictions. When I read this book, I felt as if I were part of the group that Phil is unexpectedly shepherding  on a twelve day tour of Japan. Like any group of people, they’ve all got their problems, and despite his efforts to remain aloof, Phil gets involved, which helps him deal with his own issues. We can’t help but root for him as he tries to understand the lemons that life has handed him.

Japan has gone through some rough times recently, what with the tsunami and earthquakes, and Getting Oriented is a gentle return to the days before all those troubles. Definitely a book worth reading.

Wally Wood also does a blog about Japan and writing. Check it out HERE.  You can read the first chapter of his book there.

Upcoming on A Writing Primate will be an interview with this author.