On writing “Letter from a Japanese Crematorium”
by Marie Mutsuki Mockett.
Revealing something very personal without the filter of fiction was initially difficult for me. When I turned in an early draft of this essay, my agent asked for a rewrite. “Where are all those fun details?” she asked. She reminded me of how I had told her the story of my grandmother’s funeral in a rush after returning from Japan. In this first draft of my essay, I’d explained what happened in a crematorium and at a funeral, but left out my grandmother’s secrets, the admonition from my mother’s friend and my grandfather’s emotional speech. I resisted making any edits at first; I didn’t want to write down my personal observations. But as I ruminated, the essay took on a kind of shape in my mind, rounded out by the details I’d suppressed. The rewrite and final draft came easily. In my writing process, I find that I still go through these two stages: an inert factual phase, followed by a revealing one. I’ve been surprised that people have responded to this essay so strongly, and am trying to determine how I, as a writer, am going to write nonfiction in the future.