People have asked me when and how the story of Bumbling Bea was conceived. To me, it feels like a really, really long story, but maybe it isn’t in the grand scheme of things. Here goes:
My grandparents, of whom I never knew, were missionaries in Japan in the 1930’s and 1940’s. My mother was born in Osaka, Japan and lived there until she was eighteen years old. Two years before the bombing of Pear Harbor, my grandfather was told it was not safe for Americans to stay in the country and urged to leave, so he did. My mother had all ready moved to the U.S. to go to college. She never returned to the country until my father and I visited with her when I was sixteen years old. It was an amazing trip and one that I still remember quite vividly.
One of the most memorable experiences of the trip was our attendance of a Kabuki play in Tokyo at the Royal Kabuki Theater. If you aren’t familiar with Kabuki Theater, my best description would be to compare it to an old melodrama mixed with a fairy tale and told in a grandiose way. The costumes are extravagant, the make up looks mask like, the sound effects are produced live and the actors use choreographed movement and facial expressions that are exaggerated.
But here’s the real kicker: All of the roles are portrayed by men. What?
As a young woman, I was fascinated by this aspect. No women portray roles in the show? But the men aren’t considered dressing in drag? It’s part of the art form?
This is the primary impetus for writing Bumbling Bea. Initially, the book was titled Two for the Kabuki because it is a story about two girls–an American girl and a Japanese one. The title changed a year ago after attending a writing conference and talking with an agent who suggested I focus upon Bea’s impetuous nature.
I wanted to write a book for middle grade students because I have a special love for them. AND I thought that the fact that Kabuki Theater is only performed by men was an interesting idea that probably most students would not know. So, the original idea sat in my brain for twenty-seven years (no, honestly) until I finally gave in to my fears and worry and took a stab at writing the story.
But let’s rewind to the beginning of Bea’s journey.
When our oldest daughter was an infant, I enrolled in a beginning writing class with the Children’s Literature Institute. I had always been a writer, writing my first story when I was four years old (it was about a pig). I have a minor in English and I am licensed to teach Language Arts. But write a book? Other than my illogical fear of sharks, writing a book absolutely freaked me out! I had no idea how to go about writing a book, hence I took the writing class. I remember typing on my beloved Brother typewriter–no computers yet. I placed it on a towel, so my typing wouldn’t wake up our sleeping infant. I loved it. The writing gave me a creative outlet and something to think about other than diapers and feedings. Don’t get me wrong–I loved being a mother and I still do.
Being a mother has many challenges, none of which include having too much time on your hands. The more our daughter grew, the less time I had to write much less think. I put the book idea on the back burner of my brain, because of my family and teaching responsibilities. Also and probably most importantly, I had plenty of fear about attempting to write it. What if this, what if that, what if what if.
Fast forward several years….another daughter was born and I am still busy teaching and directing plays. No time for writing that’s for sure. Kabuki Theater would drift through my thoughts from time to time. When I became frustrated with circumstances in my life I’d weep that, “what I really need to do is write”! But still there was no writing accomplished and no faith in myself.
More time passed, except I began writing but I did’t recognize it. I adapted multicultural folk tales into plays and wrote arts grants for the community theater of which I presided. Heck, I even attended graduate school and received my Masters in Education in creative arts learning. There was a lot of writing in graduate school–papers, poems, lesson plans, etc.
But Bea and her story? Still not happening.
Zip. Zap. Twenty years go by in a slow motion instant. Our daughters are adults, we move, we have new jobs and live in an amazing place with mountains that tease you to be inspired. Another writing class (because I still don’t feel I know enough) and voila! Bumbling Bea was finally born.
So, the question should be: What changed that I finally felt equipped and ready to write Bea’s story? When one turns a half century (yikes), one begins to look around and think about the regrets that she has. I have always lived in the present, but I knew that I would really, really regret not writing Bea. And probably strangers, my friends and certainly my family were really, really tired of hearing about Bea. So, I did it and I’m really, really glad. Really. Tada!
Many thanks to Russ Brown for his expert illustration of the front cover.
Beatrice thinks she has no acting talent but that doesn’t stop her from auditioning for the annual middle school play. She has two missions-winning the role of Pocahontas (which guarantees her popularity with the cool kids, at least in her mind) and grabbing the attention of her estranged father. Easy! Except a new girl from Japan shows up and ruins everything! So begins Beatrice’s diabolical and hilarious plan to scare away the visitor. Beatrice is sometimes sarcastic, sometimes very funny and always honest. This is a great book for those who love theater and every part of it–the good, the bad and the crazy!
Okay, that statement isn’t really true. The beloved Kabukiza Theater has re-opened after a huge renovation but Michiko didn’t really attend. She is a fictional character from my book, Bumbling Bea’. However, if she could, Michiko would be there along with the thousands of other lovers of Kabuki Theater. I bet she would be first in line!
I don’t know if you know this, but Kabuki Theater is a really old style of theater in Japan. It dates back to 1600s.
In the beginning, women played the roles. It was very popular (kind of like Shakespeare and his plays) and people of all walks of life attended. But many of the women who performed in the Kabuki were…shall we say, “ladies of the night” and the government thought that it was inappropriate for them to be such a public sensation.
The men took over the roles and that’s how it has been performed since then. Figures…
The stories dramatized through Kabuki were very elaborate (like fairy tales or myths) and included male and female characters. The men portrayed everything from dragons to women’s roles. You should see them! They are amazing.
So this “Michiko girl” as Beatrice first calls her– what’s the deal with her? Whenever Michiko is in a play, she tries to put Kabuki theater into the show. You might say she is obsessed with it! Why is she so crazy about it? Michiko wants to keep the family business alive.
Michiko’s uncle is a celebrated Onegata actor in the Kabuki. Traditionally, when someone performs Kabuki Theater they have inherited their part from a family member. Usually, Kabuki is passed from one family generation to the next. Except in Michiko’s family, there is no male in which to pass the art form. (It is at this point that Michiko would stand up and say, “I will play the part! I want to be a Kabuki actor!”)
Things are a little more complicated than that, however. Michiko and her mother argue a lot in the book. It isn’t for the usual reasons, though (like staying up late on a school night or going to the mall with friends).
They argue about BIG things. Michiko’s mother thinks performing in theater is frivolous and a waste of Michiko’s time. She wants Michiko to study more intellectual pursuits, like music and science. Michiko has two challenges: wanting to perform in a theater that doesn’t include women and trying to follow her own dreams and not her mother’s.
Before you think you know all about my book, I must inform you: Bumbling Bea isn’t just about Kabuki Theater. In fact, it is only one part of my book. Next I’ll tell you about Flag Dinners. Yes, you read that right. 🙂