Heather Hallman is a bright new spot in the Boroughs Publishing lineup! She tells a wonderful love story-but her books are also a fascinating look at turn of the century (twentieth century) Tokyo. I thoroughly enjoyed ‘Toast of Tokyo’ and am looking forward to her next offerings.
Without further ado, here’s Heather.
1. What made you sit down and write your first novel? Have you always been a writer? Is it
something you’ve done all your life?
Stories are my love language. I’ve written them nearly all my life. Before I could write, I
told fantastical stories, mostly to entertain and impress others. As a child, I was the sort
who could turn an ordinary event, such as watching my mom’s aerobics class at the
YMCA, into a tale of grand adventure and emotional tumult.
I was often called a liar. My first-grade teacher contacted my mother about the veracity
of my having older siblings, eighteen and twenty years old. My mom was twenty-nine at
the time. But I could spin such a realistic yarn about those siblings that my teacher
thought they must exist but knew they couldn’t possibly exist, and supposed something
might be a little off with me. Fortunately, my mother knew me well enough to know I
was just talking. Soon thereafter, I learned to write in sentences and paragraphs and
kept those stories on paper.
I started writing long fiction during graduate school, and I’ve written quite a few full-
length books. They’ve all taken place in Japan or in my hometown, Baltimore. After four
books, I realized what I loved to write was the historical parts and the romance. Then I
started reading the sub-genre, historical romance, and felt very much at home. My first
attempt at historical romance was a fail. It ended up being historical fiction. It’s sitting
on my computer somewhere. I like the story, though, and one day hope to turn it into a
romance, proper, now that I know how to write a proper romance.
Talk of Tokyo was my first historical romance. I wrote it after my second daughter was
born. While I was recovering from the birth and devoting myself to her early months, I
couldn’t write, so I would put her in the baby carrier and walk around the neighborhood
while dictating ideas for books into my phone. Then, she got to the point where she
wanted a little more space, and I was less exhausted and was able to get the story out.
2. Why do you write romance novels? Do you read them as well as write them?
I grew up reading my mother’s Danielle Steel and Judith Krantz and knew all the
plotlines to The Young and the Restless, The Bold and the Beautiful, Another World, and
Santa Barbara. Romance is wired into me, although it took me a while to realize I could
I pretty much only read romance these days, and I read across sub-genres. I’d like to try
my hand at contemporary romance, but I haven’t figured out what kind of stories I could
tell or what my contemporary voice sounds like. It’s taken some time, two books
actually, to find my historical romance voice, so I feel settled, and I plan to write a lot
more in the sub-genre. But I know it’s not good to feel too settled. Have to challenge
oneself and all that in order to stay sharp.
3. In all my years as a romance reader, your books are the first I’ve ever read set in 1900
Japan-in fact, they are the first I’ve read set in Japan. What made you want to set
romances in this time and place? How do you think it makes your stories stand out from
other romance novels?
They say you should write what you want to read, and I would love a bevy of authors
setting their romances in Japan during the Meiji era (1868-1912). I’m hoping to get the
I’ve lived in Japan for almost fifteen years. I came here to teach English after college and
stayed for four years, then I did doctoral research here for two years, and have lived
with my family in Tokyo since 2015. I know Japanese culture and history very well. I’m
fluent in the language, or so I’m told. I tend to beat myself up over my language skills. I
want to be able to read, speak, and understand everything perfectly before I call myself
fluent, but that’s unrealistic. I can hold rather sophisticated conversations in Japanese
and daily life is no problem, so I’ll grudgingly admit to some degree of fluency.
4. Where do you get your characters? Are they purely figments of your imagination, or are
they based on real individuals?
I’m guilty of casting my characters based on popular actors. That helps with the physical
description. The internal, psychological, conflicts are my imagination. The external
conflicts they face are rooted in the historical era. They’re not my imagination per se,
but I’m throwing a lot of imagination at them.
5. What is your writing process? Are you a ‘plotter’ or a ‘pantser’?
I was a devoted plotter. I’m talking fifty pages of plot along with thirty plus pages on the
main characters. Then, last November, I did NaNoWriMo and pantsed it. Wow, that was
tough. I plotted while writing and somehow managed to get my 50,000 words but had a
few panic moments about where the thing was going and why I was doing this to
myself. In retrospect, though, reading over the writing, it wasn’t all that much worse
than when I plot, and pantsing is quicker. I haven’t written a rough draft for a full-length
book since last November as I’m in editing mode, so I’m still uncertain about how I’ll
approach the next book. It’s going to be set in a world I’m familiar with and mostly
peopled with characters I know, so I might try and pants that one.
6. How do you go about researching your work?
I spent over a decade in graduate school getting my doctoral degree in cultural
anthropology, so I’m good at plowing through academic articles. I use JSTOR to find
research articles and digest them for the details I need. I adore dissertations from
history folks who focused on Meiji-era Japan. Those are goldmines. Finally, I use diaries
by contemporaries to my story’s setting. I like these the least because they’re so
particular and require a jaundiced eye to work through the diarist’s agenda.
Unfortunately, in reading from diarists’ accounts of Japan in the 19 th and early 20 th
centuries, I encounter a lot of racism, which leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.
7. What do you do when you’re not writing?
I’m a homemaker extraordinaire! We moved to Tokyo in 2015 for my husband’s job
when my older daughter was three. At that time, I was the only member of the family
who spoke Japanese, and managing our lives became my full-time job. In 2016, I had our
second daughter, and my husband began showing debilitating symptoms of the disease,
My daughters are ten and six. The older one is into the flow of elementary school. The
younger one is leaving her three-year preschool for first grade starting this April (The
Japanese school year begins in April). So, I’m still in full mommy mode with her. I also
teach English at the preschool where she attends. I’ll continue teaching there after she
graduates in March. I need my weekly dose of kiddo cuteness!
I really don’t have a lot of free time. I jog when I can. I like taking baths. I like making
things in the kitchen. I enjoy vacuuming, too. It’s so calming.
8. Do you do any other kind of writing besides romance?
Not right now. I used to do academic writing but that feels like a lifetime ago.
9. If you could give one piece of advice to a beginning writer, what would it be?
Get beta readers. I was too shy to ask anyone I knew to beta read for me, so I hired beta
readers off Upwork. Spent between $15 and $50 on each reader for my first book and
their feedback taught me a lot, first, about how readers read, and second, about some
things my book lacked. They’re no substitute for a professional developmental editor.
But the process helped me get over the shyness of putting my work out there.