Megan Kamalei Kakimoto is a Japanese and Kanaka Maoli (native Hawaiian) writer from Honolulu, Hawaiʻi. Her fiction has been featured in Granta, Conjunctions, Joyland, and elsewhere. She has been a finalist for the Keene Prize for Literature and has received support from the Rona Jaffe Foundation and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. She is a Fiction Fellow at the Michener Center for Writers and lives in Honolulu.
Please tell us about your book, Every Drop is a Man’s Nightmare. What is it about, and where did your ideas for this collection come from?
Every Drop Is a Man’s Nightmare is a collection of stories centered on contemporary Hawaiian womanhood and the rich superstitions of Hawaiʻi. I always knew I wanted to write about women’s bodies in the context of violent colonization, but the prevalence of cultural superstitions came as a bit of a surprise. It was only through writing several stories that I noticed the common thread of local superstitions impressing themselves these women’s lives, and I had to follow this interest.
How do you weave your culture(s) into your stories? Would you say that it/they influence(s) your writing, or perhaps what you have to say?
Hawaiian culture is an inextricable part of my writing and my writerly interests. That said, I resisted writing about my culture for a long time. There are so many anxieties associated with writing about any place one calls home, but particularly a home that’s long been glorified, commodified, and colonized by western society and media. There’s a pressure to write this place right, to do justice to a place I’m so immensely proud to call my kulāiwi (homeland). Eventually I found I needed to write into this pressure, into the challenge, rather than allowing it to silence me. Because the only way to dismantle the idea of a monolithic Hawaiian experience is to continue to write and share our individual stories.
Every writer’s journey is different. What moment, between the idea for this collection to the book deal, do you wish you had a picture of? (better yet if do have a picture!)
I’m thinking of a recurring scene in which I drove through Oʻahu rush hour traffic in search of a quiet, comfortable place to write. When I first started writing these stories, I was not an MFA student but an account executive for a PR firm, every day confronting a toxic work environment and taking comfort in those two or three hours post-work when I could enter a world of my own making. I remember constantly sitting in unmoving traffic, anxious, agitated, desperate to arrive at a physical space of creativity and also to arrive at a new point in my writing career. I don’t have that photo, but I wish I did.
What is your writing process like? Do you write every day? Are you a pantser or plotter? Is there a part of the process that you’re particularly fond of?
I love talking about process! One of the best pieces of advice I received from my mentor Elizabeth McCracken is to romanticize your process. She reminded me that each writer’s process is individual and specific, and that I should romanticize mine as a way of enduring when the writing feels unendurable. By idealizing the more-often-than-not grind of writing, I’ve been able to trick myself into persevering when the work feels extra unwieldy, I’ve been able to carry on.
So my process is a lot about persistence. I write every day, and I write best in the mornings, so usually I reserve at least three to four hours each morning for writing. Back when I was working full-time, I wrote in smaller chunks of time, usually an hour before work or an hour or two after. I don’t plot my short stories; instead, I typically begin with a particular image or tone that I write into, trusting the story will follow. I also spend a great deal of time revising, which for me means rewriting. The discovery part of writing is always my favorite part, so whenever a sentence or a character surprises me, I try my best to follow that impulse and trust it will lead me to the heart of the story.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers and creators from marginalized/underrepresented backgrounds?
There is so much I can say about the failures of publishing to acknowledge and to amplify Indigenous/marginalized voices, none of which would be new or particularly useful. What’s helped me most in this process toward publication has been to focus on only the things I can control. This doesn’t mean acquiescing to the status quo of publishing; instead, I think of it as a way to conserve my creative energy, and to direct it toward my work. I like to believe this approach to writing the very best stories I can write, stories that not only amplify my marginalized identity but celebrate it, while ignoring the noise emanating from the machine of publishing, has made me a much better, more focused writer.
I also think finding your readers is one of the most helpful things any writer can do, but particularly a writer from marginalized/underrepresented backgrounds. You’ll encounter so much feedback and criticism as a writer, and it’s really important to identify what kind of feedback resonates with you and serves to improve your work versus what feedback is simply a misunderstanding of your project. Discerning this can be tricky, but it’s a worthwhile endeavor.
What superpower would you like to have?
I just wrote a little story about a mail carrier who possesses the power to read other people’s mail simply by holding it in her hands. She calls it a lame superpower, but the more I think about it, the more it appeals to me. I can be pretty nīele sometimes.