500 Words From...is a series of guest posts from authors, in which they talk about their newly-published books. Here Ezra Kyrill Erker explains the background behind Salaryman Unbound, published by Crime Wave Press.
Ezra Kyrill Erker was born in Germany and grew up in Europe, California and the South Pacific, before settling in East and Southeast Asia. The longest and most formative stint of his adult life so far was spent in central Japan. He now lives in Bangkok, working as a freelance journalist.
Salaryman Unbound is set in a Japan of corporate intrigue, suburban loneliness and homicidal urges. Against this backdrop Shiro is having a midlife crisis. Unexceptional in his job, he works in the shadow of his charismatic boss. Unappreciated by his family, he has nothing to show for decades of doing the right thing - so he decides to try doing the wrong thing, and begins to plot the murders of strangers. His researches into methods of killing bring a dark structure to his life, and a black self-belief. Eventually, he targets Sayuri, a neglected housewife, and soon the would be killer falls victim to love. When a body is found, Shiro’s and Sayuri’s lives are thrown into upheaval, and the divisions between guilt and innocence are lost.
So: 500 Words From Ezra Kyrill Erker:
Salaryman Unbound began as a diversion while sitting in a café in Vientiane, a few months after leaving Japan. In an afternoon, an experimental paragraph had turned into a chapter. In three days, without plotting ahead, my longhand filled a small notebook. In three leisurely weeks I had a 20,000 word novella on my hands.
I wasn’t sure where it had come from, what dark recess of the subconscious could conjure such a disturbing tale. I’d just finished writing a collection of stories (which became A Bridge of Dreams: Asian Tales, published by Orchid Press) and a long, heavy coming-of-age novel (Embers, which should be out next year). Salaryman Unbound was a crime tale as far removed from those efforts as a book could get, and it had pretty much written itself. The question was: what to do with it?
Like many hastily written first drafts, it was a bit rubbish. Set in San Francisco, it had some flat dialogue and prose, and characters that didn’t leave much of an impression - but the main idea, of murder becoming an outlet for a mediocre man’s midlife crisis, seemed immediate and frightening. With the right set of circumstances it could be the story of my neighbour, a colleague or a friend. The difficult part was creating those circumstances.
The best fit was Japan, where a man’s company can become his purpose, his social life, his crutch, where it is harder to change careers or start over with a blank slate. Failure seems more permanent and more pervasive, and it makes sense that crime might become an outlet, a grasp at self-affirmation. I didn’t have to invent much - I knew provincial Japan very well from experience - and once I’d made the necessary cultural adjustments the story fit right in, like puzzle pieces fitting into place. I did some research into physiology and crime psychology, and the novel, now three times longer, with twists in the tail, was complete.
The novel is about how an everyman’s attempt at plotting the murder of a lonely housewife transforms his personality, so that suddenly everything seems possible. The new possibilities, however, include being more susceptible to suggestion, and the character becoming prone to a growing certainty that he is the ruler of his own destiny when in fact there are more variables at play than his awareness can take in.
We’ve all watched a heist film, or a television series about a rebel, a meth cooker, a gangster, a warrior, and caught ourselves cheering for the criminal, the outsider. There are elements of their situation we can relate to, and getting one over the system is something most of us at one point or another have secretly wished we could get away with.
In Shiro we have such an anti-hero. Told mostly through his eyes and mind, this is not a conventional crime novel but a literary and very personal drama, at the core of which just happens to be murder. I hope readers can find in its pages a story they both relate to and are frightened by. I was aiming to write a compelling and unpredictable page-turner. I hope Salaryman Unbound exposes some of the flaws and hopelessness of the human condition.