On wanting to write “some great American masterpiece”

When I was “home” in South Carolina last month, I dug up my high school diary and some old clips — my first media hits! The one below is from the sadly now defunct Neighbors  section of The State newspaper. Years later, as a college student at the University of South Carolina, I would work in the Customer Service department of that very same newspaper.

One small correction: I was actually Features Editor of The Buc’s Blade, my high school newspaper, not Editor-in-Chief.

Anyway, here’s what did and did not come true: I did attend Kalamazoo College for one year before transferring to USC. I did study abroad in Avignon, France, albeit for only one semester. Alas, I did not become editor of Vogue, and I have not yet written “some great American masterpiece,” but I have written books that students have read in English classes. Just yesterday I was so pleased to receive a message from a student at an international school in Japan who wrote that she would be dressing up as Aiko Cassidy, heroine of my novel Gadget Girl , for “Book Character Day” at school.

“I love your novels!” she wrote. “I really enjoyed reading this book. Please write more books like this!”

I have and I will!



The Woman in the Pink Hijab



As far as I know, my seventeen-year-old daughter had never met a Muslim before. At her Special Support School for the Deaf and Blind in Western Japan, she is the Other. She uses a wheelchair, whereas everyone else can walk, and she is the only kid in a student body of forty or so with a non-Japanese parent – I’m an American; her father is Japanese. Although there is a tiny mosque nearby, and a handful of Malaysian students at the local public university where I teach, the city where we live is largely homogenous.

My daughter knew about the Islamic religion from TV, mostly, where she sees reports of bombings in cities around the world – cities that she has visited and loved, such as Paris and Boston – and Japanese reporters abducted and slaughtered in the desert by ISIS.

When I brought her to New York City during this past summer vacation, she saw lots of people of different races and colors.

“Muslim?” she finger-spelled, when she saw a woman wearing a hijab.

“Yes,” I replied. “Probably.”

My daughter looked a little worried.

“It’s okay,” I assured her. “She’s not a terrorist.”

We walked down Fifth Avenue, looking into store windows. We saw “The Lion King” on Broadway, ate cheesecake at Junior’s, and toured the Statue of Liberty. At the end of our trip, we had dinner in an Italian restaurant across from our hotel with Bill. an old friend and former expat in Japan. He and I drank wine, and caught up with news of our acquaintances. Unable to keep up with our conversation, my daughter ate her pasta, and scribbled the occasional note to Bill in Japanese.

Suddenly, a young woman draped in a pink hijab approached our table.

“Can I tell your daughter that I love her?” she asked.

“Go ahead,” I said, without too much thought. Maybe she was inspired by the sight of a cheerful girl in a wheelchair. Who knows? Who cares? I was comfortably woozy from the wine. Love is good.

“She doesn’t speak English,” said Bill, a simultaneous interpreter by trade.

“But she knows ‘I love you,’” I interjected. I had taught her to say it in English and American Sign Language. “You could write it down for her.”

The young woman pointed at her chest, made the sign of a heart with her hands, and then pointed to my daughter. Then they hugged, and she went away.

My daughter shrugged. What was that all about? She was smiling.

A little more than a week after we left New York City, a man set fire to a tourist’s hijab while she was window-shopping on Fifth Avenue. Another hate crime, the news organizations reported.

“What did you think about Muslims before that woman came to our table?” I asked my daughter later, when we were back in Japan.

“Scary,” she replied.

“And now?”

“That woman was beautiful and kind,” she signed. “I changed my mind. And I told my friends about her.”


Squeaky Wheels is a Winner!

I’m so excited to report that my mother/daughter travel memoir was named Best Novel/Biography in the inaugural Half the World Global Literati Awards! (See details below!)


Global, July 15, 2016 – Half the World Holdings, a women-focused investment platform, Friday announced Laurie Petrou as the winner of the inaugural Half the World Global Literati Award 2016. The prestigious international award recognizes unpublished work that reflects the complexity of women’s lives, and has at their heart a central female protagonist.
The winning submission, ‘Sister of Mine’, is a psychological thriller that explores themes of loyalty, betrayal and debt through the lives of two sisters bound by a knot of secrecy. Author Laurie Petrou is an associate professor of The RTA School of Media, Ryerson University, Toronto.

“The judges rewarded the taut writing of a compulsive page-turner which explores the complex relationship between two sisters with a damaging secret. Our shortlist plays with the themes of adventure and courage, dignity and struggle, with characters motivated by an overarching sense of love” explained Caroline Bowler, representative for Half the World Holdings. “We are moved to see this award embraced by all walks of life, from all over the world. This represents a very real desire to recognize women at the center of our cultural lives.”
Along with the top prize, there were also category and People’s Choice award winners, each collecting US$1,000. Suzanne Kamata, based in Japan, collected top prize in the novel category. Her teenage daughter, Lilia, was born deaf and affected by cerebral palsy but this hasn’t dinted her sense of adventure and thirst for exploration. Suzanne’s honest and raw biography ‘Squeaky Wheels’ describes a mother’s love to open up the world to her child.

Danna Petersen-Deeprose, a student at McGill University Montreal, collected the short story prize for her work ‘Looking for Lost Girl’, which describes the journey of a woman in her mid-twenties looking for the courage to start her own life. Top screenwriter Lisa Hagen has two old ladies plot their escape from a retirement home in ‘Dancing on the Elephant.’ The two friends explore the big questions in life; what is my legacy and why am I even here? Friendship was also the key theme for the People’s Choice award, decided by thousands of votes from the general public. Eventual winner was LA-based Jude Roth whose screenplay ‘Plan B’ tells of 3 women and the bonds that carry them when the chips are really down.

The Half the World Global Literati Award was set up in response to 2015 research from author Nicola Griffith, which identified that the majority of the significant literary prizes are awarded to works written from a male perspective. The award is set to return in spring 2017.

Statistics about the Half the World Global Literati Award 2016.
• 59 countries including Eritrea, Iran, Azerbaijan, Mexico, Trinidad & Tobago
• 45.5 percent submissions are novels, 36.5 percent short stories, 18 percent screenplays

• Drama the most popular genre, topping novels & screenplays and a close second for short stories. Literary Fiction was the second most popular with Romance in third. Erotica comprised of less than 5 percent of all entrants.
• Majority of the short list are female (82.5 percent) vs male (17.5 percent)

About Half the World Holdings
Half the World Holdings, which was launched by Blackrun Ventures in March 2016, is a global investment platform in companies for whom women are the end-consumer. The
Half the World platform provides the capital, advisory and international networks needed to develop and scale these ventures globally. Blackrun and Half the World Holdings partners come from the worlds of private equity, investment banking, multinational businesses and entrepreneurship, with offices in Berlin, Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles, Mumbai, New York, Sydney and Singapore.
For more information, please visit http://halftheworld.media.

The Mermaids of Lake Michigan

Exciting news! My novel The Mermaids of Lake Michigan will be published in February by Wyatt-Mackenzie Publishing! Here’s the cover:



And here’s how the deal was announced in Publisher’s Marketplace:

Suzanne Kamata’s THE MERMAIDS OF LAKE MICHIGAN, set in the 1980s, about a teenager who feels more at home in water than on land–where her beauty queen mom is constantly criticizing her and her sister is dating the boy of her dreams–until she is led to a mysterious carnival worker whose dark future has been predicted by a gypsy, to Nancy Cleary at Wyatt-MacKenzie, for publication in February 2017, by Carrie Pestritto at Prospect Agency.




Contemporary Japan in Crime Fiction



Imperfect Strangers is a murder mystery set in small-town, present-day Japan. President Nomura, head of a university in a western prefecture of Japan, is found with his throat slit in his office. Chief Inspector Inoue of the local police learns that the victim had many enemies and few friends. Digging deeper, Inoue uncovers a web of deceit and self-deception, with nearly everyone involved harboring his own secrets and lies. To find Nomura’s killer, the chief inspector realizes he must take into account issues festering in modern-day Japanese society. He faces his greatest challenge, risking professional ruin and personal disgrace, in his race to solve the case.

Here is my interview with Lea O’Harra, author of the mystery novel Imperfect Strangers.

Squeaky Wheels is on the Shortlist! Please vote!

I have some exciting news! My mother-daughter travel memoir Squeaky Wheels, a celebration of accessibility, art, girl power, and Paris (among other things) has been named a finalist for the Half the World Global Literati Award. I’m thrilled to find my book in the company of so many great projects from all over the world! While the judges deliberate, popular voting will decide the People’s Choice Award. So click here and please vote!