Panel: The Zen of Writing

Shoji here. Been a while but today we have a panel with Natsuya Uesugi about something that is close to my heart, sitting meditation, Zen and the art of writing. Lets get started. I hope you will stay with us as we discuss.

Shoji: Hi Natsuya, hope you have  had a relaxing day. I know you are just off of getting a new book ready for publication. What is the name of your new book in the grydscaen series?

Natsuya: The book is called grydscaen: atonement and is volume 7 of the grydscaen series. It features the trance channeler Gloughster Illian who goes by the designation Jephastian on the cover.

Shoji: The trance channelers in the story they are a religious order are they not?

Natsuya: Trance channelers are spiritual counselors and guides that attend to people in power and help them to manage the flow of time in the timestream and destiny. They are high level psychics that follow the religious teachings of the Parable of Thoth which is the pagan religion of psychics in the story. They follow the teaching of the divine god Thoth, his consort Llwellyn who gifted humans with codess (psychic) power and Thoth’s dark lord brother Set. The spirituality of the religion is unique and original but has basis in real world principals of Shinto and Buddhism.

Shoji: Why did you call the religious text the Parable of Thoth?

Natsuya: The text has individual stories or parables that each teach a lesson. At one point I was actually going to write all those parables into a Zen teachings text but I have yet to do that. There is a story about a little girl who is healed by a psychic that teaches compassion in the Parable of Everett and then there is the Book of Jubilees which talks about desires and lusting after wants and money which is to teach humility. Then there is the Parable of the Forgotten in the book which teaches about Damnation and reincarnation and the realms of Hell which Faid brings up in the grydscaen: beginnings book where he is talking with Blue, the psychic assassin from the Psi Faction after a tragedy occurs.

Shoji: How long did it take you to come up with the Prophet religion in the grydscaen series and why did you want to add a layer of spirituality into the story?

Natsuya: I wanted to distinguish the psychics and their belief system which was different than that of the secular international religion recognized by people in the City which is government sponsored. It was to make the psychics even more marginalized by having a multi god pagan system. Since the basis is on enlightenment and compassion it was only natural to study Buddhism and Shinto which are both belief systems that I came in contact with growing up and more focused on it in college studying Asian History.

Shoji: That is interesting. Tell me more about some of the trance channelers in the book. There is Gloughster who is mate pair to Lino Dejarre the Emperor of the Pacific Territories but isn’t there a Packrat trance channeler who sees to the Packrat clan? Who is that trance channeler?

Natsuya: That trance channeler is named Iin and she is the spiritual counselor of Faid and the Packrats. Aseth is the Packrat Prophet Lead of the Packrat clan who answers to Aiken who is the Spiritual Leader of the Packrats an elder who resides at the Prophet shrine in the Zone. We will learn more about the Prophet religion in the Prophet trilogy which will be published after grydscaen.

Shoji: Oh, a new grydscaen series. That is so exciting. Will we have the same cast in the Prophet books?

Natsuya: Cast members like Faid, Lino and Blue are the same but we get to learn more about Aiken and other characters that are new while we learn about the religious teachings and esoteric spirituality of the Parable of Thoth. There is mysticism and even a touch of magic-based spirituality with kami (gods) like in Shinto. There is also the idea of meditation and enlightenment which are key elements of Buddhism.

Shoji: You told me once that writing was very Zen to you. Lets get into our topic and you explain more about how writing can be meditative and how you link that to Zen teachings.

Natsuya: The idea of “just sitting” in Zen is to be here, in the now, not chasing after or lusting after or wanting, or dreaming or striving. It is just being here right now and staying in the now. When I am writing I am in the moment. I am writing. I am not doing anything other than that. I am not thinking about dinner or work or anything. I am just writing and the sheer act of writing is in the present moment. I do not think about anything else but getting the words on the page and letting the ideas flow. In order not to be blocked and thinking too much I have to focus on what is right in front of me. I do not usually write outlines for my books, I let the characters and the story guide me making it organic.

Shoji: That sounds very Zen.

Natsuya: Writing is meditative to me sort of like reading but even that is different. When you read you hopefully get lost in the writer’s world and step outside of yourself and your worries. When I am writing I am not writing for anyone at all, maybe myself but I am getting ideas on paper and not being distracted by other things. I am in the present and not worried about word counts and deadlines and royalties or even how a scene will be read and felt by a reader. I am just writing. That is the now. Writing is now. I am writing. I am the words. I am the message. I am nothing else. Nothing more.

Shoji: The trance channelers in your story can see into the timestream. Can you explain more about what the timestream is? That is a strange concept. What do the trance channelers do because they can see into the future? Doesn’t that cause them stress?

Natsuya: Trance channelers have a lot of power and all of them are psychic. The psychic condition can be both a gift and a detriment that psychics have. It can corrupt them or it can destroy them or sometimes help them. Think of it like having the ability to read other people’s minds and think or hear their thoughts, that might be frightening to some and others may use it to do harm.

Shoji: How do the trance channelers use their power?

Natsuya: They use their visions to see into the future and use that knowledge to counsel people in power and help them make important decisions.

Shoji:  Your next book puts the trance channeler Gloughster front and center. Why is the book called atonement? I know all the grydscaen books have one word titles. It must be difficult to determine the title for each book.

Natsuya: Each book deals with a theme that runs though the volume. In grydscaen: atonement we deal with Gloughster and how he faces his decisions. He is in a position of power and his words can sway entire countries and change government policy. He has a lot of power and more once he becomes the counselor to the Emperor.

Shoji: Talk to me more about the racing mind, how does that fit into your books?

Natsuya: Human beings are always striving for a goal and acceptance and being part of the group and being liked. They don’t like jugements and they don’t like being left out or ridiculed. Decisions humans make can be influenced by other humans wants and desires. Someone who is rushing to the next big thing or the next stimuli and can’t sit still is missing out on being in the now. People dwell in the past or in the future and are not happy just where they are. The grydscaen series has elements of this and looks at the human condition as well in its story veiled behind a science fiction and cyberpunk backdrop.

Shoji: You recently joined a Sangha. What is that all about?

Natsuya: I learned about various religions in my college study of Asian Studies. Buddhism, Shinto, Hinduism, Jainsim, Islam were all religions that I studied. I grew up with aspects of Buddhism but wanted to pursue more so I took Bodhisattva vows and started my study in earnest. Having moved around a bit in the last few years I have not found a place to study and practice my meditation with others so I recently found a Sangha that I can practice with other Buddhists and hone my meditation practice.

Shoji: You say writing is meditative for you. Discuss that more. What do you mean? How does writing make you feel?

Natsuya: It makes me feel alive. The creativity and beauty of practicing or doing something is as important as the intellectual feel and abandon of actually creating the thing. You get lost in it. You create it to the best of your ability and make it your own. Your unique experience in the world is just that and will shape your art. Writing is as much of an art as a painting or an illustration. It is a creative expression. Writing can be Zen like calligraphy of a character, expressing the beauty of drawing a kanji or even calligraphy in English an art that monks did even in the Medieval times as beautiful books with brilliant illuminations. Writing is an art. It should be an expression of you and all your individualism and beauty.

Shoji: So for you do you meditate every day?

Natsuya: I try to write every day and meditate as well. My Zen practice is important to me. It is part of myself and my life and understanding of the world.

Shoji: Do you find worldbuilding Zen?

Natsuya: Yes worldbuilding can be Zen as you are creating something unique that is all your own. Writing it and then sharing it with the world. Not everyone may understand or relate to your story but you are bridging compassion and sharing art which is beautiful. All beings are beautiful though some cannot see it and others cannot get out of chasing and their noisy racing mind long enough to stay in the now. I write grydscaen to bring glimpses of these aspects to a fiction backdrop commenting on culture and making a statement that each and every one of us has power and worth.

Shoji: Reviewers have said grydscaen has LGBT characters in positions of power and is as dark as it gets. What is that all about?

Natsuya: The Buddhist thought of lusting after things and wanting as suffering can create depression, sickness, emptiness, longing and greed. This is a simplified version of the term, mind you, but the world in grydscaen is dark because it is a microcosm of society. I wanted to show that even in the dark world that is the Echelons and the Zone that there are glimmers of hope and you can rise above adversity and find your true self and really be you. This is how the character Lino Dejarre has to face the world from being the graphic design student to finally becoming the Emperor of the Pacific Territories in the middle of a harsh war with the autocratic Atlantea Federation and how he navigates that and grows up in mind, body and soul, as well as spirit. We see him progress and grow through the story.

Shoji: What is the next book you are working on?

Natsuya: I just submitted the materials for grydscaen: union which is volume 8. It takes the Psi Faction team to the La Paz space station with the 8th space fleet.

Shoji: That sounds exciting. Space Opera. When is it coming out?

Natsuya: If we are lucky by the end of February but it could be early March.

Shoji: What do you want to say about Zen to your readers?

Natsuya: Writing is your friend. For some it is hard but keep at it. It can free the mind and bring calm and peace. Write often just to express your thoughts. It doesn’t have to be a novel or a short story just write in a journal and express yourself. Meditation is also your friend. It stills the mind and gets you out of the noise. Just sit and be in the now and clear your mind of worry and striving. Just be here where you are. That is all you need. Quiet the noise.

Shoji: Thanks Natsuya. This has been an enlightening thought provoking conversion. I hope to spend more time talking with you about topics to explore that focus on creativity and being yourself, real, free and creative. Thanks.

Natsuya: Pleasure to be here.

Shoji: Natsuya Uesugi’s latest book grydscaen: atonement will be available here on Natsukoarts Design Studio and Amazon in the next few days. I hope you check it out for more on trance channelers and the Prophet spirituality. Stay in the now everyone and just sit.