Hi guys! We have S.A. Stovall stopping by today with her upcoming release The Dusk Parlor, we have a fantastic guest post and a great excerpt, so check out the post and enjoy! <3 ~Pixie~
The Dusk Parlor
Former soldier Hugh Harris is a “hāfu”—half-Japanese, half-American—and, after his father’s death, he returns to Kobe, Japan, in order to connect with his mother and her family. Confused and feeling out of place, Hugh finds work as a waiter at an upscale nightclub. The other employees, an odd and eclectic bunch, quickly make him feel at home, especially the bartender, Ren, and the club host, Kaito.
But the tranquility doesn’t last forever. As Hugh gets deeper into his relationships with both men, he finds they may have dubious connections with the yakuza in town… and when the local street leaders send their enforcers to the Dusk Parlor, Hugh, Ren, and Kaito may be in for a storm of trouble.
Hello world and internet! I’m SA Stovall and I’m blog-touring my latest novella, The Dusk Parlor, a contemporary romance set in Japan as part of Dreamspinner Press’ ‘World of Love’ novella series. Feel free to follow along as I post articles, sneak peeks, and share a little bit of my love for Japan (April 27th to May 9th)! I hope you all enjoy!
ROMANCE IN JAPAN AND THE USA
So, in the USA I would say that public displays of affection aren’t uncommon. I see them frequently at the beach or in a restaurant. And telling someone ‘I love you’ won’t garner an odd glance or a disapproving frown. On the contrary, most people will swoon or ‘d’aww’ at the sight of genuine love (but barf a little if it gets out of hand).
Which is why it was interesting to me to see the exact opposite in Japan. There isn’t a whole lot of PDA to be seen anywhere, not even in places like Shibuya (a popular young adult destination with teenage hormones everywhere). Actually, most of my Japanese friends said it would be awkward if people did show their affection. It was for behind closed doors, or so they say.
Even saying ‘I love you’ to their significant other is difficult, and most individuals I know who grew up in Japan find the USA’s practice to be odd/refreshing (depending on their mood, of course).
And that brings us to my latest novella, The Dusk Parlor. Hugh Harris is a man who moved to Japan to be with his mother, and as an obvious contracts to attitude/culture, he meets two men that spark his interest—Ren, an American raised Japanese man with an “odd” habit of speaking his mind and being affectionate, and Kaito, a traditional Japanese man who embraces rules and etiquette with open arms.
While Ren is energetic and jokes, Kaito is serious, sardonic, and has high expectations of everyone around him. Hugh, being former military, appreciates Kaito’s rules, but at the same time, enjoys Ren’s frankness. Everything they do is the exact opposite, but High finds himself drawn to aspects of both.
I liked the idea of highlighting the differences in social norms, especially since Hugh is half-Japanese and half-American. The Dusk Parlor is the name of the bar Kaito owns—Ren is the bartender—and Hugh finds it be a melting pot that accepts people from all walks of life.
Things take a turn for the adventurous when it turns out both Ren and Kaito have ties with the Yakuza (the Japanese equivalent to a family-owned mafia ring). They ask Hugh to help them solve their problems, and the three men plan an infiltration mission on a Yakuza bosses home.
Overall, The Dusk Parlor showcases my love of Japan, my love of action adventures, and deals with the theme of self-acceptance in a new environment. Hugh questions whether he should embrace his American side more, or if he should forsake that and delve into his Japanese heritage. The answer in the end isn’t nearly so black and white, which is the best kind of ending (in my humble and kooky opinion!).
I only hope that I managed to convert my feelings into a fun adventure story for all to enjoy.
WHAT’S THE word for misery?
I can’t remember, so I glare down at the wordless menu with my lips pressed together in a tight line. The waiter bows and shuffles off to the next table. He assumes—because of my golden brown hair, paler skin, and wider eyes—that I don’t understand Japanese. The picture menu is for foreigners… so that they can point to what they want instead of ordering like a normal person.
The food looks appetizing, but I toss the menu aside and decide to leave.
The hot night air of Kobe greets me with open arms. I jam my hands into the pockets of my jeans and walk along the narrow sidewalk to the next street over. All I want is a distraction, but all I get is a reminder that I’ve made a terrible choice.
The streets bustle with life. People crowd every inch, and bicycles line the storefronts. Lights of all colors shine down on me, but I don’t bother looking up. They’re advertisements and street signs. I’m not in the mood.
Women mutter things about me openly—they too assume I can’t understand Japanese—and some, the brazen ones, point.
“Look, a foreigner.”
“He’s so tall!”
“Is he hāfu?”
I cringe upon hearing the word.
It’s the word for anyone half-Japanese. They don’t say it in a tone of disgust, but they say it often enough to make me feel alienated. Everywhere I go they make assumptions and treat me like one treats a strange child. I’m a grown man, a foot taller than everyone around me, but somehow I’m the infant in the crowd.
With a sigh, I turn down a small street and head for an area of the city I know is famous for its bars. I need a drink. I’m dwelling too much on my circumstances, and I need something to dull my thoughts.
The bars are popular and lines commonplace. Unlike California, where the buildings are single-story and separate storefronts, most businesses in Japan are stacked on top of one another in tall, multistory buildings. There are nightclubs on every level, and some lines start at the third floor and stretch out to the sidewalk below.
I walk up to the building, intending to pick a bar that sounds halfway interesting, but the bouncer on the street blocks my path.
In broken English he says, “Tourist row down the street. Go there.”
I exhale, biting back my frustrations. Here too? I could argue with the man in Japanese, but I decide against it and turn away. He probably thinks he’s helping me out. That’s what I tell myself, anyway.
“Hey! You lookin’ for a place to get smashed?”
Shocked to hear perfect English, I turn and glance around. A wiry man steps through the lines and approaches me. He’s got a smile the Cheshire Cat would be proud of—perfect white teeth with striking canines—but that’s not the first detail I notice. He’s wearing a bright pink T-shirt with one sleeve missing and the other long… his black spiked hair with frosted tips and gray skinny jeans are dull compared to everything else.
“You new around here?” he asks, again in his fluent English. “I’d remember a big guy like you. Trust me.” He laughs and holds out a hand for a shake—very American.
I hold out my hand and catch sight of the silver bracelets that adorn his wrists. He’s got enough metal to weld himself a sword.
“Yeah, I’m new here,” I reply in English. “But I’m no tourist. I live in town.”
“Oh?” He shakes my hand with a firm grip. He’s got some solid muscle on him. “I live here too. Look how much we have in common. It’s uncanny. You should definitely come with me to my bar.” He slams his shoulder up to mine and wraps his arm around behind my back, keeping me close.
It’s odd. Most Japanese people would never invade my personal space. I stare down at his touch, and he punches me in my gut with his free hand.
“You don’t mind a little contact, right?” he asks, shaking out his hand. “Wow. You’re solid. You a military guy? You look military.”
I nod. “I was in the US military, yeah.”
“Of course you were.”
He steers me back toward the building and juts his chin out to the bouncer. The man at the door rolls his eyes and allows us both through. I get the impression my new “friend” has done this before. I give the bouncer a curt nod as I stroll by, pleased that I somehow get to undermine his authority. It’s a petty thought, but it invigorates me after a miserable evening.
The ten-story building has a list of businesses mounted on the wall. I don’t even get to glance at them before I’m shoved toward the elevator. If I wanted, I could stop this guy dead in his tracks, but his playful mannerisms don’t bother me. He has an energetic spirit that gets me smiling despite my mood. I like it.
He steps into the elevator with me and hits the button for the fifth story. It’s actually the fourth story—Japanese elevators skip listing the fourth floor for superstitious reasons, much like Americans skip the thirteenth floor—and I wonder where he’s taking me.
“My name is Ren,” he says. “Ren Yoshida.”
I nod. “I’m Hugh Harris.”
“Last name Harris, huh? Let me guess. Your father’s American military through and through, and your mother’s a gentle Japanese woman.”
I give him the once-over. He’s definitely Japanese. Honeyed skin, black hair, almond-shaped eyes—I don’t see a hint of mix like I have. “What’s your excuse?” I ask. “You’re not hāfu, but your English is impeccable.”
“You work around here?” he asks, ignoring my question.
“No. I haven’t found anything yet.”
“Ah, I see. I assume you’re dating someone, then? Or maybe married?”
“No. Not yet. And what’s with the questions? What about you?”
The elevator hits our destination floor, and Ren jumps to the door. “Oh, I’m nothing interesting. C’mon. We’re almost there.”
I’m nothing interesting, says the guy in the brightest T-shirt this side of the Pacific Ocean. Heh. I hold back the comment. It doesn’t matter how he knows English, and if he wants to keep it a secret, I won’t pry it out of him.
He saunters out into the hall and points to a door marked with a metal plaque that reads: THE DUSK PARLOR. I eye the solid wood door with a hint of suspicion. I’ve never heard of the place, and there isn’t a line to get in. I thought we were getting smashed?
Ren opens the door and ushers me in with a wave of his arm, his smile set wide. If it weren’t for the fact I can handle myself in a fight, I might be worried—I don’t know anything about my new friend, and this place seems shady enough to mug someone in. With one last hesitant sigh, I cross the threshold and enter the Dusk Parlor.
There’s a short hallway—black enough I almost feel blind—with a single bouncer. The man tries to stop me, but Ren steps between us and pats my shoulder. My feet are massaged by the bass reverberating through the floor, and beyond the second door I hear the faint melody of live music.
The bouncer opens the door for me, and I step into a classy establishment. Nineteen-hundreds ragtime music, played from a small band in the far corner of the room and carried everywhere thanks to a fantastic sound system, fills my ears. The place has a black-on-white theme with polished wood surfaces and mirrors over the dance floor. Light shines from the floor in the corners and around the walls—nothing from the ceilings—giving the place an old-Hollywood feel while maintaining an intimate atmosphere. A chill air brings with it the smell of mint.
Patrons dance on the elevated dance floor at a respectful distance, their clothing crisp despite their exuberant movements to keep up with the swing-style song. The women are in silk cocktail dresses or America-fashion flapper outfits. The men… their suits are tailored tight, some pinstripe, while others have looser zoot-suit-style attire. I admire them, but I feel uncomfortable in jeans and a T-shirt, like I was invited to a costume party and showed up wearing nothing at all.
This place must be expensive—more so than I can afford, especially since I’m still hunting for a job.
I turn to Ren, ready to make my apologies and leave, but he motions me to a nearby booth. “Drinks are on me,” he says. “Sit back and relax.”
Uneasy with the lavish setting, I take a seat in the booth closest to the door. Ren slides in—the booth is a large half circle—and comes all the way around so that he’s sitting next to me.
Before I can ask about the Dusk Parlor, a man approaches the table, wearing a suit fit for a maître d’—black vest, black jacket, black slacks, white shirt, and white gloves so clean they practically glow in the dark…. He holds himself with a rigid posture and bows at the waist—very Japanese. And, I might add, he is very handsome. He was born to wear a suit.
“My name is Hanamura Kaito,” he says in formal Japanese, last name first and first name last, his strong voice heard over the music. “I will be your host this evening. I apologize for the lack of waiters. We are short-staffed as of late. I will—”
“It’s all right, Kaito,” Ren interjects. “He’s with me. No need to be so formal.”
Kaito shoots Ren a sharp glare as he adjusts his thin-rimmed glasses, but he clears up his expression by the time he returns his attention to me. “May I take your order?”
I appreciate that he doesn’t switch away from Japanese in order to speak to me. Then again, he may not know English….
“What’s good?” I ask in an informal tone. I never really picked up the proper etiquette of high-class Japanese speech.
“Everything we stock is of the finest quality.”
That didn’t help. If anything he sounds insulted, like my question somehow implied there are things that aren’t good here.
“Ever had Japanese whisky?” Ren asks, cocking an eyebrow. “It’s super popular right now. Kaito, grab us a bottle, would you?”
Kaito bows once more and walks off with purpose. Even his movements are formal. I eye him a long while as the song winds down and the dancers exit the stage to take their seats at the bar or in their booths. Another tune starts up, but it’s quieter and more subdued than the earlier song—an ambient melody that keeps the room from feeling too quiet.
“What is this place?” I ask Ren.
“A bar,” he quips with a snarky grin.
“An American-themed bar?”
“No. A cultural bar. Equal parts nightclub, restaurant, and dance hall. We mix up the themes from time to time. This month is Gilded Age America. Next month is Tokugawa period Japan. Ya know, because of all the festivals.”
The host, Kaito, returns with a small amber bottle, a bucket of ice, and two glasses. He arranges the glasses in front of us and individually tongs out sculpted orbs of ice from the bucket. I’ve never seen liquor presented with such melodrama, and I stare throughout the entire process.
“This is our Suntory Hibiki Whisky,” he says. “Aged thirty years and blended smooth. Please enjoy.”
He pours the glasses and hands them over with a bow of his head. I take a sip, and my eyebrows shoot up. Damn. That’s good. It goes down smooth as silk, and I swear it tastes of spice and chocolate.
Ren burns through his glass and motions for another. Kaito purses his lips and slides the bottle across the table. “I shall leave this with you. Signal if you need… further assistance.” He turns sharp on his heel and walks one booth over.
He doesn’t look happy.
I glance over at Ren. “Is something wrong?”
“Nah,” Ren replies with a one-sided smile. “Kaito always has a stick up his ass.”
With a restrained laugh, I down my liquor. “How much does this cost?” I might buy myself a bottle.
“It’s 318,000 yen.”
I catch my breath and place the glass down on the table with a frown. That’s the equivalent of $3,000. For a bottle of whiskey. I’ve purchased cars for less.
Ren laughs. “Kaito’s got that stick way up there tonight. This is our cheapest whiskey. He can get passive-aggressive sometimes. It’s cute, ya know?”
“I think this was a mistake,” I say, shaking my head and ignoring the last comment. “I don’t belong here.” I scoot to the edge of the booth, intent on leaving.
“You were having a hard time fitting in, right?” Ren asks.
I stop and glare at the floor, the frustrations of earlier coming back to me in a flood.
“Foreigners always have it rough at first,” he says. “I’ve seen it a million times.”
I turn around and face Ren. He’s relaxed back against the fine leather of the booth, both arms up over the headrest. “What’s your point?” I ask.
“I know it’s dark, but look around. It’s different here.”
With a sigh I turn my attention to the bar and squint through the darkness. The patrons, despite their clothes, are Japanese. They keep their volume low, but they order drink after drink, some so fanciful they glow in the dark. Before I can demand Ren tell me what he’s talking about, I catch sight of one of the waitstaff—a woman with bright red hair, freckles, and skin lacking all pigment. How did I not notice her before?
Heh. I know why. I was too busy admiring the men on the dance floor.
The redheaded waitress, dressed in period-appropriate clothing, only attends to two booths. She smiles and takes orders—bowing at the waist like formal Japanese demands—and walks into the kitchen with a regal dignity about her.
Another waiter exits after the girl enters, this one a man with dark-tanned skin, black hair and a fine layer of scruff over his chin. He too is dressed for the occasion, and attends only two booths, giving his full attention to the small handful of guests under his care.
“The bar hires foreigners?” I ask, putting the pieces together.
Ah. I get it. The Dusk Parlor is “cultural” in more ways than one.
I count the booths. Twelve. I count the waiters. Four. No wonder Kaito came to attend us, despite being the host….
“Sit back and relax,” Ren says in a sultry tone as he pats the booth seat. “I told you, everything is on me. No one is going to question you being here, and it’s not like you’re going to lose any money.”
A part of me wants to leave, but another part of me, the rational part, realizes that the Dusk Parlor has been the one place all night where I’ve forgotten my irritations.
S.A. Stovall grew up in California’s central valley with a single mother and little brother. Despite no one in her family having a degree higher than a GED, she put herself through college (earning a BA in History), and then continued on to law school where she obtained her Juris Doctorate.
As a child, Stovall’s favorite novel was Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell. The adventure on a deserted island opened her mind to ideas and realities she had never given thought before—and it was the moment Stovall realized that story telling (specifically fiction) became her passion. Anything that told a story, be it a movie, book, video game or comic, she had to experience. Now, as a professor and author, Stovall wants to add her voice to the myriad of stories in the world, and she hopes you enjoy.
You can contact her at the following locations.