• November 12, 2019

Author shares first book in discussion at gallery - Ocean City Sentinel: News

Author shares first book in discussion at gallery

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Posted: Wednesday, August 21, 2019 11:04 am


Sentinel staff


SOMERS POINT — Belle Brett might have never written a novel if not for a rainy day during her months-long trip through Asia. 

In her 20s, Brett quit what she called a “very ill-suited teaching career” and chose to travel. 

A few months into her trip, Brett found herself in Tokyo short on money. The day it rained, Brett intended to go to a festival but skipped it because of the weather. Instead, she looked up someone whose name she was given in Indonesia who lived nearby. 

“Before I knew it, I was interviewing for a job as a hostess in a bar,” she said. 

Decades after this trip, Brett loosely based a novel, “Gina in the Floating World,” on her experiences abroad. 

Last month, Brett’s book and her photographs, collages and watercolor pictures from her many travels were featured in an exhibit at Great Bay Gallery in Somers Point. On Wednesday, July 24, Brett hosted a book reading and discussion at the gallery. 

Brett, who is from Massachusetts, has vacationed in Somers Point for about 23 years. 

While abroad in Asia in the 1970s, Brett worked in a bar in Kyoto, Japan, for only one night, before being “spectacularly fired.” Her second attempt in Tokyo was more successful. She stayed for two months before her visa was close to expiring. 

“It gave me a glimpse into a side of Japanese culture most tourists don’t see,” she said about the job. 

Brett explained that in Japan, a hostess serves drinks to customers who are mostly all male. 

“They come there after work to relax and she makes conversation with them, maybe flirts a little, maybe dances, puts up with crude remarks and innuendo, but there’s no expectation that anything is going to happen.  It’s just a fantasy world and it was begging to be written about,” she said. 

Except for keeping journals when she traveled, Brett did not write often in her 20s.

She tried travel writing in her 30s but said she did not get far with it. Her relationship with writing changed in her 40s, when she wrote a pre-dissertation paper. 

“All of a sudden, I got this yearning to write fiction and it just came on very suddenly,” she said. 

In the 1990s, Brett started to explore screenwriting. In 2002, when Brett took a course on writing screenplays, she wrote about her experiences working in a bar. After she finished the screenplay, she decided to novelize it.

Brett finished the first draft of a novel and shelved it for a few years. In 2006, she revived it when she went on a four-day writing workshop in Tucson, Ariz. 

Brett kept working on it through several more classes, workshops and a year-long program at the GrubStreet writing center in Boston. 

Finally, “Gina in the Floating World” was published in 2018. 

The story follows Dorothy, a 23-year-old American who takes an internship in Japan in 1981 in the hopes it will help her get into an international MBA program. Dorothy learns after arriving that the internship is unpaid and takes a job as a hostess in a bar to pay the bills. 

Dorothy is immediately renamed Gina by her employer and later slides into prostitution after meeting the charismatic Mr. Tambuki.

Brett said Dorothy makes some questionable choices until she is in over her heard.  

While the experience is loosely based on some of Brett’s experiences, most of it is fictionalized, she said. 

“Some of my favorite characters in the novel are actually based on people I met and some of them changed quite a bit, but I did deliberately make the protagonist different from me,” Brett said. “I made her younger.  I made her more naïve. I gave her a different kind of ambition. She wanted to go into this business career and I made her coming from this more sheltered background than I did because I thought if I made her very different from me, I could let my imagination run wild a little bit.”

To make the story believable, Brett researched Zen, Yakuza — which Brett described as the Japanese equivalent of the mafia — novels of American protagonists set in Japan and much more. 

“We all read for different reasons: to escape, to learn, to feel emotions of all kinds, to be kept on the edge of our seats, to laugh … to be engaged in a world that mirrors our own and is perhaps quite different from it,” she said.  

When addressing the crowd at the book discussion, Brett said her hope as a first-time author is for the book to appeal to them in any or all of those ways.  

To learn more about “Gina in the Floating World,” visit bellebrett.com.

Brett’s exhibit was displayed at the gallery in July. Great Bay Gallery’s current exhibit, “Messing About in Boats,” runs through Aug. 31. 

The gallery is located at 829 Bay Ave. in Somers Point. To learn more about Great Bay Gallery, visit greatbaygallery.com or call (609) 653-4991.

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