Thursday, March 14, 2013

Author Interview #167: The Old Man & The Monkey by George Polley

Our interview today is with George Polley author of several books including The Old Man & The Monkey (4.9 stars, 32 reviews). Before the interview a brief book description: ’The Old Man & The Monkey’ is a stunningly beautiful story of a relationship which develops between an old man and a creature which is regarded as a dangerous pest in Japan, a snow monkey, in George Polley’s moving allegory of dignity in the face of racism.

Interview with George Polley

What was unique about the setting of the book and how did it enhance or take away from the story.
The Old Man & The Monkey is a fable about the gift of friendship. The unique thing about the setting (a tiny village on the island of Hokkaido, Japan) is that monkeys are not native to the island. This didn’t seem to matter (and hasn’t to Japanese readers), since by the end of the story, the monkeys have all disappeared, making their appearance even more mysterious. Who was the big monkey that his human friend named Yukitaro? Where did he and his tribe come from, and where did they go? This is left unsaid, the focus remaining on the story and what happened in the end.
What specific themes do you emphasize throughout the novel? What are you trying to get across to the reader?
The themes I emphasize in all my writing are tolerance, compassion, kindness and responsibility, which are fundamental to friendship. Like most villagers (I once lived in a tiny village in central Illinois), the villagers in this unnamed village are suspicious of strangers, especially “monkeys”. When the old man, Genjiro Yamada makes friends with Yukitaro, they don’t like it. When the monkey follows he and his wife home, they become alarmed. Yet over the course of the story, their suspicion diminishes, vanishing altogether when, on two occasions, Yukitaro and his tribe bless the village with their gift.
Do the characters seem real and believable? Can you relate to their predicaments? To what extent do they remind you of yourself or someone you know?
Readers tell me the characters are very real and believable. They easily relate to the story, one comparing it to Antoine de St. Exupery’s “The Little Prince”. Having had international and multiracial friendships all of my life, and lived in a tiny village where all not born there were considered “outsider,s, I easily relate to the predicament Genjiro faced when he became friends with Yukitaro.
How do characters change or evolve throughout the course of the story? What events trigger such changes?
The character that changes the most is Harue, Genjiro’s wife, as she comes to know Yukitaro and what he does for she and her husband. Their children are also changed when they experience Yukitaro’s great gift at the end of the story.

In what ways do the events in the books reveal evidence of the author’s world view?
People tell me that I’m a good mate (friend), that I’m open, friendly, kind, compassionate and forgiving. I’m also stubborn, persistent in pursuing what I believe in, and I don’t give up easily. I also don’t have much patience with people that insist on the right to act abusively toward others
Did certain parts of the book make you uncomfortable?
Was there a basis for your story? A previous experience? Something else?
The old monkey came to me in a dream toward the end of 2006. I’d never dreamt about a monkey before, so I “asked him” why he had appeared, and what it meant. That I discovered when I sat down at my computer and began writing.
What research did you have to perform to back up your story? Any research which really opened your eyes or gave you new respect for a topic or profession?
I did a lot of research about Hokkaido, where my wife is from and where we moved early in 2008. Where on the island would I put the story? I began looking around eastern Hokkaido, but it just didn’t work. What fit best was between the cities of Fukugawa and Asahikawa in western Hokkaido, about 150 miles northeast of Sapporo. Readers here in Sapporo tell me that my descriptions of the setting are very accurate.
What is your method for writing a book? A certain amount of hours every day? A certain routine? Are you character/story builder or an outliner or some other method?
When I start a new novel, I work on it every day, exceptions being for those days when I’m busy with promotional activities or away from my home office. My routine is to spend 2-4 hours writing. My stories and novels are character-driven. I don’t outline, but I do build a list of all the characters on a “Post-it”- type “sticky” on the left side of my monitor.
How do you get past writers block or distractions like the internet?
I seldom have writer’s block. I take care of Internet distractions by taking care of important messages first, then sitting down and writing. Other Internet activities I put off until later in the day.
Favorite book from childhood.
Too many to name. My parent’s house was full of books of all kinds, and I read them avidly. Favorites were romantic historical novels by 19th century novelist Louise Muhlbach. Then there was Edgar Rice Burroughs, and on and on and on.
What’s on your desk? Can you see your desk? Describe what you see when you look around.
My computer, a memo pad, an old sectional map of Mexico City (I’m working on a novel set in Mexico City in 1973-74 when I lived there), “Work Horses” by poet David Cooke, my earphones, a magnifying glass and a couple of things I need to throw away.
My links:
My website:
Character website:
Character FaceBook page:
My FaceBook page:
Twitter: George Polley@georgepolley

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