PW: Was there a particular seed of germination that led to the writing of December 6?
MCS: There are always several, and it's hard to say which one made you launch into something like this, but one of them was wondering why there was a Pearl Harbor. And why there was a December 7th—what went on before that, what was it like to be in Tokyo? I think we had then—and have now—a picture [of Japan] which is simplistic: of rickshaws, geisha girls and a fanaticism grown out of nothing, out of thin air. So I began learning a little bit about Japan and Tokyo. The more I learned about Tokyo, the more I became interested in an area of Tokyo called Asakusa, and what is called the Floating World, which is the world of sensuality, art and philosophy and entertainment. More than that, I discovered what interesting, what really fascinating people were alive at that time, and what a precipice they found themselves backing up to. You start imagining all that, and once you have a picture of this really rich stage set, which was Tokyo 1941, then you can't help but start developing characters.
PW: You've said you read newspapers, letters and books during your research, but you also took two trips to Japan. Did you find it difficult to talk with survivors from that era?
MCS: One of the veterans I talked to was very forthcoming, and of enormous help to me. But it's hard for the Japanese to talk about that period, because they'd rather forget it. It's painful for them. They lost so many friends and family, and the rationale for that war has folded up like a flag in disgrace.
PW: What were some of the more surprising revelations for you while doing research for the novel?
MCS: For one thing, I saw they were being driven by some of the same forces that drive us [in America] today. Number one, a need for oil, in order to be the great, industrial-nation leader that they imagined themselves to be. And my discovery of the area called Asakusa. It was a more rakish world than we [Americans] ever thought anything in Japan would've been at that time.
PW: You seem to be a writer who finds plotting novels an effortless task. Was that true of December 6 as well?
MCS: I had no idea where this story was going. When Harry walks into that theater with Gen and Hajime and meets Ishigami, I had no idea what was going to happen then. I didn't know! I let Ishigami take over. And Ishigami, as those who read the book will learn, is a character given to drastic and immediate solutions.
PW: This is your first book for Simon & Schuster. What sort of publicity is planned for you?
MCS: There's a tour around the country planned for October [book signings, lectures and radio shows in 10 major cities]. It takes a real level of excitement, and I've gotten that from Simon & Schuster. I didn't even have to talk to anyone over there. They said, "We want you. And don't do an Arkady [Renko, Smith's series detective] book first. Do whatever you want." I told them I wanted to do a Japanese book set before WWII, which is the kind of statement that publishers in general don't want to hear. They prefer that you give them a hero, not an antihero like Harry Niles. So the idea that they were that excited about me doing something that improbable is really what a man wants to hear.