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Author nun finds new outlet in cellphone fiction

September 26, 2008

From Reuters

Japan’s best-known Buddhist nun is reaching out to a new audience by writing a mobile phone novel at the age of 86.

Jakucho Setouchi, a prolific writer and translator of 11th century epic romance “The Tale of Genji,” is latching on to a publishing revolution — short works of fiction distributed piecemeal by cellphone often become best-sellers in book form.

“At this age, there are few things that interest me. But it was the first time I had written a cellphone novel, and it was exciting,” Setouchi was quoted by a local newspaper as saying. The story, entitled “Tomorrow’s Rainbow,” is about a high school girl who is deeply hurt by her parents’ divorce but finds the love of her life in a boy named Hikaru.

So far, 30 mobile novels, which are mostly tapped out as text messages and read by women in their teens and 20s, have gone on to be released in book form, selling 10 million copies in total.

The Wild Strawberry Web site, where Setouchi started writing her latest novel in May, has an average of 500,000 daily users, Shigeru Matsushima of Starts Publishing Corporation said. Though targeting a young audience, Setouchi has incorporated sly references to “The Tale of Genji” in her cellphone novel. Hikaru is the name of the serial seducer protagonist in “Genji.” Setouchi uses the pen name Purple, borrowed from Genji’s author, Murasaki Shikibu, which means “purple official.”

But she has taken the opportunity to right some of the wrongs she sees in the thousand-year-old novel. “Genji does not repent his sins,” she said. “But if you do something wrong, you must be sorry for it. So, I made Hikaru say ‘I shouldn’t be happy because I did wrong.'”

The novelist-turned-nun herself led a colorful life until she took her vows in 1973. She left her husband and child after starting an affair with a younger man, and later had a lengthy affair with a married man. But she gradually built up a literary reputation, winning the stamp of respectability in the form of an award from Emperor Akihito in 2006 after she translated “Genji” into modern Japanese, which brought the classic to a wider audience.

She decided to try the new genre when she was tapped to serve as honorary chairperson for a mobile phone novel award. “I heard a lot of criticism about mobile novels, saying they corrupt the Japanese language and they are not literature,” she said. “But when I read them, I understood why they were selling well. Besides, I thought I could write one myself.”

She completed the novel earlier this month, and it was published in book form on Sept. 25. But the experiment is a one-off. “I don’t want to write any more mobile novels,” she told the newspaper.

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