Eric Madeen (Gabon 1981-83) is an associate professor of modern literature at Tokyo City University and an adjunct professor at Keio University. He has been published widely – in Time, Asia Week, The East, The Daily Yomiuri, Tokyo Journal, Kyoto Journal, Metropolis, Mississippi Review, ANA’s inflight magazine Wingspan, Japanophile, The Pretentious Idea, several academic journals and so on. His most recent novel Massage World is a high-octane thriller. Note: John Coyne
Eric where are you from in the States?
I’m from Elgin, Illinois, which is a suburb of Chicago. I earned my BA in Journalism from the University of Arizona and MFA in Creative Writing and Literature from San Diego State University.
Why did you join the Peace Corps?
I joined the Peace Corps for several reasons, foremost I wanted to see the world, get down and dirty in the outback of the “third world,” specifically Africa since I was smitten with the continent through viewing Tarzan movies as a boy and later reading Conrad, Hemingway, Greene, et al.
Further motivation was having the utility value of the experience feed into my writing, to have something to write about. Then there was my idealism, wanting to change the world as evidenced by volunteer work I did for Amnesty International as an undergraduate. These things merged splendidly in my becoming a Peace Corps volunteer in Gabon.
In Gabon what was your assignment?
I was in the Rural School Construction Program from 1981-83. Another volunteer and I were sent to a village smack dab in the middle of the country to build a primary school complex in an equatorial village surrounded by rainforest. The project was a success in that the village got a wonderful school and teachers’ houses (still standing!) and some of our workers later found employment with French firms in the interior.
After your tour what did you decide to do for your career?
I worked in advertising as a copywriter and account executive in my hometown. Then the travel bug bit again and I moved to Tokyo and worked as a copywriter for what was then the world’s largest advertising agency, Dentsu, for clients ranging from Mazda, Subaru, Canon, Konica, and Sony (Sony No Baloney!).
This was at the peak of Japan’s bubble economy and money flowed through the streets to the point that strangers, pockets jingling, often invited me out to drink — hostess bars, pubs, food stalls, you name it. The vibe was one of total exuberance.
The hours and workload, however, were grueling so I did what I wanted to do and that was write what I wanted to write. So I applied and was accepted to the MFA program at SDSU.
Just after graduation, two professors from the English Literature Department of Yokohama City University flew to San Diego to interview me, bringing me in as a Visiting Professor. After four years there I found a tenured position as an associate professor of English at Tokyo City University where I am now.
Throughout this time All Nippon Airways’ inflight magazine Wingspan hired photographers and me as journalists to travel and chronicle far and wide in Asia. I just collected all of these essays and fed them into the travelogue “Asian Trail Mix: True Tales from Borneo to Japan.” I should add that in the last four decades I have humped the hell out of the muse, churning out one immortality project after another.
Sum up if you can what your recent books have been about.
My most recent novel entitled Massage World is about one massage therapist striving to open a straight, holistic health spa against the wishes of a wild parlor lord who endeavors to take her business over. By turns erotic, exotic, and zesty, it’s a high-octane thriller peopled with a rogues gallery of characters found in the nether reaches of a Dionysian dream and exposes what actually goes down in both parlor and spa and the sparks that fly when the two combine.
Asian Trail Mix: True Tales from Borneo to Japan was released just prior to MW and scales down the sprawl of Asia by focusing on individual Asians in a wide variety of fields together with the adventure of gutsy treks through some rough country in Borneo and Thailand. A travelogue, its essays also explore Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Japan, etc.
Prior to that, I wrote a yet-to-be-released novel from the first-person personae of a professional Japanese woman who’s one step from the top of her section. She struggles to get a leg up in her male-dominated field and also with drinking which she quits despite the after-work pressure to imbibe with colleagues. Her quitting refracts on my getting off the ethanol 1.5 years ago and feeling soooo much better for it. (For those who agree that moderation is a bigger myth than Big Foot, read This Naked Mind by Annie Grace.)
Do you find your readership in the States or overseas?
Both. Friends and family make up most of my readership but recently I’m attracting more readers online who are leaving a nice, steady stream of positive reviews on my Amazon page. In Japan, friends, colleagues, and even some students read my stuff.
Are you in touch with Volunteers that you served with?
Indeed I am. I reconnected with several former volunteers who served in Gabon via Facebook where I’m active and even connected on FB with two villagers. One of them was just a boy of 12 or so when we were in Djidji (jee-jee). I’m also a member of Friends of Gabon (FOG) and contribute to the newsletter and National Peace Corps Association. Many years ago I presented myself to the Gabonese Embassy in Tokyo on Gabon’s independence day and talked for hours with the ambassador’s wife and family. The connections continue to strengthen despite my getting older ironically.
What writers (if any) from the Peace Corps have you read?
I’ve read at least 90 percent of the work of Paul Theroux and in my third-floor garret his books take up almost two shelves. The guy’s amazing and had/has quite an influence on me as a fellow scribbler and traveler. I read Darcy Munster’s (sp?) collection of essays and stories written by RPCV who served in Gabon. Stephen Snook’s novel “One Degree South.” And a few more titles that escape me.
What is your most recent book?
It is a novel set entirely in historically-rich Yokohama. It concerns a driven American protagonist hellbent on breaking through rigid cultural barriers in a country that has never accepted the outsider easily. Entitled Tennis Clubbed, Snubbed and Rubbity-Dub Dubbed, it’s a heady tale of comparative culture and revenge and goes down like a cocktail of pure fire … served up in the hall of the mountain king.