Can you tell us about your inspiration for writing “Life Lessons from a UFO Catcher”?
My inspiration for writing Life Lessons from a UFO Catcher stemmed from my desire to share the important lessons I learned in life with a larger audience. While I was working on my Ph.D. dissertation, I’d often find myself writing random thoughts and drawing doodles in my notebook while taking a break from that mammoth task of writing my dissertation. Those scribbles and doodles, mostly anecdotes related to lessons in life, eventually became the starting point for Life Lessons from a UFO Catcher. I also have my mom to thank for encouraging me to start writing my memoir. As she once told me: “Your life is weird. You should write a book.” Several years later, I did! And there are many more along the way!
What motivated you to share your life experiences and insights in this book?
As a professor of criminal justice, I often find myself going beyond the textbook and sharing with my students my life experience as it relates to the subject matter. I found that by sharing my own life experiences, students feel a deeper and more personal connection to the subject matter they’re studying, as well as with the instructor teaching them. That being said, I feel that when we share our life experiences—both the good and the bad, the successes and the failures—we can all learn from one another and make better decisions and choices in our respective life journeys. Nonetheless, our failures can be just as valuable as lessons in life as our successes. In short, I hope that readers learn from my experiences while being encouraged to share their own life journey with others.
How did you choose the title for your autobiography, and what does it signify?
Actually, the original working title for my autobiography is “Weird Things,” based on what my mom said about my life being weird. That working title subsequently morphed into “Life Lessons from a UFO Catcher” once I started basing the plot of the story around a protagonist playing arcade crane games, also known as “UFO Catchers” in Japan. In the prologue of the book, the protagonist refers to himself as a “UFO catcher.” Hence, the title of the book was born.
Throughout the book, you discuss life lessons. Could you share one of the most impactful lessons you’ve learned?
One of the most impactful lessons I’ve learned serves as the final “episode” of this first volume of Life Lessons from a UFO Catcher—namely, the story that has Kenny getting into a dire situation at the end of the story. I won’t go into detail on the events of the story as I don’t want to spoil the ending for those who haven’t read the book yet, but will say that the story revolves around an important lesson I learned from my grandfather. When I was a kid, my grandfather often told me a Chinese proverb: 忍得一时之氣，免得百日之忧, or in English, “If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape one-hundred days of sorrow.” I would learn that lesson several times over in life. The final story of the book features one of those moments.
Can you describe the process of writing this book and any challenges you faced along the way?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always enjoyed writing. Whether it was writing in my diary, fan letters to my favorite celebrities, academic research papers, or creative works such as this, once I put my pen to the page or fingers to the keyboard, I just can’t stop! In brief, writing the script for Life Lessons from a UFO Catcher was relatively easy… especially, since the story’s based on my life! The challenge was finding the right artist to illustrate the story and bring my written words to life in a comic book format. I could have simply kept this autobiography as a text-only work, but I knew early on that I wanted to do something different—something more—than just a “typical” autobiography or memoir. Given my love of Japanese anime and manga, that was the approach I wanted to take with my life story… hence, the subtitle to the book: An Autobiographical Manga. To make a long story short, I reached out to my friend, Yamawe, who’s a talented artist and pitched her my idea for my autobiography. She was enthused and agreed to work with me, turning my doodles and scripts into an amazing work of sequential art that I hope readers of the book will enjoy. Overall, it has been a joy and blessing to work with Yamawe on this book and I hope to continue our collaboration on the sequel and beyond.
The book touches on personal growth and self-discovery. What transformational moments did you experience during your journey?
Some of the events of the story happen as they occurred in my life, in an arcade in South Korea where I “rescued” plushy after adorable plushy. Other stories serve as allegories—with the specific plush dolls featured serving as visual representations—of the actual events modified into a story that fit into the context of the narrative of a guy liberating plush dolls, while capturing important life lessons along the way. Much of the transformational moments in my life, whether depicted in the book or not, occurred as a result of my own personal reflection and introspection on the situations, my reactions to those situations, and their aftermath. Thus, I went with a first-person narrative approach to this graphic novel, where readers get to “hear” the protagonist’s personal thoughts—that is, my personal thoughts—on the events that occur.
UFO catchers play a role in your story. Could you elaborate on the significance of this theme in your life?
When I lived in Japan and South Korea, my favorite pastime was playing arcade crane games—known as “UFO catchers” in Japan. After my first time playing in an arcade in Yokohama and winning a Stitch doll, from the movie, Lilo & Stitch, that joy of winning soon turned into an obsession to “liberate” other dolls. After work and on the weekends, I’d visit arcade after arcade to play claw machines. I eventually got good at crane games, figuring out strategies to liberate the plush dolls, toys, and random thingamabobs “trapped” in those claw machines. My newfound hobby soon became a life mission of sorts: To rescue all the plushies! Over a decade later, I’m still playing, winning, and “rescuing” plushies from captivity. Thus, when I was developing this story, I decided to have the primary setting be an arcade with the protagonist rescuing plush dolls.
In your book, you discuss relationships and their importance. How have your relationships shaped your life path?
One of the important things I learned in life is that we are not alone. In this journey through life, we’ll encounter our fair share of friends and antagonists—and perhaps the occasional frienemy—heroes and villains, alike… those who have our best interests at heart and others who may be wolves in sheep’s clothing, those who come into our lives for only a short period of time, whether to bring us joy or sorrow, and others who are with us on our life journey to the very end. Whoever you encounter in life, whether they are there to aid you in your journey or serve as an obstacle or challenge, there is always sometime to learn from those encounters and interactions… even the ones that break your heart or make you cry. That said, one important lesson I learned in life, which will serve as a recurring theme in the overarching narrative of the UFO Catcher series is that sometimes the most important people in your life start off as minor background characters.
On that note, one common criticism I’ve gotten for the book is that besides the protagonist, the other characters are underdeveloped. Some of those characters aren’t even mentioned by name in the story beyond the character intro page. Actually, that’s the whole point and very much my intention from the outset. This book is but one part of a series of books that I have planned, and it is in these future volumes that we’ll see the impact these supporting characters have on our UFO-catching protagonist. Everyone that Kenny encounters throughout the 13 stories of this first volume—Killian, Tiffany, Somi, Irene, Dr. Gerry, and the mysterious little girl in Episode 10—will all have their time to shine in future volumes of the story, and each and every single one of them will have a significant impact on Kenny’s life by the time we reach the series finale.
Were there any specific individuals who played a significant role in your life and contributed to your personal development?
I don’t want to give too much of the plot of future stories away, so I’ll keep this answer relatively brief: All of the characters featured in the “Player Select” page that appears after the table of contents have all played significant roles in my life, contributed to my personal development, and have made me the person that I am today. Although as noted in the copyright page, the names and appearances of these characters, who are all based on people I’ve met in real life, have been changed to protect the innocent and not-so innocent.
To current readers or future readers of Life Lessons from a UFO Catcher: Pay particular attention to the Tiffany character. Although somewhat of a background character in this first volume, there’s a very important reason why she’s featured on the front cover of the book. I’ll leave it at that.
Your autobiography likely includes memorable anecdotes. Could you share one of your favorite stories from the book?
My favorite story from the book is “Episode 10: Gals Attack,” which features the book’s first “BGM-enhanced” story. As I mentioned earlier, some of the stories were based on real-life events and others serve as allegories for lessons I learned. This particular story happened in real life exactly as the events unfurled in the book. In brief, I took a break from UFO catching and played a somewhat NSFW video game in the arcade. I’m not a fan of spoilers so I won’t give the ending away, but let’s just say I learned an important lesson that day about maintaining situational awareness at all times.
How do you hope your readers will benefit from the wisdom and experiences shared in your book?
The book is written with a young adult audience in mind, but it really is a book that can be enjoyed by people of all ages and from all walks of life. Overall, I hope that readers will learn from both my successes and failures, while being motivated and encouraged to share their own life lessons with others—be it with friends and family or even total strangers. In the end, it is my belief that we can all learn from one another in this journey called life.
What message or takeaway do you want readers to carry with them after finishing your autobiography?
One message or takeaway I’d like readers to carry with them after finishing this first volume is that there are more life lessons from a UFO catcher to come! Volume 2 is on the way! But in all seriousness, one key takeaway is that learning is not just limited to a classroom and our teachers aren’t just those lecturing at us from behind a classroom podium. Learning occurs every day, wherever we are… even in an arcade full of retro arcade games and claw machines.
Can you talk about the importance of resilience and perseverance in your life, as highlighted in your book?
The fourth story in the book, entitled “Stay the Course (AKA Don’t Flip Flop),” is very much a story about persistence and perseverance. Early in life, I often found myself giving up too early or too soon, or not even trying at all, because I didn’t have confidence in my skills and abilities. I look back on those moments with regret, but nonetheless as lessons in life. So one piece of advice I would give anyone is don’t give up on your dreams and goals. Although it’s a cliché, it’s still nevertheless sage advice.
To paraphrase one of my favorite singers, because I need to get this Rick Roll out of my system: Never give up on yourself, never let yourself down, and never turn around and desert yourself.
What advice would you offer to aspiring writers who want to embark on the journey of writing their own autobiographies or memoirs?
The short answer: Start writing! The slightly longwinded answer: Take out a handy, dandy notebook and your favorite writing utensil of choice and write whatever comes to mind… random thoughts, childhood memories, funny anecdotes or memorable life events, stories about influential people in your life, or even a to-do list or shopping list. Perhaps even do some sketching and doodling to accompany your writing. You never know when what you wrote, or doodled, may become that inspirational starting point for your memoir or autobiography. Also consider reading autobiographies and memoirs of those that you admire or find interesting to get an idea of how those life stories have been written in terms of prose, formatting, organization, specific stories told, and so forth. Hopefully those give you inspiration to write your own life stories and share them with the world. I’d love to read them someday!
Are there any upcoming projects or books you’re working on that your readers can look forward to?
Life Lessons from a UFO Catcher Volume 1 was released back-to-back with There is No Shrimp… And Other Lies My Mother Told Me, in June and July of this year. If you’ve read Life Lessons, but have yet to check out There is No Shrimp, I highly encourage you to do so. It’s part prequel and part sequel to Life Lessons from a UFO Catcher, picking up immediately where the first book ends and then flashbacking to Kenny’s childhood. So if you’re curious about what your favorite UFO catcher was like as a kid and all the fantastical fibs, little white lies and alternative facts my told me, please give There is No Shrimp a read. You won’t regret it! There’s also a bonus story about “couple holidays” in South Korea, so if you’re interested in learning more about this aspect of South Korean culture, that final story of There is No Shrimp was written especially for you.
Beyond that, Yamawe and I are currently working on Volume 2 of Life Lessons from a UFO Catcher, which introduces several new characters who help, but sometimes foil, Kenny’s UFO-catching victories, and also plants the seeds of an overarching romantic comedy narrative in the story.
In closing, thanks for reading and joining me on my UFO-catching adventures!