This August, Phillips native Joseph Simurdiak was announced as the winner of the 2019 Killer Nashville Claymore Award for his unpublished novel, “A Red Autumn Wind.”
Simurdiak, a 2010 graduate of Phillips High School, entered the Killer Nashville Claymore Contest in order to help draw the attention of professional authors and publishing companies to his debut novel, which he hopes to publish in the near future.
Although Simurdiak had been announced as one of the 20 finalists for the award, he said being announced as winner — tying for first place with a fellow writer from South Carolina — left him speechless.
“Just being a finalist for the award was a big enough accomplishment for me,” he said in an interview with the Review. “The top 20 finalists were selected by a judging panel of award-winning and bestselling authors, so I knew I was up against nineteen other high-quality, competitive pieces.”
In order to attend the awards banquet, Simurdiak traveled from his current home in Tokyo, Japan, to Nashville, Tennessee.
“It was one of the craziest experiences of my life,” recalled Simurdiak on the moment his name was announced as one of the winners. “Then I looked back at my father. That sliver of time is burned sharp in my mind — I’ve never seen his eyes shine so much.”
Storytelling has long been part of the fabric of Simurdiak's life, from listening to books read aloud by his mother to dictating his first stories to his grandmother as a six-year-old.
“Storytelling became, very early in my life, my preferred way to channel a restless creative impulse,” he said. “Writing is about so much more than mere self-expression. It’s a mode of seeking and discovery that invites the reader along for the journey.”
Throughout Simurdiak's childhood, he continued to channel his inspiration into the written word. From short stories illustrated with crayon and bound in construction paper to typing out the first draft of his now award-winning novel, Simurdiak found satisfaction in bringing something new into the world.
The idea for the novel itself, a fantasy informed by tales from feudal-era Japan, first came to Simurdiak when he was in his junior year of high school.
“I was already knee-deep in samurai tales and Japanese literature by the time I conceived this particular story,” Simurdiak said. “A Red Autumn Wind was born from a mental image — the image of two young men, two enemies, two samurai, meeting on a fog-wreathed bridge for a final, fateful showdown. I had no idea at the time who these two men were, what their history was, or why their conflict was so important. I just had that picture in my mind, an insistent image that wouldn’t let me go — and the rest of the story grew out of that climactic scene.”
Simurdiak had first become interested in Asian culture when his family traveled to China to adopt Simurdiak's baby sister. As a young boy intrigued by the history and culture of such a foreign place, Simurdiak found himself particularly interested in the rich history of Japan.
This interest persisted into high school, and after graduation, Simurdiak attended college in Tokyo, Japan. There he had the opportunity to delve deeply into Japanese culture and tradition, further inspiring the evolution of the story over time. After college, Simurdiak decided to return to Japan, where he lives today, teaching English alongside working to break into the writing field.
“Though my story is set in a fictional world, from the very beginning I intended it to reflect the history, culture, and lore of feudal-era Japan,” said Simurdiak. “Obviously, no one alive today has actually experienced the Japan of the samurai, but I still gained much by experiencing the Japan of the 21st century.
“The seasons, festivals, architecture, weather, dress, social customs, and cultural values — when I write about these things in my novel, I am basing them on a world I’ve had the opportunity to live, breathe, and touch firsthand.”
Simurdiak is currently in the process of trying to find a traditional publishing house interested in his book.
Readers can learn more about his experiences in Japan and his writing journey by visiting www.josephsimurdiak.com.