A conversation with St. Pete urbanist and author Peter Kageyama

St. Petersburg-based author Peter Kageyama is as multi-dimensional as the lead character in his novels. 

Kats Takemoto, a veteran who comes home to find a purpose after serving in World War II, decides to become a private detective in 1950s San Francisco. In Kageyama’s most recent installment in the Kats Takemoto series, “Midnight Climax,” Kats, the nisei (second-generation Japanese/American) private eye from Hunters Point, returns to investigate the murder of a young Chinese girl killed in a covert CIA brothel in the heart of San Francisco. Her family, members of a Tong, a powerful Chinatown gang, demand vengeance that threatens to start an all-out war in Chinatown unless Kats can discover the truth behind the slaying.

The real Peter Kageyama has had no less interesting, albeit less dangerous careers, including attorney, urbanist and non-fiction author. He is someone who loves cities and spent his earlier career inspiring people to revitalize them through his writing and speaking. His TEDx Talk, For Love of Cities, has over 18,000 views. 

A native of Ohio, Kageyama followed a girl to Florida during his gap year between college and law school where he met a woman that led to a long-distance relationship that led him back to Florida. Thirty years later, he’s still here. He practiced law for a short time but says, “I hated it.”

A champion for cities and urban renewal

Kageyama became involved in the tech sector in the mid-90s, saying he “rode the tech bubble up and down.” Those years led to his interest in the infrastructure and redevelopment of cities. 

In the early 2000s, Kageyama was involved in founding Creative Tampa Bay, eventually becoming its president. According to the organization’s LinkedIn profile,  Creative Tampa Bay served as “a catalyst for economic and social development in the region.”

That passion for urban renewal led to Kageyama’s recognition as a leader in the field. He’s authored several highly-regarded books on the topic, including “For the Love of Cities: The Love Affair Between People and Their Places,” and was a frequent keynote speaker at conferences across the country. One of those engagements led to a meeting with Paul Schutt, a Michigan-based entrepreneur deeply interested in the revitalization of Detroit. Paul Schutt is also the co-founder of Issue Media Group, the parent company of 83 Degrees Media. 

The two had much in common which led to an enduring friendship and business relationship. Looking back, Peter Kageyama says, “Detroit taught him that so long as people love a place, it will never fail.”

Pivoting in response to COVID

Along with the rest of the country, Kageyama’s career hit a speed bump with the onset of COVID-19. No more in-person conferences, consulting gigs and jetting from coast to coast. 

“The country and I collectively took a deep breath,” says Kageyama, “and all of a sudden, I have this time, and I start reading about Japanese/American history. I paused to look at our communal pathways.” 

His sister-in-law suggested he read “Facing the Mountain,” a true story of patriotic Japanese/Americans in WW II. The book led to a family history that was seldom spoken of. 

“When my father was 15, he and his family were interned in one of the camps where Japanese/Americans were held during WW II,” Kageyama says. “When my father turned 18, he enlisted. And there I was reading about the 442nd all-Japanese US Army unit.” 

Kageyama had found the background for the main character of his first novel. 

“I asked myself, ‘What would a young man with that experience do when he came home from the war?’ He’d become a private detective.”

Kageyama started to write. 

“I did my research,” he says. “I wish I had talked more with my father. I learned so much after the fact. I gave my first chapters to my wife thinking, ‘Now, I’m a writer.’”

The author of numerous books on the connection between people and place, such as the award-winning “For the Love of Cities” and “Love Where You Live,”  Kageyama was, by any definition, already a writer with name recognition and a relationship with publishing house, St. Pete Press. However, a total change of genre presented challenges. He calls the writing and promoting of a novel, “radically different.” He hired an Austin-based publicist, Stephanie Barko, to help his transition. 
A story steeped in history, a character created from family

His debut novel, “Hunter’s Point,” is set in 1958 San Francisco and tells the story of World War II veteran Katsuhiro “Kats” Takemoto, a second-generation Japanese American who works as a private detective for the underdog, those who don’t get protection from the police or get the attention of traditional private eyes. According to the book’s published description, “Hunter’s Point” brings the post-war San Francisco scene to life with historic characters including Jimmy Stewart, Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, Alfred Hitchcock and Shig Murao, along with the dynamics of racial identity for Japanese Americans finding their footing again in America following the war and internment.

Asked if he is Kats, Kageyama says, “Kats is a lot of my father and a little of me. Kats is an amalgam. Where does my dad end and I begin?” 

There is also a strong female character, a red-headed Irish woman from Ohio based on his mother. 

“Hunter’s Point” and “Midnight Climax” have both found success, garnering multiple five-star reviews on Amazon. Kageyama is currently working on the third installment, of what will be a multi-book chronology. 

“I think it will make a great Netflix show,” he says.

Kageyama says he enjoys writing historical fiction; combining real history with interesting, fun characters and throwing in a lot of action.

“I enjoy taking creative license,” he says “Where does the truth end and fiction begin? I like to make stuff up.”

For more information, go to Peter Kageyama

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Read more articles by Pamela Varkony.

Pamela Varkony’s non-fiction topics range from politics to economic development to women's empowerment. A feature writer and former columnist for Tribune Publishing, Pamela's work has appeared in newspapers, magazines, and in PBS and NPR on-air commentaries. Her poetry has been published in the New York Times. Recognized by the Pennsylvania Women's Press Association with an "Excellence in Journalism" award, Pamela often uses her writing to advocate for women's rights and empowerment both at home and abroad. She has twice traveled to Afghanistan on fact-finding missions. Pamela was named the 2017 Pearl S. Buck International Woman of Influence for her humanitarian work. Born and raised in rural Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Pamela often weaves the lessons learned on those backcountry roads throughout her stories.