It is my great pleasure to welcome author Kristina Yoshida McMorris back to Colloquium today! Kristina was my guest last February when she discussed the challenges of writing historical fiction in conjunction with the release of her debut novel, Letters from Home.
When I heard about her upcoming sophomore effort, Bridge of Scarlet Leaves, I immediately invited Kristina back and she graciously accepted. Bridge of Scarlet Leaves will be released on February 28, 2012, and is already receiving outstanding reviews.
Set against the backdrop of World War II, Bridge of Scarlet Leaves opens in late 1941 when Americans had no way of knowing how dramatically their lives would change on the morning of December 7, Pearl Harbor Day. Maddie Kern is a young violinist living with her older brother, T.J., a student at the University of Southern California. She is preparing to audition for Julliard while working in the tailoring shop her parents owned before a life-altering car accident. Unbeknownst to T.J., Maddie has been dating one of his best friends, Lane Moritomo, a handsome, intelligent American-born son of Japanese immigrants. Lane’s father is an executive with Sumitomo Bank.
Maddie and Lane know that their families and community will withhold approval of their relationship, but Lane is convinced that if they marry, courageously and publicly proclaiming their love, their proud and loving families will come to accept their choice. (And his parents will have to inform the Japanese matchmaker who has arranged for Lane to marry a woman he has never met.) They could never have foreseen that their first morning as husband and wife would be the “day that lives in infamy.” In the days following Japan’s attack upon Pearl Harbor, it becomes clear that Maddie is now married to a man considered by her country to be the enemy.
When Lane is interned at a war relocation camp, Maddie refuses to abandon him, opting to live with him behind barbed wire. Maddie strives for the family she and Lane have created to be accepted, while Lane risks everything to prove that he is a loyal American.
Q & A with Kristina Yoshida McMorris
What inspired you to write your latest novel, Bridge of Scarlet Leaves?
Years ago, an old family friend shared with me that he had fought for America while his brother served for Japan. I was captivated by the idea. But it wasn’t until a decade later, when I’d found my calling as a writer, that I recalled his story and realized what an amazing premise it would make for a novel. Combined with my undying love for the U.S. miniseries North and the South (perhaps more for Patrick Swayze in uniform than anything else), I set out to write my book. But in the midst of research, I happened across an obscure mention of roughly two hundred non-Japanese spouses who had chosen to live in the U.S. internment camps voluntarily. I called my agent that very day and said, “This is it. I have my story!”
Could you describe some of the extensive research you did for this book?
When it comes to research, although I love having actually learned the information, highlighting details in textbooks sounds as appealing to me as a root canal. (In other words, not a fun time.) What I do enjoy is hands-on experience.
For this reason, I was delighted when the Park Ranger at the Manzanar Relocation Center, who suffered through my endless list of internment questions, invited me to attend their annual pilgrimage. (Come to think if it, maybe that was his way of finally shutting me up!) Similarly, when I contacted the Go For Broke Foundation, an organization devoted to educating people about Japanese American military service, they offered to arrange in-person interviews with seven World War II veterans who have since all received the Congressional Gold Medal. I’ve definitely been spoiled.
As for my Air Corps research, it’s hard to beat the thrill of flying on a restored B-17 bomber. For that one, I have my husband to thank. It was by far the best Mother’s Day gift I could imagine!
How did you go about crafting dialogue authentic to the time period?
I often joke, given my strong draw to the era, that I must have lived through the ’40s in another life. I love the music, the fashion, and, of course, the slang. To get a good sense of dialogue, I watched several documentaries and World War II films that were touted for accuracy. Movies made in the 1940s, as it turned out, weren’t a great resource, since they often used dramatic Hollywood speak. Real letters from the war, on the other hand, including those written by my grandfather, were extremely helpful, as well as a sheer pleasure to read.
When it comes to writing your novels, are you a plotter or what many refer to as a “pantser”?
Pantsters, in my mind, are advanced mythical creatures with an ability I can’t fathom. Needless to say, I’m a plotter. I find comfort in knowing the basics of what’s coming next. (I suppose it makes sense that I loved being an event coordinator.) When plotting a new book, I like to create an outline, roughly one sentence per chapter, before beginning. For me, this is essential for narrowing down my research load. Otherwise, with the enormity of the topic of World War II, I could end up spending six months cramming my brain with intriguing details that prove to be completely irrelevant to my story.
Who are some of your favorite books or authors? Is there anyone in particular who has influenced your writing the most?
Some of my favorite authors are Markus Zusak (The Book Thief), Ruta Sepetys (Between Shades of Gray), Alma Katsu (The Taker), and Sara Gruen (Water for Elephants). The person who has probably most influenced my writing, and especially my in-depth research process, would have to be Jodi Picoult.
What project are you working on now?
I’m happy to report that I just turned in a novella, titled The Christmas Collector, which will be published this coming October by Kensington Books in a holiday anthology headlined by number one New York Times bestselling author Fern Michaels. (Very exciting!) After that, I’ll be working on my next two women’s fiction novels under contract with my publisher and, hopefully, finding time to sleep on occasion. Oh, and feeding my children. That’s always a good thing.
At age nine, Kristina was already expressing her creativity through a five-year stint as the host of an Emmy and Ollie award-winning kids’ television program. She continued acting in numerous independent films and major motion pictures and, most recently, as the former owner of a wedding/event planning business, served for six years as the host of the weekly Weddings Portland Style, broadcast on the WB. She has also enjoyed performing as a professional emcee. Her writing credits include regular contributions Portland Bride & Groom magazine, and ten years directing public relations for an international conglomerate.
In 2000, she compiled hundreds of her grandmother’s favorite recipes. Intended to be a holiday gift, the compilation became a self-published cookbook. With proceeds benefiting the Food Bank, Grandma Jean’s Rainy Day Recipes was sold in bookstores and featured in a variety of regional media.
While gathering information for the cookbook’s biographical section, Kristina happened upon a letter her grandfather mailed to his “sweetheart” during his World War II naval service. That letter served as the inspiration for her debut novel, Letters from Home, published in February 2011. A portion of the sales proceeds benefit United Through Reading, a nonprofit organization that video records deployed U.S. military personnel reading bedtime stories for their children.
Kristina holds a B.S. in International Marketing with a language concentration from Pepperdine University. She resides in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and their two sons.
Thank you, Kristina!
Click here to read my review of Bridge of Scarlet Leaves.