Hello everyone! So today we have Kathleen on the blog to talk to us about her book 🙂 I met Kathleen on an Instagram loop and so happy to have found another awesome author! Here is Kathleen!
Thank you so much for interviewing me. I’m so glad we met on Instagram 🙂
Tell us a bit about your book
Sure, I’d be happy too! The Last Cherry Blossom (TLCB) is about a young girl’s (Yuriko) life in Hiroshima during WWII. She discovers a shocking family secret right before her world is about to become a shadow of what it had been. I’m proud to say that TLCB is based on my mother’s experience surviving the atomic bomb. It is through her 12-year-old eyes that readers witness that horrific day. The novel is written with information on the culture, mindset, and daily life during WWII before the bomb was dropped-something that hasn’t been done before. I hope to not only convey the message that nuclear weapons should never be used again; but to also reveal that the children in Japan had the same love for family, fear of what could happen to them, and hopes for peace as the Allied children had.
What would say is the genre for your book
MG historical fiction. But I’ve had grades 5- college students, as well as adults read TLCB.
Where did the inspiration come from?
My mom’s childhood in Japan during WWII and surviving the atomic bombing, as well as the desire to learn more about the family members I lost to the atomic bomb. Interestingly, my writing journey didn’t really begin until my daughter came home from school very upset after discussing the end of WWII in her 7th grade history class. She had overheard some kids discussing that “cool mushroom cloud picture”, that’s when she asked me to speak to her class about the people under those clouds that day, like her Grandma.
How did you come up with the title for your book?
Well, I had the title in mind for a couple years before I really worked on it as a book. 😊 At the time, I was just making notes so my daughter and her family could have the story. I was overjoyed that the publisher liked the title as well! I chose the title because the Cherry Blossom Festival is such an integral part of the Japanese culture and it was my mother’s favorite celebration. More importantly, it was the last time her entire family was together before the bombing.
How long did it take you to finish writing the book before the first edit? How many drafts were there in total?
Before the first edit it was about a year and a half. Let’s see, there were about 6 drafts (some of the draft changes were major and some were for minor issues) with my agent before she signed me as a client. Then I had two major ones with my publisher and a few copyedit ones(issues with punctuation, missed word, etc..) The toughest edit was figuring out how to show the passage of time, without writing the date before each chapter. I came up with the idea to use newspaper headlines in Japan at that time, since Yuriko’s Papa had a newspaper company. That took a lot more time and a bit more difficult than I had anticipated, especially since I cannot read Japanese! 😊 I supplemented with propaganda posters and radio slogans. Then once I had that I had to figure out which chapter they would fit. I had post it notes everywhere on my dining room table when making my timeline!! I wish I would have thought to take pictures of it, but I didn’t.
Are there any characters in the book based on people you know?
Yes, Yuriko is based on my mother. Although it is not a full picture of her personality. The other family members while real, I did have to form some ideas of their personality, since I never met them in person. I also changed some of the names as well. For instance, she didn’t want her real first name in TLCB and she suggested Yuriko. I have to say that it was a challenge at times picturing my mom as a child. Also, she was very picky in her first read through of the original draft copy. 😊
How did you celebrate being published? Did you have a launch party?
Well there were a few celebrations. I remember a Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) conference, where a key note speaker advised us to celebrate each milestone, because it is not an easy road for most of us. So when I signed with my agent, I did my version of a happy dance (since because of my disability I can’t actually dance anymore) and we went out to dinner. When I signed my publishing contract- happy dance. It was also my daughter’s birthday. We celebrated by going out to dinner and I brought the contract to my mom so she could read it. I celebrated with her at the house because she was too sick to go out at that time (we both did our own version of a happy dance and cried together). And the day TLCB launched into the world (August 2, 2016-a Tuesday) 😊, I went to my local bookstore and took my picture next to the display, you guessed it, my happy dance, and we went out to dinner. A week later I celebrated my launch at the same book store. My daughter and a local teen read from the book, many supportive friends and family, and people I didn’t know came and we celebrated with cherry blossom themed cupcakes, cookies, and home-made cherry blossom candy. I did my happy dance throughout the whole day. Okay, I’m noticing that food tends to be a common theme here… 😊
Would you care to give us an extract?
I’d love to give you one of my favorite sections that I enjoyed writing:
“The sun shone through the clouds and warmed my face. I looked around and saw people in boats rowing out to enjoy the view from the river. A breeze shook the cherry blossom branches making the petals dance…The purple and pinks of the sky made the perfect backdrop for the blossoms. A magical deep purple glow painted the sky. I wanted to hold this memory in my heart forever… I looked around the room at their happy faces realizing that even though there is so much uncertainty and fear, joyful, happy moments still existed. And I smiled.”
How do you beat writers block? Any tips?
Well, I have days when my pain gets in the way and that blocks me from being able to concentrate or write/read anything. Then there are days when it is not exactly blocked, but more of it being stuck. I usually am stuck on trying to make the first draft look like a final draft or get carried away with researching. So I get out my journal and just free form write whatever comes to mind. Or I write as if I’m writing in that character’s journal/diary and what she’d be thinking or find important to write about it in there.
Do you have any hobbies apart from writing?
I really enjoying meeting and speaking with students! When my hands allow, I liked learning to quilt, making wreaths-anything with a glue gun, reading, enjoying the ocean (don’t get to do as much as I’d like), and just being with my family. I’m quite boring….
When you write, do you consider yourself to be a plotter or a pantser?
I’m a bit of both. I have a general idea of the plot, but I don’t really outline (I probably should…). I have scenes that I’ve written that I then put in order of how I think they should go. Now, because it’s historical fiction, I do a lot of research first so in a way that helps me know the order of most of the events in my book.
Do you have any advice for fellow writers?
Read many, many books in the genre you want to write. I continue to do that, because you find new inspiration with each book you read. Join a writing organization if you can. I am a member of SCBWI and attend the regional conferences in Charlotte. You learn so much about the craft of writing, meet people who become friends, critique partners, and your supportive tribe (that is also where I won a writing award and met my agent). Also, just sit down and write. There is no perfect time, perfect sentence, or perfect draft, just write the story only you can tell. When you write with you heart you can’t go wrong.
If your book became a film- who would you pick to play the main characters?
I had the chance to meet the Japanese pop idol group 9Nine and one of the singers, Sayaka Nishiwaki, is from Hiroshima, so if she or Mana Ashida (Japanese child actress) could play Yuriko. And perhaps Papa could be played by Ken Watanabe…It’s fun to dream, anyway…..
I see you have new work in progress- care to tell us about it?
I am currently finalizing research for the sequel to TLCB. It takes place five years after the bombing once she has moved to Tokyo and is trying to deal with PTSD and finding/accepting her ‘new normal’. Also, been researching a story about Peruvian Japanese plucked from their home in Peru, brought to a US internment camp, and some were used as a hostage exchange between the US and Japan.
Lastly, where can readers find you and your book on the internet?
The Last Cherry Blossom can be found at Indiebound, Amazon, Barnes and Noble stores or online. For schools, Scholastic has it as part of their We Need Diverse Books Book Club.
Thankyou so much for chatting to us about this powerful and personal book – love the celebration of publication -would love to see pics of cherry blossom candy and cupcakes! Yum! I was fortunate enough to see the cherry blossom festival 10years ago 😀