My grandfather worked hard his whole life. It was the Italian way. Loyalty to employers was only superseded by loyalty to God and loyalty to family, so it was no surprise to anyone that he labored, what seemed like tirelessly, and was a successful man. Long before I met him, when my mother was still in high school, he was asked to go to Japan to help teach factory owners how American production worked. He met wonderful friends there and came home with fascinating stories about the Japanese culture, an interest he passed on to me long before he died.
My grandfather may have sparked my interest in Japanese culture, but I know a writer who will ignite that passion in all of us. Jan Morrill, author of The Red Kimono, has woven her characters an exquisite tapestry of bigotry and betrayal, treachery and tradition, friendship and forgiveness, conflict and compassion. In addition to being a wonderful writer, Jan is an accomplished artist and has been very helpful to me in my writing efforts. I was thrilled when I asked her to guest post about her book’s upcoming release and she agreed. Here is what she had to say:
Last night, I lay in bed thinking about what I’d like to say in this, perhaps my last guest post before The Red Kimono is released. I began to liken the waiting process to awaiting the birth of my children. (By the way, the latest “due” date for The Red Kimono is February 20, University of Arkansas Press.)
Many writers think of our works as our “babies.” When we read out loud, we might as well be offering our toddlers—exposed and vulnerable—for sacrifice to the heartless critique gods. And when they tell us what’s wrong, we begrudgingly edit parts we love, as if cutting off the limbs of our child. Some even refer to it as “killing our babies.”
There are many similarities in waiting for the arrival of my book, too. Changes in due date. Wondering what will it will look like and how it will feel to hold it in my hands. Will it be “healthy ” and will it achieve all that I’ve dreamed it will achieve? Yes, awaiting the release date feels all too familiar to the anticipatory pangs of childbirth.
I recently finished co-presenting a writing workshop with the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pen, where I talked about ways for writers to deepen their characters by getting to know them better. One of method was to interview the character. Another was to write a letter to the character.
The Red Kimono is my first novel. In the last days before the birth of my first child, I wrote my child-to-be a letter and told her about what I was feeling, my hopes, my fears. And so, as I pace the floor, waiting for February 20 (hoping for an early rather than late delivery,) I thought I’d write a letter to my main character, Sachiko Kimura.
Sachi is a nine-year old Japanese American girl who, in the opening of the book, is trying to find her place within two very different cultures. However, feeling out of place becomes the least of her worries when Pearl Harbor is bombed and the world as she knows it comes to an end with the loss of her father and the relocation of her family to an internment camp in Arkansas.
Finally, after more than five years of gestation, your birth date is only days away. What am I thinking about in these last days before your arrival?
Before my children were born, I called them “sparkles in my eye.” You, too, began as a sparkle in my eye. Since my earliest recollection, I dreamed of one day writing a novel, though I often wondered what I would write about. Then, as I began to hear stories about my mother’s internment I thought about how it must have impacted the person she became. Stories began to form in my head, and the seed that became your story was planted.
But there were times that weeds of self-doubt choked how our garden grew. Negative thoughts filled my mind, leaving little room for the creativity I needed to move your story forward:
- You may be able to write short stories, but you’ll never write a novel.
- There are thousands and thousands of new novels being written every day. Why would anyone be interested in this story?
- You’ve got too many other things to do to be wasting your time on a pipe dream.
- This is taking your forever. Give it up.
But you, Nobu and Terrence persisted. Word by word. Page by page. Chapter by chapter. Until finally, the story was complete.
Now, as the due date approaches, I find myself wondering the same things about The Red Kimono that I wondered about my children.
- What does the future hold?
- What will be your place in this world?
- Will I find the proper balance of protecting you and giving you wings?
- Is there room in my heart for another “child?”
Sometimes I think writing The Red Kimono took so long because I couldn’t let go of all of you. I remember feeling a mix of joy and sadness at typing “THE END.”
But, then I realized I will never really let go. Because like my children, I am a part of you and you are a part of me. And this is how it will always be.
Happy “birth” day,
Jan Morrill was born and (mostly) raised in California. Her mother, a Buddhist Japanese American, was an internee during World War II. Her father, a Southern Baptist redhead of Irish descent, retired from the Air Force. Many of her stories reflect memories of growing up in a multicultural, multi-religious, multi-political environment as does her debut novel, THE RED KIMONO, which will be published by the University of Arkansas Press in February 2013.
An artist as well as a writer, she is currently working on the sequel to The Red Kimono.
Jan’s award-winning short stories and memoir essays have been published in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series of books and several anthologies. Recently, she was nominated for the Pushcart Prize for her short story “Xs and Os,” which appeared in the Voices Anthology.
Visit Jan at:
The Red Kimono Book Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Etvg8feWCiw