The winner of Ally Carter's Heist Society
as selected by random.org
Congrats Sidrah! It's in the mail...
Today, I’m especially excited to welcome Holly Thompson to Points of Claire-ification. Holly is the author of several books, most recently ORCHARDS, and the Regional Advisor for SCBWI Tokyo. Thanks for joining us Holly.
Thanks so much for having me during YA Contemp Month.
From the beautiful cover art and the name, it’s not hard to tell that the book has something to do with mikan- Japanese mandarin oranges. Can you give us a quick synopsis?
Kanako Goldberg, a half Japanese and half Jewish-American from New York, is sent to her grandparents’ mikan farm in Shizuoka after the suicide of a classmate. In Japan she attends school part-time and helps in the orchards, all the while, addressing Ruth, the classmate who died. Kana is confused and resentful, but gradually as she works in the groves and as she becomes more immersed in village life, she comes to a deeper understanding of Ruth and of her own bicultural identity. But then news from home sends Kana reeling into orbit all over again.
I was really happy to read a book where Japan so seamlessly integrated, without necessarily being the focus of the story. How did you go about gathering the information you needed on the setting?
I actually was apprenticed to a mikan farmer for 18 months as research for an adult novel about an American woman who marries into a mikan growing family. I learned everything I could about mikan cultivation, and for a while I lived in the village with my young daughter so that I could more fully immerse myself into village society. I have thousands of photographs and pages and pages of research notes. Midway through my work on the farm, the farmer’s American-born niece visited, and briefly seeing her there, somewhat out of her element, sparked ideas for Orchards.
What tips can you offer for writing multicultural YA novels?
I think that multiculturalism has to be a part of who the author is for an author to be successful at writing multicultural characters. The author needs to have a deep understanding of the cultures portrayed--even if the main characters have only a shallow understanding of those cultures. Research and experience are essential, and not just surface research and a brief visit to another country. Dig deep and learn far more than will ever be used in your book.
I think it’s also important to keep in mind that so many teens cross cultures now—through relatives and friends, living outside the country where they were born or have citizenship, accompanying parents overseas, and as children of migrant laborers. There are so many stories to be told.
ORCHARDS is a verse novel. What made you choose this medium? What are some of the challenges of verse and how does it compare to using prose?
Orchards started out in verse. The voice was too intense and too lyrical for me to fit into prose. With verse the aim is to distill scenes into those few key brush strokes that will convey the action and emotion effectively. Dialogue is difficult to do in verse, but verse is a great vehicle for teen voices and roller coaster emotions. I love playing with the white space on the page, having more control over the pacing through stanzas and page breaks, and working with rhythm and different poetic elements. The challenge is to make the verse elements seem invisible and organic so that the scene arcs and overall story arc are at the forefront.
What’s your writing process like? Are you a pantser? Plotter? Somewhere in between?
I do a lot of plotting in my head and make charts and tables. I do plenty of research including character studies. Some of this I do before starting the manuscript, but often I start the story because of a voice and character, then research and plot along the way. It’s a mixture of planning and then chasing after the characters.
Please tell us about your publication journey. How did you meet up with your agent, Jamie Weiss Chilton?
As I was pushing to complete my first draft of Orchards, I decided to apply for the Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program. Although I attend all of the SCBWI Tokyo events, living in Japan I don’t have as much opportunity to meet agents and editors, take courses in writing, or work with mentors, so I thought a six-month low-residency type program would be perfect for me. Nevada was not the most convenient location for me, but it was exactly the program I needed and presented me with excellent opportunities. On the opening conference weekend, I was able to confer with my mentor Esther Hershenhorn, meet Jamie, give a public reading, have the first page of Orchards critiqued by Jamie, and attend a key session on revision. By the end of that program, I had an agent and a polished manuscript, and soon afterward, Orchards was accepted for publication by Delacorte/Random House in a two-book deal.
In between being a university lecturer, having a family, organizing SCBWI events, and having a life, how do you even find the time to write?
Well, the reality is that some days I don’t write. Some days are just for family or work or soaking up life in Japan or wherever I am—those days feed my writing, ultimately. Other days I can immerse myself completely in my writing. I don’t have as many days with long stretches of time for sustained writing focus as I’d like, but I am always thinking writing—drafting in my head or doing a few moments of editing or jotting notes—even on my busy days.
Many of my readers are aspiring writers. Any advice for those of us still in the trenches?
Realize that the learning curve is steep and endless, and that we are all still in the trenches even after we are published! Read constantly and write steadily. Attend writing conferences, join critique groups, and join writing networks like SCBWI. Learn from other writers. Get on twitter and participate in chats like #kidlitchat and #yalitchat. Follow agent and editor blogs. Set deadlines for yourself. Submit stories to magazines. Challenge yourself with different voices and genres and styles. And get out and plunge yourself into life and the world around you so that you’ll have stores of material and can write your own unique stories that no one else can possibly tell.
Thanks Holly! Wow! So many pearls of wisdom.
Tell me your favourite Japanese/multicultural story.
Enter by Wednesday 11.59 pm EST
Entries open to all, internationally.
Since this SIGNED copy of ORCHARDS is physically coming from me, this week's winner gets an added bonus!
Good luck everyone!
Sadly, this is the last week of YA Contemp Month, but giveaways continue every week, and will still be open to non-followers the first Thursday of every month. I hope you'll join me next week for another awesome interview and giveaway.