18 March 2012

Guest Blog: Kristina McMorris

This week, we're welcoming historical fiction author Kristina McMorris. Her novel  BRIDGE OF SCARLET LEAVES is set in during World War II, as the attack on Pearl Harbor changes America's destiny and the future of her characters.  Kristina is here to talk about the novel and give away a copy. Add your comment for a chance to win. Here's the blurb:
In spite of her Julliard ambitions and family's wishes, violinist Maddie Kern secretly elopes with her Japanese American boyfriend—the night before Pearl Harbor is bombed. When her beloved Lane is evacuated to an internment camp, she dares to remain at his side. Behind barbed wire, tension simmers and the line between patriot and traitor blurs. As Maddie strives for the hard-won acceptance of her new family, Lane risks everything to prove his allegiance to America, at tremendous cost.  

Skillfully capturing one of the most controversial episodes in recent American history, Kristina McMorris delivers an authentic, moving testament to love, forgiveness, and the enduring music of the human spirit.

From Kensington Books and Avon/HarperCollins UK
March 2012 (Trade paperback)

**Q&A with Kristina McMorris**

The premise of  Bridge of Scarlet Leaves began with a true account of two brothers during WWII, one who had fought for Japan and the other for America. While researching the subject, Kristina happened across a brief mention of roughly two hundred non-Japanese spouses who voluntarily lived in an internment camp. She was stunned and fascinated by the discovery, and immediately knew it was a story she needed to tell.

As the daughter of a Japanese immigrant father and Caucasian American mother, Kristina grew up living between these two cultures. Through Bridge of Scarlet Leaves she hopes to share with readers a unique perspective of an intriguing, and often tragic, portion of our country's history, while also honoring a diverse range of quiet heroes.

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 WWII 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 WWII 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 WWII, 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 #1 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 feed my children. That’s always a good thing.

Kristina McMorris is a graduate of Pepperdine University and the recipient of nearly twenty national literary awards. A host of weekly TV shows since age nine, including an Emmy® Award-winning program, she penned her debut novel, Letters from Home (Kensington Books, Avon/HarperCollins UK), based on inspiration from her grandparents' wartime courtship. The critically praised book was declared a must-read by Woman's Day magazine and achieved additional acclaim as a Reader's Digest Select Editions feature, a Doubleday/Literary Guild selection, and a 2011 Goodreads Choice Awards semifinalist for Best Historical Fiction. Her second novel, Bridge of Scarlet Leaves (March 2012), has already received glowing reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews, among many others. Named one of Portland's "40 Under 40" by The Business Journal, Kristina lives with her husband and two sons in the Pacific Northwest, where she refuses to own an umbrella. 

For more, visit www.KristinaMcMorris.comKristina is also on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads