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READ LIKE A WRITER, a teaching blog

AN AUTHOR INTERVIEW ABOUT NO SURRENDER SOLDIER

NO SURRENDER SOLDIER, Merit Press/Adams Media, Jan. 18, 2014

This blog article is a reprint of an interview Beth Fehlbaum did of me and posted July 31, 2013.

What's your book about?

In NO SURRENDER SOLDIER, it’s 1972 and a 15-year-old Chamorro boy, Kiko, discovers that his mother had been raped by a Japanese soldier during the WWII Japanese occupation of Guam. What he doesn’t know is that there is a WWII Japanese soldier, Isamu Seto, hiding in the Guam jungle for 28 years behind Kiko’s house. Kiko also has an older brother, Sammy, who is a U.S. navigator in Vietnam. And his grandfather has dementia and is acting crazy as he battles ghosts from his past during WWII. The emotional arc of the novel for Kiko is one of a secondary victim of rape. At the point Kiko reaches the stage of rage, he knows for sure about the Japanese soldier so Kiko decides to kill him. My story shows how war affects people’s lives long after it is over.

What inspired you to write it?

I was a foreign correspondent and political reporter for Gannett’s Pacific Daily News. My husband was a USAF officer. As a result, we lived in Hawaii, Japan, and Guam, and visited and worked in the Philippines, Korea, and many other Pacific Islands.
I learned of the atrocities—rape, forced labor, torture and death—that Japanese soldiers inflicted on people in the countries they conquered. (For more details of my story read blog article at http://www.christinekohlerbooks.com/blog.htm?post=919114 )

I also learned about the Japanese soldiers who hid and never came home after WWII. Their survival stories are unbelievable what they endured. I couldn’t understand why they didn’t either commit suicide, or come out of hiding and go home after Japan had surrendered. One case in particular that puzzled me was that of Shoichi Yokoi. He not only hid for 28 years in the jungles of Guam, but he dug a tunnel with a cannon shell and lived underground for the last eight years. You can read Yokoi’s story and see pictures at www.christinekohlerbooks.com/disc.htm

So it was the true life stories that were so harrowing, yet courageous, and compelling that inspired me to write this novel.

When is your book coming out?

NO SURRENDER SOLDIER is being released as an e-book mid-December 2013 and in hardback January 18, 2014.

Has the reality of being published been different than you thought it would be?

This is my first novel published, but I’ve had about 16 books, not counting collections and anthologies, in different genres published before this one. So, if anything, I’m experiencing more intensity than excitement at the necessity for this novel to sprout wings and fly quickly. Having been in the publishing business for a while, I know what can happen if a book doesn’t take off within the first year or two.

What's the best part of being published?

The first time I sold an article to a magazine I from then on called myself a professional writer. Being offered a publishing contract to me means that a professional editor values my work enough to invest the publisher’s money and time into it. It means that I’m writing at a standard and quality that is high enough to be chosen for that contract. Once my work is published, it constantly amazes, delights, yet humbles me, how the work takes on a life of its own when readers engage with my work and then pass it on in different and unexpected ways. It is my highest hope that this occurs with NO SURRENDER SOLDIER.

What is something about publishing that you wish someone had told you in advance?

Maybe how long it would take to sell a historical novel. But I don’t believe this is something someone could predict. I wonder if anyone has considered doing a study on the cycle of trends, both cyclically and in duration? I wrote two MG historical novels (Civil War and WWII—both unpublished) at about the time that Harry Potter was published in the UK. Even if someone had warned me that this wave of fantasy trends in MG & YA would cycle through wizards to vampires to zombies and drastically reduce shelf space for historical, I’m not sure it would have dissuaded me from writing historical (and contemporary—I’m a realism writer.) The only thing it might have changed if I knew how long it would take to get a novel published is that I might have stayed in the newsroom longer.

Who's your publisher? Tell us your story-- how'd you come to be a published author?

My publisher for NO SURRENDER SOLDIER is Merit Press, a new YA imprint with an established publisher Adams Media/ F+W Media, known mostly for NF adult market books. At the time I read the press release about THE Jacquelyn -- Jackie “O!” as in the first author chosen for the Oprah Winfrey book club – Mitchard becoming Merit Press’ editor I sent my agent an e-mail suggesting she send Jackie GRIDIRON GIRLS, a contemporary YA novel that had been in acquisitions awaiting a contract at WestSide when that YA imprint was sold by its parent company. I didn’t receive a reply from my agent. Several months later my agent left agenting. Fall 2012 I sent a query to Jackie for NO SURRENDER SOLDIER. From the very first Jackie was approachable. She e-mailed back and forth, then called me when preparing to present my novel to the committee. Within a couple of days she e-mailed, “We got a YES!” In all, the deal took about two to three months from when I first submitted the query to the committee approval in November 2012. Since then I’ve worked with editor Ashley Meyers and publicist Bethany Adams; they’ve both been dreams—very professional yet easy to communicate and work with.

Do you write from an outline or are you a "pantser"?

For fiction, both. I research heavily first; I call it “filling the well.” When I begin writing I do what Jane Yolen calls “flying into the mist.” I may or may not know the ending. About half way through the book I stop and outline the entire book. I think I have a fear of saggy middles is why I write a synoptic outline at this point. I write recursively so after I’ve outlined I just keep moving forward until the end of the first draft. I can write a first draft in about 6-8 weeks this way.

Who's your favorite author? What is it about his or her writing that has made you a fan?

The first children’s lit author I fell in love with was Katherine Paterson, and in particular JACOB HAVE I LOVED. I never tire of re-reading that book, and each time I am Wheezy, the forgotten Esau. (I even wrote a paper in graduate-level children’s literature class on the female relationships in JACOB HAVE I LOVED and how I related to them in my own life.)

What's the last book you read that you still haven't been able to shake off? What was it about the book that stayed with you?

That’s a difficult question because I read so much and such a variety of books and for all ages. For example, I love reading picture books. The books that stay with me the most are ones that make me cry, like BLUE by Joyce Moyer Hostetter, and haunt me with their literary beauty and spiritual depth, such as KIT’S WILDERNESS and CLAY by David Almond, and I like dark humor with brilliantly imaginative and constructed plots, such as GOING BOVINE by Libba Bray.

Are you a full-time writer or do you have a "day job"? What do you do in your "day job"?

I am a full-time writer. I left the San Antonio Express-News, a Hearst daily, as a copy editor to pursue writing for children full-time. Since then I taught writing for the Institute of Children’s Literature (ICL) for nearly a decade. I also write for the educational and library markets and freelance edit for publishers.

Why YA as opposed to some other age group?

I write the story inside of me that is begging to be told by whatever aged protagonist needs to tell that particular story, and to whatever aged audience who the story is best suited for. This is why I am published in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and other genres for ages five through adult. This particular story, NO SURRENDER SOLDIER, is the story of what happened to a 15-year-old Chamorro teen. That’s why I wrote it for teens.

Who's your agent? Take this opportunity to brag on him/her if you'd like!

I had an agent at a top agency who gave me a 17-point revision letter for NO SURRENDER SOLDIER a year before I sold it to Merit Press. My agent left agenting for personal reasons before submitting any of my manuscripts. However, I will forever be indebted to her for a thorough and excellent critique letter; I named her in my acknowledgements. I am presently looking for an agent, but I want one who represents middle-grade novels, too.

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