Monday, August 22, 2016

#MGGetsReal: Behind the Scenes with Joyce Hostetter

Next week I'll return to my posts on Highlights Summer Camp, but today I wanted to share an intriguing marketing initiative.

You may have seen #MGGetsReal floating around the Internet this past month. And you may know that it involves five dynamite middle grade authors: Shannon Wiersbitzky, Shannon Hitchcock, Joyce Moyer Hostetter, Kathleen Burkinshaw, and Kerry O'Malley Cerra. 

But do you know how it came about? In this exclusive interview with Joyce, you're going to see how this marketing effort was formulated and how this team carried it out.



How did you all decide to form the #MGGetsReal group? Who was behind it? How did you choose the title? 


Let’s blame this on Shannon Wiersbitzky. I think she’d participated in joint marketing initiatives before. But anyway, I received an email inquiring if I’d be interested in joining a few authors in a concentrated promotional campaign for one month.  Of course, I said, YES even though it was going to jolt me out of my comfortable blogging lethargy.


We five authors brainstormed via emails. Shannon envisioned a hashtag that could be used via social media.  We tried out a few, keeping in mind what we wanted to communicate, how visually clear we could make it in a hashtag, and what would be punchy and memorable.  #MGGetsReal emerged. Of course we did other brainstorming too, to establish the criteria for this effort.


Are you particularly targeting middle grade teachers? If so, how? Have you had any response to this?


We hope to reach Middle Grade teachers and school librarians, although we adore readers of all ages and professions!  We chose the month of August because educators would be gearing up for a new school year. We wrote articles and blog posts and offered to guest blog for a variety of teacher and librarian groups that we have connections with. 

Shannon W. assembled images of our books covers that we all could use and I (with help from my daughter) developed a video that introduced our books. 

Kathy landed a blogging slot at Literacy and NCTE and Shannon H. introduced our video at Mr. Schu’s blog, Watch. Connect. Read

Shannon also cranked out terrific blog posts and articles that inspired the rest of us to get to work. 

Kerry compiled an astounding list of Middle Grade Books About Tough Topics.  

I used our Talking Story platform to create a newsletter to send to educators. 

We all blogged more than usual and reviewed each other books.  And we’re Facebooking and Tweeting a lot too!

I would love to tell you that our book sales spiked as a result and that teachers across America are choosing to use our books in their classroom. But of course, we have no idea just yet how the campaign will play itself out.  However, we believe the awareness of our titles is spreading and we’ve certainly fallen in love with each other’s books. Perhaps, best of all, we’ve built a small community of cooperation among ourselves as authors.  That’s worth a whole lot. We also know that this is likely the beginning of a movement that other authors will pick up and continue.  Our effort is simply the first wave. 

Please share the common threads between the books and tell us how COMFORT fits into the mix?


Tough topics—that’s the common thread.  Hard things happen in life and we want middle graders to discover characters who face difficulties with courage and creativity.

In WHAT FLOWERS REMEMBER by Shannon Wiersbitzky, Delia is especially resourceful when her surrogate grandfather develops Alzheimer’s, finding a way to help him remember his life experiences. She does this by drawing the whole town into retelling stories of his life. It’s such a beautiful novel with themes of legacy and flowers and memory and love.  How is that similar to COMFORT?  An adult family member has mental struggles and the protagonist helps him to connect with community. 

In THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM, Kathleen Hilliker Burkinshaw tells the story of Yuriko who lives in Hiroshima during World War II. And yes, it describes the bombing and its aftermath.  This is such a profound story and I think Ann Fay feels the profundity of that devastation in COMFORT when her family hears the announcement of the Hiroshima bombing on the radio. This is the moment when Daddy’s post war trauma really begins to manifest itself. Both are books about war and how it changes a character’s world.

JUST A DROP OF WATER by Kerry O’Malley Cerra is a story about the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Two boys, one Christian and one Muslim find their world and their friendship grinds to a halt in the aftermath of the attacks.  Jake the protagonist may be misguided in the ways he sticks up for his friend but his loyalty is always there. He is persistent too and those characteristics remind me of Ann Fay in COMFORT. 

In Shannon Hitchcock’s RUBY LEE AND ME, Sara Beth Mills lives in racially segregated North Carolina.  Ann Fay in COMFORT, does too. The difference is that Sara Beth has an African-American friendship that is actually threatened by school integration. Ann Fay has experienced a brief friendship with a black girl at an integrated hospital but is now separated from her. She is unable to reestablish that friendship. Both girls have family members they desperately want to be well.

Each of these books is about character and the human spirit and how it responds during really tough times. We trust that our protagonists will give readers the confidence that they can face  real life challenges.

To enter the giveaway of all five books (open to teachers and librarians), please visit our #MGGetsReal website and scroll to the bottom of the page.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Gems from Jan: Summer Camp at Highlights Part III

I first met Jan Cheripko, author of Rat; Sun, Moon, Stars, Rainand Imitate The Tiger, when we both presented at a South Carolina Reading Association conference several years ago. I admire his tight prose in which young men face peer pressure and/or tough choices. His workshop at camp was on secondary characters and transitions. Since I'd never studied either of those in particular, I thought I’d learn some tips for Half-Truths and some advice to pass on to all of you. Below is a synopsis of his two presentations. 

Photo by Gayle Krause

On Secondary Characters

Pay attention to your secondary character’s motivations and make sure you develop a distinct identity for them. If you are only using a secondary character to advance the plot, you might be short-changing the plot. Secondary character must be there for his/her own growth.  

Focus on an individual in a crowd and realize how that person may personify the crowd. For example, in the opening scene of Casablanca moviegoers see a pickpocket. The thief represents how people are stuck in Casablanca and bad things are about to happen. Each minor character should reinforce the theme of the story.  

Shakespeare gave some of his best lines to his secondary characters. Can you be so confidant in you writing that you give some of your best lines to someone who only shows up on the page briefly?  In King Lear the Gentleman says: “Her tears were like diamonds dropped from pearls.”


Your assignment: Create a list of all your characters and assign a value to them.  


1- Most important
2- Supporting
3- Less so
4- Brief encounter
5- Part of the crowd

Then ask:
  • Who are they?
  • What’s their purpose?
  • Where do they come from?
  • When did they exist?
  • What’s their history?
  • What do we know about them?
  • Why does she or he speak that way?
  • Should she be eliminated or developed?
  • Is this character consistent with purpose and theme of the book?
Play with a secondary’s character language. Allow him to be extravagant in ways the main character isn’t. Experiment! Be poetic, use humor, innuendo, puns, and slapstick. Take chances! Be philosophical, offer insights, use recurring symbols and leitmotif. Then, if necessary, be prepared to cut it all.


An example from Half-Truths

Maggie, Kate's younger sister comes into the library after exploring her grandmother's attic. She and her brother are excited to find their great-grandfather's civil war uniform. While she is chattering about what they found, Kate looks at their great-grandfather's portrait which hangs over the fireplace.
Maggie follows my gaze. "That's it! That's what we found. Wait 'til I tell Frankie. He's going to be flabberdoozled!" 
"Flabberdoozled?" Grandaddy repeats. He bites his bottom lip to keep from laughing.  
Maggie looks at him with impatience. "You know, Grandaddy! Flabbergasted plus bamboozled. Flabberdoozled!"

Transitional Scenes: Half the Fun is Getting There

First, Jan gave a short primer on plot:

Beginnings. Will it get us to turn the page?

“Call me Ishmael.” Moby Dick.  This is a command to the reader. 
“And the clock struck 13.” 1984.

Middle. Is there a clear inciting moment? It must happen in the first third of the story. Tension builds with the inclusion of backstory, new characters, danger, actions, dialogue, and interior monologue. Then relations become more complicated. Motives are introduced and action intensifies. Conflicts build to inciting moment until you get to a point of no return.

Rocky When the guy pulls Rocky’s name out of the hat and there is no choice: Rocky must fight.

Titanic Jack looks up and sees Rose in the balcony. Once they meet, it’s the point of no return.

End. Is the reader left thinking, feeling, wondering, sad, happy, perplexed, or satisfied? 

When crafting a scene ask:
  • Why is this scene in here?
  • How is it constructed?
  • Is it consistent with the story, plot and pacing?
  • Can it, or should it be eliminated?
  • Where is the story line going? Does this scene take my story forward?
  • Is the scene consistent with my purpose and theme?
Transitional scenes move readers from scene A to scene C by way of scene B. The transition can be physical, emotional, psychological, relational, necessary to flow of the story line, or some combination of all these.  Shakespeare used letters and messages for this purpose. In Casablanca a departing plane symbolizes hope to the people who watch it leave. You can see them thinking, “Perhaps tomorrow we’ll be on it.”



Scene A: The Barn


Scene B: Summer Campers Tracey Meltzer Kyle and Jilanne Hoffman
strolling from Scene A to Scene C.
Scene C: The Creek

When you look at a transitional scene you have four options:

  • Leave it the way it is.
  • Eliminate it entirely and cut to the chase.
  • Expand it, develop it, and integrate it even more.
  • Judiciously trim it; let the left out parts speak volumes.

Your assignment: Write a transitional scene. Slow down, pay attention to details, and make the scene worthwhile. 


An example from Half-Truths

Kate is walking home from just having been in Lillie's neighborhood without her family knowing. (For those of you who are unfamiliar with the story,  Kate has just moved to a wealthy area of Charlotte, NC after spending her growing-up years on a farm in Titusville, SC.) 

It's getting dark and I hurry along the street. I've got to get back before my grandparents come home from the club. Even Grandaddy wouldn't be too happy with me walking around a colored neighborhood by myself at night. 
I walk past a white brick mansion high on a hill. Small lights line the long driveway casting a warm glow on the spacious lawn. This isn't at all like Titusville, but I feel like I belong here more than I do in Lillian's neighborhood. It's strange. I never thought I'd feel like I belonged in Myers Park.
******
Jan is a gifted teacher and mentor. It was a pleasure to chat with him and hear from other campers how much he encouraged them.

Photo by Jolene Ballard Gutierrez

In case you missed my previous posts about Summer Camp at Highlights, here is Part I ("The Power of Social Media") and Part II (Conversations with Kathy).


Word Garden, Highlights Foundation
Words by Rose Colson

Monday, August 8, 2016

Conversations with Kathy: Summer Camp at Highlights Part II

"Great story, Carol! Honestly, I have very little to say except can I read more?? It sounds very polished, the writing is excellent, and I love the characters. It sounds from the synopsis that you have a very well thought out book and an interesting story. 
GREAT first line! Love it. You've gotten into the action right away, which is also great. We're swept away with the story from the very beginning."
Who wouldn't love to receive those comments on their first twenty pages? 

It took awhile for my heart to return to normal after I read Kathy Erskine's comments. And that was just the beginning of working with my amazing and award-winning summer camp mentor 
When Kathy isn't writing, speaking
or mentoring, she is known to sniff flowers.
Fox Hill Farm
Since my first pages had been critiqued a lot, Kathy graciously agreed to read an additional 25 pages--and then she read several more chapters during the week. (Note: if you are considering attending a Highlights Foundation workshop, do it! The faculty bend over backwards to provide you with a quality learning experience.) 

We met for 30 minutes five times during the week to discuss my work. She got picky--which is exactly what I need as I enter this "tightening/heightening" stage. (term courtesy Joyce Hostetter--the master tweaker!)


Kathy's Comments


Here are a few of her comments on Half-Truths:
  • Eliminate vague language. 

 Example: On the first day of school Lillie's principal references an incident from the previous year when the football team had gotten into trouble. Kathy recommended spelling this out and showing the difference between how the white and black students were treated afterwards. Here's the new version:

My brother Sam and some of the other football players almost started a fight while waiting to use Harding High’s football field. The Harding guys had called them names and made fun of their blue and white hand-me-down uniforms from Central High. We all hate that we don’t have our own colors.
      No one laid a hand on anyone but tempers got hot, and angry threats were thrown back and forth. The coaches stepped in just in time. I bet the white coach just slapped his boys on their backs and told them they'd take care of those colored boys another time. Our guys were suspended from playing the next two games. 
  • Deepen a character's reaction to an event.
Example: The principal challenges the students to be a credit to their race. Kathy suggested Lillie might feel bothered by his subtle insinuation that blacks have to prove themselves. So I added the last two sentences to this paragraph:
    I catch Mr. Grigsby’s drift because it’s been hammered into me since I was little. White people don’t expect Negroes to be smart or successful. It’s up to us to show them they’re wrong. If we do, we’ll be a credit to our race. Of course, it doesn’t matter if white folk think we’re not as good as them. The burden of proof is always on us. 

  • Build tension and strengthen character motivation.

    Example: Kate's goat, Eileen, has a suspicious skin disease. Lillie is in need of a science fair project and in my original manuscript, she sees Eileen and decides right away that finding a cure could be her project. In the new version, this realization develops over two chapters. Kate'
    s act of kindness towards Lillie serves as Lillie's motivation:
      Miss Anna Katherine put herself out for me. The least I cando is help figure out how to treat her goat. Then a thought crashes into my brain. Maybe I’ll useEileen for my science experiment!  It’s not exactly what I thought I’d do, but since it's about disease and infection,I bet Mr. Levi will approve it.
      (Note: This also strengthens the girls' connection to one another. Which is exactly what Rebecca Petruck advised me to do.)

      More Suggestions

  • Cut to the chase in each chapter. Have I said the same thing more than once in a scene? Am I explaining more than showing?
  • Cut out backstory which removes reader from the story. Move forward.
  • Put character or setting descriptions when the character first meets or enters the setting. 
Word Garden at the Barn
Highlights Foundation 

Kathy's Keynote

    Kathy also delivered a keynote on "Making Your Writing Feel Authentic." Here are some of her points:
  • Post a one-sentence description of your work on top of your computer to keep you focused
  • Keep a talisman or picture--something which reminds you of your work--close at hand. (Pictures on Pinterest work. Here is my Half-Truths board, one on fashion in the 50's, one just of images of people, and one related to African Americans.
  • You are not just writing about a person or a place. Experience that particular character in that particular place. Her novel, THE BADGER KNIGHT takes place in medieval England. Kathy visited castles, felt the trees, and imagined what her character might have seen, smelled or heard there. She even stepped in sheep poop and touched the standing stone
  • Walk, talk, act, dress, and eat the same food your character eats. These details are shorthand about your character
  • Use dialect with a light touch. Don't be distracting.
  • Your climax should be unexpected, but not unbelievable. Set up well so that it is not trite and predictable. Knowing your character and portraying him or authentically will enable you to set this stage.
  • And finally, a quote from Patti Gauch: “You know your ending is right when you’re crying at your keyboard.” 




One happy writer + one generous mentor=
a fantastic Summer Camp experience
Fox Hill Farm
Photo by Theresa Milstein

Stay tuned. In Part III of this series I'll share Jan Cheripko's insights into secondary characters and transitional scenes.

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Power of Social Media: Summer Camp at Highlights Part I

Congratulations to Rosi Hollinbeck, who won The Last Cherry Blossom. I think of Rosi as my west coast counterpart. She reviews and gives away books on her blog, as well as provides great links to other writing sites.
*****
I was fortunate to attend Summer Camp at Highlights Foundation and in upcoming posts will share many of the writing tips I learned. But first, I have to tell you a story about the power of social media. 

One afternoon we took a tour of the Highlights and Boyds Mills Press offices. We all rushed to get our pictures taken under the Highlights banner. Here I am with my new friend, Kesha Grant, who I plan to exchange manuscripts with.

We met different editors, heard about the submission process, and were introduced to the new Hello magazine for 0-2 years. (A great shower present for new moms!)

Who doesn't remember Highlights from their dentist's or doctor's office as a kid? 

Now they publish Bilingue, which is in Spanish! 



After the tour of the editorial offices, we were ushered into Boyds Mills Press and saw the table around which editorial decisions are made. 



Assistant editor, Cherie Matthews, showed us several new releases including the award winning fun book, One Day, The End by Rebecca Kai Doltish and illustrated by Fred Koehler
I expect to see Jan Davis-Castro,
my fellow writer from the Carolinas,
at our next SCBWI Carolinas conference.

At the end of her presentation, one of my fellow conferees asked, "What happens after the book is published? How do you get reviews?" Cherie explained how the book is sent out to hundreds of reviewers including Publisher's Weekly, the School Library Journal, as well as to bloggers who review books. 

Then she said, "Carol Baldwin has a wonderful blog that I follow." 

Everyone looked at me. "I'm Carol Baldwin," I said.  

Cherie said, "No. You can't be the Carol Baldwin. She lives in Charlotte, NC."

"Really, I am Carol Baldwin." Then I explained when I moved from Charlotte to Greenville, SC I forgot to update my blog. 

I was thrilled that an editor from Boyds Mills Press followed me! Everyone laughed, I changed my personal information on my blog as soon as possible, and we all saw first hand the power of social media. 
Cherie Matthews and I.
I asked Cherie how she came across my blog and why she read it. She said, "We met through Joyce Hostetter. I was at the Barn during one of Carolyn Yoder's retreats and Joyce was telling about the Talking Story newsletter, which the two of you publish. This led me to sending Calkins Creek titles for you and Joyce to give away. I follow your blog and others to keep informed and find out what the community of bloggers are chatting about. I learn what bloggers are reading, who they admire and want to emulate, what causes you angst, and how you encourage and support one another. It's a good way to be with like-minded people who I may otherwise have never met."

Earlier in our week at camp, Mitali Perkins had given a keynote on the importance of using social media. "It's a great opportunity for you to showcase your writing! Make your voice pop!" she said. Writing 140 character tweets (nouns! verbs!) helped her write picture books.

In addition Mitali highly recommended that we:

  • Register a domain name ASAP. GoDaddy was one site that was mentioned.
  • Create a Facebook author page, even if you're unpublished. Populate it with posts from other pages such as publishers, libraries, and professional organizations related to the content of your book. "You'll be branding yourself by finding organizations with similar interests. Recommend free content for your followers." 
  • Organize your Facebook friends into lists. You can then target this list when you are creating an event.
  • "Gather your courage. Be passionate. This must come from your personal vocational mission, or else it won't work."
  • Create Twitter lists for "tuning in, research, and promotion."

I met with Mitali and she gave me
 terrific ideas for Half-Truths.

After the interchange with Cherie Matthews, Sid Reischer, one of my fellow campers who is new to social media, asked me why I blogged and what I hoped to accomplish. Although some people think blogging is dead, I told him it has helped me create an online presence. 

I've been blogging since May, 2007 when my editor at Maupin House, Emily Gorovsky Raj, suggested it might be a good idea. I had no idea what I was getting into, but I learned. 

As my fellow campers and I laughed about Cherie's comments, I realized that I blog because I enjoy it. It's not for everyone and it certainly takes time, but I like recommending books and giving them away. I like sharing what I'm learning as I write Half-Truths or from other websites and writing conferences. Plain and simple: blogging fits who I am. A good lesson for me to remember on my writing journey. 

I named my blog in an impulsive moment of "let's get this done and move forward." Since then I've envied my friends who have come up with much more creative names for their blogs. But guess what? Now I'm glad I kept it simple. 

It seems to have worked for Cherie!

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Last Cherry Blossom: Review and ARC Giveaway

In my last post you read the backstory about Kathleen Burkinshaw's middle grade book, The Last Cherry Blossom. Now, here's the review...but be warned, I'm including a spoiler alert!



Fears and Mysteries

Twelve-year-old Yuriko has become accustomed to daily air raid drills and the sounds of American B-29's flying over Hiroshima. But even though the sounds are familiar, she is always worried: Will we actually get bombed? What if the school collapses? Will a desk actually protect me? Is my papa safe? How will I find him if a bomb hits us? (p. 2)

With that foreboding introduction, the reader is propelled into Yuriko's world in 1944. 

Before Yuriko leaves school in this opening scene of The Last Cherry Blossomshe asks her teacher for her grade on her ancestral project she just completed. Yuriko is proud her lineage traces back to samurai warriors in the 1600's. Against the backdrop of her anxiety over the air raid drills, Yuriko does not receive the praise she anticipates. Instead her teacher says, "That is not right."

She leaves without telling Yuriko what's wrong with her paper.  

That question, as well as the appearance of a friendly yet sad stranger, are mysteries snaking through this novel which will appeal to both girl and boy readers. 

No Longer Normal


Yuriko's "normal" is living with her beloved Papa, her Aunt Kimiko  (who she doesn't particularly like) and her pesky, younger cousin Genji, and sharing secrets with her best friend, Machiko. As a member of the upper class she is protected, loved, educated, and the recipient of luxuries like custom-made silk kimonos for the annual cherry blossom festival. 

Her life begins to change when her widowed father decides to remarry. At the same ceremony Kimiko remarries a man named Akira-san and suddenly the house holds two families instead of one. When an acquaintance alludes to a man named Nishimoto-san who would have loved to see her, Yuriko learns who her true parents are.  Like being hit by a bomb, Yurko begins to experience excruciating repercussions in her identity, family, and home life.  

Burkinshaw's use of lines from newspapers, posters, and radio shows at the beginning of each chapter effectively sets the story within its' historical and political context. The next chapter after Yuriko hears her devastating news is sub-titled, "No matter what sort of air raid comes, the neighborhood association will be safe." Since we know what happened at Hiroshima, the neighborhood association's words foreshadow more bad news for Yuriko. 

More Worries


Right after Tokyo is bombed, Yuriko walks into a conversation between Akira-san and her papa. 
 "Do you really think they will bomb our city?" I asked, a quaver to my voice.    
 "Anything is possible in war." As Papa said this my stomach swarmed with butterflies. I ran to him and welcomed his embrace.      
"Papa, are we all going to be all right?" I squeezed tighter. I swear all one hundred million hearts from the radio slogan were beating in my chest. Will fire be raining down on us soon? Maybe we should just live in the bomb shelters? But how is that really living?      
He hugged me close and then stepped back. He looked at me and said, "I will keep you safe."      
Akira-san added, "Our family's safety is our main concern." He glanced at Papa. "But now you should get ready for bed. It is late."      
I nodded and gave him a hug as well. When I got to the door, I turned and asked, "Papa, do you think we will have school tomorrow?"      
I noticed that both he and Akira-san looked up to answer. I did not know what made me feel worse--the fear that this new firebomb could be dropped on Hiroshima next or the tugging of my heart as both men responded to "Papa." (p. 133-4)
The Last Cherry Blossom reflects the mixture of cultures present in Japan during World War II. Yuriko's father loves The Three Stooges movies and she and Machiko listen to American jazz. At the same time, the emperor is considered divine and suicide is an honorable option if one falls into enemy hands. 

Cherry Blossoms


There are many lovely references to cherry blossoms which tie the book together. After attending the annual cherry blossom festival and singing and dancing, Yuriko returns home to a family celebration. 
Once we were all seated, Papa raises his glass and said, "Cherry blossoms are like life itself--so beautiful, yet so fragile that they bloom only a short time. A toast to my family and to enjoying our time together. Kanpai!" (p. 146)
 Sadly, a few months later, the atomic bomb destroys Yuriko's world. 


http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3186815/The-nightmare-aftermath-Hiroshima-Parents-carry-burned-children-past-corpses-rubble-rare-photographs-taken-days-atomic-bomb-killed-140-000-people.html

After the bomb is dropped and Hiroshima is devastated, Yuriko faces one loss after another. Overwhelmed by sadness, she is close to giving up her own life. The sight of cherry blossoms falling off a tree help Yuriko choose a path out of despair and into a new life with a new family. As Kathleen Burkinshaw notes in the afterword, "Originally, scientists said nothing would grow again in Hiroshima soil for many years after the bomb was dropped. Yet the cherry blossoms bloomed the following spring." (p. 219)

https://www.parkingpanda.com/blog/post/sf-cherry-blossom-festival
To win my ARC, please leave me a comment by July 28. If you are new to my blog, make sure you leave your email address. AND if you decide to start following the blog, let me know and I'll enter your name twice. You can enter again even if you entered last week. Don't worry- I'm keeping track of the growing list of entries!

If random.org doesn't choose your name, you'll have another chance to win The Last Cherry Blossom in September. Joyce Hostetter and I will be giving away a copy through our next issue of Talking Story on "Radiation: Friend or Foe". And if all else fails, of course you can buy one here!



Monday, July 18, 2016

Meet Kathleen Burkinshaw--Debut Middle Grade Author

As many of you know, I love sharing my fellow writers' good news. Here is an interview with Kathleen Burkinshaw, author of the debut middle grade historical novel, The Last Cherry Blossom. Next week I will post my review. I hope this will get your interest aroused and you'll leave a comment to win my ARC!

*********
CAROL: I understand that you grew up hearing your mother’s stories about Hiroshima. How much of The Last Cherry Blosoom was fact and how much was fiction? 


KATHLEEN: I used quite a bit from my mother’s life.  Some of the ‘fiction’ was the order and timeframe. The events in her life did not happen all in one year like Yuriko’s in the book.  The facts I used included: my mother came from a wealthy family with Samurai ancestry, and her Papa did own his own newspaper business.  Her Aunt and cousin moved into her home prior to the double wedding.  My mother lived on the same street as her friend Machiko and they enjoyed listening to jazz music together.  

CAROL: What did your research entail?

KATHLEEN: I spent many, many, many hours reading books written about how WWII affected the people in Japan. There were some books that had diaries of older people during the years that Japan was at war.  Japan had been at war since 1937 with China. So by the time that Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, the Japanese people had already been at war for four long years. By reading these accounts, I was able to get a better understanding of how the Japanese viewed their Emperor and the lengths some would go to support him.  I researched newspaper headlines, radio show slogans, and propaganda poster copy.  

Of course my mother gave her account of her experience on August 6th.  I also read books about other survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as well.  My intentions when I wrote this book and when I do my presentations are to keep it nonpolitical.  
Kathleen with her mother, Toshiko Ishikawa, 2013
We visited the Hiroshima Peace Museum last year. We also honored my mother at the Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for Atomic bomb victims. The people in the library were so kind.  They spent two hours with me and helped me find on a map where my mom lived.  That was when I realized that she was much closer to the epicenter than she had remembered. She was only 2 miles away. A miracle that she survived.
Kathleen with her daughter Sara at the
A Dome in Hiroshima, 2015
I also researched effects of radiation from that blast, as well as the different type of damage and burns caused by an atomic bomb vs. a regular bombshell. The main fact that I learned which always leaves an impression on the middle school students: a comparison between the number of tons of TNT the bomb dropped on Hiroshima (15 thousand tons of TNT) that caused all the damage I show them on my slides to the largest of the warheads America now has (2.5 MILLION tons of TNT)!!


"Little Boy" replica of the bomb
photo courtesy Kathleen Burkinshaw
CAROL What was your mother’s reaction to the story?

KATHLEEN: My mother read my first draft, so she had me change words that were not accurate or settings that needed tweaking.  She read the final draft of the manuscript that my agent used for submission to publishers.  She loved it, probably because I was her daughter.  But the one thing that amazed me – her first reaction to hearing it would be published--she couldn’t believe that people would really want to read about her and her Papa. That deeply touched her.

CAROL: You used a lot of Japanese words in the text. Was it difficult to decide which to use? 

KATHLEEN: I really wanted to stay true to the culture and the way they spoke during that timeframe.  My editor supported me with that.  I initially was going to write it with an explanation of the word later in the sentence, but that could be cumbersome.  My editor suggested the glossary.  

CAROL: How did you know where to begin your story?

KATHLEEN: That stumped me in the beginning.  Originally I had too much info dump and flashbacks, which did not work well.  That’s when I had to throw the actual timing of events away and start fresh with lining up events in a one-year time span.  It took a lot of sticky notes and blank paper to re-arrange the time line.

CAROL: How did you decide to write it in first POV? 

KATHLEEN: I was on the fence until I read BLUE by Joyce Moyer Hostetter, which was in first person. As the reader, I felt closer to the character’s emotions. The more I thought of it, I felt it would touch my readers more if they witnessed the horror through the main character’s eyes.  Originally my agent wanted me to write it in 3rd person.  I really want to keep it in first.  But I rewrote the crucial scenes on the day of the bombing in 3rd person and submitted that to her.  She agreed first person would be best. I was very happy and relieved. After reading excerpts from THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM many students feel they are “there in that moment”.  It is something a few paragraphs in a textbook does not give them.

CAROL: Can you tell us a little about your path to publication?

KATHLEEN: I found my wonderful agent, Anna Olswanger, through a written critique at the 2012 SCBWI Carolina’s fall conference.  I didn’t get an offer of representation at that time though.  I continued to work on the manuscript with her comments and suggestions. When I felt it was ready, I emailed Anna around January 2013 and asked if she would look at my revisions.  She had me do several rewrites. I submitted my revised 10 pages to the SCBWI Carolina’s Writing Contest in 2013 and won first place! 

Just before the 2013 SCBWI fall conference, she offered representation.We did one more round of revisions before she submitted my manuscript to publishing houses in November of 2013.  I received the offer and contract from Sky Pony Press in November 2014!  Once revisions began with Sky Pony, one of the issues we worked on was how to show the “polite” conversation that adults had with other adults and children without it sounding stilted.  An author who writes wonderful MG and YA books set in Japan suggested using contractions when the young people talked with each other to make it more informal. 


Thank you so much for interviewing me, Carol. I’ve been reading your wonderful reviews and interviews with authors and I’m so excited to finally be one of them!

CAROL: My pleasure!


Kathleen Burkinshaw resides in Charlotte, NC. She’s a wife, mom, and owns a dog who is a kitchen ninja. For the past six years, she has visited middle schools to discuss her mother’s life in Hiroshima during the last year of WWII and her experience when the atomic bomb dropped on August 6th. During this time, she wrote her debut Middle Grade historical fiction, THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM (Sky Pony Press August 2016). She has carried her mother’s story her whole life and feels privileged to now share it with the world. 


I will be giving away my THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM arc on July 28th. Leave me a comment on this post and I'll add your name to the list. If you're new to my blog, please include your email address. Leave me a comment on both posts, and you'll be entered twice! And if you don't win, you can order a copy here