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.
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.