Genre: historical fiction
The idea for this novel began with a true story of two brothers during WWII, one who had fought for Japan and the other for America. While researching the subject, Kristina came across a brief mention of about two hundred non-Japanese spouses who voluntarily lived in an internment camp in the U.S. with their husbands. She was stunned and fascinated by the discovery, and knew it was a story she needed to tell.
Brief bio: As the daughter of a Japanese immigrant father and Caucasian American mother, Kristina McMorris grew up living between these two cultures. Kristina has received nearly twenty national literary awards. Her debut novel, Letters from Home, was based on her grandparents' wartime courtship. Her second novel, Bridge of Scarlet Leaves has received glowing reviews. She lives with her family in the Pacific Northwest.
"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. What I do enjoy is hands-on experience. So naturally, I was delighted when the Park Ranger at the Manzanar Relocation Center—after suffering 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 with the amazing opportunities I've been given. 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! Your first two novels, Letters from Home and Bridge of Scarlet Leaves, are both set during World War II.
What originally sparked your interest in the era?
"To be honest, up until a handful of years ago, I wasn't much of a reader, let alone a creative writer. But I was high on pregnancy hormones—if I could create life, a book didn't seem that hard—and I'd found inspiration in a collection of courtship letters my late grandfather had sent to my grandma during WWII. She had actually shared the pages with me when I was interviewing her for the biographical section of a cookbook I was editing, full of recipes she'd created and collected over decades, as a Christmas gift for the family. That's when she revealed the surprising fact that she and my grandfather had dated only twice during the war before they got married, and that their relationship had developed almost entirely through an exchange of letters. When I left her house that day I started to wonder how well two people can truly know each other through correspondence alone. The thought sparked an idea for a book, in which a soldier falls in love through a yearlong letter exchange, unaware the girl he's writing to isn't the one writing back. That very premise laid the foundation for what became my debut novel, Letters from Home.
What true story specifically inspired you to write Bridge of Scarlet Leaves?
"Years ago, an old family friend happened to share 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 intriguing 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 stumbled across an obscure mention of roughly two hundred non-Japanese spouses who'd chosen to live in the U.S. internment camps voluntarily. This unique perspective was one I could relate to, being half Japanese myself and therefore raised between the two worlds. I called my agent that day and said, "This is it. I have my story!"
"Are you working on another book?
"I am! My current work-in-progress is titled Through Memory's Gate, and is the first of two women's fiction novels on my latest contract. In the meantime, my novella, The Christmas Collector, is due out in late October from Kensington Books in a holiday anthology headlined by New York Times bestselling author Fern Michaels—which I'm very excited about. "They're welcome to email me directly at Kristina@kristinamcmorris.com. I love visiting with book clubs in person, on the phone, or through Skype. And of course, for more info, including special reading group features, recipes, and excerpts from my grandfather's letters, be sure to check out my website at www.KristinaMcMorris.com
Publisher's description of Bridge of Scarlet Leaves by Kristina McMorris: