Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: A Diamond in the Desert

A warm welcome to children’s author Kathryn Fitzmaurice, whose middle grade book, A Diamond in the Desert, debuts this week. Set in Arizona during World War II, A Diamond in the Desert tells the tale of a boy who played baseball while confined to a Japanese internment camp. Kathryn will be giving an autographed hardcover copy to a lucky commenter, so please be sure to leave your contact info!

Kathryn was born in New York City, but grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona. She holds a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Chapman University. Her favorite thing to do is walk her dog, Holly, who, she says is so smart, she can practically empty the dishwasher. She also likes organizing absolutely anything, including messy garages, closets, and even cluttered junk drawers. If she could, she would eat the same thing for lunch everyday, which would be a ham, Swiss cheese, and tomato Panini, a green apple, and a chocolate soufflĂ©.

What sparked your interest in writing, Kathryn?
I have taken many wonderful writing classes, but my grandmother has been the greatest influence and mentor on me becoming a writer. The summer I turned 13, my mother sent me to New York City to visit my grandmother, who was a science fiction author. This was in the 70’s, when science fiction was becoming very popular. My grandmother led a very eclectic lifestyle. I remember we never did anything until late afternoon, and then we stayed up until 2 or 3am. Sometimes, we went to dinner as late as 11pm. Then when we returned, she’d sit down to write until very early in the morning. She told me she did this because the middle of the night was when people said and did things they normally wouldn’t. She had a collection of porcelain owls, because they were creatures of the night. She studied paranormal events. She discussed things like inner motivations and secret desires. She helped me to write my very first story that summer, and stayed up all night typing it so I could have a real story like she had. At thirteen, it was one of the best times I’d ever had.
She worked very hard that summer revising a novel entitled Chrysalis of Death. After listening to her discuss how she could make her characters into whomever she wanted, I decided that someday, I’d like to be a writer, too. So after I announced my decision, my grandmother proceeded to send me books about writing techniques, books by classic authors, and literary essays for every birthday and Christmas holiday after. One of my favorite books she sent me when I was deep into a teenage poetry stage was a volume of poetry written by Emily Dickinson. Inside the front cover, she wrote: "Emily Dickinson is a revered poet. Perhaps the same can be said of K.H. someday. Love, Grandma Eleanor." 
When she passed away, she left me a big box with all of her unfinished manuscripts in it. The box of manuscripts has been a huge inspiration to me. One of her short stories that I found inside the box is entitled, The Lake and is about a group of zombies that take over remote area of a forest next to this lake.

So because of all of the encouragement she gave me and to honor her, I decided that when I sat down to write my own novel many years later, that I would name my main character after her and give her a grandmother very much like my own. I gave the grandmother in my story the same characteristics and even had her give a box of manuscripts to her granddaughter. In fact, because I remember her revising Chrysalis of Death the summer I visited, I decided to include it in The Year the Swallows Came Early. So on page 148, my main character and her best friend find this manuscript and talk about it, along with a few of her others stories. I included her book, Chrysalis of Death inside my book. 
She never got to read even the first draft of my novel. But I did send it to her agent a few years ago, who is still alive and working in NYC. After reading my book, my grandmother’s agent made the comment that she liked how I included my grandmother’s books in my own books, and she thought my grandmother would have been very proud.
Quite a legacy. I suspect your grandmother would be incredibly proud of what you’ve accomplished with your writing. What inspired you to write A Diamond in the Desert?
I had been to a National History Day competition at my oldest son’s middle school. One of the students there had built a model of the Zenimura baseball field as it stood outside of Gila River. I asked her if I could interview her grandfather, who had played on the team while interned at Gila River. After I spoke with him, I was fascinated by the story and called the other two gentlemen on the team who also lived in California. The pitcher, who is named Tetsuo Furukawa, allowed me to interview him over the course of two years while I wrote the book. I also went to the Laguna Niguel National Archives building and ordered nine rolls of microfiche from Washington DC so I could read through all three and a half year of the Gila News Courier, which was the newspaper that was printed by Japanese Americans while they lived in Gila River. This took quite a long time, but it was necessary. After each draft of the manuscript, I would send it to Mr. Furukawa so he could read through it for accuracy. He was a tremendous help. We had many very long conversations on the telephone and then when I completed the story, I drove up to meet him. He is now in his eighties, but he remembers every thing about Gila River.
How wonderful to have such great support! What was the hardest part of the story to write?
I think the hardest part about writing this story was making sure I wrote it as accurately as possible, and from Mr. Furukawa’s point of view. I made three timelines, one of the events that occurred at Gila River, one of the major events in WWII, and one of the things that were happening in baseball in the 1940’s. Then I combined these three timelines and taped the entire thing to the wall of my home office, along with a map of Gila River and several photos of the actual players on the team. This, essentially, became my outline. Each day as I sat down to write, I would pick up where I left off. I remember when I finally completed the story, I left everything taped up for quite a while. It was sort of sad to take everything down, after spending two years with them. I wish I would’ve taken a photograph of the wall!
What was the easiest part of the story to write?
The easiest part was writing about the setting. I grew up outside of Phoenix, so I knew what the sunsets looked like. I knew what it felt like to be stung by a scorpion or find a snake in my yard, or get a clump of chollas stuck in my clothing.
Ouch! Do you have a set writing routine?
I usually try to write in the morning, most days of the week.
Do you listen to music when you write?
Sometimes. It depends on the day and what kind of mood I’m in. Right now, for example, I do not have the music on. Yesterday I did.
What do you like least about writing?
When I get to a point where I don’t know what to write next!! I hate that! So then I try to get out of the house and do something fun.
Name a few titles I’d find if I browsed through your personal home library.
I have two teenage boys, one in high school, one a freshman in college, so there are a lot of assigned classics lying around, the usual like, 1984, The Catcher in the Rye, A Separate Peace, but then there are my middle grade books stuffed into shelves, too. My favorite middle grade authors are Kate Dicamillo, Deborah Wiles, Gary D. Schmidt, and Lauren Child, though that list is constantly growing. Right now I’m reading the Newbery winner, which is fabulous.
What’s next for you? Can we look forward to a new story in the near future?
I just finished another contemporary middle grade novel entitled, Destiny, Rewritten, about an eleven year old girl named after Emily Dickinson, who is expected to become a poet, though she doesn’t like poetry at all. It’s very similar to my first novel, The Year the Swallows Came Early. This book will be published by HarperCollins and will be out in winter, 2013. Currently I am working on another contemporary middle grade book. I haven’t yet completed a first draft.
Who supports your writing activities most?
My critique group.
What advice would you give an aspiring author?
When I first started writing, I attended as many writing conferences as I could. I gave my work to my critique group and really listened to what they said. I revised and revised, until I thought the story was ready to be sent out into the world. I think anyone can get their book published if they’re committed to working on their story and telling what they know to be true. 
Name a few of your favorite non-writing activities.
Walking my dog, Holly. Watching my son’s water polo games, collecting white seashells, and organizing anything that needs to be organized. I’m kind of freak about being organized. When I go to my mother’s house, I sometimes go through her kitchen cabinets and rearrange them. I also love to organize closets and garages. When I was seven years old, I used to dust the house…for fun!
Blurb for A Diamond in the Desert:

When Tetsu's family is forced to leave their home after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the only thing he takes with him that he cares about is his baseball glove. In just one month, his world is torn apart. His father is taken away, his dog, Lefty, is given away, and he's sent with his sister, mother, and thousands of other Japanese Americans to an internment camp in the middle of the Arizona desert, The camp isn't technically a prison, but it feels like one., There's nowhere to go, and nothing to do. Until a man starts a boy's baseball team and builds a field outside the camp. Tetsu can't wait to start living and breathing his sport again. But then his sister gets dangerously sick, and Tetsu is forced to choose between his family and his love of the game.

A Diamond in the Desert is Available From:

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