Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Q&A w/Kristina McMorris and review of Bridge of Scarlet Leaves

Q&A w/ Kristina McMorris
Bridge of Scarlet Leaves 2-29-2102

Kristina, thank you for joining us and congratulations on the release of your second novel. I detect a common interest in both novels as they both are about WW2. What makes this time so interesting to you?
Thanks so much for having me here! You're absolutely right about the pattern. Even when I try to resist, I keep finding myself drawn to writing about the 1940s. Aside from the wonderful music and fashion, I think what I'm most intrigued by are the powerful emotions tied to the era due to wartime. The stakes couldn't have been higher, both on a global and personal scale, heightening a sense of romance and patriotism, fear, tragedy, and courage. (It's probably no surprise to you that Braveheart and Gladiator are among my all-time favorite movies!)

Tell us a bit about Bridge of Scarlet Leaves and what inspired it.
Bridge of Scarlet Leaves features a violinist, named Maddie Kern, who secretly elopes with her Japanese American boyfriend—the night before Pearl Harbor is bombed. When her beloved Lane is interned at a war relocation camp, she dares to remain at his side, but soon finds she doesn't belong in either world. As Maddie strives for the hard-won acceptance of her new family, Lane—in his own search for identity—enlists in a secret branch of the Army, responsible fore code-breaking and interrogating against Japan, risking all he holds dear to prove his allegiance to America.
The story was originally inspired by a true account of two brothers, one who'd fought for Japan and the other for America. It instantly reminded me of the U.S. miniseries "North and the South," wherein friends and loved ones were divided by battle lines overnight. (Don't ask me how many times I watched that entire VHS boxed set.) After I started researching, however, I stumbled across an obscure mention of roughly two hundred non-Japanese spouses who lived in the camps voluntarily. Before that, even being half Japanese myself, I'd never heard of such a thing. That's when I knew I'd found the story I needed to tell.

According to your bio you were in the wedding and event planning business.
How did you go from that to being a novelist and did you always want to write?
To be honest, up until a handful of years ago, I wasn't even much of a reader, let alone an aspiring author. 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 creating, full of recipes she had created and collected over decades, as a Christmas gift for the family. It was then that she revealed the fact she and my grandfather had only dated twice during the war before they got married, their relationship having developed almost entirely through their written correspondence.
When I left her house that day I started to wonder how well two people can truly know each other through letters alone. The thought sparked the 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. This premise laid the foundation for what became my debut novel, Letters from Home.

Speaking of which, your first novel Letters from Home has received more than a dozen national literary awards plus nominations for the Golden Heart and numerous other accolades, including film rights interest. Do you consider your novels romances? What do you think about being placed on a certain genre “shelf”?
Since my books are categorized as "women's fiction" or "love story," they're usually shelved in the General Fiction section, which I think is a fitting place. My novels always have a strong romantic element, so they offer a nice crossover for romance readers, but a range of evolving relationships take center stage in my books, rather than one couple's romance. Also, happily ever after isn't a guarantee. What I do try to leave the reader with is a firm sense of hope.

Do you write full time and what’s next for you?
I'm definitely spoiled now that I'm a full-time writer. As a mother of two young boys, I love being able to work from home, so I get to be there when they return from school. The challenge, of course, is the perpetual juggle—as any working parent knows—especially when you don't have set office hours. But hey, it's hard to beat a job that allows you to work in your pajamas, right?
As for my next projects, I currently have two more novels on contract to write for my publisher. Also, I just completed a novella titled The Christmas Collector, which will appear in a holiday anthology headlined by Fern Michaels, set for release this coming October. I'm excited to share that one of the main characters in my story is the elderly version of a minor character from Letters from Home!

Take us through a typical day in the life of Kristina.
You mean a usual day of being pampered by my personal chef, maid, chauffeur, personal assistant, and… oh, wait, you're referring to the actual not-so-glamorous life of an author, ha. Well, my alarm goes off at 6:30am, in order to get the kidlings ready for school. After doing dishes and tossing in a load of laundry, I'll clear out my emails. After a quick shower, I get into my comfy clothes and ugly fuzzy socks , and I park on the couch with my half-caff coffee and laptop to tackle writing, publicity and/or marketing. It's a cyber sprint until the kids come home, at which point I give myself an extra hour to wrap things up before handling all the usual mom activities until the munchkins are in bed. Then I often work on my laptop while my hubby and I catch a little TV. Since I'm a night owl, I stay up until at least midnight, then hit the hay and wait for that dreaded alarm to go off at 6:30am. (The cycle reminds me a bit of the movie "Groundhog Day" actually.)

What would be your “dream” vacation?
During college I was fortunate enough to live in Florence, Italy for a year. It's hard to imagine a more beautiful city. And the food? Pasta, gnocchi, gelato, tiramisu…don't get me started! Needless to say, I would opt for Florence, then head to Venice (I began collecting Venetian masks long before I realized they're not the easiest souvenirs to lug around and transport), and finally I'd end in Paris for the wine and chocolate croissants…. (Can you tell I'm answering these questions while I'm hungry?)

Who were and are your “go-to” authors and what do you enjoy to read?
When I'm not entrenched in research texts, I most enjoy reading women's fiction and young adult novels, especially if set during WWII. I love suspense as well, but don't read as much of it as I'd like.
At the moment, my favorite authors are Markus Zusak (The Book Thief), Sara Gruen (Water for Elephants), Ruta Sepetys (Between Shades of Gray), and Alma Katsu (The Taker).

Are you planning any signings or events at B&N? I’m sure the fans here would love to meet you in person.
I am! My officially launch party for Bridge of Scarlet Leaves is being held at 7pm on Friday, March 2nd, at the B&N in Clackamas, Oregon. Due to the book's topic, and in honor of the 70th anniversary of the internment, I'll be speaking on a panel there alongside a former internee and a Japanese American WWII vet who recently received the Congressional Gold Medal.

Thank you again for letting us dig into the real Kristina McMorris a little bit and congratulations again on your new release, Bridge of Scarlet Leaves.
Thanks for celebrating with me. I really hope readers will enjoy the book!
Here is the cover of last month's issue of RT Reviews with Kristina on the cover

Vistin the author's website here

Now for my review

Bridge of Scarlet Leaves
Kristina McMorris
352 pages
ISBN13: 9780758246851
On a dreary winter’s day in 1941 California natives Maddie Kern and Lane Moritomo elope in Seattle where it’s legal for a mixed race couple to wed, Lane born in the US the son of Japanese immigrants is all Maddie ever wanted in a spouse and vice versa but little did they know that the disapproval of their families would be the least of their worries, that the whole nation would soon be against the union when the very next day Japan would attack Pearl Harbor. Thus begins this countries fall from grace when fear, insecurities, tempers and prejudice flare and the US gives in to anger against a civilization by separating and isolating it’s own citizens who’s faces remind them of a terrible and recent loss without thinking of those innocents that will be caught in the crosshairs of rage. And thus begins this couple’s journey into the thick of conflict where they have no sanctuary even as their own disavow the marriage, all around them the world goes on and so must they find their place in this new and terrible era. Maddie who used to rely on her music hears it no more and Lane who once believed in the sanctity of the Government has no more heroes, yet the one constant is the love they have for each other and the light they see in each other’s eyes. Will that love be strong enough to survive separation, isolation and family pressure and war or will it be too much for even a love as pure as theirs.

Rarely there comes along a novel that I can’t put down, that make my senses zing that make my other work wait and that is what I found in this beautifully, poignant piece of historical literary fiction, it’s as intense as a thriller, based on truths but not the ones I learned in school, the ones historians would like to forget, but we must never forget because history has a way of repeating itself and we can’t afford another chapter like this one. Ms. McMorris is as talented a storyteller as I’ve ever read and has a unique perspective to add to the novel being a Japanese Americaherself. Her dialogue expertly takes me back to the tune of The Andrew’s Sisters “Boogie Woogie Bugle boy”, to the days of rationing and Rosie the riveter, to the all girls Baseball league and our boys “Comin in on a Wing and a Prayer” and her narrative paints the accompanying pictures. Her characters do and should stand out, they are as remarkable as they are unforgettable from the persecuted couple to the family that surrounds them to the community and world that encompasses them all. And just like the situation described this is a realistic look at life, there’s no guaranteed Happy Ever After of romance but there is survival, there is love and there is hope and when it’s all said and done what more can you ask for.
I believe lovers of WWII fiction, literary fiction and-or women’s fiction will love this, lovers of prose filled pages that flow like a lotus blossom down a river will love this too and after it’s read it will go on a cherished spot on your keep shelf to be read again and again.
Thank you Ms. McMorris for the best novel I’ve read in a while.


  1. Such a lovely review! I'm so happy the story touched you. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with readers!