A slice of American History: The Red Kimono

Jan Morrill

It’s a great honor to introduce author Jan Morrill and to share the news of her newest novel, The Red Kimono from the University of Arkansas Press. The book will be available next month through the University of Arkansas Press, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.

I met Jan five years ago at a conference in Oklahoma. A month later, we spent a week together at the Writer’s Academy at West Texas A&M University where we attended classes with New York Times Best Selling Author Jodi Thomas. It was a memorable week for all students.

It’s often said that you can’t really know someone unless you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. While I haven’t walked a mile in Jan’s, we do share common connections. Our mothers are Japanese, and there is no escaping the sensibilities from an upbringing of a Japanese mother. Also, both Jan and I grew up as dependent children of career military men.

Jan was born and mostly raised in California. Her mother, a Buddhist Japanese American, was an internee during World War II. Her father, a Southern Baptist redhead of Irish descent, is retired from the Air Force.

The Red Kimono, as well as many of her short stories, reflect memories of growing up in a multicultural, multi-religious, multi-political environment.

Her award-winning short stories and memoir essays have been published in Chicken Soup for the Soul books and several anthologies. Recently, she was nominated for the Pushcart Prize for her short story “Xs and Os,” which appeared in the Voices Anthology. An artist as well as a writer, she is currently working on the sequel to The Red Kimono.

The Red Kimono jpeg

Here’s a peek into The Red Kimono:

In 1941, racial tensions are rising in the California community where nine-year-old Sachiko Kimura and her seventeen-year-old brother, Nobu, live. Japan has attacked Pearl Harbor, people are angry, and one night, Sachiko and Nobu witness three teenage boys taunting and beating their father in the park. Sachiko especially remembers Terrence Harris, the boy with dark skin and hazel eyes, and Nobu cannot believe the boys capable of such violence toward his father are actually his friends.

What Sachiko and Nobu do not know is that Terrence’s family had received a telegram that morning with news that Terrence’s father was killed at Pearl Harbor. Desperate to escape his pain, Terrence rushes from his home and runs into two high-school friends who convince him to find a Japanese man and get revenge. They do not know the man they attacked is Sachiko and Nobu’s father.

These three young Americans–Sachi, Nobu, and Terrence–will spend years behind bars and barbed wire. One will learn acceptance. One will seek a path to forgiveness. And one will remain imprisoned by resentment.

Linda: Jan, what sparked the idea for The Red Kimono?

Jan: Two events in my mother’s life always made me wonder how I would feel if I had been in her shoes. One event was the internment of her family during World War II. She rarely talked about the years of her internment, which was from the age of seven to eleven. But I do remember my family stopping once to visit the desolate area of Tule Lake, where she’d been in “camp.” As I tried to imagine what the camp must have looked like, my mother stood by with tears in her eyes. She told me that day that if I’d been born back then, I, too, would have been placed behind barbed wire. It was something I could hardly fathom at the time, as I’d never even been to Japan.

The other event was the murder of her father by two Black teenagers shortly after the family was released from internment. Though he was killed for the five dollars in his pocket, I took that event and created a fictitious story around it.

Linda: How did you do research for the book?

Jan: I read several books about the internment, including Only What They Could Carry by Lawson Fusao Inada and To the Stars by George Takei. Also, much of my research was done on the Densho.org website. This is a fascinating website of archived documents and videos of interviews with former internees. I also watched several documentaries on the internment, including Time of Fear, which was produced by the University of Arkansas. Over the years, I’ve visited several sites of the internment camps, such as Rohwer, Heart Mountain and Tule Lake, as well as the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. Of course, nothing beats the first hand stories of my mother and her family.

Linda: What were some interesting discoveries that you made during your research that didn’t make it into the book?

Jan: I have to say, I tried to include most of the information I found in my research because I found it so interesting and important. However, sometime after I finished writing the manuscript, I visited the Japanese American National Museum and met a very friendly docent named Frank. He was probably in his eighties and took us around the museum, telling us stories from his past. He told me several things I did not know, and that I was not able to include in the book, since not much of the book focused on the actual war. However, it makes the stories no less fascinating.

I learned that the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a unit comprised of Japanese-American soldiers, rescued the Lost Battalion and suffered over 1,000 casualties in the process to rescue 216 men trapped behind German lines. My mother’s oldest brother was a member of the 442nd. (I wrote an essay on my uncle being awarded the Bronze Star, titled “Hyphenated Americans” which appeared in Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors.) The 442nd also liberated several of the concentration camps near Dachau. One of the most interesting facts is that over 300 Nisei (second generation) women served in the Women’s Army Corp.

Linda: Will you share with us your impressions about your very first visit to Japan? How was it different from what you expected?

Jan: Probably the very first impression I had was how I stood out. I was taller than most men. It reminded me of when I attended my first Obon (Japanese dance) festival in California. I was about thirteen years old. I remember being in awe of the pretty, petite Japanese girls. I envied their straight, coal-black hair and the graceful way they danced. I felt like an awkward albatross among swans. I have to laugh looking back. It was such a pre-teen girlish way to feel.

Aside from that recollection, the next thing I noticed was how helpful the Japanese people were. They went out of their way to try to help us find our way around, even though surprisingly, they spoke little English.

And of course, I was surprised by the beauty of the country. Even in a country so crowded with people, I was able to find tranquility in the gardens and architecture. I’ve been to Japan three times, but never to northern Japan. I hope to go there someday.

Linda: You’re working on the sequel to The Red Kimono. Will you share with us a bit about the storyline? Will all the characters be returning?

Jan: The sequel is tentatively titled Broken Dreams. However, I have no doubt the title will be changed, just as Broken Dolls was changed to The Red Kimono. The sequel begins in 1957, on the day the Little Rock Nine attempt to enter Little Rock Central High School, and follows the lives of Sachi, Jubie, Nobu and Terrence through 1963. As these characters deal with their pasts and the civil rights issues of the era, the themes of prejudice, resentment and forgiveness are also a part of the sequel. I’ve also added dashes of humor and a little bit of romance to this story.

Linda: Jan, thank you for a glimpse into your writing world. What is something that others would be surprised to know about you?

Jan: I like to talk to people who disagree with me. It doesn’t happen very often these days, because it seems people can’t hold their tempers when they disagree. It seems more and more, people somehow feel we’re all supposed to agree with each other. Personally, I think that’s ridiculous. How boring this world would be if we all agreed. I like to discuss differences, and when I’ve been lucky enough to do so, I usually learn something new.

On a lighter note, I don’t like licorice or black olives. But I love fried rice and martinis.

I hope you enjoyed learning more about Jan and about a part of American history that is often not spoken of nor written in many school textbooks.

You can connect with Jan in these places:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JanMorrill.Author?ref=hl
Twitter: @janmorrill
Linked In: http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=151948993&trk=tab_pro
Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/yoiko1958/

Jan also bloggs:
Jan Morrill Writes
Life: Haiku by Haiku
The Red Kimono

Let’s chat with Jan. She’ll be checking in today to answer questions and respond to comments.

Happy Reading!

Linda Joyce
www.linda-joyce.com

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About Linda Joyce

Writing is a curious journey. You don't pick it, it picks you. See my website at www.Linda-Joyce.com to learn more about me.
This entry was posted in Author Interviews, Books, Links, Writer's Life, Writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

34 Responses to A slice of American History: The Red Kimono

  1. I’m very much looking forward to reading The Red Kimono! Thank you for sharing such a heart-wrenching, personal story.

  2. Great interview, Linda.

    Jan, I loved your little note about enjoying disagreement. I am the same way and it seems my viewpoint is very often different from most people I encounter but I’ve become reluctant to disagree for the same reasons you mentioned.

    The story behind your book’s story is very interesting, too. I can’t wait for my copy to arrive 🙂

  3. Gina Popp says:

    Jan, I can’t wait to read your book. This time period in history has always interested me.

  4. Beth Carter says:

    That was a fascinating interview. I never knew the background of Jan’s father. What an interesting marriage her parents must have had.

    The book sounds intriguing and I’m sure I’ll learn a great deal about that part of history, even though the work is fiction.

    I can’t wait to have Jan sign a copy for me. Great interview, Linda, and I didn’t know your mother was Japanese also!

  5. Jan Morrill says:

    Linda, thank you for inviting me to guest on your blog! I enjoyed answering your thought-provoking questions, too! Now . . . on to chatting with our visitors! 🙂

  6. Jan Morrill says:

    Reblogged this on The Red Kimono and commented:
    Linda Joyce invited me to be a guest on her blog. Come visit with us there!

  7. Our younger daughter studied Japanese and has been to Japan. She hopes to go back and possibly work there. Can’t wait to read your book. My mom grew up inCalifornia and her birthday was on Pearl Harbor Day.

    janet

    • Linda Joyce says:

      Sustaina~

      If your daughter goes back to Japan, I hope you’ll visit with her.

      And, there’s sorta something we share…I love college football, though not a Husker’s fan, I did attend kindergarten at the University of NE. 🙂

      Smiles,

      Linda Joyce

    • Jan Morrill says:

      That’s one thing I regret, that I never learned to speak Japanese. When I asked my mother why she never taught me, she said it was because I was born too soon after the end of the war, and being Japanese was not something to be proud of. Hope you enjoy the book!

      • My f-i-l was at D-Day and also fought against the Japanese. He would never buy a Japanese-made car.

        Japanese is a very difficult language, especially with three types of writing. I home schooled both the girls through high school, but when Megan decided to study Japanese, I found teacher!! 🙂 She’s a wonderful woman and teacher. Loved getting Japanese treats from her, especially bean paste goodies!!

      • Linda Joyce says:

        Sustaina~

        Thank you for sharing. I have a hiragana chart in my office. It’s the truly primary Japanese writing. Katakana isn’t a lot different from hiragana- katakana is used for foreign words incorporated into the Japanese language, but you probabaly already know this. 🙂 There was a time when I was very proficient in writing both alphabets. But…not so much now. I struggle with it.

        I had a friend in Kansas and I offered to drive with her to see her father at the other end of the state. She was very polite, but informed me that her father was at Pearl Harbor and my presences would only aggravate him.

        Smiles,

        LJ

      • Sad that he still feels that way. I don’t know if my f-i-l would have been upset if one of his children dated or married a Japanese person. Perhaps. I can imagine both he and your friend’s father saw some horrific things and possibly did horrific things and those things have to mark a person.

        janet

      • Linda Joyce says:

        Sustaina~

        I am able to respect how others feel.

        Heck, I know folks who judge me because I consider myself a southerner. I was born in Biloxi, MS. 🙂

        I think the idea is that the more we understand about others, the more we’re able to have compassion. I think Jan’s book is a beautiful story of the human condition.

        Smiles,

        Linda Joyce

      • What? A southerner? I can no longer talk to ya’ll. 🙂

        I think that’s true about understanding others more and then being compassionate and, hopefully, getting along better. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way and some things are difficult to overcome.

        Enjoying talking to you

        janet

      • Linda Joyce says:

        Miss Janet (notice the southern way of addressing a lady)

        It was a pleasure to talk with you, too. I’m going to check out your blog.

        And, I have to say, southerners get prickly with me because they say I don’t speak southern enough. To many I sound more like a Conneticut Yankee…though any true Yankee knows I’m a southerner…go figure!

        Smiles,

      • Miss Linda, I’ll look forward to hearing what you think of my blog. Stop by and chat any time. Can’t give you any sweet tea, though. I drink my tea straight. But I can offer sugar.

        janet

      • Linda Joyce says:

        Jan,

        Maybe we should become study buddies for Japanese?

        Smiles,

        LJ

      • Jan Morrill says:

        Great discussion, Linda and Janet. I find that residual feelings of anger or hatred to a particular race is because a person doesn’t take the time to know the individual. Fear and ignorance builds walls that get thick and tall as time goes by. It’s important for us to communicate openly. Unfortunately, this seems to happen less and less. People seem too ready to get angry when someone disagrees.

      • Linda Joyce says:

        Jan,

        Your book offers great thought-provoking discussions. I agree that fear and ignorance are deadly weapons.

        I love the title of your essay, Hypenated Americans. For me, I think of it as being in a place of “and.” I am an American. A southern woman. AND I am half-Japanese.

        I get to define who I am, no one gets to do that for me…especially in America. 🙂

        Smiles,

        Linda Joyce

  8. Linda Austin says:

    Love Linda Joyce’s comment, “…there is no escaping the sensibilities from an upbringing of a Japanese mother.” I had a Japanese mother from near Tokyo (and a very Dutch father) so I know what that means! I have Jan’s book on order and now I’m excited about the sequel! My mother sadly did not teach me Japanese either, but because she was only interested in trying to learn English. I have a copy of the documentary called “442nd: Live With Honor, Die With Dignity” which is worth seeing. My mother and I did not even know about the internment camps until I began researching to write her memoir.

    • Linda Joyce says:

      Linda,

      Yes, you most definitely know what I mean. 🙂 My mother tried to teach me Japanese as a small child, but sadly, I was too “stubborn Irish” and “Carefree Cajun” to take it seriously. However, I lived in Japan for four years and it was required in school, which helped my GPA in college with a 5-hour A in Japanese.

      Jan has a lovely voice. I know you’ll love the book. Her characters are rich. She is a storyteller.

      Thank you for stopping in.

      Smiles,

      Linda Joyce

    • Jan Morrill says:

      Linda, I think that’s interesting that you and your mother didn’t know about the internment until you began your research. What were her thoughts about it?

      I’ve found a lot of people know little to nothing about that time in our history, and that’s one reason I wrote the book. Thankfully, more recognition is being given to that period, and I’ve seen that more of the internment sites are putting up memorials or museums.

  9. Linda Joyce says:

    Thank you to everyone who came to join the chat with Jan. I enjoyed your comments and your thoughtfulness. I know you will enjoy her book. Please check out The Red Kimono blog, too. I believe that’s a great place to carry on this stimulating conversations.

    Smiles,

    Linda Joyce

  10. Late getting in, but so enjoyed learning some things about Jan that I didn’t know. We are so fond of her in our critique group and admire her talents as a writer. Thanks for this interview that opened new doors to her and her past.. Thanks, Jan for sharing. Can’t wait for your book so I can read the entire story without waiting a week for the next five pages.

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