Utopia in Progress

Book journal following author Naomi Hirahara's progress in writing her second middle-grade novel, tentatively titled KOUTOPIA.

Since I’m returning to my manuscript after taking more than a year and a half break, I’d thought I’d post this collage I did in a visual journaling class back in the summer of 2011.  It was inspired by the book.
Historic building in Walnut Grove, California.
This, at one time, was an active Japanese American community in the early 1900s.  It’s part of the Sacramento Delta.  I’ll be here in my fictional mind for the next two weeks.
Gold Country, Coloma, the post office.
I’m at this part of the novel.
This a Hammond Multiplex typewriter circa 1916 from the International Printing Museum in Carson.  One of my main characters depends on this kind of typewriter to communicate.

Next week: invasion of the printing presses!

Do you believe in happy endings?

Jorge Ribiero asks, “Do you have to have happy endings for a children’s book?”

The short answer, no. The Newbery Award-winning book KIRA-KIRA follows the relationship of two sisters and it doesn’t end well.  It’s beautifully written, but some of its readers are very unhappy that the story ends sadly.

What blows me away are the original Grimm’s Fairy Tales.  They are pretty darn dark.  One of my favorite Hans Christian Andersen story is THE LITTLE MATCHGIRL and man, that is definitely a sad one.  (If Disney ever did a literal adaptation of the story, parents would be up in arms.)

Japanese folk tales such as CRANE WIFE are not shiny, happy stories.  Yet, they are still told and retold.  I think, however, most American children of reading age desire that smiley face at the end of their stories.

The Edison Bar, a renovated power  plant in downtown Los Angeles, inspired an early scene in KOUTOPIA.  If  you are interested in steampunk, definitely visit.

Vampires, werewolves and zombies, oh my!

Michael Herr observes: “I was told that YA books are the most difficult sell (unless, nowadays, they have vampires and werewolves in them). My book distributor also somewhat discouraged this effort. So, back to mystery/thrillers for adults.”

The thing is, there are tons of YA and middle-grade books being published today that don’t have vampires, werewolves and zombies.  Case in point: Gayle Brandeis’ MY LIFE WITH THE LINCOLNS, which is set in 1966 Chicago.  It’s the story of a 12-year-old girl who thinks that she and her family are the Lincolns reincarnated.  And, of course, the winner of this year’s Newbery Award: MOON OVER MANIFEST, which jumps from early 1900s Kansas to the Great Depression.

Of course, selling a book to this market is another thing altogether. It does take time.  In my singular experience, it takes more time to get a response back — either nay or yea — from a children’s book publisher than a mystery imprint.  And odds are your manuscript will be more heavily edited within the children’s book world.

I enjoy writing for different markets and genres.  That way, we can always be working on something.  All your eggs will not be in one basket.

Talking titles

Pam Miike asks, “Why did you decide on the [working] title, ‘Koutopia’?”

Titles are tricky and so important.  Many times they inspire the cover.  There are some creative titles that are incredibly long, but for the most part, they are usually a couple of words.

The titles for my Mas Arai mysteries are very idiosyncratic — SUMMER OF THE BIG BACHI, GASA-GASA GIRL, SNAKESKIN SHAMISEN and BLOOD HINA.  Since I incorporate a lot of Japanese/Japanese American words in those mysteries, I want to give them a hint of what they might be in for.  1001 CRANES, my first middle-grade novel, is a variation of the thousand-crane concept that many are familiar with.  The symbolism of a thousand cranes comes from Japan, while 1001 is very different, Japanese American.

Anyway, back to KOUTOPIA.  The novel is set in 1918 in California.  And it’s falls in the steam-punk subgenre (I’ll explain that in a future post).  The plot revolves around various utopias established in California around that time: hence, “utopia.”  My lead character is a girl named Ko.  Combine the two and you get KOUTOPIA.

I like the working title because it evokes something manga-like, maybe even futuristic, yet it is perfectly in keeping with the story.

Some writers say that they can’t start a project without a title, but for most of us it’s an evolutionary process.  Anyway, in the end, if you go the traditional publishing route, it is the publisher who ultimately decides.

How do I send questions to Naomi?

Some of you may be unfamiliar with the tumblr platform and might not know how to send questions.  Click on the top left hand button and the menu will scroll down.  Then click on the question mark and you can compose your inquiry in the blank window.  Got one.  Keep them coming!