Kristina McMorris is a graduate of Pepperdine University and the recipient of nearly twenty national literary awards. A host of weekly TV shows since age nine, including an Emmy® Award-winning program, she penned her debut novel, LETTERS FROM HOME (Kensington Books, Avon/HarperCollins UK), based on inspiration from her grandparents' wartime courtship. This critically praised book was declared a must-read by Woman's Day magazine and achieved additional acclaim as a Reader's Digest Select Editions feature, a Doubleday/Literary Guild selection, and a 2011 Goodreads Choice Awards semifinalist for Best Historical Fiction. Her second novel, BRIDGE OF SCARLET LEAVES (March 2012), has already received glowing reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews, among many others. Named one of Portland's "40 Under 40" by The Business Journal, Kristina lives with her husband and two sons in the Pacific Northwest, where she refuses to own an umbrella.
What is the premise your books? What ties them together? Are the characters related, have the same career, live in the same town, etc.?
My debut novel, LETTERS FROM HOME, is set during WWII and features a Midwestern infantryman who falls deeply in love through a yearlong letter exchange, unaware that the girl he's writing to isn't the one writing back. My latest novel, BRIDGE OF SCARLET LEAVES, is also set during WWII, but follows a young woman who secretly elopes with her Japanese boyfriend the night before Pearl Harbor is bombed, forever changing two families torn between sides.
Although the books, both obviously sharing the same era, are separate stand-alones, there's a minor married farm couple from Illinois that is mentioned in LETTERS FROM HOME and actually makes a cameo appearance in BRIDGE OF SCARLET LEAVES.
What's the genre/subgenre of your books?
My books are categorized as historical women's fiction, also referred to as love stories. But both of them cross over into the romance genre and, due to wartime elements, offer a great deal for male readers too.
Why write about World War II? This wasn't a "hot-selling" time period when you wrote your first book, was it?
You're absolutely right about the challenges I initially faced, yet I didn't discover that WWII women's fiction was virtually nonexistent back then until I'd already finished my debut novel. Blissfully ignorant, I simply focused on the craft side of LETTERS FROM HOME, a labor of love inspired by my grandparents' WWII courtship letters. Thankfully, the market soon took a turn and now there are many wonderful women's fiction novels set during this period.
For my second novel, I didn't set out to remain in this era, but then I recalled that an old family friend had shared with me that he'd fought for America while his brother served for Japan, and I couldn't let the idea go. When researching the premise, I happened across an obscure mention of roughly two hundred non-Japanese spouses who lived in the internment camps voluntarily. At that moment, I knew I'd found my story.
You've done some interesting research. Please tell us about some of those experiences.
Given that I'm not a huge fan of traditional research -- highlighting textbooks feels much too similar to preparing for a 500-page term paper -- I prefer to bring history to life whenever possible. For BRIDGE OF SCARLET LEAVES, I had the pleasure of interviewing Japanese American WWII veterans who recently received the Congressional Gold Medal and had served with the Military Intelligence Service, a secret branch of the U.S. Army responsible for code breaking and interrogating against Japan. I also participated in a pilgrimage to the Manzanar War Relocation Camp, where I interviewed survivors of the internment. And finally, definitely more fun than work, I took a ride on a restored B-17 bomber, since one of my characters is a tail gunner.
My greatest hope is that what I learned from these experiences will help create a more moving and realistic journey for the reader.
What's your next project? Are you going to write another book set against the backdrop of World War II?
Also bearing ties to LETTERS FROM HOME, my forthcoming novella, THE CHRISTMAS COLLECTOR, will be released in October in a holiday anthology titled A WINTER WONDERLAND, headlined by Fern Michaels. In this contemporary story, Jenna Matthews, the daughter of a former hoarder, seeks catharsis through her career as an estate liquidator. However, while preparing for a sale just before Christmas -- a season of "junk" exchanges she despises -- she stumbles across a shoebox of wartime memorabilia that reveals the secret past of an elderly woman (her young version is a minor character in my debut), and soon leads Jenna on a hunt to understand the true value of keepsakes, holidays, and memories.
Other than that, I have two more novels on contract with my publisher. The first one is tentatively titled THROUGH MEMORY'S GATE, which I'll be diving into as soon as the whirlwind of my current book tour settles.
Any contests or giveaways related to this blog post or that you are running?
I'd be happy to give away one signed copy of LETTERS FROM HOME to a randomly chosen commenter. Sign up for my newsletter on my website for an extra entry: http://www.kristinamcmorris.com/home.php?pg=news
Any other information you would like to add?
Thanks so much for having me here today, Genene. I hope readers will check out BRIDGE OF SCARLET LEAVES and let me know what they think!
The premise of this novel began with a true account of two brothers during WWII, one who had fought for Japan and the other for America. While researching the subject, Kristina happened across a brief mention of roughly two hundred non-Japanese spouses who voluntarily lived in an internment camp. She was stunned and fascinated by the discovery, and immediately knew it was a story she needed to tell.
As the daughter of a Japanese immigrant father and Caucasian American mother, Kristina grew up living between these two cultures. Through Bridge of Scarlet Leaves she hopes to share with readers a unique perspective of an intriguing, and often tragic, portion of our country's history, while also honoring a diverse range of quiet heroes.
BRIDGE OF SCARLET LEAVES
May 1942 – Los Angeles, Calif.
Japanese American evacuation
Engines awoke in the distance, a stagger of roars that cinched Maddie's throat with panic. Her pace doubled in speed. Her leather heels clicked a staccato rhythm on the city sidewalk. She forced air in and out, in and out, against the burn crawling up the walls of her lungs.
Nine o'clock, that's what Lane's roommate had said when the operator connected his call that morning. Told her that his conscience wouldn't let him ship off without at least telling her Lane was in town, but if she wanted to see him, she had until nine o'clock.
She'd raced out the door. No time to think.
At last, she was almost there...
A young soldier stood up ahead. He hugged his bayonet-fixed rifle across his chest, his stance undoubtedly fresh from Army basic. He stared hard into the sky, as if reading his mission etched in the ribbon of clouds. The enemy, have to protect our country from the enemy.
The thought curled Maddie's fingers.
In a glance briefer than a blink, the GI sized her up, her ivory skin an armor of presumed innocence. She swerved around him, not missing a beat. To her left, personal effects awaited transit in a snaking queue. Cribs and ironing boards, labeled trunks and boxes. Their tags dangled in the spring sun.
Around the corner, evacuees were amassed before the steepled church. Red Cross volunteers handed out coffee.
"Lane! Where are you?" Her words died in the bedlam, smothered by a baby's cry, a rumbling jeep, a little girl's hysterics.
"But I don't want to go," the girl shrieked, face stained red. "Mommy, I want to stay with you!" Tears streamed from the slanted eyes that cursed the child, dripping trails down the puffy sleeves of her lilac dress. Two nuns pried her fingers from the Caucasian woman's arms and guided the youngster toward the bus.
"Everything will be fine, pumpkin," the mother choked out against a sob. "Mommy and Daddy will come see you soon." A suited man beside her added, "You be a good girl, now." His Anglo features contorted in despair as he limply waved.
A reporter snapped a photo.
Who knew a piece of paper could carry so much power? One presidential order and an orphan could lose another family; one signed petition and marriage vows could be unsaid. Thank God she hadn't mailed the papers yet. Stamped and sealed, but not mailed.
Maddie scanned the faces around her, their features similar to Lane's, but none as flawless. None bearing the deep beauty of his eyes, his smile.
"Lane!" she shouted louder. The trio of chartered buses was filling. Within minutes, he would be gone.
"Excuse me, miss. May I help you?" A priest touched her arm. His wrinkled face exuded warmth that penetrated the morning chill.
"Moritomos—I have to find them." Exhaust fumes invaded the air, causing her to cough.
He patted her back. "Now, now, dear. Let's see what we can do." They wove through the crowd, her gaze zipping from one figure to the next. Beige identity tags hung from lapels, around buttons. Branded in their Sunday best like a herd of cattle.
"Sergeant," the priest called out. He stepped up to a bulky Army man in the midst of lecturing two privates. "Sergeant," he tried again, "I hate to interrupt, but..."
"Hold your water," the guy barked, before turning and noting the source. His shoulders lowered. "Sorry, Father. What is it you need?"
"This young lady, here, she's trying to locate a particular family."
"The Moritomos," Maddie cut in.
The sergeant sighed heavily as he lifted his clipboard. He flipped forward several pages and began his search through the list. With the top of his pen, he scratched his head beneath his helmet. He blew out another sigh.
This was taking too long.
Maddie leaned in, trying to see the smudged names herself. Maeda... Matsuda... Minami... Miyamoto...
The sergeant turned to the next page and looked up. "What's that name again?"
She fought to keep her composure. "Moritomo. Lane Moritomo."
A loud hiss shot from behind. The first bus was pulling away, followed by the next. Another hiss and the doors slammed closed on the last Greyhound in line. The crowd launched into waves of farewells and see-you-soons, whenever, wherever that might be.
"Maddie," a muffled voice barely met her ears. It came again, stronger. "Maddie, over here!" Someone yanked open a dusty windowpane on the remaining bus. It was Lane, reaching across seated passengers to see her.
She wasn't too late!
Calling his name, she bumped through elbows to get to the blue-and-white striped transport. She scrambled for his hand until their grips linked, his skin soft as a glove. When a smile slid across his face, all else paled to a haze. Time reversed, back to happier days, before the ground had crumbled on a fault line, dividing their world in two.
"I didn't mean what I said," he implored, "at the diner...."
"I know," she assured him, for it was a truth she had carried inside. Still, her heart warmed from the confirmation in his eyes.
Then the bus began to move.
"No matter what happens, Maddie, know that I'll always love you."
She tightened her grasp, refusing to let go. "I'll be waiting. However long it takes."
On the balls of her feet she hastened her stride. She struggled to keep up, but the wheels were spinning too fast. Against her silent pleas, their connection wouldn't hold and his fingers slipped beyond reach.