Thursday, September 25, 2008

Blog Tour Interview with Author Ken Mochizuki

Ever since the 1993 publication of his multi-award-winning, best-selling picture book, Baseball Saved Us (over half a million sold to date), Ken Mochizuki has made over 100 presentations around the country at schools, libraries, community centers and educators’ conferences to ages K-Adult. Ken’s books include: Baseball Saved Us, Heroes, Passage to Freedom: the Sugihara Story, Beacon Hill Boys, and Be Water, My Friend: the Early Years of Bruce Lee. Among the awards his books have earned include the Washington State Governor’s Writers Award and the national Parents’ Choice Award, American Bookseller “Pick of the Lists,” American Library Association Notable Book, International Reading Association Teachers’ Choices, Smithsonian Notable Books for Children and the Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards Honor Book.

When and why did you begin writing?
In 1981, while working as a professional actor in Los Angeles, I also had time to read the “classic” American novels that I should have in high school and college. I thought about becoming a writer instead, so I started writing my own novel at that time which would eventually become “Beacon Hill Boys.” I originally wrote it as an adult novel, but then the opportunity came along to turn it into a YA novel which was published in 2002.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Probably when I first seriously said to myself that I am going to be one – not just thinking about it or talking about it, but actually doing it. So, if I was going to be a writer, I had to learn how to write. I returned to my hometown, Seattle, that same year (1981) and started writing for local newspapers. Being a journalist taught me a lot about writing, especially about being concise – saying the most with the least amount of words, which would help tremendously in the genre of “juvenile literature,” especially in writing picture books.

What inspired you to write your first book?
In 1981 when I still lived in Los Angeles, I heard of the murder of a friend who was also an instructor of mine at the University of Washington (it was later uncovered that he was assassinated by orders from the regime of the former dictator of the Philippines). That incident made me think of those days when I was attending the university during the early ‘70s, when I was involved with others in fighting for the “Asian American” identity instead of being called “Orientals.” It was also a unique time all over America, and I wanted to recall those times and pay tribute to it.

Who or what has influenced your writing?
Aside from being a journalist, the Asian American authors who came before me and are currently writing books, especially fiction, are major influences. Another major influence – although I didn’t know it at the time – were the TV series of the ‘60s. “Combat,” an early ‘60s series about GIs in France during World War II, the original “Star Trek,” “Mission: Impossible” and especially “The Twilight Zone” were often brilliantly written and were actually 30- 60-minute short stories. Looking back, that’s where I learned story structure, character development and the character arc, the beginning, middle and end.

What genre are you most comfortable writing?
My books so far have been in the picture book and YA categories, both fiction and non-fiction, so those are what I’m used to so far. I tend to gravitate toward historical fiction – “Beacon Hill Boys” has been put in that category. But, all writing isn’t easy and – contrary to what most people might think – picture books are the hardest because so few words are required to tell the story. I often use this analogy: writing picture books is like driving on city streets, where you travel slow and have to stop for the lights and signs. Novels are like hitting the freeway and opening it up.

Is there a message in Beacon Hill Boys that you want readers to grasp?
Young people who know their histories, their family histories, are more proud and self-confident when they know of the achievements of their own. The underlying theme of the novel is the protagonist and his friends’ search for something to be proud of. Also, I wanted readers to know that everything that might be taken for granted today was gained by those before them who fought, struggled and sacrificed.

Is the book based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
“Beacon Hill Boys” started out as a sort of disguised autobiography, or at least about that time in my life. And as fiction writing goes, and when you start working with an editor, there are plot changes and cuts, characters change, or multiple characters are morphed into one. So, even though some of the incidents portrayed in the book did actually happen in my life, the story is still a work of fiction.

Can you tell us two of your favorite books?
My favorite of all time is Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” and that novel is often considered to be YA now. I would have to say another would be “The Wizard of Oz.”

What book are you reading now?
A lot of the books I read are for research for my present writing project. However, a memorable book I read this year would be Sherman Alexie’s “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.”

What are you currently working on?
A YA novel set mostly in an incarceration camp for Japanese Americans during World War II.

Do you have any advice for young writers?
Read – that is the only way you will see how words are put together to become good writing and good books. And not only books, but read newspapers, news magazines – any form that tells a story. It is said that some of the best writers are sports columnists. Then you have to become a good observer. Everybody has the ability to look, but not everybody has the ability to see. Why do people do what they do? Then put those words together and write and write. It is a process in which you can be taught all the “how tos,” but it is also one in which you can only learn by doing.

Thanks again to Ken Mochizuki for appearing, courtesy of Provato Marketing, for other stops on the tour please check Provato Events.