Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Bridges, Scarlet Leaves And Japanese War Brides

Aloha Hip Hapa Homeez,

Good news!

We’re moving ahead with our War Brides of Japan documentary. As you know, we’ve been on hiatus with this project for some time—but not as long as we’ve been with our feature narrative, Watermelon Sushi. Hey, all good things take time, you know…like fine wine, blah blah. Anyway, after creating a 30-second promo spot for the War Brides of Japan doc, we entered the Snipler competition at the New Media Film Festival and, ta da!, got selected as one of three finalists. The Snipler screenings take place on June 13 at the Landmark Theatre in West L.A. A special shout-out to The Tropicosmician for his input.

Here are links to the promo piece:



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Meanwhile, we’re searching for Japanese war brides who’d like to be featured in our documentary. Even if she is no longer living, we want to tell her story. If you have stills or footage of a Japanese war bride, please contact us at

Although wars are devastating, WWII remains a popular topic because of its far-reaching effects. Executive Order 9066 mandated that West Coast Japanese Americans, regardless of U.S. citizenry, leave their homes and possessions to live in barbed wired prison camps during the war. And, while Japanese nationalists required special permission to marry American servicemen and move to the U.S., American citizens of Japanese descent were still recovering from the effects of being incarcerated in their own country. The irony is that while one group of Japanese was punished for having Japanese ancestry, another group followed their husbands—former enemies of Japan—to the same country that had imprisoned their fellow Japanese.

This month’s Hip Hapa Homee is Kristina McMorris whose popular book, Bridge of Scarlet Leaves, explores a relationship set in an internment camp. A little known fact is that some non-Japanese Americans lived alongside their Japanese American spouses in the camps. Here’s the link to Krsitina’s website:

Q: Have you always been interested in writing historical fiction?

A: Truthfully, up until several years ago, I didn't consider myself a reader, let alone a creative writer. (I don't admit this proudly, by the way. I've done a lot of catching up since then!) 

It all started with a Christmas present I was making for my family, a self-published cookbook featuring recipes my grandmother had collected and created over decades. While interviewing her for the biographical section, she began to talk about her courtship with my late grandfather. That's when I discovered, to my amazement, that they had dated only twice before getting married during World War II, and that their relationship had developed almost entirely through an exchange of letters. My grandma then went to her closet and retrieved a collection of every handwritten page he had mailed to her during the war. 

After leaving her house, I couldn't help but think about those letters, and I started to wonder how different their relationship might have been if their correspondence had been less than truthful. This thought soon became the premise of my debut novel, Letters from Home. And I've maintained my fascination with the era ever since! 

author Kristina McMorris

Q: Can you elaborate a little on the story of the two brothers that inspired you to write this book?

A: Years ago, an old family friend shared with me that he had fought for America while his brother served for Japan. I was captivated by the idea. But it wasn't until a decade later, when I'd found my calling as a writer, that I recalled his story and realized what an intriguing premise it would make for a novel. Combined with my undying love for the U.S. miniseries "North and the South" (perhaps more for Patrick Swayze in uniform than anything else), I set out to write my book. Then, in the midst of research, I happened across an obscure mention of roughly two hundred non-Japanese spouses who had chosen to live in the U.S. internment camps voluntarily. I called my agent that very day and said, "This is it. I have my story!"

Q: Your father is a Japanese immigrant, so I’m assuming he was not interned in the U.S. Did you speak with any former internees to help shape your story, or did you spend a lot of time researching?

A: Although my father was born a few years after WWII ended, his birthday, ironically, falls on December 7th, which of course is Pearl Harbor Day. I often joke that, for this reason, I should have foreseen long ago that I was destined to write WWII novels. 

As for research, while I love having actually learned the information, highlighting details in textbooks sounds as appealing to me as a root canal. (In other words, not a fun time.) What I do enjoy is hands-on experience. Needless to say, I was delighted when the Park Ranger at the Manzanar War Relocation Center, who suffered through my endless list of internment questions, invited me to attend their annual pilgrimage. (Come to think if it, maybe that was his way of finally shutting me up!) As a result, I had the great opportunity of talking to many people who were once interned. 

Similarly, when I contacted the Go For Broke Foundation, an organization devoted to educating people about Japanese American military service, they offered to arrange in-person interviews with seven WWII veterans who have since all received the Congressional Gold Medal. Bottom line, I've definitely been spoiled.

Q: Do you think you’d be as interested in this subject matter had you not yourself been part Japanese?

A: As much as I love true historical accounts, especially from wartime, I think I'd still have been interested in reading about the subject. My passion for researching and writing about the topic, however, unquestionably stems from my own heritage and personal ties to the culture. Being half Japanese, in particular, made me even more eager to explore a story in which the characters suddenly find themselves living between two worlds, not knowing exactly where they fit in--which is exactly how I myself recall often feeling during my teen years. 

Q: Your character, Maddie, is a violinist. Do you play any musical instruments? If not, how difficult was it for you to write about a musician?

A: As with most of my research, I relied on generous "experts" who made me look much smarter than I am! Although I used to play piano, I knew very little about the violin. Fortunately, an old friend from high school happens to be a violinist. She attended a top conservatory years ago and continues to perform in a symphony. She and my husband, who played violin as a kid, were immensely helpful. I also learned a great deal from watching performances on YouTube, from which I could study violinists' movements and positions, in addition to the actual sound of the pieces. 

Q: Your characters both experience difficulty being accepted by the other one’s family. Your mother is Caucasian, and your father Asian. Did they also have problems being accepted by each other’s family members? And, how did they meet?

A: My goodness, yes! My mother was the only daughter of a U.S. Navy man who served in the Pacific during the war, and my father was the youngest of seven children, born to a Japanese mother and father who were united through an arranged marriage. Therefore, my paternal grandmother had high hopes that my father would return to Kyoto permanently and settle into a "well-suited" Japanese marriage. After my parents met at Highline Community College in Washington State, and got married only six months later, my Japanese grandmother was outraged and openly shared her disapproval. For both sides of the family, I truly believe the existence of grandchildren helped change their views, and eventually my parents' marriage was wholly accepted. 

Q: What Japanese cultural traditions does your family practice?

A: Shoes are definitely off the minute we walk into the house! My two young sons--who proudly refer to themselves as being "a quarter ninja"--have been so brainwashed in this regard, they refuse to wear shoes at their friends' homes, even when the hosts insist that the practice is normal. Then again, I've rarely considered any aspect of my family "normal."

Q: Your story starts out in Los Angeles, and you yourself attended Pepperdine in Malibu. Where are some other places you’ve lived?

A: Wow, let's see... I was born in Washington State and lived in the suburbs of Portland Oregon most of my life. As you mentioned, I used to live in Malibu, after which I spent a year in Burbank. During my time at Pepperdine, I also spent a year in their overseas program in Florence Italy. (I still drool over those days of unlimited gelato and tiramisu.) Additionally, I've lived just outside of Philadelphia, as well as in Indiana when my husband was earning his MBA at Notre Dame. Only then did I fully comprehend the literal depths of "lake-effect" snow.

Q: How did you get your own talk show at age 9?

A: I was a bit of a shy kid early on, so my mother enrolled me in a local modeling/acting class to help boost my confidence. At the end of the six-week course, I heard about an audition for a new weekly kids program created by an ABC affiliate. My parents thought it would be a good experience for me to simply try out. At the audition, surrounded by a herd of stage parents and "seasoned" child actors, I quickly realized I had no clue what I was doing. This became even more apparent when, on cue, I rushed with my assigned co-host into the audition room, at which point we were supposed to plop down on our chairs, pretend to be running late for the show, smile at the cameras, and launch into our lines posted on the teleprompter. Well, as it turned out, a minor detail they neglected to mention was the fact that our chairs were on rollers. (You can sense where this is going, right?) After scurrying in, I plopped down on my chair with a smile and...flew right off the seat. I broke into laughter, hopped back onto my chair, and read the lines while recovering from my giggles. Next thing I knew, I'd landed the role of co-host, a job I kept for five years, until gracefully "retiring" in order to aid the primary goal of any American junior high kid: to blend. 

Thank you, Kristina!





Hey, Hip Hapa Homeez, summer's almost here and it's an ideal time to take a book like Bridge of Scarlet Leaves to the beach.

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