Kathryn Fitzmaurice (pronounced fitz-mor'ris) was thirteen years old, her mother sent her to New York City over the summer to visit her grandmother, who was a science fiction author. After seeing how her grandmother could make the characters in her books into whomever she wanted, Kathryn decided that she, too, wanted to become a writer someday. Years later, after teaching elementary school, and taking many classes, she now writes full time and lives with her husband, two sons, and her dog, Holly, in Monarch Beach, California.~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Kathryn's latest book, A Diamond in the Desert is available now for pre-order and is scheduled to release on February 16th. Find Kathryn at her website or on her Twitter and Facebook pages.
Sally: Welcome to Novel Rocket, Kathryn! I just read in your bio that you like to organize things, and I believe it, because the plots on your books so far, have been uncluttered. Deep, but organized. Everything works in your books, with no spare parts. Do you outline your plots ahead of time?
Kathryn Fitzmaurice: Not normally, though with this book I did because I needed to. There was so much information I never would have been able to keep it organized without an outline.
Sally: Do you have a theme in mind before you begin writing?
Kathryn Fitzmaurice: Mostly, yes. Sometimes, though, the theme comes quite by accident.
Sally: Well, your prose isn't accidental—it's gorgeous. I don't know how else to describe it. Page after page is beautifully written with lovely metaphors and similes. This book was a fast read because your metaphors made it easy to picture Tetsu's world and what was going on with his inner conflicts. How hard do you work on the imagery? Do you polish the gems as you go along with your first draft, or do you sketch the story bones and then go back and brush in the textures and colors with word pictures?
Kathryn Fitzmaurice: Thank you, Sally. How nice of you to say these things. With this book, because of all of the research I had to do before writing it, I ended up with a very concise outline. I also had an entire wall in my home office where I taped photos of the camp and the main character, a huge map of the camp and the surrounding area, and three separate timelines, one of the events which happened at Gila River, (which I got from microfiche, specifically, three and a half years of the Gila News Courier, which was the newspaper written by the Japanese Americans while at the camp), one with the major events of WWII, and one with the events of baseball and what was happening in the 1940’s. I carefully combined the three timelines and there was, basically, my story. So each day when I sat down to write, I picked up where I had left off the day before. Because I had done most of the work before ever writing one word, the whole book took only four months to write. I spent several months at the Laguna Niguel archives building reading through three years of the newspaper so I could better understand the camp and its culture. Of course it’s impossible to really understand living at one of the camp unless one was there, so I did the best I could and made copies of the pages that I knew I wanted to include in my story. I also discussed almost everything I included with the gentleman who was the pitcher for the team, whose name is Tetsuo Furukawa, now 87 years old. The one thing I did know well, however, was the setting because I had grown up in
. I knew the desert like it was my backyard. I knew what the sunset looked like and the Gila monsters and the snakes and the scorpions. I knew what it was like to get a piece of cholla stuck in my skin. Arizona
Sally: Where did you get the story about the little girl going to the latrine and wearing a pillow case over her head? Was that a real memory of one of the men you interviewed or did you manufacture that?
Kathryn Fitzmaurice: When I was interviewing Mr. Furukawa, he mentioned that many people, he specifically remembered the younger girls, had a hard time using the latrine because there were no walls. So for privacy, their mothers would give them a pillowcase they could slip over their heads. I couldn’t imagine this, having absolutely no privacy. That story really stuck with me, how the Japanese Americans had everything taken from them. I wanted the reader to understand this from the very beginning.
Sally: Where did you come up with Horse? His name, his situation, his shame, his injury, his gentleness--everything about Horse was a little painful and yet, he gave me great hope for the future. Who is he and where did he come from?
Kathryn Fitzmaurice: I remember looking through a commencement announcement from one of the senior classes at
Gila Riverthat Mr. Furukawa had sent me. They had school graduations, weddings, etc., in Gila River, and when I came across the name Horse, I called Mr. Furukawa and asked him about this boy. He told me he didn’t remember anything about him. But I knew he would be one of my characters. So I started writing about him, and he appeared instantly as a boy whose parents had been killed, and he couldn’t face what had happened to them.
Sally: You're a literary writer and you choose quiet stories—conflicts that happen to real people, not to children who are spies or superheroes. There is plenty of drama and tension in your stories, but there are no dystopian worlds or kick-ass heroines. I'd compare your stories to ones written by Patricia MacLachlan or Kate DiCamillo. What authors have influenced you?
Kathryn Fitzmaurice: Thank you, again. I wish, one day, I could write as beautifully at Kate DiCamillo. I tear up even reading her facebook fan page. How does she do it? I would love to have lunch with her someday and learn everything about her. I also really enjoy Gary D. Schmidt, Deborah Wiles, LaurenChild, and
Sally: Have you taken any flak for being a white woman and writing about a people of a different culture and color?
Kathryn Fitzmaurice: I thought a long time before writing about another culture. Because I am not Japanese, the only way I felt comfortable enough to write the book was by sending every single draft of the story to Mr. Furukawa. He would read them and call me and tell me which parts needed revision. He was a tremendous help. I could not have written the book without his careful consultations, of which there were many. He allowed me call him over the course of two years and was extremely generous with his time. He sent me many envelopes filled with information, photographs, DVD’s, so much of the story is his. I drove up to his house in northern
to meet him and his wife when I was almost finished with the story. I spent a lot of time with him discussing his experiences. It was remarkable. He gave me 1000 paper cranes that day. He said they were for good luck. I have them hanging in my home office. California
Sally: You have an MFA, right? Would you advise young writers to pursue that course?
Kathryn Fitzmaurice: I don’t have an MFA. I have an MA, Ed., a graduate degree in education, specifically, Curriculum and Instruction. Once, a few years back, I started to fill out the application for the MFA program at Hamline, but I never completed it. I wish I had one. I think it would be a great asset.
Sally: You are a Christian. Do your religious beliefs come into play when you write?
Kathryn Fitzmaurice: With the exception of A Diamond in the Desert, all of my main characters have faith in God. It’s such an important part of my own life. I believe all things are possible through faith.
Sally: What advice can you give to unpublished writers that will help us understand what elements make an editor fall for a story?
Kathryn Fitzmaurice: I’m probably not the best person to give advice, but my grandmother, who was also a writer (she wrote science fiction), told me to write what I know. She said that if the story you’re writing is true and people can see this, someone will understand it and maybe even love it.
Sally: Do you have a critique group that comments on line by line issues? Or do you have readers who will read and comment on the whole novel? Both? Neither?
Kathryn Fitzmaurice: I have a critique group that meets every other Tuesday. We submit pages by email, critique them, and then hand them back to each other. Each person/manuscript gets thirty minutes of discussion. We give general and specific advice on every story. The group has been together a long time. I’m their newest member.
Tell us a little about your editorial process for A Diamond in the Desert. Did you go back and forth a few times with your editor?
Kathryn Fitzmaurice: I was extremely lucky to be able to work with Catherine Frank at Viking. The first letter I received from her was six pages long, single spaced with suggestions, in addition to her line edits on the actual manuscript. I finished those recommendations and then we went back and forth one more time before the manuscript went to copyediting. She made the story so much better than it was by tightening it up, etc. We also got rid of a couple of characters because there were a lot in the beginning, considering that it was a baseball team. One of our favorite sub plots was the story about Lefty. In the original manuscript, the reader didn’t know if he was reunited with his owners. I remember she wrote to me explaining that she would be tremendously relieved if Lefty got back to Tetsu somehow. I completely agreed and changed that part so Lefty found his way home. I have a dog named Holly. I can’t imagine ever losing her.
Sally: Does your agent edit your work before she sends it to publishers? Will you tell us a bit about how the writer/agent relationship? Or even about how you came to land your agent?
Kathryn Fitzmaurice: My agent, Jennifer Rofe, at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, reads everything before she sends it out. She likes the manuscript to be near perfect. Often I will go though several revisions before we are both happy with the story. I met her at the Big Sur Writing Workshops. I was in a critique group with Eric Elfman, who is a wonderful screenwriter, and he said he thought Jennifer would like my Swallows story, so he introduced me to her. I sent it to her several months later and she had me do an extensive revision and then asked to represent me after that. She’s a great agent, very emotional and savvy, exactly what you’d want in an agent.
Sally: I've looked at that Big Sur Writing Workshops website several times and wished I could go. One of these years…. When did decide to write for middle grade kids and why did you decide that?
Kathryn Fitzmaurice: When my youngest son was nine, we read Because of Winn-Dixie together. The part where Opal has her dad tell her ten things about her mother and then she goes off and memorizes them so she can recognize her mother when she sees her, that part right there made me think, “this is the loveliest writing I have ever read.”
But more importantly, when my grandmother died, she left me a box of her unpublished manuscripts. For years I’d go through them and wonder if I could do it, if I could write. One day, I decided it was time to try. I quit teaching and sat down on the first day of school after getting my own kids off and started writing about a little girl named Eleanor, named after my grandmother. It was the least I could do after all of the support she gave me while she was alive. I had written things while growing up, under my grandmother’s encouragement, but it wasn’t until I was much older that I became more serious in my efforts.
Sally: Do you own an e-reader?
Kathryn Fitzmaurice: Yes, a kindle and an iPad, and an iPhone. Though, truth be told, I like real books best.
Sally: I always thought I liked real books best, too, until I got the e-readers. I love pulling out my iPhone in the waiting room at the doctor's office or on the plane and finding an entire library from which to choose.
Well, thanks so much for dropping by, Kathryn. It's been swell. Godspeed with your writing.
Sally Apokedak is represented by Reclaim Management. Her short works have been published in various magazines, including Highlights for Children. She blogs about young adult novels at sally-apokedak.com. You can read a sample of The Button Girl, one of her YA manuscripts, here if you like.