Sunday, May 18, 2014

Meet Fiction Author Jan Morrill

I can't tell you how happy I am to feature my good friend and award-winning writer, Jan Morrill. We met nearly five years ago at a writers' conference in the Ozarks where she took me under her wing. She was with her Arkansas writer friends and I was alone. She was nice enough to introduce me to them and invited me to meals. We've been close ever since.

Jan has two books I want to showcase today. Her debut novel, THE RED KIMONO, is loosely based on her mother's life when she was interned following the bombing of Pearl Harbor--all because she was Japanese, even though she lived in America. A very famous celebrity was also interned in the camp mentioned in Jan's novel. The author is pictured with actor George Takei, of Star Trek fame, below.

In addition to THE RED KIMONO (isn't the cover amazing?), Jan has a new release, LIFE: HAIKU BY HAIKU. She and I both share a love for writing haiku but she has actually done something about it! Jan is an excellent writer and speaker and is fun to have at writerly events. I hope many of my new readers get to know her. Welcome, Jan.

Q. Tell us about your new release.
My latest release is a book of haiku titled, Life: Haiku by Haiku, which includes haiku I've written over the last fifteen years or so. It reflects my thoughts on various events in my life over those years.

Q. How long have you been writing? Describe a typical writing day.
I have been writing since my earliest recollection, but seriously for about the last ten years. There was a time when I was very disciplined about my writing day. I woke at 5:00 a.m. and wrote until about 7:30 a.m. I found that I worked best in the morning, before my responsibilities of the day began to swirl around in my head. Note I say, "There was a time..." I haven't been so disciplined in the last 18 months, and not surprisingly, I haven't gotten as much writing done. But I'm working on getting back into a routine again.
I've got to get into a better routine but 5 a.m.? That probably won't happen.

 Andi, Jan's daughter, created the cover art!
Q. How many books have you written?
Life: Haiku by Haiku is my third book. Though a book of essays titled Doll in the Red Kimono was my debut, I consider my historical fiction, The Red Kimono (University of Arkansas, February 2013) my official debut. I write mostly fiction but also some memoir, essay and poetry.

Q. What was your writing journey like? Traditional querying and pitching  or did you self-publish? Was it arduous or easy?
As a new writer, my dream was to get an agent who would sell my book to a New York publisher. I think many writers have that dream. So, once the manuscript for The Red Kimono was complete, I began to look for an agent. My philosophy with querying was that with every rejection received, I'd submit two new queries. When the manuscript was finally accepted by a New York agent after I pitched to her at OWFI (an annual conference in Oklahoma), I thought I'd do cartwheels for days.

But after a year of working with this agent to make suggested changes to the story, I finally decided she was trying to change it more than I was willing to change it, and at the end of my contract, we went our separate ways.

Within a week, I queried the University of Arkansas Press and they accepted it and scheduled it for publication the following semester. I could not have been happier working with the UA Press staff. My only regret is that I waited so long to contact them.

As I work on the sequel to The Red Kimono, I often ask myself what path to publication I'll pursue. I have several ideas from releasing it as eBook chapters, to self-publishing it, to querying a small press. But I have to be honest here. Of course, I still dream of being published one day by a New York publisher. I'm just not sure I want to risk the time involved in taking that path again.

Q. Give us your best writing tip/advice.
Make your goals in small increments. Don't make your goal "write a book in a year." Make it "Write for 30 minutes a day." Chances are, you'll write more than 30 minutes a day if you can just sit your "you-know-what" down in that chair! It feels good and motivating to reach your goal. It feels bad and demotivating not to reach it.
I like those smaller increments. Seems more attainable, I agree.

Q. What's something quirky about you that we may not know?
This is a hard question, not that I don't have any quirks. It's more like putting a leash on my inner quirk before I let her out the door. :) Let's see--in no particular order:
1)  I like to skip.
2)  I like to fold laundry.
3)  I wanted to be a marine biologist when I grew up.
4)  I don't like scary all. I'll cover my face with my hands even in the previews. But, I'm a  sap for sad movies.
5)  As a teen, I used to write secret notes on my closet wall behind my clothes.
6) As a child, when I had chores to do, I'd crinkle my nose like Samantha Stevens (Bewitched) and hope everything would magically be done.
That's so funny about the notes on your closet wall and gives me a novel idea... I like to do #'s 1, 2 and 6 as well!
Look who's holding THE RED KIMONO!
Jan met actor George Takei at a museum
opening in McGehee, AR
Q. Envision a Hollywood actor(s) playing your characters. Who would they be?
For The Red Kimono, I always envisioned Ken Watanabe as Papa. When Terrence first came to my mind, I imagined a young Terrence Howard, his hazel eyes. However, after seeing the movie After Earth, I began to imagine Jaden Smith. For Nobu, I imagined my Uncle Lloyd, though the actor I pictured playing Nobu was a young George Takei. After seeing Beasts of the Southern Wild, I thought Quvenzhane Wallis would be the perfect Jubie. Of course, for Sachi, I always imagined my mother as a little girl. If, beyond my wildest dreams, The Red Kimono became a movie, all but Papa would have to be re-cast.
Q. What is your favorite marketing tip/promotional advice?
Don't preach to the choir. I see a lot of authors promoting their books to other authors. I guess the hope is that we'll sell books because we buy authors' books, but that's not enough. Authors need to think about their marketing plan rather than following what the crowds of other authors do. Think about your audience. Be creative in thinking about how to market (not sell) to that audience. Think of how to do this outside of social media. So many other authors promote on social media that it's very hard to be noticed among the thousands and thousands trying to do the same.
Excellent advice! I agree.

Q. I'm also a children's author, so I have to ask what was your favorite book as a child?
Love You Forever by Robert Munsch has been a favorite of mine since I first read it to my kids. Now, I've given a copy to my grandson, Tommy. It's a sweet tale about the love between a mother and son over the life of both. Of course, I also love What Do You Want To Be? by Beth Carter and can't wait to read it to Tommy. :)
And I didn't even have to pay you to say that! You're too kind. I remember when you bought my picture book as a big HINT to your son and daughter-in-law. Guess it worked!

Q. About editing...Do you like it? Hate it? How do you tackle the beast?
I think I prefer editing over writing. Writing the first draft is like building the foundation of  a house or sketching on a canvas. Editing is like decorating the house--making it a home. Or, it's like adding colors to the canvas. Sometimes this love of editing can get in the way of writing the first draft for me, because I may edit every sentence, which blocks new sentences from coming to mind.
What great analogies regarding the first draft! But I'm scratching my head. How is it possible to love editing over writing? Egads. But go, you.

Q. What's your next project?
If you want the "writerly correct" answer, it's that I'm working on the sequel to The Red Kimono. But if you want the honest answer, my next project, which I'm working on now, is to spend the first year of my grandson's life spending quality time with him. In my spare time, which is sparse, I try to write, but so far, I haven't been very successful.

In April, I was very disciplined at getting up at 6 a.m. to work on my daily haiku posts in celebration of National Poetry Month. (See My plan is to continue to get up that early--even after National Poetry Month is over--so I can write 30-45 minutes a day before I leave to babysit Tommy. That may not sound like a lot of time but it's better than nothing.

Jan and Beth enjoying Mexican food after a meeting!
It's our tradition and who are we to change it?!
Q. I love first lines. Post your first sentence. Hook us!
The sun beat down on Sachi as the heat of thousands of marchers pressed against her.

This is the first (unedited) line in the sequel to The Red Kimono, currently (and temporarily, I'm sure) titled Broken Dreams.
A good one. I can imagine and feel the heat!

Outstanding Review of The Red Kimono by the Historical Novel Society:
This novel is sensitive, bold, and creative; the truth of the experiences herein is nothing less than astonishing and refuses to truck with clichés or easy solutions. This is one of the best books this reviewer has read in years! Highly recommended.

What a wonderful review and well deserved. It was great chatting with you, Jan. I hope we can get to see one another this summer!

Everyone, please comment and you'll be entered into a drawing for Jan's new book, Life: Haiku by Haiku. I have a copy of both of her books and they're powerful and beautifully written. Below you'll find links to all of Jan's books, as well as where you can connect with her online.

Find Jan Morrill's books on Amazon. Just click on the book titles below.

Life: Haiku by Haiku
Doll in the Red Kimono

Twitter: @janmorrill



Want more? Here's an interesting YouTube video with George Takei discussing Rohwer.


  1. Beth, thanks for inviting me for a visit on your blog--but where were the martinis? :) I really enjoyed answering your questions -- especially the quirky one!

    1. It's great having you here, Jan. *raising a wine glass*
      I loved your informative answers, especially the quirky ones! I hope your new release takes off. It's tremendous, as is everything you do.

    2. Thank you, Beth. Any interview is only as good as the questions asked. :)

  2. I was privileged to hear Jan speak at our Sleuths' Ink meeting. Very inspiring and encouraging. Great interview ladies.

  3. Thanks, Wanda! I enjoyed speaking with Sleuth's Ink and getting to meet friends I'd only known on Facebook before!

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Wanda. I agree. Jan did a great job on her presentation. It was fun to interview our characters.

  4. Good interview, Beth, and good advice, Jan. For anyone reading this, I highly recommend anything Jan's written. Our library has "The Red Kimono", so you know it's hit the big time. :-) Seriously, it's a wonderful story about a very difficult time in our country's history, through the eyes of people you'll love.


    1. Oh, thank you, Janet! That gave me chills and made my day! :)

    2. Thanks, Janet. I couldn't post the questions I really wanted to ask her!!

      I agree. THE RED KIMONO is an important and often forgotten part of our history.

    3. That's because we didn't have wine or martinis, Beth. Next time. :)

  5. I love that advice to set your goals in small increments. Jan's right--if I just get myself in that chair, I'll be at it for more than half an hour. But if I set a lofty goal, procrastination and avoidance kick in.

    And I agree, Beth--the cover of THE RED KIMONO is gorgeous. Such an important part of our history to remember.

    1. Same here, Sharon. I think you and I set the bar so high we just duck under it altogether at times!

    2. Hope that advice works, Sharon. I'll admit, there are times that I need to use an even smaller increment, like, maybe, "Sit yourself down for five minutes and get some writing done!!." :)

  6. Well done. Great questions and interesting answers. I really enjoyed reading this interview. I need to get my writing discipline in order. I don't get up at 5 AM to write, but I have written way into the early morning hours, but it has been awhile. That is good advice to set goals in smaller increments.

    1. Jim, I would have figured you to be someone who might be up and working by 5:00. :)

    2. When I was much younger, I got up at 5 a.m just so I could do my hair and makeup and get to work by 8! Can you believe that? Now it takes me about 10 minutes.

      Thanks for commenting, Jim, and for the compliments! Good to see you here.

  7. I heard Jan read an excerpt from her draft sequel to The Red Kimono and am now eagerly awaiting it! I like editing better than building the house, too, and wish I could convince myself to take advantage of short bits of time to write/edit, but I'm not good at that. Agree it's important to network beyond other authors in promoting a book - getting noticed in Goodreads or other reader groups or by groups related to the book's theme or subject can be a big plus in marketing. (I already own all Jan's books so don't enter me to win the beautiful Haiku by Haiku.)

    1. Thank you, Linda. I'm having fun writing Jubie's POV, and also, Taro's. It's like getting to know background characters from THE RED KIMONO in more depth.

    2. Thanks for coming by, Linda. You made several good author marketing tips, too.

  8. I love learning quirky things about authors. Jan your books sound fabulous.

    1. Me, too. That's why I asked! Sometimes we just need to know non-writerly things. Thanks, Lisa.

    2. Thanks, Lisa! I had a lot of fun answering Beth's questions. :) I'm quirkier than I thought.

  9. I'm looking forward to seeing Jan skip

    1. Is that you, Steve? Thanks for stopping by. Hope you enjoyed the OWL meeting.

    2. I think you've seen me skip, Steve, though only for about two seconds. I'll skip longer if you'll skip with me.

    3. Hi Beth. It's me, Steve. The OWL meeting was invigorating. Thanks for publishing this interview. Hope you're doing well.

    4. Those meetings are inspiring. Great folks.

  10. Nice interview. I love hearing about the quirky side of authors. Sounds like she is one special lady.

    1. It was a great question, wasn't it, Tierney? My favorite and most unique yet.

    2. Thanks, Tierney. Glad everyone is enjoying that question. I think it's a must from now on! And, yes, Jan is special.

  11. I enjoyed reading this interview. I liked the idea of editing as furnishing your new house. Also the small amounts of time to do writing,
    Best to both of you Beth and Jan.

    1. Thanks, Janet. There are a few challenges with "decorating my house" before I've finished building it, but I still manage to do it often. :)

    2. I also loved that analogy. Maybe I'll embrace editing now thanks to Jan because I love to decorate! Thanks for stopping by, Janet.

  12. The winner of an autographed copy of LIFE: HAIKU BY HAIKU is SDKeeling! Congratulations, and thank you to everyone who visited and commented. Last, but not least, thank you, Beth, for inviting me to visit with everyone on your blog. This was fun!

  13. Congrats, Sharon!!! You'll LOVE this beautifully written book by Jan Morrill. Thank you, Jan. It was an honor to interview you. It truly was. You're a great friend. And a huge thanks to everyone who stopped by. I'll be interviewing other authors in June (AFTER my daughter's wedding!) Look forward to more good reads.