Monday, February 20, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: A Diamond in the Desert and a GIVEAWAY!

Today’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is special! Not only am I sharing an amazing new book that was released this past Thursday, but I’m also featuring a Q&A with the fabulous author, Kathryn Fitzmaurice, AND have a signed hardcover copy from Kathryn to giveaway. I did mention she’s fabulous, didn’t I? :)

A DIAMOND IN THE DESERT
By: Kathryn Fitzmaurice
Viking, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group 2012
Ages 10 and up

First, let me share from the jacket flap:

     Gila River camp isn’t technically a prison, but it might as well be. There’s nowhere to go and nothing to do. The camp is located on an Indian reservation in the middle of the harsh Arizona desert, and twelve-year-old Tetsu Kishi has been sent there with his mother and little sister-but without his father or his dog. Mr. Kishi was shipped to North Dakota for questioning after Pearl Harbor was bombed, and Japanese internment camps don’t allow dogs.
     Tetsu spends his days at Gila River like the thousands of other people who have been sent there-he just tries to pass the time. So when someone has the idea of building a baseball diamond and starting up a camp team, he’s thrilled to have something normal to do. Tetsu was a star first baseman back home in California, and he can’t wait to break out his glove. But just as practice starts, his sister Kimi gets sick. Dangerously sick. And suddenly Tetsu has something much bigger than baseball to think about.
     Kathryn Fitzmaurice has created a heartfelt story about honor, family and the pure joy that comes with throwing a perfect, game-winning pitch.

I must be a disclaimer out that I love baseball; my family is a baseball family. So, any book revolving around baseball automatically gets a “thumbs up” from me. But A DIAMOND IN THE DESERT is so much more than baseball. I didn’t realize that these amazing, and sad, events happened in our country. The book gave an in depth view of the internment camps, much of which was based on real-life events (more on that in the Q&A). It also showed the human strength and perseverance and honor that the Japanese Americans showed as they stood tall and survived. Through their friends and family AND baseball they united no matter what the circumstances.  The book was a great lesson in history as well as a story that pulled me in and held me in its grasp.

Now, let me share with you some words from Kathryn.
You used your own family history as inspiration for your first book, THE YEAR THE SWALLOWS CAME EARLY. Was it different writing a book that required much more research and fact-finding?

It was a lot different because with this book, A DIAMOND IN THE DESERT, I took a long time reading through all of the newspapers they had printed while at the Gila River camp. I went to the Laguna Niguel National Archives building and they ordered all nine rolls of the newspaper from Washington DC, which was on microfiche. I would spend hours there, reading through it, printing some pages and making a lot of notes. I also interviewed three of the gentlemen who were on the team. The main character, Mr. Tetsuo Furukawa, allowed me to interview him over the course of two years as I wrote the book. He was so very helpful. I sent him each draft of the book so he could read through it to see if I had gotten it correct. We had many long telephone conversations, and then I went to meet him after I was finished. I think the best part about writing this book is that I had taped up a map of the area, many photos of the characters, a long timeline of everything that had happened at the camp, the major events of the war, and the major events in baseball those years, to the wall in my home office. I used this as a place keeper in my writing. Each day as I sat down to write, I would pick up where I left off. At the very end, when I was done writing the book, I left these things on my wall for a while. It was hard to take them down after spending so much time with them all those months. I wish I would have taken a photograph of it.

The "chapters" in A DIAMOND IN THE DESERT are short, some only a paragraph or two long, which are then grouped together by timeframe. As I read, I thought of them as excerpts in Tetsu's life. How did you decide to divide the book in this way?

Originally the book was not divided into seasons, but when Catherine Frank, my editor at Viking, read through the manuscript, she suggested we clump the excerpts into seasons in order to assist the reader with the long passage of time. Since the book covers over two years, by adding in the seasons, our hope was that it would ground readers. The short chapters, however, were always there. I think this happened because of the way I wrote the book and the extended timeline taped on my wall (which I described above). The result ended with some of the chapters, or excerpts, being shorter than others. Once I felt I had described that event, I went on to the next, kind of like a young boy would do, rarely over thinking it.

Was your writing process any different for this book as compared to the first?

Normally I don’t write with such a detailed outline, but I did with this book. I had to so that I wouldn’t leave anything out. 

Jennifer Rofe of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency is your agent. How did you find her, or did she find you?

I met Jennifer Rofe when I attended the Big Sur Writing conference back in 2006. I was assigned to the critique group Eric Elfman was mentoring, and he thought Jennifer would like the book I was working on, which was THE YEAR THE SWALLOWS CAME EARLY. He introduced us. She asked me to send it to her, so I did. Jennifer requested that I do a revision on the story after she read through it. I think that revision took me about four months to do. When she read it again, she asked if she could represent me.

In the back section of was THE YEAR THE SWALLOWS CAME EARLY, you describe your relationship with your grandmother and the huge influence she was in helping you become a writer. Are there any other writers you especially resonate with or whose writing has inspired you?

There are so many wonderful middle grade authors. My favorites are Kate DiCamillo, Gary D. Schmidt, Deborah Wiles, Sharon Creech, and Lauren Child.

Do you have any future projects you could tell us about?

I just finished another middle grade novel, which will be out in winter 2013. It’s entitled, DESTINY, REWRITTEN, and will be published by HarperCollins. It’s about an eleven-year-old girl named after Emily Dickinson, who is expected to become a poet, but she doesn’t like poetry at all. She tries to change her destiny. It’s a lot like the Swallows book, but sort of funnier, and with a happier ending. I’m currently writing another middle grade novel that is very different than anything I’ve ever written. It’s a contemporary novel that might be considered a fantasy.

In closing, what one piece of advice has helped you in your writing journey?

I think the one piece of advice that helped me the most in my writing journey was given to me from my grandmother. She told me to write what I know. In the case of this book, what I knew best was the setting because I had grown up outside of Phoenix. The rest of it, Gila River, etc., I took two years to read through the Gila River newspapers and interview the three gentlemen who were on the team until I felt confident enough to start writing the story. In addition, I sent each draft of the manuscript to the gentleman who was the pitcher for the team in Gila River, so he could review it and make certain my facts were correct. I am so grateful for all of his help. I remember this one day, I called him four times! I had a question about this or that, and he enjoyed talking about his experiences so much that at times, our conversations lasted more than an hour!

I would like to thank Kathryn very much for sharing her thoughts and more on the background of the book. I definitely recommend you all read it and if you haven’t read Kathryn’s first book, you can read more about it here. Be sure to check out Kathryn’s website as well for a book trailer, discussion questions and more!

Now, for the giveaway. I’m so thankful to my followers and appreciate your time and comments on my blog. I reached my goal of 50 followers by the end of January and now would like to celebrate with you. To enter to win a signed hardcover of A DIAMOND IN THE DESERT you must be a follower of my blog and comment below with your email address by Friday, February 24th midnight EST. International entries are welcome. I will announce the winner on Monday, February 27th. 

Happy Reading!