The Author’s Arsenal

PhotobucketTherese here. Today’s guest is returning author and WU friend Kristina McMorris. Kristina’s second novel, a dramatic WWII tale called Bridge of Scarlet Leaves, released just yesterday to high acclaim.

“[Bridge of Scarlet Leaves] gracefully blossoms through swift prose and rich characters…this gripping story about two ‘brothers’ in arms and a young woman caught in between them hits all the right chords.” — Publishers Weekly

“A sweeping yet intimate novel that will please both romantics and lovers of American history.” — Kirkus Reviews

Imagine the scene: two lovers–one American, one Japanese-American–on the eve of Pearl Harbor. Imagine life for these people forever changed after that day, as they try to pursue some form of happiness–and find some form of justice–at a war relocation camp. Kristina’s book is truly a page turner, imbued with real-world tensions, unique perspectives, and characters worth rooting for. I’m so glad she’s here with us today to talk a little about how she developed as a writer–not with a “bought a craft book” type of story or a “how my literary degree helped me in one hundred ways” type of story, but a “how a unique real world experience helped develop writerly bones” story. Enjoy!

The Author’s Arsenal

I was nine years old when my mom heard our local ABC affiliate was holding auditions for a co-host spot on a new kids’ weekly TV program. Urging that it would be a fun experience to merely try out, she dressed me up, feathered my hair (hey, it was the ’80s), and carted me down to the station. There, amidst the intimidating mass of stage parents and seasoned Mini-Me thespians, I was matched up with a boy who clearly wished his audition partner had a little more…make that, any experience in the biz.

Regardless, we ran through our scripts together, received a five-second lesson on teleprompters, and soon were ushered into a dark studio with two monstrous cameras pointed at a pair of chairs, not unlike a CIA interrogation room. On cue, we were to sprint into the spotlight and hop into our chairs, pretending to arrive just in time to host the show, then immediately read our lines.

Sounded pretty straight-forward. Except for one tiny detail: They’d neglected to inform me the chairs were on…ah, yes…rollers. And so, at the floor director’s hand cue, I flew into the spotlight and hopped into my chair—which then shot to the side, nearly launching me, splat, onto the floor. What did I do? The only thing that came naturally. I laughed. Heartily.

(Oh how I wish I had a copy of that tape, just to see the horror in my audition buddy’s face.)

Scooting my chair back into place, all while still giggling, I launched into my lines. A few days later, lo and behold, the producer requested a callback. My mom was thrilled. I was shocked. This time, there were no rolling chairs. More confident than before, I gave my audition and ultimately landed the job. Whoopee! Time to celebrate! Until…my first day of actual shooting.

Fashioned to be a kid-style “Entertainment Tonight,” the show required some on-location reporting. This one was in a restaurant—with people, lots of them, pointing and staring as though I were the latest attraction at the local zoo. (Given that I’m half Japanese, I could make a joke about an Asian girl with a camera not being all that unique—but I’ll refrain.) Needless to say, the nerves kicked in. I was handed the script upon arrival and had fifteen minutes to memorize my lines. (Did I mention I was nine?)

The producer was also the director. She’d worked on a million shows before, but to my knowledge never a kids program. Take after take of my fumbled lines, I could see her frustration growing. Then again, what did she expect? I was the girl who fell off the chair.

Eventually, I made it through. For weeks I expected a phone call letting me know I wasn’t, um, “quite right” for the show. Instead, I was given another shoot date. And another. With each one, my skills and confidence expanded. Five years later, I was the only remaining original cast member. The producer and I had formed a lasting relationship, and when I eased myself out of the show (at fourteen, hosting a children’s show had lost its cool factor), she was genuinely disappointed.

Down the road, although without planning, I ended up hosting a variety of travel programs and another weekly show for Warner Brothers for a run of six years, relying upon the skills I had accumulated from my childhood job.

PhotobucketWhy do I share all of this, you might wonder, on a blog focused upon writing? Because the differences are few. Auditions are like query letters. We try, we fumble, we learn. We endure second reads, acceptances, and rejections. Even after signing the first contract—or third or fifth—we harbor doubts about pulling off the job we were hired to do. We forever dread the “not quite right for us” letters and yet—and here’s the important part—we persevere. Every triumph and stumble, every experience in both writing and life, creates a rich arsenal for us to draw upon. Ammunition, if you will, to grow and succeed. All we have to do is reach in and use it.

And, of course, take time out to laugh. Heartily.

What was the most valuable stumble or learning experience on your literary journey that helped you grow? Even if you didn’t realize it at the time?

Please visit Kris’s website to learn more about Bridge of Scarlet Leaves, and follow these links to find her on Twitter and Facebook. Write on!

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Comments

  1. Stephanie Ortiz says

    What a knock-em-dead personal story. I also worked in TV on the production side so I can really relate:) But I will definitely be reading Bridge of Scarlet Leaves now and hopefully lots more!

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  2. says

    How timely. Day before yesterday I launched 53 query letters. The rejections are just begining to dribble in. I’ll try to laugh (heartily) on rollers all the way through.

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    • says

      Alex – CONGRATS on getting those queries out there! That’s a huge step. I have a thick file of my own rejection letters that I happen to be very proud of. It means I worked hard and didn’t give up (and nee-ner-nee-ner to all those agents/editors, lol).

      To me, it’s a numbers game. All you need is ONE ‘yes,’ and hopefully it’s with a great fit. Every time I received a rejection letter to my first book, I immediately sent out two more queries. That way, there was never time to be disappointed–I already had two more good chances floating out there!

      Best wishes to you! And keep at it.

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  3. says

    That does it. I’m calling my mom to come over and feather my hair.

    It’s funny how you don’t quite see the progress that come of those cringe-worthy moments during the journey, but it’s there. Your reminder to laugh–heartily–is priceless. Some days persevering feels like enduring torture, but it’s never anything laughter won’t cure. You have to find joy and reward in the process. You’re an inspiration to me, Kristina. I know your books come straight from your heart, and that makes me all the more joyful to celebrate your success.

    I’ve got my copy of Bridge, and cannot wait to dig in! Congrats!

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    • says

      Vaughn – The publishing journey is such a marathon, even though we often treat it like a sprint. I have to regularly remind myself to slow down and enjoy the small moments. There’s really no defined finish line, and always farther to go.

      Laughter is an amazing thing, isn’t it? But then, so is the vision of you with feathered hair! LOL. Thanks for all your support. YOU are truly an inspiration.

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    • says

      Laura – Your novel is in MY own TBR pile! I’ve been dying to read it for so many reasons. Hoping now that the launch is here I’ll soon have time to sneak in some pleasure reading. Can’t wait!

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  4. says

    So excited for your next book, Kristina – I can’t wait to read it.

    Excellent post…if we didn’t laugh heartily, we’d be crying, instead! I’d rather laugh. :)

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  5. says

    I’m going to check out your novel. I love WWII-set books and am glad to see more of them on offer. Your story sounds really interesting.

    Oh, yeah, I enjoyed your post too. :-)

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  6. says

    Haha, what a fun story. I can’t imagine hosting a show like that… but maybe I would have been less self-conscious at a young age?

    And that, maybe, is a lesson worth taking away from this as well. As adults, and as writers in a public “blogosphere,” so many of us worry about how we’re coming off. But I think the best writing comes when the self disappears and the story takes over. Thanks for that reminder!

    Gorgeous cover, btw!

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    • says

      LOL. I think of this every time my 8 y.o. gets up to speak in front of a group. He loves it. I envy that feeling of freedom we all used to have.

      Thanks for stopping by, Kristan!

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  7. says

    You quoted the Mr. DeMille line before I could get there. Darn.

    Congrats on the new release, Kristina. A new milestone on your road to world domination.

    As for missteps, I’m cringing as I type this, but I’ll take one for the team. When I first started blogging, I had the bright idea to put a multitude of smiley’s in my sidebar. One for my RSS feed, one to draw attention to my email, and so on. They made me laugh and imply I’d probably have been a chair-roller myself.

    What did I learn? That there are good online people who’ll educate and keep any smirking to themselves. Also, it’s not so terrible to screw up in public — fortunate, because I’m getting lots of practice.

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  8. says

    LOL, I can just picture that hearty laughter. You are right, we can take ourselves so seriously – maybe a little levity would take the onus off that letter. I know I’ve been concerned about what to say and how to say it. Thanks for this post.
    Heather

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  9. says

    Alex, I am in the boat with you my friend, sent out a bunch of Query letter/ synopsis two weeks ago, and another bunch this week. I like Kristina Morris’ suggestion that for every rejection letter we receive, we send out TWO MORE queries! Take that! And that!

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  10. says

    It wasn’t much of a stumble or accident of any kind, it was just sheer luck for me. A new programme was being introduced to the yearlevel I was in at school called Journey Project, which was a personal student-directed project for which I decided at 14 years old, I’LL WRITE A BOOK! Maybe I wouldn’t have started for a few more years, or set myself a deadline for the first draft if that chance hadn’t come along. But almost four years later and I’m trying to get it published :)

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  11. says

    I love what you’ve shared, Kristina! Thank you.

    It’s true, no matter what experiences we’ve had in life, they build us as a writer. Strange and funny ones included.

    I look forward to reading your newest novel! Congrats!

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  12. Diane Watanabe says

    So glad I learned about your book, Kristina. I’m looking forward to reading it. I am in the midst of writing my first novel and it revolves around the relationships of a Japanese-American woman. Thanks for your post!

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  13. Bernadette Phipps Lincke says

    “Bridge of Scarlet Leaves”– the title is so beautiful as to bring chills. Makes you have to open the cover.

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  14. says

    What doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger, right? I look forward to querying as I always enjoy a good laugh. :) Thanks for sharing this dose of inspiration, Kristina!

    I loved BRIDGE OF SCARLET LEAVES-keep the great stories coming!

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