Therese 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.
Why 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?