Kathleen’s first middle-grade novel, a historical saga inspired by her mother’s life, was just published by Sky Pony Press. She talked about it with fellow author Larissa Hardesty. Kathleen is a member of the Sweet Sixteens, an online group for new YA and MG authors debuting this year. Larissa rolls with the Swanky Seventeens.
ABOUT THE NOVEL
Yuriko was happy growing up in Hiroshima when it was just her and Papa. But her aunt Kimiko and her cousin Genji are living with them now, and the family is only getting bigger with talk of a double marriage! And while things are changing at home, the world beyond their doors is even more unpredictable. World War II is coming to an end, and Japan’s fate is not entirely clear, with any battle losses being hidden from its people. Yuriko is used to the sirens and the air-raid drills, but things start to feel more real when the neighbors who have left to fight stop coming home. When the bomb hits Hiroshima, it’s through Yuriko’s twelve-year-old eyes that we witness the devastation and horror.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kathleen Burkinshaw resides in Charlotte, NC. She’s a wife, mom to a daughter in college (dreading the reality of being an empty nester-most of the time), and owns a dog who is a kitchen ninja. Kathleen enjoyed a 10+ year career in HealthCare Management unfortunately cut short by the onset of Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD). Writing gives her an outlet for her daily struggle with chronic pain. She has carried her mother’s story her whole life and feels privileged to now share it with the world. Writing historical fiction also satisfies her obsessive love of researching anything and everything. You can find Kathleen all over: Twitter Blog Facebook
TALKING ABOUT ‘CHERRY BLOSSOM’
When and how did you know that you wanted to be a writer?
When I was around 8 I started making greeting cards and putting my last name on the back and even made up UPC codes so it would look like a store bought card. I was pretty OCD even back then….
‘The Last Cherry Blossom’ is loosely based on your mother and her experience in Hiroshima. How did you decide to tell her story? How did you decide how much liberty to take with it?
Before I wrote anything for TLCB, I had presented about my mom’s experience on August 6th to middle schools. After my first year, teachers and students asked if there was a book to accompany the presentation. That was the catalyst. I had wanted to write about my mother’s life during WWII for quite a while, but wasn’t sure I could really do it.
The toughest part for me was the order of events in her life. I would get bogged down in the details and forget that there is some fiction in this book, so that the exact events did not have to happen in the same timeline as in her life, or even be in the book at all for that matter.
How did you find your agent/editor?
I found my wonderful agent, Anna Olswanger, through a written critique at one of the SCBWI Carolina’s fall conference. I didn’t get an offer of representation at that time though. I had continued to work on the manuscript with her comments and suggestions. When I felt it was ready, I emailed and asked if she would look at my revisions. She had me do several rewrites, but by the next SCBWI fall conference, she had offered representation!
What was your revision process like for this book? Did your personal connection to the story make that process harder?
The revision process excited and overwhelmed me. Excitement because I knew that meant I was on the road to publication. That said, upon opening the Track Changes editing program with its maze of lines and comments, I did what any dedicated author would do. I closed it. Then grabbed a paper bag and hyperventilated into it. My one thought- I was not capable of writing an email never mind a novel.
However, after a batch of crispy rice treats and hot cocoa (to soften the blow) I opened it again. I read one comment at a time, instead of looking at it all at once (I ran out of paper bags). My editors were so helpful with their comments and directives.
Although, it was bittersweet because my mom had passed away about 11 months before that. So it was almost cathartic to be enriching the way I could write her story- almost like visiting with her again. At times, if I had to remove or change some description or a scene that related to my mom personally, that was tough. However, my editors were wonderful at pushing me to delve deeper into the voice of the character, while allowing me to stay true to the heart of my mother’s story and culture.
Favorite writing snack?
Tied between chocolate or crispy rice treats
Music to write by?
A band you loved when you were 16 that you still listen to?
A dog- Scarlet, part hound and part kitchen ninja
Do you write longhand or type?
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
Larissa Hardesty is a YA writer who is actively involved in the Florida SCBWI and a moderator on the SCBWI Blueboards. Having lived a fairytale when she met her husband while on vacation at Disney World as a high school senior, all of her stories have at least a touch of romance. When she’s not writing, she can be found pursuing her passion for music as an elementary music teacher and handbell choir director. She lives in Central Florida with her husband and three children.