Author Interview: Holly Thompson

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Holly Thompson
Holly Thompson was raised in New England, earned her B.A. in biology from Mount Holyoke College and her M.A. in English with a concentration in creative writing/​fiction from New York University. Long-time resident of Japan, she is a lecturer at Yokohama City University, where she teaches creative writing, academic writing, short stories and American culture.

Holly's fiction is often set in Japan. --Goodreads
1. Your novel, Orchards, is rich with setting. What were your influences to create the mikan farm as the ultimate setting of the novel?

First of all, thank you for reading and reviewing Orchards! I’m glad to know Kana’s voice spoke to you.

As for the setting of Orchards, I’ve lived in Japan for many years, and I apprenticed to a Japanese mikan farmer for a year and a half while researching an adult novel. I worked on the farm learning everything I could about mikan cultivation, while also absorbing as much as possible of local village life. Midway through that research, the farmer’s American-born niece came to visit the farm, and seeing her there, feeling like an outsider in that rural Japan environment where I’d begun to feel at home, started me thinking of a teen bicultural character sent to spend the summer there.

2. How long did it take you to write Orchards?

Parts of Orchards were composting in my brain for many years following the suicide of a fourteen-year-old daughter of a friend in the U.S. When I decided to really go forward with the novel, it was a matter of discovering the character who could tell the story (born out of that mikan farm setting), and then it was a matter of finding the courage to tackle writing a story that made me cry every day I worked on it. Once I’d decided to push through, it took about ten months from first draft to final. So…many years of mulling and ten months of writing and tweaking…and many tissues.

3. Orchards talks about teen suicide, bullying, death, and so much more. Why did you make your novel about such tough subjects?

These tough subjects are all around us, both in the U.S. and here in Japan. Orchards attempts to look at those subjects through bicultural Kana’s eyes. Another reason for tackling those subjects is to draw attention to them—bullying and depression and suicide prevention all need to be talked about and addressed by teens and adults, schools and communities. My hope is that Orchards will raise questions and lead to reflection and discussion and, maybe even, result in more help for those who need it.

4. What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Aspiring authors need to read and write, of course. Read voraciously and write many different stories in different styles and approaches. But beyond that, to acquire writing material and develop stories, you need to be fully engaged with the world around you, wherever you are. So read and write, but also don’t read and write. Do things. Meet people. Experience as much as you can. And have the courage to venture well beyond your comfort zone.

5. What are you working on now? Can you tell us about it?

I’m working on a YA verse novel about a non-Japanese girl raised in Japan who looks European on the outside but inside is culturally very Japanese, and she is suddenly moved back to the U.S. where, well, things happen, and she encounters a pocket of Asia in America. I can’t really say much more than that. It’s not requiring quite as many tissues to write as Orchards but lots of research.

Fun Stuff!

Favorite Movie: Grave of the Fireflies—a moving, heartbreaking animated film
Favorite TV Show: Twilight Zone—great for when you’re stressed with too many deadlines
Favorite Food: Shaved ice with maccha (green tea) syrup, sweet red azuki beans, and condensed milk
Favorite Musical Artist/Group: Eric Clapton
Favorite Book: Here are a few… The Arrival by Shaun Tan, Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say, Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork, Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata, Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins, Snow by Orhan Pamuk, Keesha’s House by Helen Frost…

Thank you so much, Holly, for joining me today!  If you loved this interview as much as I did, check out Holly's website HERE.  Check out her book, Orchards, HERE.  And don't forget to read my review of her book HERE.

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