Chicago! Chicago!

I am honored to be invited by the Japanese American Historical Society of Chicago to give a workshop on writing family history on Thursday, August 28, starting at 12:00 p.m.

CJAS Workshop


And thank you very much to the Japan America Society of Chicago for their invitation to do a presentation and book signing for The Red Kimono, same date, same place, starting at 6:00 p.m.

CJAS Book signing

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Ah, Life!

Jan Morrill:

Life gets crazy…but I love it!

Originally posted on Jan Morrill Writes:

I started to post this little complaint ruse on Facebook, but thought I might get a little long-winded, so I’ll do a blog post instead. I can’t make any promises about not being too long-winded, however.

In the last several days, squeezed in during Tommy’s naps and my evening hours, I’ve been packing and preparing three presentations I’ll make next week between here and Chicago:

Saturday, August 23 – Springfield Writers’ Guild, 1:00 pm-2:00 pm at Heritage Cafeteria, 1364 E Battlefield in Springfield, Missouri. I’ll be presenting a workshop on Interviewing Your Characters.

Thursday, August 28 – Chicago Japanese American Historical Society, 12:00 pm-1:30 pm at Harold Washington Library, 400 S. State Street (Video Theater, Lower Level), Chicago, IL. I’ll be conducting a workshop titled Wearing the Red Kimono, which will teach participants different methods to turn family history into stories.

Thursday, August 28 – Japan America…

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What Do You Think: A Comic Book Character’s Demise


Today I heard a story on CNN about tomorrow’s demise of a comic strip character I grew up with: Archie.

Though I was not a huge fan of Archie, or for that matter, many other comic book characters, just hearing the name “Archie” took me back to my childhood with memories of Saturday morning cartoons when I watched Archie and the Gang. In fact, before I was publicly interested in boys, I remember being rather enthralled with the goings-on of Archie, Veronica, Reggie and Betty.

So, when I first heard, “Archie,” I thought, “Oh yeah, I remember Archie and the Gang.”

CNN reported:

…he’s dying taking a bullet for his gay best friend, Kevin Keller, so he’s saving his life by taking a bullet for him…


I can’t completely articulate why this bothered me, but it did. Why did a beloved character have to die at all, much less like this? I mean, this was a happy-go-lucky teenager, not a crime-fighting superhero like Batman, Superman, etc.


I understand that the “real” world is a violent place and that bad things happen to good people. But why do our CARTOONS–a place children used to be able to go for fun and possibly to escape reality–have to be so real?

It was a “what’s-this-world-coming-to” moment.

I did feel better when I further researched the death and read in the Washington Post:

While casual fans likely still associate Archie with soda shops and sock hops — and that’s still holds true for the very much alive teenage character in the original “Archie” series — Archie was thrust into adulthood with the launch of “Life with Archie” in 2010.

So, apparently, Life with Archie is geared more toward adults.

I know. Maybe I need to get a life if this bothered me so much. Maybe I think it’s sad that the world has lost a lot of its innocence. Maybe it’s because there’s so much awfulness in the “real world”–the crisis in the Middle East, immigrant children, shootings in Chicago, an inept government, blah, blah, blah–that I want my entertainment, and more specifically, kids’ entertainment, to stay entertainment.

Either way, this is how I’ll remember Archie and the Gang.

Film-Archie Movie

What do you think?



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The Zen of Stacking Rocks

smallphoto (13) - CopyHave you ever stacked rocks? For me, it’s like meditation, because all I think about, as I hold a rock, let it hover over another, is stillness–stillness enough to steady my hand until the rock is placed gently on top of another.

Any stressful thought, any worry, will cause my hand to shake, cause the stack to tumble down.

I don’t remember how or when I began stacking rocks. Nobody taught me, and I don’t think it’s a formal meditation or philosophy, but it works for me.

As many of you who have read The Red Kimono know, smallIMG_0850 - CopyI included this meditation in the book. It plays an important role in the beginning of Sachi’s and Jubie’s friendship, and it also helps them to say “goodbye.”

Here’s an excerpt from The Red Kimono. Jubie and Sachi have just met, and have just discovered that both of their fathers were killed because of the color of their skin.

“Maybe it will never go away,” Sachi said, “but Papa taught me smallIMG_0855 - Copy (1)how to take my mind off things that bother me.”

Jubie wiped her tears with her sleeve. “Yeah?”

“That stack of rocks I made? The one you were going to put the little stone on top of?”

“Uh-huh. What, it got some sorta magic or something?”

“Yes, you could say that, sort of like magic.” Sachi watched the butterfly move its wings up and down. “Remember when I told you to concentrate?”

“Yeah, but I couldn’t ‘cause you was talking to me.”

“Right. Well, what Papa always used to tell me was to concentrate and put everything out of your mind. Don’t think about anything except balancing that next rock.”

Jubie snickered.

“Trust me. I’ve tried it. It works.” Sachi looked around. “Where is that rock you had?”

“Right here,” Jubie said, opening her hand.

“Come on. Try. Put it on my stack of racks. Right where that butterfly is.”

The butterfly left its perch.

smallIMG_0941 - Copy“Just remember. Put everything out of your head, so all you’re thinking about is balancing that one rock.”

Jubie dangled the stone over the five rocks.

Sachi held her breath. Wisps of hair tickled her face in the breeze, but she dared not move.

The stones clicked softly. Jubie let go . . . waited for a second . . . moved . . . her hand.

The rock stilled, stayed.

Jubie smiled. “Your papa was right. It worked.”

Almost everywhere I go, I leave stacked rocks behind, like these Steve and I built in Santa Fe. It’s a kind of signature. But, more than anything, it helps me to feel peace.

smallphoto (11) - Copy smallIMG_0921 - Copy smallIMG_0913 - Copy smallIMG_0855 - Copy (4) smallIMG_0855 - Copy (3) smallIMG_0855 - Copy (2) smallIMG_0854 - Copy smallIMG_0826 - Copy smallIMG_0817 - Copyphoto (14)

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Comparing and Contrasting The Red Kimono and Camp Nine

camp nineBefore The Red Kimono was published, I read another book about an internment camp in the Arkansas Delta titled, Camp Nine, by Vivienne Schiffer. (University of Arkansas Press, October 2011)

Following is a synopsis of the book:

On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the U.S. military to ban anyone from certain areas of the country, with primary focus on the West Coast. Eventually the order was used to imprison 120,000 people of Japanese descent in incarceration camps such as the Rohwer Relocation Center in remote Desha County, Arkansas.

This time of fear and prejudice (the U.S. government formally apologized for the relocations in 1982) and the Arkansas Delta are the setting for Camp Nine. The novel’s narrator, Chess Morton, lives in tiny Rook, Arkansas. Her days are quiet and secluded until the appearance of a “relocation” center built for what was, in effect, the imprisonment of thousands of Japanese Americans.

Chess’s life becomes intertwined with those of two young internees and an American soldier mysteriously connected to her mother’s past. As Chess watches the struggles and triumphs of these strangers and sees her mother seek justice for the people who briefly and involuntarily came to call the Arkansas Delta their home, she discovers surprising and disturbing truths about her family’s painful past.

Ms. Schiffer grew up in the Arkansas Delta and that’s evident by her ability to put the reader right in the middle of the area through her writing. The following excerpt demonstrates how her portrayal of the Delta makes it a separate character unto itself.


The air is molasses in summer, an iron blanket of cold in the winter. The vast landscape tricks the mind into thinking that gravity is somehow stronger here, that the bayous and canebrakes can pin you against them so that even light can’t escape.

Ms. Schiffer also has a great familiarity with the history of Rohwer Relocation Center, as her mother, Rosalie Gould, had and has ongoing friendships with many former internees. While researching The Red Kimono, I was fortunate to meet and interview this very gracious woman.

At the time, she had rooms full of memorabilia–art, writings, photographs–given to her by former internment camp art teacher, Mabel Rose Jamison (Jamie) Vogel, as well as many former internees. I was honored when, during my visit, she let me look through the items at my leisure.

"Rohwer at Night" -- Artist, a Rohwer Internee (Courtesy Butler Center for Arkansas Studies)

“Rohwer at Night” — Artist, a Rohwer Internee (Courtesy Butler Center for Arkansas Studies)

In 2010, Mrs. Gould donated these priceless treasures to the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies in Little Rock.  I recently visited the Butler Center and was happy to see these items now not only displayed for the public to see and learn from, but also to know the pieces would be stored and cared for so that they will still be available for generations to come.

Last year at a book signing in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I met Jimmy Peacock and his wife, Marion, who were also originally from the same area. I later learned that Mr. Peacock maintains a blog with many essays and stories of the area.

Some months later, he wrote me to let me know he’d reviewed both Camp Nine and The Red Kimono. In this review, he compared and contrasted the two books and I found the depth and analysis of his comparison very intriguing:

Here are a few excerpts from Mr. Peacock’s extensive analysis:

Since Morrill is partially of Japanese descent through her mother who was an internee in one of the Japanese camps, Jan’s unique contribution to the subject of the entire forced Japanese relocation is her knowledgeable and personal portrayal though fictional characters of the terrible wrong that was done to them as a people, as families, and as individuals.

While Vivienne Gould’s [Schiffer] narrative is invaluable in presenting an outside view of the effect of the Japanese relocation camps on the homeland and lifestyle of the people of the Arkansas Delta, both white and black, Jan Morrill’s narrative offers an invaluable inside view of what life was like for those who were forced from their own particular American homeland and lifestyle and shipped halfway across the country to be interned within the barbed-wire prisons called relocation camps.

Despite the differences in Vivienne Schiffer’s narrative and Jan Morrill’s narrative, both primarily set in the Arkansas Delta of the 1940s, their historical novels based on the actual events represented and portrayed in this book are of immense importance.

I think you’ll see after reading Mr. Peacock’s blog post titled, “The Red Kimono: A Book Review about WWII Japanese Relocation Camps” that reading and comparing these two historical fictions will give readers an important look at history through two very different perspectives.

I believe that’s how history is best studied and remembered — through multiple perspectives.

Click on the book covers to purchase from Amazon:

camp nine The Red Kimono


Posted in Excerpt, History, The Red Kimono, University of Arkansas Press | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Yuri Kochiyama: Sachi’s Mentor

I’d never heard about Yuri Kochiyama before her death on June 1, 2014, when I began reading articles about this 93-year old Japanese American activist.


Yuri Kochiyama looks at a memorial for World War II Japanese-American internees at the Rohwer Relocation Center in Rohwer, AR, in 2004. — Courtesy NPR

I was surprised and excited to learn that a “real-life” person existed whose life parallels much of what my character, Sachiko Kimura, will experience in the sequel to The Red Kimono, currently (and temporarily, I’m sure) titled Broken Dreams.

The following NPR sound byte talks about Ms. Kochiyama’s life:

There are many similarities between Ms. Kochiyama’s life and Sachi’s work-in-progress story, which will take place during the years 1957-1963. Here are just a few:

Ms. Kochiyama was interned in Jerome, Arkansas, where she met her husband, Bill. Sachi and her family were interned at Rohwer, Arkansas, though in the sequel, Sachi marries a Caucasian man, Paul, whom she met in college.

The NPR article titled “Yuri Kochiyama, Activist And Former World War II Internee, Dies At 93,” explains how Ms. Kochiyama’s interest and passion for civil rights began:

The couple married after World War II and moved to start their family in New York City. Living in housing projects among black and Puerto Rican neighbors inspired her interest in the civil rights movement.

Sachi’s interest in civil rights begins in 1957 while she and her friend, Jubie Lee Franklin are watching the Little Rock Nine attempt to enter Little Rock Central High School. I don’t want to give away too much about the surprising event that changes Sachi’s life, but from that moment, she joins many of the civil rights activities that occur during that era.

Ms. Kochiyama became friends with Malcolm X. Sachi will become friends with an African-American activist with whom she and Jubie attend many of the civil rights events between 1957-1960.

I just ordered two books about the life of Yuri Kochiyama, which I am looking forward to reading:

heartbeat passing it on





I look forward to seeing where the stories in these books take the story of Sachi. Who knows? Perhaps she will be lucky enough to meet Ms. Kochiyama at a civil rights event in the sequel.

I’ll just have to wait to see what Sachi tells me.


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A Rainbow in the Clouds


There are certain people who, for whatever reason, I think will be with us forever. Maya Angelou was one of those. I’m not sure if it’s because it seemed like she’d been with us forever already, or if it’s because her poetry and quotes are so entwined in the fabric of our lives. But hearing about her death this morning came as a sad surprise.

Before I’d heard the news this morning, I shared a quote I found on Twitter:


I was attracted to this quote because of an Oprah program I’d seen a few years ago. Her guest had been Dr. Maya Angelou. On this program, Oprah said:

“Ironically one of my most desolate moments, barely being able to speak in between sobs of despair, I called Maya looking for comfort and sympathy,” writes Oprah. “Instead she sternly chided me, ‘STOP IT’ she said. ‘Stop your crying right now and say THANK YOU!'”

“‘Why would I say thank you for this?’ I said. ‘Say thank you because you know God, and you know He put a rainbow in every cloud. The rainbow is coming. Say thank you even though you can’t see it. It’s already there.'”

Dr. Angelou further discussed her philosophy, saying we should thank God for the opportunity to learn something from our challenges.

I don’t think I’d ever consciously looked at a challenge as something to be grateful for–as an opportunity to learn something, though when I think about it, almost every challenge in my life has been a learning experience, if I opened my eyes to it.

Whenever anyone asks me what the one piece of advice I’d give them would be, it’s to find the lesson in a hardship or challenge.

It’s because of the impact I felt in my life when I first watched Maya Angelou on Oprah that I shared the quote from Twitter this morning, and it’s the reason, when I heard that she had passed away, I first thought of the Oprah episode that taught me to thank God for my challenges, for the rainbow in every cloud.

Maya Angelou will be with us forever. Her spirit will live on in words and the lessons she taught so many of us.

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