My Priceless Editor

My mother, Age 8

I’m not sure why, but I’d hesitated to ask my mom to read the manuscript for The Red Kimono. One might think that strange, since she is the inspiration for my character, Sachiko Kimura. Sachi is how I imagine my mom to have been as an 9-year old Japanese American girl struggling with her identity through her family’s internment during World War II.

So why did I hesitate? These are some of the things I feared:

1) The story would bring back painful memories of that time in her life.
2) Though some of the story is based on fact, most of it is fictionalized. I was concerned she would take offense that the story was not as it had been in “real life.”
3) Mom is not a big reader, and I didn’t want to pressure her to read a full manuscript.

Through the four years it has taken me to write The Red Kimono, I have talked to Mom about it; asked questions about what happened during those years and filled her in on some of the chapters. But only recently did I load a .pdf file on her iPad so she could read it.

To be honest, I thought it would sit on her iPad, unread.

But a few days later, my sister called me and said, “Mom has not taken her nose out of your story. I finally had to tell her she needed to take a break or her neck would start bothering her.”

I was thrilled. Though many have told me they’ve enjoyed the story, to have my own mother — who lived through those years and who is not a “big reader” — read it and be unable to put it down means the world to me.

One day, I went to visit her. When I walked in to her bedroom, I found her with iPad in hand, so engrossed in the story she hardly noticed me. She’d been taking notes about how I could improve the intricacies of the Japanese culture in the story — something I could not have gotten from anyone else who has read the manuscript.


And my mom is smart as a whip. Dozens of people have read or heard the chapter in the story where Sachiko is stacking rocks on a fence post at Rohwer, one stone on top of another. It was something Papa taught her once — a way to calm herself when she was troubled. Only my mother caught that there was no way Sachiko could have reached the top of the fence post at Rohwer.

That’s because my mother was there. She was really there, from 1942-1945 . . . in the internment camps at Topaz and Tule Lake. She knew precisely how tall those fence posts were.

My mother with her mother


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14 Responses to My Priceless Editor

  1. How wonderful she not only read it but loved it 🙂 Then she gave you meaningful feedback. Wishing you all the best with it!

  2. Staci Troilo says:

    I too write from a family perspective sometimes, so I know how you feel. I am almost brought to tears that your mother is so engrossed by your words on a page. I love family stories, and that you can take your heritage and translate it into fiction that can touch so many is truly a priceless gift. Thrilled for you, Jan. (And the photo is beautiful.)

    • janmorrill says:

      Thank you, Staci. I am proud of my family’s heritage — both sides — and I love writing based on stories I’ve heard told throughout my life. Though The Red Kimono is completely fictional, it was based on some of my mother’s family history. Glad you like the photos — I love old photos!

  3. Wow – you gave me a shiver! There’s no greater gift than the one she gave you, taking interest in your gift and giving some of herself to add in. Sweet!

  4. Sharon Fong says:

    Your mom was at Topaz and Tule Lake, both? That sounds like a story in itself. I just read on Wiipedia that many were sent to Tule Lake first depending on how they answered their loyalty questionaires, it it says it was the most controversial camp, then sent to other camps like Topaz..

    • janmorrill says:

      Hi Sharon. My mom and her family went to Tule Lake first, then to Topaz. It’s my understanding that many people went to Tule Lake first, then when the government made it a high security detention center for those who answered “no, no” on the loyalty questionnaire, they were moved to another camp. In my mother’s case, it was Topaz.

      My book talks about the loyalty questionnaire. It was a terrible thing to put them through — many of them were American citizens and had never even been to Japan.

  5. tedstrutz says:

    With a daughter as interesting as you seem to be, I could not imagine a mother not gobbling that story up. And taking notes to assist you… that is priceless… you must have been bowled over.

  6. Nita says:

    Jan, I am so looking forward to reading your story and sending a copy of the book to my aunt who is Japanese, she was born and grew up in Hawaii. As far as I can determine her family did not go to a camp, but I’ve often wondered what life was like for her family during that time. So glad your mom is enjoying your story, that is more precious than anything. ~Nita

    • janmorrill says:

      Thank you, Nita! It’s my understanding that many of the Japanese living in Hawaii were not sent to internment camps. It was mostly those Japanese who lived in California. I’d be interested to hear your aunt’s history. Thanks again!

  7. Beth Carter says:

    What a gift you’re giving to your mother, and she in turn, is giving to you. I can see why you were nervous about having your mom read your ms but am so thrilled (and not surprised) that she’s glued to your story. That’s sweet that she made notes and is offering editorial advice. It sounds like I’m going to learn a great deal about Japanese American history. I’m so happy for you, Jan.

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