I knew in my bones when I chose to mentor author Holly Thompson in the 2009 Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program that one day I’d be interviewing her as a Guest Teaching Author.
Today, of course, is that day!
I consider myself both lucky and privileged to have worked with Holly on the revision of her poignant and important novel in verse.
Delacorte Press/Random House released Orchards February 22.
The story belongs to Kana Goldberg, a Japanese and Jewish/American girl sent from her home in New York to spend the summer with relatives in Japan after the suicide of a classmate. She’s to reflect on her behavior, regain her sense of self and somehow turn darkness into light. Kana immerses herself in the tiny village of Kohama and the nearby mikan orchards, finding an unlikely haven amidst the village culture. She even forms a close bond with her tradition-bound grandmother. Gradually, Kana is able to come to terms with the pain and guilt she is harboring about the tragedy back home, until another tragedy strikes. Orchards handles the fraught topics of bullying and teen suicide with sensitivity and insight.
Publishers Weekly wrote: “Thompson eloquently captures a teenager’s anger, guilt and sorrow after a classmate takes her own life.”
Booklist commented: “Readers will want to talk about the big issue, especially the guilt of doing nothing.”
A long-time resident of Japan, Holly teaches creative writing at Yokohama City University. Her other titles include the adult novel Ash and the picture book The Wakame Gatherers. Holly continues to serve as the Regional Advisor of SCBWI-Tokyo.
I fell in love with Holly’s Japan as we worked on her novel. The novel is set in the southeast part of central Japan, in an area halfway between Tokyo and Osaka. In light of last Thursday afternoon’s indescribably-horrific earthquake and tsunami, I am happy to report: Holly and her family are safe.
How did you become a Teaching Author?
I have always been teaching and I have always been writing. My earliest teaching author opportunity was the summer after college graduation; one of my writing professors recommended me to work as an assistant to author Patricia MacLachlan in a creative writing workshop for children in western Massachusetts (rather incredibly, in a small world way, one of the guest author/illustrators that Patty brought in was my now fellow SCBWI Tokyo member Naomi Kojima). After that summer I taught English and biology at a private school, then English at a high school in Japan. All the while I was writing short stories. During graduate school at NYU, I taught creative writing to freshmen, as well as expository writing, plus I had the opportunity to work with poet Sharon Olds in the Goldwater Hospital Golden Writers program helping long-term care patients write and workshop poems. For a while, I was an adjunct instructor at Brooklyn College, but when my children were young and I needed to work at home, I shifted to freelance copyediting and editing work. I returned to the classroom soon after we moved back to Japan in 1998, and I have been teaching academic and creative writing at Yokohama City University ever since. I also do school visits at international schools and lead writing workshops for adult writers.
What's a common problem/question that your students have and how do you address it?
Would you share a favorite writing exercise for our readers?
Second, an exercise that my students love: Cut out lots of magazine photographs of people—all types and in all sorts of situations. Set all the cut-out photographs on a table in the classroom. Assign each student a partner and have each pair select two photographs. Then have the student pairs create a story about those people in the photographs; the people in the photographs must be the story’s main characters. Give students about 15 minutes to come up with a plot outline, then meet in a circle to share stories. This is a good exercise to get students thinking about the range of possibility in stories…some of their plots are outlandish, some fantastic, some serious and dark. Some of their plots have sudden twists while others build tension more gradually; some have satisfying endings and others may be incomplete. This exercise is also a great way early in a course to get a sense of the types of stories that interest the students.
How did you come to write Orchards, your young adult verse novel?
Orchards is a novel that in many ways began writing itself. It’s a story that, sadly, would not go away, as it developed from the shock and grief after three suicides that touched my life—one the teenage daughter of a childhood friend, another my brother-in-law, and another a close friend’s wife. In the midst of all that, in between teaching, I was working in mikan orange groves doing research for an adult novel about a woman who marries into mikan growing family. I had done 18 months of research on mikan cultivation and agricultural village life, and though I was writing an adult novel set in that tiny mikan village setting, I began hearing the voice of a girl full of resentment because she has been sent to spend the summer with relatives in just such a village. I knew that she would be a survivor and that the hillside mikan orchards she worked in would result in much contemplation of what had happened to her classmate who’d climbed up into another orchard for a very different reason. Orchards raises important questions about bullying and teen suicide, and I hope that the novel will generate plenty of discussion among teens and adults.
What is your writing process?
Win an autographed copy of Holly Thompson’s Orchards!
To enter our drawing:
1. You must post a comment to today's blog post telling us why you'd like to win a copy of the book. (Will you keep it for yourself or give it as a gift to a young reader?)
2. You must include contact information in your comment. If you are not a blogger, or your email address is not accessible from your online profile, you must provide a valid email address in your comment. Entries without contact information will be disqualified. Note: the TeachingAuthors cannot prevent spammers from accessing email addresses posted within comments, so feel free to disguise your address by spelling out portions, such as the [at] and [dot].
3. You must post your comment by 11 pm (CST) Wednesday, March 23, 2011. (The winner will be announced on Thursday,March 24.) Note: Winners automatically grant us permission to post their names here on our TeachingAuthors website.
4. You must have a mailing address in the United States.
5. You must respond to the notification e-mail and provide a mailing address within 72 hours, or the prize will be forfeited and an alternate winner will be chose.
And, thank you, Holly, from this admiring fan's heart, for sharing your Writer's Life, process and newest work with our TeachingAuthors readers!