Sweet Sixteener Christian McKay Heidicker recently spoke to Fearless Fifteener Valynne E. Maetani about her YA mystery/thriller INK AND ASHES (June 1, 2015 from Tu Books/Lee and Low).
Valynne E. Maetani grew up in Utah and earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania. She was once a project manager, developing educational software for children with learning disabilities, and is currently a member of the We Need Diverse Books team. Valynne is dedicated to promoting diversity in children’s literature because all children should grow up believing their stories deserve to be told. Her debut novel, Ink and Ashes, is the winner of the New Visions Award 2013, a spring 2015 Junior Library Guild selection, and Best Fiction Book in Salt Lake City Weekly’s Best of Utah Arts Award for 2015.
Claire Takata has never known much about her father, who passed away when she was a little girl. But on the anniversary of his death, not long before her seventeenth birthday, she finds a mysterious letter from her deceased father, addressed to her stepfather. Claire never even knew that they had met. Claire knows she should let it go, but she can’t shake the feeling that something’s been kept from her. In search of answers, Claire combs through anything that will give her information about her father . . . until she discovers he was a member of the yakuza, the Japanese mafia. The discovery opens a door that should have been left closed.
So begins the race to outrun his legacy as the secrets of her father’s past threaten Claire’s friends and family, newfound love, and ultimately her life.
Christian: Hello, Ms. Maetani! Do you want to be the subject for my Fearless Fifteener author interview? It will expose you to lotsa newbies . . .
Valynne: I LOVE exposing myself. Will I get arrested?
Christian: Haha. If we don’t both get arrested then we’ve failed at this interview. Now, before we get started, you’ve never met me before, correct?
Valynne: No, we have never met. So before we begin, I have a few questions of my own.
1) Have you ever randomly started singing Paparazzi by Lady Gaga?
2) Have you ever had your desk blown up by a little girl?
3) Is a lizard a bird?
1) What? How dare you? I am an artiste and would never stoop to such paltry pop sensibilities. (I want your love and I want your revenge . . .) You can’t prove anything!
2) Yes. She rigged an explosive butterfly to a timer and left my desk in smithereens.
3) Ask Archaeopteryx.
But this interview isn’t about me. It’s about you and your wonderful, completely unique book INK AND ASHES. Your book contains tons of fascinating facts about Japanese culture. Like the fact that the Japanese “never give anyone anything in a group of four because the number four, shi, is a homophone for the word death.” (I don’t want to give away any more than that, but this “gift” is definitely one of my favorite parts). How many of these tidbits did you research and how many did you learn through osmosis by growing up in a Japanese household?
Valynne: I knew about as much as Claire, which wasn’t a lot. There were traditions my family observed, but I had no idea why we did some of the things we did. My paternal grandparents were incredibly superstitious. While they taught me things I shouldn’t do or say, I never knew why, and I never thought to question my elders. Writing this story allowed me to go back and find answers. The most surprising thing I learned was why it is bad manners to pass food from your chopsticks to another person’s chopsticks. I don’t want to spoil anything in the book, so I won’t explain why, but when I discovered the reasoning behind this, I thought, “How has no one told me this before? This is so fascinating!”
Christian: My favorite line in the book is “When I said I wanted to find out the truth . . . I think I was looking for a different truth.” Does this apply to you as a writer at all?
Valynne: This line applies to me as a writer a lot. This line applies to my life a lot. Quite often I have times when I know what I need to do, but there are too many emotions invested in what I want rather than what is best long-term. In writing, the phrase frequently used is “kill your darlings.” Sometimes the truth isn’t what you want to hear. I have had to let go of characters and scenes that just didn’t work even though I loved them. If I’d asked enough people for opinions, I would have eventually gotten the truth I wanted to hear. But in the end, the book would have suffered.
Christian: Your ending definitely has a sequely vibe. Do you want to tease a sequel? How do you feel about sequels?
Valynne: As a reader, I love sequels. As a writer, I’m not sure yet. However in the sequel for INK AND ASHES, a mysterious Japanese boy arrives into town claiming the only way Claire can truly save her family is if she leaves everything and everyone in Utah and accompanies him back to Japan.
Christian: You’re part of an extremely exclusive, ludicrously talented/successful critique group. Can you tell us about them and how that’s helped you in your process?
Valynne: When I first joined my critique group, none of us was published. We met and exchanged pages about once a month. It was really helpful because each of us have such different strengths. When the aspiring writers of our group started to shift to become published writers, our needs also shifted. At this point, we are best friends who support each emotionally. We rarely critique pages now although we are always willing to do that for each other.
Christian: How did you find our agent? (All right, the jig is up. You and I wrote a book together.) Your editor?
Valynne: I take the author-agent relationship very seriously. And that’s probably an understatement. There was a lot of consideration that went into finalizing our agent query list. Fortunately, I am a networker. It’s not a conscious thing, but it just kind of happens because I like talking to people. Every agent we queried was one I had some connection to, which meant we were able to avoid the slush pile.
When I met John at a conference, I immediately knew without a doubt he was a perfect fit for Christian. Once John offered representation, I prepared two pages of questions, which he was kind enough to answer in a phone conversation. When he didn’t balk at questions like “What happens if I die?” or “What happens if you die?” I had an inkling he might be the one. I explained how I never wanted the pressure of writing for money, which meant I wanted to be able to produce books at my own pace. He said he didn’t care if I wrote so many books he couldn’t keep up with me or if I only wrote one every seven years. At that point, I was pretty much sold. But the thing that completely won me over was when he said he would garrote anyone who tried to steal me from him. It’s like he saw right into my morbid soul and knew exactly what to say.
My editor, Stacy Whitman, is the only editor at Tu Books, an imprint of Lee and Low. She’s actually friends with people I know although I had never met her. Because she knew some people where I live, she posted an announcement on a local writing listserv regarding submissions for the New Visions Award. As the eventual winner of the award, I was fortunate to work with her.
Lightning Round Questions
Music to write by? Currently MayDay Parade and A Rocket to the Moon
What were you reading when you were 16? Agatha Christie, Lois Duncan, and V.C. Andrews
Do you write longhand or type? Both longhand and on a laptop. Just depends on where I am.
Thanks, Valynne! Watch out for the Yakuza . . . and write that sequel!
About the Interviewer:
outside of video games. He published a short story called “There Are
No Marshmallows in Camelot” on Cast of Wonders and co-created a
website called foxingbureau.com. He’s never met a cute girl at a car wash, but he does live with the love of his life in Salt Lake City . . . and he often wonders how in the hell he did it. Christian’s novel