First, a bit about Mariko:
When I arrived in America from Japan at the age of eight, I only knew how to count to ten and say Thank You in English. However, as soon as I learned to read English, I fell in love with books. I always wanted to be a writer, but to be a good daughter, I had to become a lawyer first. I finally found my way and now expose the mysteries of Japan to kids through books.
Why did you pick to write books for MG?
Middle grade is such a great age. Middle graders read well and are eager to read by themselves. There are a lot of life lessons they need to learn, which are kid problems. I hope to help them with those issues.
What types of books do you like to read?
I love reading Middle Grade and Young Adult books. I read a lot of Newbery honors and winner books. There are a lot of universal truths in these books that remind me of the simple truths that we should all live by. I also read adult novels and nonfiction books. I especially like mysteries and nonfiction about people overcoming overwhelming obstacles.
When you are not writing, what do you like to do?
I love the outdoors. I live in the mountains, so I hike with my dogs in the summer. In the winter, I downhill ski, cross country ski, and skate ski.
Tell us about Ayumi's Violin and how the story came to be.
Ayumi's Violin is about a biracial twelve-year-old violin prodigy who, after her mother dies, leaves her home in Japan to go to America. She lives with a Caucasian father she’s never met, a resentful half-sister, and a racist stepmother. She does the unthinkable when she is deprived of her violin.
I wanted to show how different countries and cultures are through Ayumi’s eyes. I wanted a protagonist with a passion that drove her, a passion so central to her that her life depends on it, a passion so strong that it would get her through her darkest periods. I love music so I made her a violin prodigy.
Here's a peek at Ayumi's Violin:
But that wasn’t going to happen. Mother was dying.
“Play for me,” Mother whispered.
Ayumi padded through the nearly empty room to her violin case. Money had run out during the ten months of Mother’s illness because of her inability to work. They had hocked everything that would bring in a yen, except for what Ayumi would soon take to America. Ayumi had wanted to work, but Mother wouldn’t let her sacrifice her four hours of violin practice every day.
Ayumi opened the case and stared at the photo of Mother and her father together. They smiled and looked happy. Ayumi’s skin prickled with apprehension at the thought of meeting her father soon for the first time.
She cracked open the window to let in fresh air. She drew out her violin and bow, nestled her instrument under her chin, and began to play Mother’s favorite Beethoven sonata. Mother’s pinched face relaxed, and Ayumi’s stomach unwound...
Ayumi glanced at Mother after the first movement, worried over the yellow of her eyes, her gaunt face, and the small rise her wasted body made under the top cover. Sorrow shot through her heart like an arrow. She set her violin and bow down on the floor, dashed outside, crumpled on the dirt road, and cried. After her tears stopped, she took deep breaths, dried her face, and patted the dust off her tattered dress before dragging herself back to their apartment.
“Rest, Mother,” she said, offering a brave smile.
Have you written other books? If so, tell us a bit about them.
Accidental Samurai Spy will be coming out in the next few months. Set in 1863, Aritomo, a twelve-year-old son of a samurai lord, is training to become a brave warrior. When he and his loyal dog Tama are rescued by his enemies after a shipwreck, he pretends to be a peasant. He rescues the enemy lord’s daughter. As his reward, he lives in the enemy’s castle where he becomes friends with the girl. In his struggle to save his family when he learns of a plot to massacre his clan, he learns that there is more to being a warrior than combat.
Kenji's Power is about Kenji, a thirteen-year-old boy who feels powerless when he cannot save his family in the devastating tsunami of 2011. He is sent from his seaside village to live with his mysterious uncle in Tokyo, where he does not fit in. His world as an orphan twists stranger when his uncle turns out to be a Japanese-mafia gangster. A gang war breaks out, and he is hidden in a sumo training center. When he becomes the only one who can save his uncle, he must dig deep to reclaim his power.
What’s next for your writing? Are you working on a new story?
I’m currently working on a book about a girl in an internment camp during World War II. When Lillian’s grandfather falls ill, she wants to cheer him up by buying him his favorite record album. In order to earn enough money, she lends herself to other kids by becoming their voice when they don’t have the courage to speak their mind. In the process, she learns to express her feelings.
What advice do you have for other authors?
Keep writing! If one idea doesn’t work out, go on and write the next book.
Where can readers find you and your books?