January 5, 2016

Happy Book Birthday to PAPER WISHES by Lois Sepahban

Congratulations to Lois Sepahban on the release of her middle-grade novel, Paper Wishes. This story of a Japanese-American girl's experience at the infamous Manzanar internment camp, during World War II, has been drawing rave reviews for its subtle and intimate look at a heart-breaking episode from American history. Read more, and don't forget to scroll to the bottom for a chance to win your own autographed copy!

The Story

Manami is a ten-year-old girl, born on Bainbridge Island in Washington to Japanese parents. In March of 1942, following orders for relocation in Executive Order 9066, Manami and her family and the entire Japanese-American population of Bainbridge Island, are sent to Manzanar, an internment camp in central California. On the day they are to leave their island home, Manami is distressed when she learns that they are leaving her dog, Yujiin behind, too. When no one is watching, she hides her dog inside her coat. She manages to sneak him onto the ferry that takes them to the mainland, but a soldier spots him before she can board the bus that will take them to the train station. What happens next causes Manami to stop speaking. At the camp, it is up to Manami to hold her family together. And she can only do that by learning to speak again.

The Reviews
"Manami’s story unfolds with spare and affecting prose, and the author trusts readers to truly make the connections between what the girl observes and experiences and her emotions and reactions. Her longing for Yujiin is heartbreaking and palpable, and readers see and, more importantly, feel along with the protagonist as she tries to find her voice again."
--Starred Review, School Library Journal

"Hardships, injustice, and the emotional truth of Manami’s camp life are thoughtfully portrayed through simple and heart-rending prose."
--Starred Review, Kirkus

The Interview

Q: Where did you get the inspiration for your book?
A: My book takes place at Manzanar in 1942. From 1942-1945, it was an internment camp for Japanese-Americans, most of whom were children. I grew up in central California, and I had two classmates whose grandparents were Manzanar internees. My classmates' mom spoke to us a few times about her parents' experiences at Manzanar. So, by the time I was seven or eight years old, I was aware of Manzanar. I was too young to understand it, but having something of a personal connection to the camp made me curious to learn more. My research led me to so many heartbreaking and poignant stories, as well as some very strange ones. One strange story was in an newspaper article. The old man being interviewed said that at some point, dogs started showing up at the camp. No one knew where they were coming from or how they got there. When I read that article, I got goosebumps. Suddenly, I knew what my story would be.

Q: Describe your writing process, from idea to final draft. 
A: I typically come up with a character and setting first. As I spend time getting to know the character, through free-writing or even just thinking, I get ideas for the story. Once I have a sense of the story, then I start writing--maybe thirty or fifty pages or so. At that point, I stop writing and start outlining. Plot is challenging for me, so I've found that I must take the time to outline, however spare the outline is, in order to finish the first draft. I generally spend about a week on the outline, and then I jump back into writing. After the first draft is finished, I take a break from the story for at least a month. During that time, I have trusted critique partners read it and comment. Then I print out a hard copy and take notes. When I'm ready, I begin at the beginning--a blank page. After that, I might revise based on feedback from my agent or editor until the story reaches its final form.

Q: Tell us about your journey, from finding an agent to publication.
A: Before I had finished PAPER WISHES, I knew that I wanted to send the manuscript to Kathleen Rushall at Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. I actually wrote across the top of the first page of my writing notebook, "Send to Kathleen Rushall." In January 2014, I finished revising and queried Kathleen. She responded immediately, asking for the whole manuscript. We emailed. We talked. We connected on many levels. Within a couple of months, Kathleen sold the manuscript to my editor, Margaret Ferguson, of Margaret Ferguson Books, FSG. Margaret is brilliant, and she turned my sweet story into something I am so proud of.

Q: Why would someone want to buy your book? 
A: I hope that my book finds the children who need to read it. It is a story for children who have lost their sense of security in the world, and this can happen in so many ways--in big ways, like divorce and death, but also in smaller ways, like moving to a new town or school. It is a story for children who, living with this loss, feel voiceless and powerless.

Q: What are your favorite books? What are you reading now? 
A: I love middle grade novels and picture books. I will read any book written by Deborah Wiles or Jenni Holm. I love MAY B by Caroline Starr Rose, and BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY by Ruta Sepetys. And Patricia MacLachlan is my all-time author hero. My favorite picture book writers include Stephanie Shaw and Maria Gianferrari, who both write beautiful stories. I also love Kelly DiPuchio, especially for GASTON, and Marla Frazee, for THE FARMER AND THE CLOWN. Right now, I am busy reading advanced copies of 2016 debut books, and all I have to say about this is, World, get ready! 2016 is going to be an amazing year for debuts!

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See Paper Wishes on Amazon and on Goodreads