Sunday , December 10 2023
"Just write, and don't let your inner critic rule," advices Austin.

Interview with Linda Austin, Author of Cherry Blossoms in Twilight

Linda Austin grew up listening to her mother's stories about their Japanese history and heritage. Later on as an adult, Linda decided to bring the stories to life in a book. Thus, Cherry Blossoms in Twilight was born. For the author, the most difficult part was writing in her mother's voice so that readers, young and old, would be able to hear her tell her true-life story.  

Thanks for being here today, Linda. Why don’t you begin by telling us a little about yourself?

I am the mother of two girls, I work part-time as an office manager and am involved in school and church. I’m on the Board of Directors of two nonprofits, one being the St. Louis Publisher’s Association. I’m also a semi-retired professional face painter. I keep busy. 

When did you decide you wanted to become an author?

I’ve always enjoyed the art of everyday writing, such as letters (now email) for business or pleasure, and am a perfectionist when it comes to spelling and grammar. I never thought of writing anything serious until I took on the project of writing my mother’s memoir of growing up in Japan around WWII, which I thought would be a valuable educational resource for schools as well as a family heirloom. 

Were you an avid reader as a child? What type of books did you enjoy reading?

I read everything I could get my hands on, even dictionaries and the World Book encyclopedia set. My dad would take my sister and me to the library on weekends and we’d each come back with a paper grocery sack full of books which we would read by the end of the week. I especially loved historical fiction, biographies, and animal stories. 

Tell us a bit about your latest book, and what inspired you to write such a story.

Cherry Blossoms in Twilight: Memories of a Japanese Girl is the story of my mother’s life growing up near Tokyo around WWII. I grew up with my mom telling me stories of when she was a little girl in Japan, and I loved hearing about a different culture and a different time. When I got older and I wanted to write down those stories, she began talking about how she survived WWII and what the Occupation was like and how she met my dad, a U.S. serviceman. As I wrote, I realized that others outside our family might like to read this and so I began writing with school children in mind, although seniors who have lived through WWII have really enjoyed the book. 

How would you describe your creative process while writing this book? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline?

This book was tough to write. It took about ten years because I had to spend time interviewing my mother and she didn’t live near me until I moved her to St. Louis where my husband and I finally settled after moving around a bit. The writing started out as stream-of-consciousness for her, whatever came up, whenever we had time together. Then I began annoying my mom with many, many questions. Finally I had to figure out how to put some sort of order into all the pieces. This is probably typical for memoir writing. 

Did your book require a lot of research?

Yes. I added historical facts and I wanted to make sure that details were correct. I had a Japanese man near my mother’s age double-check the Japanese cultural details, and I used books and the internet to research such things as WWII airplanes, Johnson Air Base and other Japanese civilian experiences. Whatever “facts” my mother told me that I could not verify I left out. I learned so much about WWII.  

What type of writer are you – the one who experiences before writing, like Hemingway, or the one who mostly daydreams and fantasizes?

I have to write based on my experiences. I have a huge respect for fiction writers who pull stories out of their imagination. 

Agatha Christie got her best ideas while eating green apples in the bathtub. Steven Spielberg says he gets his best ideas while driving on the highway. When do you get your best ideas and why do you think this is?

My mind gets very creative and busy when I am supposed to be sleeping! Something about the quietude and the relaxing of the mind. Sometimes I think I could solve the world’s problems just lying in bed thinking. 

Do you write non-stop until you have a first draft, or do you edit as you move along?

I have that inner perfectionist going so I do edit as I go, but I try not to get carried away because that can really slow down and even destroy the creative process. 

They say authors have immensely fragile egos. How would you handle negative criticism or a negative review?

I have to say, putting your writing out there is scary, having strangers reading something you personally created and then judging it, especially with a memoir which is so intimate. I cringe if I think too hard about it. That said, I am pretty tough… you can’t please everyone, and so I depend on the many great comments I’ve received to keep me happy. I do take criticism seriously, though, and look to see if there is merit in it. Criticism helps us learn. 

How do you divide your time between taking care of a home and children, and writing? Do you plan your writing sessions in advance?

I lead a very busy and disjointed life. I must learn to say “no!” I am very bad about finding time to write and am hoping with one child going off to college and the youngest to middle school I might find more time. Unfortunately I will need to be caring more and more for my mother, though, so who knows when the next book will come out.  

How was your experience in looking for a publisher? What words of advice would you offer those novice authors who are in search of one?

 I admit to being one of those “independent” publishers, at least with this first book. In the end this memoir had to come out fast, as I discovered my mother’s memory was deteriorating and I wanted her to enjoy her own book. I became a publisher and Lightning Source prints the book and acts as a sort of wholesaler for me. I do recommend to new authors to try for the smaller publishing houses as I think they are more receptive to newcomers and many do not require using an agent. Most of all, do your homework! Read all you can about writing and publishing so you know what you are doing and what you are getting into. And get a good editor. 

What type of book promotion seems to work the best for you?

The best way to sell a book is to do presentations followed by booksigning. As for promotion, I sit at my dining table with my laptop and use the internet, the great leveling field for new authors.  

What type of books do you like the most?

I absolutely love children’s books, mostly for the elementary-school readers. That may be because I am only able to read in short bites, but probably also has to do with the fact that I read with my daughter each night. I love good illustrations, too. I am an especially big fan of multicultural stories and enjoy autobiographies of people who are not famous. I love reading about culture and experiences. 

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

Just write, and don’t let your inner critic rule. 

Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?

I blog every week at Cherry Blossom Memories and have a website that has sample readings as well as audio clips of the Japanese children songs included in the book (don’t laugh, that’s me singing).  

Do you have another book on the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects?

I’ve got one children’s book finished but just sitting there in my computer. It’s an unusual story of a certain butterfly and is based on my real life experience raising Monarchs. I’m trying to find time to illustrate it using either watercolor or acrylic paints. 

Anything else you’d like to say about yourself or your work?

Since writing Cherry Blossoms I’ve become an advocate for life writing. The stories we have about when we were younger are so interesting and even historical. They can really bond generations together and give kids a 3-D look at their older family members. Not to mention our stories can be fodder for creative writing. Thanks for having me here! 

Thanks for stopping by! It was a pleasure to have you here!  

About Mayra Calvani

Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults and has authored over a dozen books, some of which have won awards. Her stories, reviews, interviews and articles have appeared on numerous publications such as The Writer, Writer’s Journal, Multicultural Review, and Bloomsbury Review, among many others. Represented by Serendipity Literary.

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