ALL FOUR KIDS: An Interview With Christine Kohler, Author of NO SURRENDER SOLDIER

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Today, we welcome OneFour KidLit author Christine Kohler to the blog to discuss her debut novel, NO SURRENDER SOLDIER. Here’s the book’s official blurb:

NSS cover jpg330pixelsA young man, an old soldier , and a terrible injustice. Should the punishment be death?

Growing up on Guam in 1972, fifteen-year-old Kiko is beset by worries: He’s never kissed a girl, and he thinks it’s possible he never will. The popular guys get all the attention, but the worst part is that Kiko has serious problems at home. His older brother is missing in Vietnam; his grandfather is losing it to dementia; he just learned that his mother was raped in World War II by a Japanese soldier. It all comes together when he discovers an old man, a Japanese soldier, hiding in the jungle behind his house. It’s not the same man who raped his mother, but, in his rage, Kiko cares only about protecting his family and avenging his mom – no matter what it takes. And so, a shy, peaceable boy begins to plan a murder. But how far will Kiko go to prove to himself that he’s a man ? Based on a historical incident, No Surrender Soldier is the story of a boy grappling with ancient questions of courage and manhood before he can move on.

Congratulations on your debut, Christine! What inspired you to write NO SURRENDER SOLDIER?

I graduated with a journalism degree from the University of Hawaii, then moved to Japan. Later I lived on Guam and worked as a political reporter and foreign correspondent for the Pacific Daily News, a Gannett paper covering the West Pacific. So I had a wonderful opportunity to study WWII history in the Pacific Theatre. One Japanese soldier, Shoichi Yokoi, in particular, did something mind-boggling. Rather than fight the U.S. Marines who liberated Guam toward the end of WWII, or commit hara-kiri, he hid in the jungle for 28, living the last eight years underground. When I moved back to the United States I never quit thinking about this soldier and what would cause him to live in such deprivation. This was the seed from which NO SURRENDER SOLDIER sprang.

What was the most difficult part of your journey as an author, from writing to publication?

The publishing end of writing has been the most difficult, and not because I didn’t know how to do the business end of writing. I had an agent at a top agency who left agenting. I’ve had editors who were laid off and I was paid a kill fee. I did pre-contract revisions for two years with one contemporary YA novel and when it was in acquisitions awaiting a contract the parent company sold the YA imprint. Even with this novel, Christy Octtaviano at Henry Holt had sent me a revision letter and was considering publishing NO SURRENDER SOLDIER when she became pregnant with her second child and cut back on her list, so had to decline it. (Christy since has her own imprint with a sizable list.) So you can see how no matter how much or how well you write, landing a publishing contract can be the longest and most difficult part of the writer’s journey.

What kind of research did you do? Did you come across anything that surprised or challenged you?

I have a reputation as a NF writer with solid research. As I already mentioned, I lived on Guam, where NO SURRENDER SOLDIER is set. My husband was a USAF officer so I’m very familiar with military. The Micronesian-Asian Center (MARC) at the University of Guam and the Pacific Daily News sent me copies of articles in their archives. I read accounts of Japanese stragglers in the Philippines. The most challenging thing was getting English translations of Japanese news articles, and I was fortunate to find a Canadian indie bookstore to get me that book.

What is it about Young Adult fiction that appeals to you?

In my opinion most children’s literature is superior in writing to nearly all adult pulp (mass market) fiction. In YA I love how the viewpoint is such a limited omniscient or first person. I could go on and on about this, but you can read about the craft of writing children’s lit on my blog READ LIKE A WRITER.

Can you tell us a bit about the characters of NO SURRENDER SOLDIER? How did you get into their heads?

NO SURRENDER SOLDIER is told in two points of view—Kiko, a 15-year-old Chamorro boy, and Isamu Seto, a WWII Japanese soldier—in alternating chapters. I wrote each character in distinctly different voices and dialects. Any character I write I try to empathize and imagine how he or she would feel in that situation. I think about what sensory details he or she would be experiencing. As for Seto’s chapters, because he is so isolated, I wanted an eerie tone to his chapters, and needed to keep this consistent while he was hidden, so I read and re-read Herman Melville’s TYPEE, Joseph Conrad’s HEART OF DARKNESS, one poem by Jane Yolen, and gothic poems by Akinari. I also re-read LORD OF THE FLIES by William Golding, but to get the tone right for Kiko’s pig slaughter chapter.

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As this community is fearless, we’d like to know something you are afraid of and something you are not afraid of.

I am not afraid of death, but I am afraid of a long-term painful death. Otherwise I’m not afraid of much; I’ve always been an adventurous fearless person.

Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions, Christine. Best of luck with NO SURRENDER SOLDIER!

Christine Kohler is the author of NO SURRENDER SOLDIER, published by Merit Press in January of 2104. She is a former journalist and teacher. To learn more, visit her website, blog, Goodreads, and Twitter.

Melissa Grey penned her first short story at the age of twelve and hasn’t stopped writing since. As an undergrad at Yale, she learned how ride a horse and shoot a bow and arrow at the same time, but hasn’t had much use for that skill since graduating in 2008. Her debut novel, THE GIRL AT MIDNIGHT, will be published by Delacorte Press in spring 2015. To learn more about Melissa, visit melissa-grey.com and follow her on Twitter @meligrey.
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