Archive for the ‘Writing Process’ Category

Last year several prominent politicians, including Donald Trump and Roanoke, Virginia Mayor David Bowers, evoked the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II in calls for discrimination against Muslims. Clearly people have forgotten, or have chosen to ignore, the suffering that the internment caused. Furthermore, Islamophobia and the ignorance that it represents must be actively denounced and combated. We should not return to the discriminatory policies of a bygone era. In this spirit, I decided to start off 2016 with a post on one Japanese American family’s experience during World War II.

Recently, I interviewed a friend, Stacie Kageyama, whose family members experienced both the internment during WWII as well as the discrimination that those Japanese Americans outside the camps faced. While more than 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry were interned, they were mainly from the West Coast as well as 3,000 from Hawaii. Other Japanese Americans were not put in camps but faced other kinds of discrimination. For example, the part of Stacie’s family in Wyoming found themselves in dire straits when Stacie’s grandfather was summarily fired from his job and suddenly had no way to support his family.

Stacie has a Ph.D. in Forest Science from Oregon State University and a B.A. in Biology from the University of Colorado-Boulder. Stacie and I first met as students in Boulder when I was working on a short story about the internment called “Your Grandmother, the War Criminal.” I asked Stacie if I could share her family’s internment story now as a rebuke to politicians who would have us treat Muslim Americans in a similar discriminatory manner.

I’ve put a transcript of the interview below (edited for clarity and length) so that readers can learn about this Japanese American family’s experience during WWII.

Interview with Stacie Kageyama:

MC: Where was your father’s family interned?
SK: My father’s family was interned in Manzanar in eastern California. However, my paternal grandfather, Kumaichi Kageyama, was arrested by the FBI soon after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Grandpa was born in Japan in 1894 but had been a legal resident of the United for more than thirty years. He was taken initially to a detention center in Lordsburg, New Mexico. They moved him to another detention center in Santa Fe at some point. He spent almost two years there but was never charged with a crime. He was finally allowed to join the my grandmother and their three sons in Manzanar at the end of November 1943.

Kageyama family before WW2

The Kageyama Family before WWII.

MC: How old was your father?
SK: My father, Hideo Kageyama, was six years old when the family was interned. His brother, Akira, was eight and their eldest brother, Hiroshi, was eleven. All three of the boys had been born in Los Angeles, California and were American citizens. None of them had ever been to Japan. Each of the boys enlisted in the US military when they were old enough. My dad enlisted in the Army during the early part of the Vietnam conflict.


Stacie’s paternal grandmother, Kuniye Ueda Kageyama, is the women in the scarf on the left. Photo by Ansel Adams of the Catholic Chapel in the Manzanar Internment Camp. (Library of Congress)

MC: When did they get out of camp and where did they move afterwards?

SK: The family left Manzanar in October 1945. Internees that had relatives in states that were not on the west coast of the US could leave the camps before the war ended. They could also leave if they chose to return to Japan, found employment (away from the west coast of the US), or joined the US military. My father’s family stayed in Manzanar for as long as they did because they had no place else to go. They didn’t want to return to Japan because their sons were American. After leaving Manzanar, they returned to Southern California but they were essentially refugees. They stayed in a tent city set up by a Christian church until they found a place to live in West Los Angeles. My grandfather started doing gardening for people. My grandparents eventually opened their own nursery in West LA. My cousins are running it now. It’s one of the few family-owned nurseries still in existence in Los Angeles.

MC:  I remember that you had told me about your mother’s father’s experiences in Wyoming. I believe that all the Japanese American workers in WY had to give up their cameras, guns, and was it radios after Pearl Harbor? After your grandfather was fired, how long till he moved? Was he already married?

SK: My maternal grandparents had also been born in Japan. Two of my grandfather’s older brothers had settled in Wyoming. He joined them in Rock Springs to work in the coal mines when he was seventeen. He returned to Japan in 1924 to marry my grandmother and bring her back to Wyoming. My grandfather [Kikuji Kumagai] was working for the Union Pacific Railroad as a section foreman outside of the town of Medicine Bow when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

The sheriff of Carbon County came to the house and confiscated my grandfather’s rifle and Kodak camera soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor. I don’t remember hearing anything about radios. My grandfather was fired from his job on the railroad in February of 1942, as were all the Union Pacific Railroad workers of Japanese descent. The family lived in railroad housing and were given 48 hours to evacuate their house. One of their neighbors helped the family to find a place to live in Medicine Bow. People in town tried to help the family by giving my grandfather odd jobs. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to support a family of six and they ended up moving to Salt Lake City, Utah, where my grandfather’s brother’s family was living. I’m not exactly sure when they moved to Utah. It was some time between February and June of 1942. We have a postcard in the family photo album from one of my mom’s classmates in Medicine Bow. It’s addressed to my mother in Salt Lake City and it’s dated June 12, 1942.Kumagai Family

The Kumagai Family.

MC: Can you tell me again about your maternal grandparents’ experiences during WWII? Did you say that your grandfather tried to get a job as a cook in a hotel but they asked him to make a salad with blue cheese and he spent a lot of time taking the mold out because he thought the cheese had gone bad? What did he end up doing? Also, was your grandmother the pastry chef during this time?

SK: My grandfather found a employment as a cook in the restaurant at The Hotel Utah in downtown Salt Lake City. He was told to make bleu cheese salad dressing but had never seen bleu cheese before. He thought that the cheese had gotten moldy and tried to salvage what he could. In spite of the bleu cheese incident, the management of the restaurant continued to employ my grandfather. I believe that he continued to work there for several years after World War II ended.

My grandmother [Tamai Tsuru Kumagai] also found employment working in a restaurant in Salt Lake City. She worked at Lamb’s Grill until my grandparents moved to California in the 1950s. Yes, she was the pastry chef and learned to make all kinds of pies, cakes, eclairs, etc.

MC: Thanks, Stacie!


I hope in 2016 our political leaders and pundits will act more responsibly and not continue to evoke one of the darker periods of discrimination against a minority group in America as anything our country should do again. The internment disrupted lives permanently—one-fifth of all former internees ended up living in poverty after being released from the camps, for example—and it is a blight upon the human rights record of the U.S. The U.S. government officially apologized for the internment in 1988.

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I was honored to learn today that my short story, “Your Grandmother, the War Criminal” will be appearing in a new anthology:  Approaching Literature: Reading, Thinking, and Writing 4/e by Peter Schakel and Jack Ridl from Bedford/St. Martin’s/Macmillan.

The anthology will be coming out in September 2016!

“Your Grandmother, the War Criminal” is a story within a story. A grandmother is teaching her granddaughter how to fold origami cranes at the same time that she is telling the story of her own mother and their life together in an internment camp for Japanese Americans during WWII. When I was writing this story, I liked the idea of a story about family history being embedded inside a lesson on how to do something. In my experience, this was how women passed down family stories–talking while their hands remained busy.

I remember my own paternal grandmother telling me about her mother in China as she was trying to teach me how to knit.

I had a weird plastic Barbie-brand knitting machine, which was supposed to create a knitted tube dress that would fit any Barbie doll. Nai-nai took one look at it and tsked, and quickly unraveled the hideous multi-colored tube. Instead she whipped two knitting needles and showed me how to cast on then knit a straight row.

“My mother taught me in China,” she said. “Now you try.”

I was able to knit only a few rows before I began dropping stitches. My rows were uneven, looking like hideous crooked teeth in a candy-colored mouth. The kit had come with a small skein of rainbow-colored yarn, which was all the rage in the flower-powered 70s, but not so attractive to think about now. I kept going, however, until I had a long, oddly twisted rainbow with a hole in the middle. I had no idea where the hole had come from.

Nai-nai took the needles from my hands, and rapidly undid my stitches then re-knitted the rows so that they were straight and even, the hole completely gone.

“How did you do that?” I asked. Her fingers had moved too fast for my eyes to follow. “That’s amazing!”

“No, no, no,” she said. “I’m no good. My mother could really knit. Long scarves, sweaters.” She gestured in the air, miming a garment she didn’t know the word for in English. “She could fix anything.”

And then, remembering, Nai-nai began to cry and she stopped knitting to wipe her eyes.

Thinking about her mother, who had died long ago, always made my grandmother cry.

I never really learned to knit well, I had neither the knack nor the patience, but I never forgot this moment, the way the story was knitted into the scarf.


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I’m honored that two renowned California authors, novelist Felicia Luna Lemus and journalist Chanan Tigay, were able to visit my classes at UNCW this week via the magic of Skype!

Felicia Luna Lemus visited my undergraduate Forms of Fiction class, where we are reading her beautiful novel Like Son, which her publisher (Akashic Books) describes as “A post-punk story of outsiders, family, inherited drama, and love set in downtown New York, Los Angeles, and Mexico City.”


Felicia graciously answered questions from students about her research into the Edward Weston photograph of Nahui Olin that inspired the book, her own writing process, and the years of revision she spent working to find just the right voice for her protagonist, Frank Cruz.


Everyone was charmed by Felicia’s grace, wit, and good humor!

Then acclaimed journalist Chanan Tigay visited my graduate Creative Nonfiction class and answered questions about his long-form narrative essay, “The Special Populations Unit” about Arab soldiers who served in the Israeli Army, which appeared in McSweeney’s. TigayPhoto Chanan generously talked about his research and gave advice on a wide variety of subjects ranging from how to gain the trust of interview subjects and the most important question to ask (“Always end by asking, ‘Is there anyone else you think I should talk to?'”) to what it was like to interview Hillary Clinton! (FYI, he said, she’s just as charismatic as Bill in person and just as smart.)


We were all especially thrilled to hear about his forthcoming book, Unholy Scriptures: Fraud, Suicide, Scandal—and the Bible that Rocked the Holy City, due out next winter from Ecco/HarperCollins. In it Chanan describes the mysterious case of a 19th century Jerusalem antiquities dealer who tried to sell the British Museum a manuscript that may have been a precursor to the Dead Sea Scrolls. Chanan’s research took him around the world from Berlin to Jerusalem to London and beyond. He ultimately visited eight countries on four continents. That’s dedication in pursuit of a story!

It was a treat to get to speak to both Felicia Luna Lemus and Chanan Tigay. Skype is an amazing technology that really is bringing the world closer together, and it’s such a great tool for the classroom. It certainly brought California closer to my classes at the University of North Carolina Wilmington this week!

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I was very excited  journalist/blogger Betty Ming Liu was able to Skype visit my graduate Creative Nonfiction Workshop this week at UNCW!

Betty is a career journalist who now teaches classes at NYU and the New School in New York City. She wrote a nationally syndicated column for the New York Daily News for years and later worked as a digital journalist for Newsday.

I first came to know Betty online through her amazing blog (http://bettymingliu.com/).

Betty was so very generous in sharing her knowledge and experience with the class! The discussion ranged from what she feels are the most underreported stories in the media today to how to use  social media for building an online platform and bringing attention to stories and issues we feel are important. She also shared tips on how to pitch stories to editors, how to write a “nut graf,” how to balance the demands of different social media platforms, and how to toe the line between sharing and over-sharing on a blog.

She also shared her experiences with us of working as a journalist and all the changes she’s seen from the days she was a columnist covering “diversity” in New York City back in the 1990s to the super-fast-paced world of digital journalism today, and the importance of knowing your beat.

We were all very thrilled to have this opportunity to learn from Betty! (And I’m very grateful for a tool like Skype, which allows us to meet with really cool writers who live too far away to visit our class physically. Technology can really be such a useful tool for teachers!)

Betty Ming Liu visiting our class via Skype

Betty Ming Liu visiting our class via Skype

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As promised, I’m now posting some short videos from the Tiger Girl launch party at Books Inc., including a short reading and excerpt from the Q&A, a song by the amazing Cambodian American singer Laura Mam, and a 30-second video that gives you a feel for the event!



Much thanks to everyone who came to the launch at Books Inc./Opera Plaza in San Francisco! And I hope these videos can give a feel of the event to those who could not come in person.

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Where would a Tiger Girl be without her Tiger Family? I was thrilled my family could come for the launch party at Books Inc./Opera Plaza in San Francisco!

I’ll be posting more “official” type photos of the book launch party (which was so much fun!) later, but for now I wanted to start with the people who’ve always been there for this tiger girl, my family. 😀

Gwynn-ariel-adelaide-jeni Jeff-evelyn-howard Jewel-Papa Laura-Mam-and-Ariel Laura-Mam-singing

Me and Adelaide

Me and Adelaide

me-signing-sitting-up  Tiger-Girl-Launch-Books-Inc Tiger-Sign

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I wanted to share pictures from the reading I organized for my MFA fiction students from Cal State San Bernardino this past week! We had the reading on the grounds of the awesome and somewhat eerie  Kimberly Crest House & Gardens in Redlands on October 13.

Castle-back Castle-front

The mansion, designed to resemble a French castle, was built in the late 19th century for a family wintering in Redlands to escape tuberculosis and winter on the East Coast. Eventually the house was purchased by a scion of the Kimberly Clark manufacturing empire in the early 20th century and the family hosted such luminaries as Clark Gable and Carole Lombard and even Amelia Earhart.

Because the past is so present in the mansion, which was donated to “the people of Redlands” by heiress and former Scripps College President Mary Kimberly Shirk, it made me think of Grey Gardens. And in the spirit of contemporary literary mash-ups, like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, we decided to create our own mash up. Who better than zombies, in their refusal to let go, to embody Little Edie’s statement, “It’s really hard to separate the past and the present”? Hence our theme for the day’s reading: “Grey Gardens and Zombies.”


I was really impressed by how the CSUSB MFA students in fiction chose to explore this theme: Michelle Bracken wrote about domestic violence, Maritza Ocampo described a woman who is being interrogated about an unthinkable crime, Ruben Rodriguez read about a man who imagines himself merging with a waterfall, and Tracey Dover spun a tale about a house haunted by ghosts and memories.


Michelle Bracken

Michelle Bracken

Maritza Ocampo

Maritza Ocampo

Ruben Rodriguez

Ruben Rodriguez

Tracey Dover

Tracey Dover

We also had an open mic featuring a dramatic reading by MFA poetry student Isaac Escalera, writing about the “zombie cityscape” of abandoned buildings in the wake of the foreclosure crisis in Southern California, and a short story by undergraduate Lynn Post about the desire of a young pregnant woman to prolong the last moments of her marriage before her baby’s birth transforms the couple into “parents.”

Isaac Escalera

Isaac Escalera

Chad Sweeney (behind the video camera); Lynn Post reading

Chad Sweeney (behind the video camera); Lynn Post reading

The indefatigable Chad Sweeney, who teaches poetry at CSUSB, will be posting videos of the reading soon. Many thanks to my fellow MFA teachers: poet Julie Paegle, who came for the reading, and novelist Felicia Luna Lemus, who came early to help set up!

It was a gorgeous day and a magical reading!

Me at the turtle pond at Kimberly Crest

Me at the turtle pond at Kimberly Crest

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