Kathryn Fitzmaurice

When Kathryn Fitzmaurice (pronounced fitz-mor’ris) was thirteen years old, her mother sent her to New York City over the summer to visit her grandmother, who was a science fiction author. After seeing how her grandmother could make the characters in her books into whomever she wanted, Kathryn decided that she, too, wanted to become a writer someday. Years later, after teaching elementary school, and taking many classes, she now writes full time and lives with her husband, two sons, and her dog, Holly, in Monarch Beach, California.

Kathryn’s
latest book, A Diamond in the Desert is available now for pre-order and is scheduled to release on February 16th.  Find Kathryn at her website or on her Twitter and Facebook pages.

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Sally: Welcome to Novel Rocket, Kathryn! I just read in your
bio that you like to organize things, and I believe it, because the plots on
your books so far, have been uncluttered. Deep, but organized. Everything works
in your books, with no spare parts. Do you outline your plots ahead of time?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: Not normally, though with this book I
did because I needed to. There was so much information I never would have been
able to keep it organized without an outline. 

Sally: Do you have a theme in
mind before you begin writing?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: Mostly,
yes. Sometimes, though, the theme comes quite by accident.

Sally: Well, your prose isn’t accidental—it’s gorgeous. I
don’t know how else to describe it. Page after page is beautifully written with
lovely metaphors and similes. This book was a fast read because your metaphors
made it easy to picture Tetsu’s world and what was going on with his inner
conflicts. How hard do you work on the imagery? Do you polish the gems as you
go along with your first draft, or do you sketch the story bones and then go
back and brush in the textures and colors with word pictures?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: 
Thank you, Sally. How nice of you to say these things. With this book,
because of all of the research I had to do before writing it, I ended up with a
very concise outline. I also had an entire wall in my home office where I taped
photos of the camp and the main character, a huge map of the camp and the
surrounding area, and three separate timelines, one of the events which
happened at Gila River, (which I got from microfiche, specifically, three and a
half years of the Gila News Courier, which was the newspaper written by the
Japanese Americans while at the camp), one with the major events of WWII, and
one with the events of baseball and what was happening in the 1940’s.  I carefully combined the three timelines and
there was, basically, my story. So each day when I sat down to write, I picked
up where I had left off the day before. Because I had done most of the work
before ever writing one word, the whole book took only four months to write. I
spent several months at the Laguna Niguel archives building reading through
three years of the newspaper so I could better understand the camp and its
culture. Of course it’s impossible to really understand living at one of the
camp unless one was there, so I did the best I could and made copies of the
pages that I knew I wanted to include in my story. I also discussed almost
everything I included with the gentleman who was the pitcher for the team,
whose name is Tetsuo Furukawa, now 87 years old. The one thing I did know well,
however, was the setting because I had grown up in Arizona. I knew the desert like it was my
backyard. I knew what the sunset looked like and the Gila monsters and the
snakes and the scorpions. I knew what it was like to get a piece of cholla
stuck in my skin.   

Sally: Where did you get the story about the little girl
going to the latrine and wearing a pillow case over her head? Was that a real
memory of one of the men you interviewed or did you manufacture that?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: When I was interviewing Mr. Furukawa,
he mentioned that many people, he specifically remembered the younger girls,
had a hard time using the latrine because there were no walls. So for privacy,
their mothers would give them a pillowcase they could slip over their heads. I
couldn’t imagine this, having absolutely no privacy. That story really stuck
with me, how the Japanese Americans had everything taken from them. I wanted
the reader to understand this from the very beginning.

Sally: Where did you come up with Horse? His name, his
situation, his shame, his injury, his gentleness–everything about Horse was a
little painful and yet, he gave me great hope for the future. Who is he and
where did he come from?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: I remember looking through a
commencement announcement from one of the senior classes at Gila
River that Mr. Furukawa had sent me. They had school graduations,
weddings, etc., in Gila River, and when I came
across the name Horse, I called Mr. Furukawa and asked him about this boy. He
told me he didn’t remember anything about him. But I knew he would be one of my
characters. So I started writing about him, and he appeared instantly as a boy
whose parents had been killed, and he couldn’t face what had happened to
them. 

Sally: You’re a literary writer and you choose quiet
stories—conflicts that happen to real people, not to children who are spies or
superheroes. There is plenty of drama and tension in your stories, but there
are no dystopian worlds or kick-ass heroines. I’d compare your stories to ones
written by Patricia MacLachlan or Kate DiCamillo. What authors have influenced you?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: 
Thank you, again. I wish, one day, I could write as beautifully at Kate
DiCamillo. I tear up even reading her facebook fan page. How does she do it? I would love to have lunch with her someday and learn
everything about her. I also really enjoy Gary D. Schmidt,  Deborah WilesLaurenChild, and Sharon Creech.

Sally: Have you taken any flak for being a white woman and
writing about a people of a different culture and color?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: I thought a long time before writing
about another culture. Because I am not Japanese, the only way I felt
comfortable enough to write the book was by sending every single draft of the
story to Mr. Furukawa. He would read them and call me and tell me which parts
needed revision. He was a tremendous help. I could not have written the book
without his careful consultations, of which there were many. He allowed me call
him over the course of two years and was extremely generous with his time. He sent
me many envelopes filled with information, photographs, DVD’s, so much of the
story is his. I drove up to his house in northern California to meet him and his wife when I
was almost finished with the story. I spent a lot of time with him discussing
his experiences. It was remarkable. He gave me 1000 paper cranes that day. He
said they were for good luck. I have them hanging in my home office.    

Sally: You have an MFA, right?
Would you advise young writers to pursue that course?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: 
I don’t have an MFA. I have an MA, Ed., a graduate degree in education,
specifically, Curriculum and Instruction. Once, a few years back, I started to
fill out the application for the MFA program at Hamline, but I never completed
it. I wish I had one. I think it would be a great asset. 

Sally: You are a Christian. Do
your religious beliefs come into play when you write?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: 
With the exception of A Diamond in
the Desert
, all of my main characters have faith in God. It’s such an
important part of my own life. I believe all things are possible through faith.

Sally: What advice can you give to unpublished writers that
will help us understand what elements make an editor fall for a story?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: 
I’m probably not the best person to give advice, but my grandmother, who
was also a writer (she wrote science fiction), told me to write what I know.
She said that if the story you’re writing is true and people can see this,
someone will understand it and maybe even love it. 

Sally: Do you have a critique group that comments on line by
line issues? Or do you have readers who will read and comment on the whole
novel? Both? Neither?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: I have a critique group that meets
every other Tuesday. We submit pages by email, critique them, and then hand
them back to each other. Each person/manuscript gets thirty minutes of
discussion. We give general and specific advice on every story. The group has
been together a long time. I’m their newest member. 

Tell us a little about your editorial process for A Diamond in the Desert. Did you go back and forth a few times with your editor?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: I was extremely lucky to be able to
work with Catherine Frank at Viking. The first letter I received from her was
six pages long, single spaced with suggestions, in addition to her line edits
on the actual manuscript. I finished those recommendations and then we went
back and forth one more time before the manuscript went to copyediting. She
made the story so much better than it was by tightening it up, etc. We also got
rid of a couple of characters because there were a lot in the beginning,
considering that it was a baseball team. One of our favorite sub plots was the
story about Lefty. In the original manuscript, the reader didn’t know if he was
reunited with his owners. I remember she wrote to me explaining that she would
be tremendously relieved if Lefty got back to Tetsu somehow. I completely
agreed and changed that part so Lefty found his way home. I have a dog named
Holly. I can’t imagine ever losing her. 

Sally: Does your agent edit your work before she sends it to
publishers? Will you tell us a bit about how the writer/agent relationship? Or
even about how you came to land your agent?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: 
My agent, Jennifer Rofe, at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency,
reads everything before she sends it out. She likes the manuscript to be near
perfect. Often I will go though several revisions before we are both happy with
the story. I met her at the Big Sur Writing Workshops. I was in a critique group with Eric Elfman, who is a wonderful screenwriter,
and he said he thought Jennifer would like my Swallows story, so he introduced
me to her. I sent it to her several months later and she had me do an extensive
revision and then asked to represent me after that. She’s a great agent, very
emotional and savvy, exactly what you’d want in an agent. 

Sally: I’ve looked at that Big Sur Writing Workshops website
several times and wished I could go. One of these years…. When did decide to
write for middle grade kids and why did you decide that?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: 
When my youngest son was nine, we read Because of Winn-Dixie together.
The part where Opal has her dad tell her ten things about her mother and then
she goes off and memorizes them so she can recognize her mother when she sees
her, that part right there made me think, “this is the loveliest writing I have
ever read.” But more importantly, when my grandmother died, she left me
a box of her unpublished manuscripts. For years I’d go through them and wonder
if I could do it, if I could write. One day, I decided it was time to try. I
quit teaching and sat down on the first day of school after getting my own kids
off and started writing about a little girl named Eleanor, named after my
grandmother. It was the least I could do after all of the support she gave me
while she was alive. I had written things while growing up, under my
grandmother’s encouragement, but it wasn’t until I was much older that I became
more serious in my efforts.        

Sally: Do you own an e-reader?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: 
Yes, a kindle and an iPad, and an iPhone. Though, truth be told, I like
real books best. 

Sally: I always thought I liked real books best, too, until
I got the e-readers. I love pulling out my iPhone in the waiting room at the
doctor’s office or on the plane and finding an entire library from which to
choose.
Well, thanks so much for dropping by, Kathryn. It’s been
swell. Godspeed with your writing.

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 is represented by Reclaim ManagementHer short works have been published in various magazines, including Highlights for ChildrenShe blogs about young adult novels at sally-apokedak.com. You can read a sample of The Button Girlone of her YA manuscripts, here if you like