Hirahara's first historical mystery is Clark and Division, which follows a Japanese American family’s move to Chicago in 1944 after being released from a California wartime detention center. Her second Leilani Santiago Hawai‘i mystery, An Eternal Lei, is scheduled to be released in 2022. A former journalist with The Rafu Shimpo newspaper, Hirahara has also written numerous non-fiction history books and curated exhibitions. She has also written a middle-grade novel, 1001 Cranes.
My Q&A with the author:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?Visit Naomi Hirahara's website.
Clark and Division transports the reader to a very specific intersection in Chicago. I like titles that have special meanings for insiders, yet still resonate with outsiders. For those not familiar with Chicago, Clark may evoke Lewis and Clark, so some kind of exploration. And Division, a separation line, which definitely applies to Japanese Americans being released from World War II detention centers. Even native Chicagoans will not know that the Windy City was the No. 1 destination for these released people. I like stories that surprise.
What's in a name?
We don’t learn of the narrator’s name, Aki Ito, until some pages into the novel. Instead her older sister’s name, Rose, is center stage, representing Aki’s diminished stature in her family. Aki has a Japanese name that is frequently mispronounced in America. At twenty years of age, she has constantly battled with discovering and asserting her identity. I like using short surnames as Americans do have a difficult time with long Japanese names.
How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?
Surprised that I was able to pull off a novel on the Japanese American experience. I never saw novels like these growing up.
Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?
Beginnings, definitely! Endings are like rolling down a hill. You can’t really change the trajectory of the story that late in the game. But starting it? That can be anywhere.
Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?
At first I didn’t see much similarities between myself and my narrator, Aki. She’s a younger sister and a bit unsure of herself in the beginning. I’m an older sister used to calling the shots. But we are both the daughters of an immigrant parent who are family interpreters and protectors. I think that I’m like Aki in we are perceived as being harmless and perfectly normal, but in reality, we are quite dangerous.
What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?
Interactions with elders.