Friday, July 8, 2011

A Priceless Editor

My mother, Age 8

I'm not sure why, but I'd hesitated to ask my mom to read the manuscript for Broken Dolls. One might think that strange, since she is the inspiration for my character, Sachiko Kimura. Sachi is how I imagine my mom to have been as an 8-year old Japanese American girl struggling with her identity through her family's internment during World War II.

So why did I hesitate? These are some of the things I feared:

1) The story would bring back painful memories of that time in her life.
2) Though some of the story is based on fact, most of it is fictionalized. I was concerned she would take offense that the story was not as it had been in "real life."
3) Mom is not a big reader, and I didn't want to pressure her to read a full manuscript.

Through the four years it has taken me to write Broken Dolls, I have talked to Mom about it; asked questions about what happened during those years and filled her in on some of the chapters. But it was only last week that I loaded a .pdf file on her iPad so she could read it.

Honestly, I thought it would sit on her iPad, unread.

But a few days later, my sister called me and said, "Mom has not taken her nose out of your story. I finally had to tell her she needed to take a break or her neck would start bothering her."

I was thrilled. Though many have told me they've enjoyed the story, to have my own mother -- who lived through those years and who is not a "big reader" -- read it and be unable to put it down means the world to me.

Yesterday, I went to visit. When I walked in to her bedroom, I found her with iPad in hand, so engrossed in the story she hardly noticed me. She'd been taking notes about how I could improve the intricacies of the Japanese culture in the story -- something I could not have gotten from anyone else who has read the manuscript.


And my mom is smart as a whip. Dozens of people have read or heard the chapter in the story where Sachiko is stacking rocks on a fence post at Rohwer, one stone on top of another. It was something Papa taught her once -- a way to calm herself when she was troubled. Only my mother caught that there was no way Sachiko could have reached the top of the fence post at Rohwer.

To know that she was that "into" the story? Well, it was priceless.

My mother with her mother

On many mornings, before I get out of bed, my mind fills with thoughts. This morning, I was thinking about this blog entry, and something occurred to me: It was presumptuous of me to assume my mom was so "into" my story that she could visualize the fence post being too high for Sachi. The truth is, she was THERE.

She knew how high those fence posts were.


  1. What a nice meta-story! (That is, story about a story.) We sometimes think that if we're from different generations, we have less in common. Certainly not the case here! Jan and her mom are in a close collaboration from which _Broken Dolls_ benefits big time. And sounds like mom got a little out of it too. ;)

  2. That is both wonderful and priceless.

  3. Thank you, ed_quixote and Jack LaBloom. It was also a good lesson for me. :)

  4. This is really a wonderful idea. I'll put a link to it from my website because I think every author should be thinking book trailer and you've got some terrific examples on here. Thanks Jan.