Happy Valley author takes on WWII in second novel
Kristina McMorris' new book to guide local panel discussion in Clackamas
Kristina McMorris loves to write, but the Happy Valley resident is not a big fan of traditional research. So when it came to writing her second book, 'The Bridge of Scarlet Leaves,' she decided to do 'hands-on' research, which led to one fascinating airplane ride.
Since one of the characters in the book was a tail gunner on a B-17 during World War II, McMorris secured a place on one of only about dozen B-17s still flying when it came to the Hillsboro Airport.
'Although we were not able to safely go into the tail section, we were able to roam throughout the plane during the flight. I spent the majority of my time in the nose gunner's seat; as we flew over the Hillsboro farmland, I looked down and thought' about what it would have been like to have been flying during the war, she said.
McMorris will speak as part of a panel discussion and sign copies of her book at 7 p.m. on Friday, March 2, at the Clackamas Town Center Barnes and Noble. She said the panel discussion about the role of Japanese Americans in World War II is taking place, because she likes to offer people something that they cannot get from just reading her book.
'The Bridge of Scarlet Leaves' is a love story set in Los Angeles in 1941, when violinist Maddie Kern secretly elopes with Lane Moritomo, her brother's best friend. Pearl Harbor is bombed the next day, and when Lane and his family are moved to an internment camp, Maddie soon follows.
As the war progresses, both Maddie's brother, TJ, and Lane join the military; TJ becomes a B-17 tail gunner in the U. S. Army Air Force, while Lane enlists in the Military Intelligence Service, a secret branch of the U.S. Army responsible for interrogating and code breaking against Japan. When the war ends, the characters have experienced loss, love and understanding.
The title is significant on several levels, McMorris said, noting that both bridges and leaves are strong elements in the story.
'A bridge represents that connection that closes the gap between hearts, cultures and people, and leaves represent seasons and change,' she said.
As for the color scarlet, that comes from a haiku that McMorris read, describing a leaf-viewing area in Kyoto, where people come from all over the world to see the falling leaves; and when leaves are red, they are at their most beautiful, she noted.
When she originally set out to write the book, McMorris, the American daughter of a white mother and Japanese immigrant father, intended the story to be about two brothers, one who fought for America during World War II and one who fought for Japan.
But as she began her research, she encountered some 'aha moments' that changed the novel's course.
Initially she discovered that when the war first broke out, Japanese American young men were forced to go to relocation camps and were barred from serving in the U.S. military, but as the war continued, many were allowed to enlist, and even more were drafted.
Japanese-American men, like Lane in the book, were recruited specifically for the MIS, so that they could intercept codes in Japanese and participate in interrogations of Japanese prisoners, McMorris learned. So as part of her dedication to hands-on research, she spent two days interviewing seven Japanese-American veterans who served with the MIS in the Pacific.
Their story has never been told, McMorris said, partly because the men signed a 30-year secrecy oath, and partly because 'they don't feel like they did anything special; they were just doing their jobs.'
'The irony is pretty remarkable,' she added. 'These soldiers were risking their lives to fight for democracy, while their families back home were held in what FDR referred to as a concentration camp, where they were taken based on nothing but race.'
The character of Maddie arose when McMorris happened across the mention of about 200 non-Japanese spouses who accompanied their loved ones to the relocation camps.
'I decided their story needed to be told and I could understand it, because of the way I was raised, I lived between two worlds,' she said.
And finally, McMorris also learned that there were Japanese-American men who were in Japan during Pearl Harbor, and they were conscripted into the Japanese Army or Navy, and not trusted by either side.
'When I found that out, I had to find a way to put that in the story,' she said, and thus the character of Eddie, a guard in one of the Japanese prisoner-of- war camps, came about.
Putting the panel discussion together for the book signing was important to McMorris, she said, because of the educational nature of the book. Because a large number of college students are expected to attend the event, she noted, the panel discussion will be held just outside Barnes and Noble, in the area where Santa visits during the holiday season.
One of the participants in the panel will be Henry 'Shig' Sakamoto, who at age 14 was interned at Minidoka, a relocation camp located near Twin Falls, Idaho; the site is now a national park.
Lorry Nakatsu, a veteran who was in the MIS in the Pacific, will also speak.
In addition, this event is a fundraiser for Oregon Nikkei and The International School, McMorris said. Attendees may support either of these organizations simply by making a purchase at Barnes and Noble Clackamas Town Center on this day. In order for the purchase to count towards the fundraiser, purchasers must mention one of the two organizations' names to the cashier.
Meet local author Kristina McMorris at a panel discussion and book-signing event at 7 p.m. on Friday, March 2, in the mall just outside the Clackamas Barnes and Noble, 12000 S.E. 82nd Ave.
McMorris will sign copies of her second book, 'The Bridge of Scarlet Leaves,' and she will be joined on a panel by World War II veteran Lorry Nakatsu and former internee Henry 'Shig' Sakamoto; Ken Ackerman, former co-host of 'Good Day Oregon,' will moderate.
Visit Kristina McMorris's website at: kristinamcmorris.com.