Background image courtesy of Pixabay
Mrs. Kamada and I met several years ago at a writing retreat in Seattle, both of us finding our way plotting through early manuscripts. Immediately, I recognized a kindred spirit in her enthusiasm and passion for illuminating the past for new generations. After a decade of research and countless revisions, her debut novel, No Quiet Water, was released this week. I am pleased to present to you this interview with the author, and my friend, Shirley Miller Kamada.
Welcome, Shirley, it's such a pleasure to at last present you and your wonderful story to my friends. Although I was privileged to read early versions of your first chapters, reading the finished novel this week impressed me yet again. The depth of detail used to bring to life the time period of the WWII internment of Japanese Americans makes No Quiet Water an admirable addition to other notable books on this subject. Farewell to Manzanar comes easily to mind.
Please tell readers a little about yourself and the book.
I am a former public school teacher, education director of a private learning center, and owner of a bookstore and espresso café. I live on the lakeshore in Moses Lake in Central Washington, with my husband Jimmy and our two, small, adopted dogs, Priscilla and Phoenix. No Quiet Water is my first novel.
No Quiet Water is the story of Fumio Miyota and his parents and younger sister, and Fumio’s dog, Flyer. The family, each of them U.S. citizens, born in Washington state, own and work together on a strawberry farm on Bainbridge Island, Washington.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Imperial Japanese Navy, all persons of Japanese heritage, including those who are U.S. citizens, are viewed with distrust. In the spring of 1942, nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans are denied their rights and forced from their homes, property and communities, and incarcerated at shabbily built confinement centers. Not allowed to take pets, Fumio leaves his border collie, Flyer, in the care of his best friend’s family, the Whitlocks, who also accept responsibility for the Miyota farm.
Fumio must deal with uprooting and upheaval, help his family survive this terrible time, and find a way to continue choosing his own path, thinking deeply, solving problems, and overcoming. Leaving his classmates behind is difficult, but separation from Flyer is a great sadness, all the worse because no one will say when, or even if, he and his family will ever be allowed to go home.
What inspired the writing of this story?
Two years after I married Jimmy I learned of his family’s WWII internment experience. I was astonished. His parents were born in Seattle. They were citizens. I realized I knew nearly nothing about the internment. I dug. I learned a great deal. Much of it I felt I should share.
In my experience, to inspire a visual image is very effective in conveying the nature of a situation. “What happened? How did that look?” My hope is to then gently urge the reader to venture into the affective, to ask, “And how did that feel?”
I think you accomplished the 'feeling' quite well. Through multisensory elements the reader is there with your characters. The constant winds blowing across Owens Valley landscape, sand stinging the characters' eyes, the night sounds of the desert all brilliantly capture the alien nature of the internees' environment. That leads me to ask what in your life prepared you to write with such authenticity?
Very early in my life I realized a fascination with cultures different from mine and how culture defines our internal terrain. Not that one must act in accordance with cultural imperatives, but that those experiences and lessons will always be there, like hills—mountains—and valleys, to deal with as we will.
My personal story—I was raised on a farm. At one-hundred-fifty acres, it was not large. Typically, though, our barn was big, and our house was small. That’s the farmers’ way.
We raised sheep for a time (which I loved) and kept a flock of chickens (which I did not love). Our mainstay was a herd of dairy cattle. Farming is hard, hard work that never lets up. Dairy cattle must be fed—we raised alfalfa, cut and bailed it. And that hay, when it’s time to cut it, if it gets rained on, it’s ruined. Good for nothing at all.
We raised sugar beets. Tended them, hired and housed a small crew of seasonal laborers for just those weeks between the beets sprouting and being dug. The crew worked hard. The farm family worked hard. Weather was unforgiving.
I specifically chose Bainbridge Island as the homeplace of the Miyota family. I wanted to write about a rural community, the demands of farm life, and neighbors helping neighbors. The challenges of weather and other elements beyond a person’s control. The Miyotas raised Marshall strawberries. A high value, work intensive, fragile crop. I can relate to that. I know what that looks like. I know how that feels.
I thoroughly enjoyed the chapters devoted to Flyer's point of view. His perspective adds a poignant element to an already emotional story. For me, this was also a love story between a dog and his boy. What do you like best about the story?
I like the relationships between the characters, especially the supportive interaction of family members. I like the resilience, the hope, and the willingness to work hard. I like that the Whitlocks will step out, risking the disapproval of certain of their neighbors, and step up to go above and beyond in the support of their neighbors. This is most visible in their friendship with the Miyotas, their care for their farm and for Flyer, but we can see that they use their talents to assist all their Japanese American neighbors.
Fumio inspires me. He thinks about the positions he takes on events, then does what he believes to be right. He honors his family. Having learned to show respect to his elders, he holds to that value even when other youngsters might feel it no longer matters. Fumio is willing to work hard. He expects to work hard, and that is woven into the fabric of his self-esteem.
Forbearance is a word you repeat early on in the book. It seems to me that was a dominant theme. So, after years of research and revisions, you must have advice for writers inspired to take on such an arduous task. How would you tell them to go about it?
My own writing process is exceedingly messy, and I wouldn’t recommend it.
Truthfully, I wouldn’t venture to tell anyone how to write a book. If a story has gotten hold of you and you must tell it, you’re going to have to find your own way.
One comment I would add to that is I do not think such a work is the result of writing as a 'panster'. If messy could produce such an excellent result, then might we all take encouragement from our post-it note organizational writing walls.
Thank you for taking the time to visit here and wishing you the best for a successful launch of your book.
Reviews for No Quiet Water
"A well-plotted and engaging historical novel." -Kirkus Reviews
"With rich, abundant details of what daily life was like inside a U.S. internment camp during World War II, No Quiet Water is a poignant, touching story of an adolescent boy and his loyal dog that travels hundreds of miles to be with him." -Alden Hayashi, author of Two Nails, One Love
"A lovingly-told story about a boy and his dog, set within the context of the forced removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans on the West Coast during World War II. Shirley Miller Kamada's book serves as an introduction for a wide range of readers to this dark chapter of American history." -Barbara Johns, PhD, author of Kenjiro Nomura, American Modernist: An Issei Artist's Journey